In a world where new movies feel like they are merchandised to death, it’s crazy to think that there was a time when movies actually received more of a push towards a younger market than they do now. While big blockbusters like Star Wars still fill the shelves of every toy store upon release, there was a time when a wider variety of movies would get a push from companies to produce action figures, video games and comic books. It’s hard to imagine now, but if movies like The Fast and The Furious came out in the ‘90s, chances are they’d have had a whole action figure line, despite the fact that those movies are not for kids.
Some movies are better suited to a younger audience than others. The original Ghostbusters, for example, contained plenty of adult humor and scary scenes, but that didn’t stop a successful animated series from being produced. In fact, there are plenty of movies that receive the animated treatment: films like Aladdin, Men in Black and Stuart Little all had cartoon spinoffs, which makes sense as they’re all movies that are geared towards kids. Here though, CBR takes a look at those movies that you never knew had crazy cartoon spin-offs!
Spaceballs is a hugely popular, extremely funny Sci-Fi parody movie from the mind of Mel Brooks, and has become a beloved cult favorite for its send-up of the Star Wars franchise. More than that though, it pokes fun at the entire science fiction genre, by mocking such greats as Star Trek, Aliens and Planet of the Apes. Mel Brooks stars in the movie, alongside Bill Pullman, John Candy and Rick Moranis as the comically large-hatted Dark Helmet.
In 2008 — almost 20 years after the movie release — Brooks Films developed an animated television series that loosely based itself on its movie namesake. Missing some of the original cast (such as Pullman, Moranis and the sadly deceased Candy), each of the 13 episodes of Spaceballs: The Animated Series parodied a different pop culture franchise, such as The Lord of the Rings and Grand Theft Auto.
Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo films are definitely not for kids, so the fact that there is an animated series based on the blood-soaked war movies pretty much defies belief. The movies themselves were based on the 1972 novel First Blood, which was a thoughtful treatise on the harrowing consequences of the Vietnam war on a young man’s psyche, a theme that the original Rambo movie (also entitled First Blood) chose to focus on too.
Rambo: The Force of Freedom was a cartoon series that started in 1986 and ran for 65 episodes, spawning a toy line before its cancellation in that same year. Casting aside the deeper commentary, Forces of Freedom focused on John Rambo and his G.I. Joe style adventures against the evil forces of S.A.V.A.G.E. — the Specialist-Administrators of Vengeance, Anarchy and Global Extortion.
13. POLICE ACADEMY
The Police Academy movies are still popular today for their slapstick comedy and underdog tales of unlikely heroes rising through the ranks of the local Police Force. The original, from 1984, proved so successful that it spawned no less than six spin-offs reaching into the mid-’90s, and starred Steve Guttenberg as a repeat offender who was enrolled in the force as punishment.
There were two television adaptations of the Police Academy franchise, one in 1997, which was live action, and one in 1988, which was this animated series. It ran for six episodes over two seasons and is set between the fourth and fifth movies. Among the usual cast of characters, the animated series introduced a series of talking canine companions, smart-talking police dogs with names like Samson, Bonehead and Chilipepper. Naturally, action-figures and comic books followed.
12. THE KARATE KID
The Karate Kid was a hugely successful 1984 movie in the same vein as Rocky or similarly themed sports movies where the underdog is pitted against seemingly impossible odds. Daniel LaRusso is taken under the wing of Kesuke Miyagi and taught in the ways of Goju-Ryu Karate in order to win a battle against Johnny Lawrence and the bullying Cobra Kai Dojo. The film spawned three sequels, as well as a remake in 2010 starring Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan.
In 1989, the film was chosen to become adapted into an animated series, initially looking at a 65 episode order before becoming a 13 episode series for NBC Saturday Mornings. The cartoon took a more mystical adventure slant, sending Daniel on missions all across the globe to retrieve a magical shrine that had been stolen from Okinawa.
