NPR interviews Hank Willis Thomas on his exhibition showcasing images of white women in advertizing. It’s a follow up to his 2008 exhibition, “Unbranded: Reflections in Black by Corporate America.” “I think what happens with ads — when we put text and logos on them, we do all the heavy lifting of making them make sense to us. But when you see the image naked, or unbranded, you start to really ask questions.”
Posted June 3, 2010
Racial epithets. Topless women. Speeches interrupted by blowjobs. Steve Guttenberg.
Doesn’t seem like fodder for a Saturday morning cartoon show. But in the late 80s the film Police Academy, which subjected viewers to such adult situations, spawned an animated series of the same name. Running for two seasons, the series featured the original franchise’s characters–Mahoney, Tackleberry, Hightower, Hooks, Jones, Callahan – if not their voice talents.
As a tot of eight, I’d seen the movies prior to the cartoon, but only the PG-13 sequels. If I’d seen the initial R-rated masterpiece (the original sin), surely it was in some heavily edited televised format. If I *had* seen it in its full glory, I might have wondered how a film with such adult humour, random nudity and prevalent (if somewhat quaint) homophobia was deemed perfect source material for a kids’ show. Who can forget the Blue Oyster Bar, or Mahoney’s immortal maxim, ‘Sleeping is for fags’?
The first thing I noticed just weeks ago, when I watched Police Academy for the first time as an adult, was that Steve Guttenberg was (shockingly) quite attractive as a young man. But my second thought (which emerged while a gum-chewing prostitute undid Lt. Harris’s fly) was, ‘They made a kids’ show out of this?!’
But Police Academy was just one of a trend of cartoons produced in the late 1980s and early 1990s based on very adult films. Even The Real Ghostbusters was inspired by a movie that joked about menstruation, showed ‘a prehistoric bitch’ how one does things downtown and presented a spectre unzipping Ray Stanz’s pants. (This seems a prerequisite for cartoon licensing.)
But Ghostbusters is a poor example. Especially when studios were producing kids’ programs from Conan the Barbarian, Attack of the Killer Tomatoes and Robocop cartoons. That any Paul ‘Showgirls’ Verhoeven movie was made into a kids’ show is incomprehensible.
Even Rambo – Rambo! – was turned into a kids’ show: Rambo and the Force of Freedom. Apparently Rambo is ‘liberty’s champion’ and ‘the honour-bound protector of the innocent,’ which you might have missed while watching him tear the Vietcong a new freedom hole. (Watch the trailer for a cameo of G.I. Joe’s Flint as Colonel Trautman!)
The most egregious exemplar of inappropriateness was Toxic Crusaders, a cartoon that ran for (almost) one season and was based on the flagship Troma Studios film, The Toxic Avenger. As Troma co-founder Lloyd Kaufman has boasted, it’s the only film that both featured a child’s head crushed by a car tire and inspired a kids’ show.
The series attempted to ride the Captain Planet wave of environmental do-gooderism with the Toxic Avenger’s key message: janitors and toxic waste don’t mix. The basic plots of the cartoon and film were similar, with nerdy-janitor-turned-mutated-superhero and his blind girlfriend fighting a roster of villains. They had a few more friends in the cartoon series – NoZone, hobo-turned-dogman Junkyard, two-headed odd couple Headbanger and Major Disaster, a military man with a vegetable rapport – but where the versions really differed was in the viciousness and viscera of Toxie’s justice. In the original film, hands were deep-fried, milkshake stirrers were jabbed into throats and the Mayor’s organs pulled like ticker tape from body, all in ketchupy gore. And often these heinous acts were committed by our homely hero himself.
But what of today? Seems every Saturday morning cartoon is based on some family-friendly manga. It’s high time to bring back adult movies as source material. We can even ratchet things up a notch:
Battle Royale: The Animated Series – Kinji Fukasaku’s Battle Royale begs to made into a Saturday morning cartoon. A class of high schoolers forced to fight each other to the grisly death? There’s already a wildly popular teen book series with the same plot, but our cartoon would eat The Hunger Games alive. And sure, the kids can die off-screen or in large explosions or dramatic falls into water, but the core concept remains. Think of the merchandising – new action figures every year! It’s just like Pokémon, but instead of summoning monsters, Ash and Team Rocket have gotta’ kill ‘em all.
Bad Lieutenant and the Cops of Justice! – either Abel Ferrara’s or Werner Herzog’s film could inspire this 21st-Century Police Academy: The Animated Series. A supercop who doesn’t play by the rules cleans up Empire City, a town run by One-Ton Tony and his rogues gallery of gimmick-laden crooks. Our animated bad lieutenant would have to trade his drug addiction and sexual assault of perps for tamer infractions. Maybe he’d take a sledgehammer to a speeder’s Porsche. But he’d have a crack team of unorthodox lawmen and women at his disposal. (Their names would reverberate in a roll call set to music as the show’s credits ran.)
Inglourious Crumbums – in the animated version, Aldo ‘Hard’ Rayne and his madcap, daredevil soldiers (with some help from ‘Flix,’ a plucky female cinema owner) strike terror into the heart of Schadenfreudland, a generic European dystopia. By committing escalating acts of mischief that enrage and embarrass the dictator of Schadenfreudland, Dr. Götterdämmerung, and his henchman Captain Hans Kaputt, the Crumbums spread freedom to the denizens of Schadenfreudland, one episode at a time.
Evan Munday is the illustrator the novel Stripmalling, by Jon Paul Fiorentino, and the cartoonist behind a self-published comic book, Quarter-Life Crisis (recently shortlisted for the Gene Day Award for Self-Publishing). His upcoming projects include a young adult novel and a graphic novel written by Elyse Friedman, both to be published in 2011. He is a member of Toronto-based illustration collective SketchKrieg and can be found online at http://idontlikemundays.com and http://sketchkrieg.blogspot.com.