The Karate Kid seems like a no-brainer for a second life as a cartoon. What about a film like Rambo: First Blood Part II? Robocop? Or, The Toxic Avenger? Again, you’ve read that correctly. These are just a few of the movies would be given a shot to make a ton of money in the world of Saturday Morning Cartoons. Some of the cartoons on this list were more successful than others, but by and large making the leap from the big screen to the small screen (and in animated form) didn’t always go that well for this list of 80’s Movies Turned into Cartoons.
Coming to us in 1985, Ewoks seemed like the perfect cartoon to entrance young people into watching and buying merchandise based on the show. Sadly, it only ran for two seasons before it would leave the airwaves. The story, which takes place well before the Battle of Endor in Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi, follows Wicket (voiced by Jim Henshaw) as a young Ewok trying to show his community that he’s not a little… Ewok. Over 26 episodes we see Wicket help a princess, try and protect his very penetrable village, and battle rivals like the Duloks. The show was entertaining but just didn’t seem to be able to capture the Star Wars magic, even when it had the likes of George Lucas helping to develop the characters.
If ever there was a cool character from film that needed it’s own cartoon, it had to be Teen Wolf. This show bowed in 1986 and continued the exploits that Michael J. Fox started as Scott Howard from the Teen Wolf movie in 1985. In animated form we see Howard continue to deal with the vagaries of being a teenager while also trying to curb his werewolf tendencies. In this show (which lasted for only 2 seasons and spanned 21 episodes), Scott’s true friends know that he is werewolf but there are many others that don’t. This obviously makes for some fun moments and the cast of this show is buoyed by James Hampton reprising his role as Harold Howard and Don Most (Happy Days) voicing the character of Stiles. Throw in the interesting Craig Sheffer (That Was Then, This Is Now), and its actually kind of surprising that Teen Wolf didn’t have a longer run.
Rambo: Force of Freedom
While it might seem crazy in 2021 that the character of John Rambo (voiced here by the accomplished Neil Ross) could be toned down enough for consumption in a Saturday Morning Cartoon, when you consider how much the 1980s resemble the 2020s it actually isn’t so shocking. The crux of the show was that Rambo was heading a group known as The Force of Freedom. They were going head to head with S.A.V.A.G.E. (which stands for Specialist Administrators of Vengeance, Anarchy and Global Extortion), and on Colonel Trautman’s orders (voiced by Alan Oppenheimer and not Richard Crenna) they were to battle them the world over. This low key propaganda show had 65 action packed episodes which saw Rambo and his team pull off daring rescues in the Bronx, stop an attack on the Federal Reserve Bank, and thwart a bombing at the White House. Rambo’s main foes go by names like Mad Dog and General Warhawk, which shows you just how much fun this very American show had in its short run.
The Real Ghostbusters
The whimsical nature of Ghostbusters makes it the perfect film to get the animated treatment. Airing from 1986 to 1991, this show boasts 7 seasons and 140 episodes! It follows the original group from the film, Egan, Venkman, Ray and Winston (voiced by Arsenio Hall no less!) as they they go around the city of New York fighting these pesky poltergeists. Aided in their pursuit by the lovable Slimer, it appears that these guys are going to need Slimer’s help as they battle Bogeymen, Trolls, Samhain, and many other really bad paranormal entities. Slimer was such a popular character that they would get a show of their own titled Slimer! And the Real Ghostbusters! Sadly, the popularity didn’t hold and Slimer! And the Real Ghostbusters would only be around for a season, but that season would give us 33 episodes.