While Godzilla seems like a perfect candidate for a cartoon series, we’re not talking about the original Japanese King of the Monsters here. We’re not even talking about the 2014 remake, with Bryan Cranston. Godzilla: The Series is a direct continuation of the 1998 Godzilla movie starring Matthew Broderick and Hank Azaria, aka the Worst Godzilla Movie Ever.
Still, at the time, that movie was everywhere, so it makes sense in that naive bubble that was 1998 that a cartoon should come along to capitalize on the movie’s “success.” The series was a direct continuation of the movie’s plot, with several of the second-tier actors reprising their roles. It ran for 40 episodes over two seasons and follows the baby Godzilla as it grows up and battles other monsters, under the direction of the Humanitarian Environmental Analysis Team, or H.E.A.T.
10. ACE VENTURA
It may seem, at first glance, that the Ace Ventura movies are perfect for kids. Jim Carrey was at his slapstick best, throwing his body around as he solves animal-related crimes with his monkey sidekick. What can be lost in that description, however, is the strong adult humor and themes definitely not meant for kids (not to mention the trans-phobic “punchline” that anchors most of the third act).
Despite that, in 1995, CBS produced two seasons of an animated series that followed the — decidedly more kid-friendly — adventures of Ace Ventura as he attempts to locate missing animals and generally get into mischief. The first episode sees him helping Santa Claus locate a missing reindeer, and later episode see him face off against ancient Egyptian curses and evil sorcerers.
Beetlejuice is a 1988 Tim Burton movie starring Michael Keaton as the titular Betelgeuse, as well as Alec Baldwin, Geena Davis and Winona Ryder. It was a storming success of a comedy horror movie, garnering multiple awards and spawning video games, theme park rides and even a stage musical. The story followed Davis and Baldwin as a recently deceased couple who use Beetlejuice to help scare away the new owners of their family home.
A year later in 1989, Tim Burton returned to the character, becoming the executive producer of a Beetlejuice animated series that ran for four seasons and over a hundred episodes. It was regarded as a huge success, running daily concurrently on ABC and Fox, and despite the film not being made for kids, retroactively led to the original movie gaining a large kid following and subsequent airings on Cartoon Network.
8. FRIDAY/NEXT FRIDAY
The Friday franchise of movies started in 1995 with the original movie written by and starring Ice Cube as Craig Jones and is a stoner buddy movie about Jones and his friend Smokey (Chris Tucker) struggling to come up with the $200 they owe a local drug dealer. The movie was successful and spawned two sequels — Next Friday and Friday After Next — each getting slightly more outlandish than the last.
The short-lived animated spin-off (titled appropriately enough Friday: The Animated Series) ran for eight episodes in June/July of 2007. While the cartoon was still not aimed at kids, the Friday films seem like an unlikely source material for an animated series. Despite none of the original cast returning, the show contained some big voice actors, including Phil LaMarr, John DiMaggio and Kevin Michael Richardson.
Another unlikely movie to spawn an animated series, Kevin Smith’s inaugural feature film Clerks is the 1994 black comedy that shot the writer and director into the stratosphere upon its release. With a budget of under $30,000, Smith produced a black and white indie movie that looked at a day in the life of a couple store clerks, introducing multiple recurring characters (including Jay and Silent Bob), kickstarting his ViewAskewniverse and grossing over $3 million in theaters.
While definitely maintaining the adult themes of the show, the Clerks animated series was produced in mid-2000 for the ABC network and ran for only six episodes. Unfortunately for the show, only two of those episodes aired before it was canceled. Despite the entire cast of the movie returning, it would be another two years before the remaining four episodes would air, but by then the show had a semi-cult following on DVD.
Much like Ace Ventura or Rambo, Robocop seems like a character perfect for kids, but starring in a distinctly adult movie. The 1987 cyberpunk action movie saw Peter Weller’s cop Alex Murphy violently shot by a ruthless gang, before having most of his body replaced and enhanced by robotics, transforming him into the titular Robocop. The film spawned multiple sequels, television series, video games and comic books, and in 1988, Marvel produced a short-lived animated series.
