Sunday, March 13, 2011

They Made A Cartoon Out Of...That?! Part I: Rambo and the Force of Freedom

He'll give you a war you won't believe
The 80s and 90s were a great time for cartoons. We had He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, G.I. Joe, Transformers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, JEM, Robotech, Thundercats, Batman: The Animated Series, and...Rambo? Back in the late 80s and early 90s there was one equation. A simple one, too. Hit film franchise + kids = money. Of course, some of these huge franchises stemmed from R-Rated films, but that didn't stop the powers that be from turning their already profitable properties into even more profitable properties. Besides, kids like violence, right? While it may seem questionable to make a Saturday morning cartoon about a disgruntled Vietnam vet that resolves his problems with an M60 machine gun, it must have made sense at the time. After all, everything made sense in the 80s. And why wouldn't it? What kid didn't at least know of Rambo?? Many had even seen the films. Today we begin our They Made A Cartoon Out Of...That?! series, where we look at some of the great - and not so great - cartoons that originated from not-so-kid-friendly films.

John J. Rambo. Green Beret. Vietnam vet. One man army. What you call hell, he calls home. In 1982, First Blood hit theaters. It depicted a man who, when pushed far enough, could single-handedly take out an entire town. Even Rambo's old unit commander, Colonel Trautman, has to show up to ease the situation. Though, in reality, Trautman does little more than to warn everyone that they'll need more body-bags and that God didn't make Rambo, he did. Imagine having a guy like Trautman at your side before a bar fight? He'd clear the entire place out.

God would have mercy. Rambo won't.
I think it's safe to assume that Trautman was in sales before he was in 'Nam, churning out Rambos, because no one can promote a person the way he can.

No man, no law, no war can stop him
After First Blood scorched the box office like a napalm bath, it became only a matter of time before a sequel came out. 1985's Rambo: First Blood Part II cemented the character as an action hero - returning to Vietnam to rescue forgotten POWs while taking on the Russians at the same time. It's worth mentioning that First Blood Part II made it into the Guinness Book of World Records for the highest on-screen body-count in a single movie. A record only to be surpassed by, can you guess, Rambo III.  Okay, to sum it up thus far, the year is now 1986 - Rambo, this psychologically unbalanced Vietnam Vet, a killing-machine, in every sense of the word, who blows people apart with explosive-tipped arrows, has become a cinematic icon. What must have been some form of breach into our world from bizarro-world, a movie executive came to the revelation that "this Rambo guy needs a cartoon". And this was born:

Rambo and The Force of Freedom
It was one heck of a cartoon intro, which is nearly identical to the scene in the second Rambo film, right before he annihilates every Soviet in Vietnam and blows up half the country with a helicopter. This bit of animation is also featured in every episode of the cartoon, just before he begins feats of inhuman badassery.

Redefining the meaning of O.M.A. (one-many-army) since 1982
The cartoon was very much in the same pseudo-military vein as G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, though not in the same league story and scale-wise. Still Rambo and The Force of Freedom proved to be a fun half-hour show.

Like G.I. Joe's enemy, Cobra, Rambo had to combat S.A.V.A.G.E., led by the evil General Warhawk. What was 'S.A.V.A.G.E.' an acronym for? Who knows. That was never explained and who was going to ask. Along with General Warhawk, there was an interesting selection of villains: Gripper, Sgt. Havoc, Mad Dog, and Nomad, a Middle Eastern terrorist! Of course, no one ever really dies in a kids cartoon but, unlike in G.I. Joe, it looks like Rambo is shooting actual bullets instead of lasers!

Rambo may have become more child-friendly, but he still hated rats
Colonel Trautman was featured in the show, though usually just to assign a mission to Rambo and to show up at the end. The Rambo-theme from the movies was also used, which fit in perfectly. What didn't come from the show was this new 'Force of Freedom' - a concept that was never really explained. Was it supposed to be some covert black ops group? I'd assume it was government funded, after all, they had an assortment of high-tech weapons and vehicles.

Whatever the case, it seemed Rambo calmed down some from the films and didn't spend his time anymore in the woods building traps, killing dogs, and hiding in mud. Instead, he received the aid of Kat, a master of disguise, and the tech-savvy Turbo. Together they formed this so-called Force of Freedom.
Rambo's foe, The Black Dragon

Rambo no longer fought against the Soviets, though a few of Warhawk's henchmen did have Russian accents. In their place Rambo opted to confront other threats to American soil. Like what, you ask? Well, aside from S.A.V.A.G.E., he confronted pirates, voodoo priests, and ninjas. That's right. Ninjas. What 80s cartoon didn't feature some sort of ninja? There was even a robot ninja in an episode of Transformers.

Another simple equation: produce a cartoon = get a toyline. Rambo and The Force of Freedom proved to be no different.
Figure-sized body-bags not included

The toyline had some neat figures and accessories - but one stood out as a complete abomination to all things Rambo: the power cycle. It resembled a kids tri-cycle, complete with training wheels. This was the best vehicle they could come up with? Why not a helicopter?
The power-cycle? More like the power tri-cycle
Overall, Rambo and The Force of Freedom was a fun, enjoyable show, and far better than the things passing themselves off as cartoons today. And how could it not be fun with episodes titled: Enter the Black Ninja, Mephisto's Magic, Night of the Voodoo Moon, Pirate Peril, and The Ninja Dog (which was, in fact, about a ninja dog).

Check back soon for Part II, when we look at Marvel Comics' Robocop cartoon!

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