Robocop: The Animated Series
If you’ve seen Robocop (and chances are, since you’re reading this article you have), then you know that that hyper-violent film might seem even odder than a cartoon about John Rambo. However, Robocop is essentially about a robot police officer with a human inside of it. So it is these elements that became the (no pun intended) heart of the show. Robocop: The Animated Series aired from October 1988 to December 1988 so its time on the air wasn’t that long. Again, this show followed Alex Murphy (voiced by Dan Hennessey) as a half man/half police officer who tries to protect the citizens of Detroit. At the same time, he’s also reminded of his human past and that plays into many episodes of the show. As for the violence of the original film, all of that was basically scrubbed. Rather than shoot bullets, Robocop shoots lasers and people certainly aren’t dying gory deaths or put in anything resembling risqué situations. Also, this animated re-imagining went a lot harder on the sci-if aspect of the movie series.
It’s fairly easy to see Bettlejuice as an animated cartoon character along the lines of SpongeBob SquarePants. This animated series leapt into our TVs from 1989-1991. Spanning 94 episodes over 4 seasons, this innovative show once again followed the adventures of Lydia Deetz and her frenemy Beetlejuice. Together they work as baby-sitters, visit the old west in the form of Tombstone, Scarizona, and at one point Beetlejuice wins a ton of money in the Neitherworld sweepstakes. Taking some of the fun from the movie and mixing it with real world happenings, Beetlejuice oftentimes is a very cheeky “kids” series. Like later cartoons such as Phineas and Ferb it manages to have something for both kids and adults. The animation is 2D simple but that does nothing to take away from the grandness that Beetlejuice always thinks he’s worthy of.
The Karate Kid
Again, the character of Daniel LaRusso seems perfect for a Saturday Morning Cartoon. This animated incarnation of The Karate Kid aired in 1989 and also went off the air in 1989. Sadly, it only notched 13 episodes and it’s honestly a shame given the success of Cobra Kai. Sadly, the reason the cartoon version of The Karate Kid failed is because it seemingly strayed too far from who these beloved characters. Instead of following their lives and seeing Daniel in High School and Mr. Miyagi in Reseda, we instead got another show trying to be Scooby-Doo. Our main stars (joined by a character named Taki) globetrot around the world looking for a mysterious talisman. Making matters worse is that Daniel doesn’t really look like Daniel and Miyagi seems to be drawn much younger than he really is. Episodes like “The Homecoming” have promise as Daniel, Miyagi and Taki venture to Daniel’s former home of Newark, but those overt references to the film are too far and few between.
Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventures
Sadly, this show only ran from 1990 to 1991 but it’s actually pretty well done. Featuring Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter and George Carlin (among others) voicing their characters from the original Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, this 21 episode, 2 season show sees our characters traveling to and from various sections of our past, present and future. One episode sees Bill and Ted hanging out with Mozart because of an assignment in music appreciation. Another episode sees them trying to get caught up on their homework only to end up smack dab in the crusades. Aside from the fact that Reeves, Winter and Carlin reprised their roles for this series, the best part is how this show incorporates history lessons into as many episodes as possible. As a result we have a quick witted show that is filled with history and excellent adventures from two guys who know how to party!
Of all the offerings on this list, an animated retooling of 1984’s The Toxic Avenger might be the strangest and most ambitious. In the movie, a sad sack named Melvin topples into a vat of toxic waste and turns into The Toxic Avenger. He becomes a vigilante of sorts as he seeks to right the wrongs in Tromaville. The Toxic Crusaders continues this story with Toxie. He joins forces with other mutants like No Zone, Major Disaster and others to battle criminals and also do their part to save the environment. This interesting show melded science fiction with fun characters, and in the process created something that was truly family friendly. The fact that this show managed to follow the initial storyline of the The Toxic Avenger, only shows how sometimes what one person thinks is schlock is actually a more “dressed up” version of simpler, mainstream fare. The fact that this show also seemed bent on making a statement about the environment probably helped its cause.