To make the 1988 cartoon more appropriate for youngsters, the show made a number of changes to the world of Robocop, including replacing bullets with lasers and shifting the setting from a dystopian Detroit to somewhere a bit more generically sci-fi. The show ran for only 12 episodes, and while none of the original cast returned, it maintained close narrative ties to the movie.
5. BILL AND TED
Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventures was a 1989 buddy comedy about two slacker high schoolers who use a time-traveling telephone booth to assemble a league of history’s greatest figures in order to produce a high school history presentation. The movie starred Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter as Theodore Logan and William S. Preston, and successfully spawned a sequel, as well as comic books and video games.
In 1990 this animated spin-off was produced by Hanna-Barbera and aired on CBS, the first season of which saw almost all of the main cast — including Reeves, Winter and George Carlin — return. After 13 episodes, the show moved to Fox Kids under DC Entertainment, who replaced the entire cast and resulted in the show’s cancellation after only eight episodes. Most of that cast, however, would return for another short-lived but live-action series in 1992.
4. THE MASK
There’s something about Jim Carrey’s performance that lends itself to kids cartoons. Whether it’s his Pet Detective Ace Ventura, or his super-powered anti-hero The Mask, based on the Dark Horse comics of the same name, Carrey’s exaggerated slapstick and comedic timing make for an easy conversion into cartoons. The 1994 movie The Mask saw Carrey play Stanley Ipkiss, the mild-mannered owner/victim of a malevolent mask that brought out a crazy alter ego.
The animated series came the next year and ran from 1995 to 1997 over three seasons and 54 episodes. While none of the main cast returned for the animated series, the show alluded to the movie multiple times throughout its run. Cameron Diaz’s character Tina Carlyle is absent, but reporter Peggy Brandt and Milo the dog are still supporting characters.
3. NAPOLEON DYNAMITE
Napoleon Dynamite remains one of the biggest cult movies of the mid-2000s, earning over $46million for a movie in which its lead star Jon Heder was only paid $1000! The movie follows High Schooler and all around awkward teen Dynamite as he daydreams through his life, surrounded by a kooky group of family and friends. The offbeat comedy and indie sensibilities earned it a strong cult following, leading to an animated series in 2012.
The short-lived cartoon was developed by original writers and directors Jared and Jerusha Hess, in conjunction with Simpsons veteran Mike Scully and Fox television. Most of the original cast returned, including Heder, but the show received mixed reviews upon its release. Despite being aimed at an adult audience, the movie’s appeal got somewhat lost in translation, ending the show after only six episodes.
2. LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS
Little Shop of Horrors is the Frank Oz-directed adaptation of the Broadway musical of the same name. Starring Rick Moranis, Ellen Greene, Steve Martin and Levi Stubbs, the horror comedy about a geeky florist who discovers a talking Venus flytrap had a modest budget and received positive acclaim upon its release. Its themes may seem childish but there are plenty of adult moments that ensure it’s not exactly a film for kids.
Despite that, an animated adaptation was produced in 1991, that borrowed more from the Broadway musical than it did the movie. Called simply Little Shop, the Marvel Productions show lasted for 13 episodes, and toned down a lot of the horror elements of its source material, instead focusing on the characters as they go through junior high.
With a new movie coming out, it’s safe to say that Jumanji is still a beloved franchise. The original movie was released in 1995 and starred Robin Williams, Bonnie Hunt, Kirsten Dunst and Bebe Neuwirth. Its wild action and early use of CGI saw it fast become one of the biggest movies of the year and a firm family favorite among fans.
The animated series ran from 1996 to 1999 for three seasons, and while it borrowed a lot of characters and design elements from the movie, it retconned some of the larger story elements. Distinctly darker in tone, the cartoon saw each of the characters given a clue and then sucked into the jungle of the game until they can solve it, rather than see elements of the game enter the real world.
Which one of these shocked you, and which ones jogged your memory? Let us know in the comments!
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