Back to the Future: The Animated Series
Who doesn’t want more time traveling adventures of Marty McFly, Doc Brown, and the irrepressible Biff Tannen? In the animated show, Biff is voiced by Thomas F. Wilson, who also played him in the movies. This show had two seasons and it ran from 1991 to 1993. It mainly focused on Doc Brown and his sons Jules and Verne. Marty McFly is a part of the proceedings but this is clearly Doc’s show. One of the episodes see our characters go to London in the 1300s and have to joust their way out of some tricky situations. Another sees Marty and Verne head back to the 1940s where they use a pair dancing shoes that Doc Brown invented when he was in college. All of the episodes are fun, whimsical, and while Marty isn’t center stage like he was in the other films, he’s used to good effect here. Also, according to Bob Gale, who produced this show and co-wrote the original Back to the Future movies, this show isn’t exactly part of the original trilogy. Lastly, you gotta love that Bill Nye made his TV debut in this animated, sci-fi show!
Conan: The Adventurer
Continuing the tales of the 1982 and 1984 films featuring the character of Conan (notably played by Arnold Schwarzenegger), Conan The Adventurer bowed in 1992 but went off the air in 1993. It managed to produce 2 seasons and 65 episodes in which our beloved Conan slashed, punched, and tried to fight his way to victory against Wrath-Amon (a wizard/snake man). Wrath-Amon’s big goal was always to resurrect Set, a serpent lord who Conan always feared might ruin the world. The episodes were filled with action and, as you might expect, Conan always triumphed in the end. One episode sees Conan forge a friendship with Zula (a strong warrior who also happens to be a prince) as they plot an escape from Wrath-Amon’s quarry pits. Another sees Conan being offered the opportunity to join a pirate ship. This show benefited from having solid stories and a character that was truly the epitome of an action hero.
Highlander: The Animated Series
Set amidst the world of 1986 Highlander films, we follow the tales of Quintin MacLeod. Like others in the MacLeod clan, Quintin is also taught by the sage Ramirez as they set out to once again try and stop the ruthless Kortan from taking over the land. Highlander has always been a fan favorite amongst the people that follow it. It’s no surprise that it had a solid run of 40 episodes from 1994-1996. Even more impressive is the depth and scope of this show. The first episode begins with Quintin’s mother being killed in a raid by Kortan. How many television cartoons can you name that show characters dying and then make that the crux of show? There is a richness to these Highlander: The Animated Series episodes that make them highly memorable. The mythos of this animated series are truly well crafted and it makes for a cartoon viewing experience that rises above most “Saturday Morning” fare.
Police Academy: The Animated Series
Yes, you are reading that correctly, even Mahoney and company was made palatable for very young audiences. Obviously following the same playbook as the hit film from 1984, this show ran from 1988-1989 and managed to spawn 64 episodes. When you consider how many Police Academy movies there were (8, at last count), it’s not surprising that Paul Maslansky (who was behind the original film), would try to increase its demographic by skewing to a younger audience. As a result we get episodes about dogs trying to stop cats from being stolen, robots attempting to replace police officers, and other fun episodes that seem just above the age of the average toddler watching Blue’s Blues. Sure, it’s easy to dismiss Police Academy: The Series if you grew up watching the actual movies, but it sure is fun seeing Mahoney, Tackleberry, Hooks, Sweetchuck, Harris and the rest of the gang live in the world of Saturday Morning cartoon animation.
Mister T ran from 1983-1986 which is a not poor run. Truthfully, this cartoon wasn’t exactly inspired by a movie but rather seems to have emanated from Mr. T’s persona as Clubber Lang in Rocky III and of course B.A. Baracus in The A-Team. Mister T focuses on, who else, Mr. T (who voices his character) and the gymnastics team that he heads up. Of course, Mr. T isn’t really doing any gymnastics himself, rather he is the muscle that backs up the gymnasts ability (much like how he backed up Face, Hannibal and Murdock on The A-Team. Honestly, this show seems to be following the blueprint of another Hanna-Barbera show in which some groovy teens solve crimes with a dog. The biggest question about Mister T is why did it have gymnasts as the good guys when nothing about Mr. T’s career ever really touched on that? The best answer it seems is maybe this show was trying to cash in on the popularity of the US Gymnastics team which won 16 medals at the 1984 Olympics.