Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Artifacts of our Childhood #3: Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue!

Sometimes there are things we remember so vaguely that we don't know what it was, and suspect that it was a dream. Screwy, mixed-up, fragmented, and definitely foggy images float in our brain, occasionally bubbling to the surface of our conscious mind. Sometimes the embers flicker on randomly, invoking the general reaction "Well, THAT just came rushing back to me!", or the flickers are so dim that we can't be convinced that we actually saw it.

In this case, I remember seeing it, I remember a few moments of it, the general message, and some characters. I'm talking, of course, about a certain anti-drug animated special called Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue!, which I watched one day in elementary school. My memories of it are slim: I remember that Miss Piggy, Kermit, and maybe Gonzo were in it, in their Muppet Babies forms, traveling through someone's drug-ravaged brain in a mine cart. For some reason I remember the brain being dusty, full of cobwebs and grossness, but it turns out that that wasn't the case. There was also Slimer of Ghostbusters fame, who I recognized from a green-colored variant of the Hi-C juice box drink. I never watched The Real Ghostbusters, although I may have seen some episodes some time afterward- nevertheless, I didn't make the connection between him and the movie. I'm not sure if I had seen it yet at the time.

Most likely, anyone who is unfamiliar with this cartoon and reads this will think: "Wait a minute... The Muppets and The Ghostbusters? What kind of messed up cartoon did you watch?" I tell you what kind: an anti-drug messed up cartoon. Yes folks, somehow or another all these copyright holders agreed to have their cartoon stars used in an anti-drug special, in which they rescue some kid from using drugs- hence the title. Apparently helping kids say no was a just enough cause to have this sort of crossover happen. There was a time when liberals ruled children's entertainment, and fighting against pollution, drug abuse, prejudice and even sexual harassment was the name of the game in most of the brightly-colored and cutesy cartoons of the time. I often look at the sort of cartoons other kids were watching in the late '80s and early '90s, and feel grateful that I was watching Disney and Steven Spielberg productions instead.

But that doesn't mean some of my favorite characters weren't in this mish-mash, even if I don't remember it: There was Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Winnie-the-Pooh, Tigger, Alvin & The Chipmunks, Garfield, Huey, Dewey, and Louie, Baby Kermit, Piggy, and Gonzo, The Smurfs, Slimer, one of the Ninja Turtles, and ALF. These guys were huge stars at the time. Apparently kids were supposed to be really excited about it, and I have my doubts that it was all that successful, considering the nature of the special. I saw it a few years too late, so some of the characters' popularity had waned, and I certainly didn't know who the heck some of them were...

I certainly was watching Looney Tunes cartoons and Muppet Babies at the time, and I may been watching Alvin & The Chipmunks and Garfield & Friends. It was likely that I had seen the theatrical shorts of Winnie-the-Pooh on tape as well, but I don't really remember anything of the TV series besides the theme song. I loved all these, although my memories of The Chipmunks aren't quite so fond. I may have recognized Huey, Dewey, and Louie from vintage Donald Duck shorts I saw on TV, but I didn't really watch anything but the DuckTales theme song either. I always thought The Smurfs was too cute, so I never watched it until recently, but I was still unable to escape the theme song. (For some reason I remember more theme songs than actual episodes...)

This leaves two characters that I didn't know anything about, except maybe their names, faces, and the fact that they had something to do with television. I have never and probably never will have any appreciation for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, simply because I don't care much for action cartoons and they're TEENAGE... MUTANT... NINJA... TURTLES. (Up next! Elderly Werewolf Pirate Pigs!) All I knew about ALF was that he was funny-looking and his name was "ALF". In fact, the only new things I know about him now is that he was the star of a '80s sitcom and an animated series, was an vaguely humorous alien depicted by a puppet, and that his name is in all-caps for some reason. I'm assuming it's an acrostic. I suppose it doesn't really matter since I don't remember them.

So I carried what little I could recall of this special in my head for many years, uncertain if I had even seen it all the way through, until I stumbled upon its Wikipedia article. I was astonished to finally find out what it is, and so I feverishly looked for an online copy I could watch. With such a bizarre image in my head, what could I expect?

As it turns out, it was even weirder than I thought. All the characters are merchandising come to life, and they send the mixed-up teenager in need of rescuing named Michael on such a freaky head trip that it makes one wonder if he really wasn't tripping on acid. The psychedelic surrealism it spirals into, combined with a bunch of cartoon characters chastising him for doing drugs, is such that it could very well be that he's merely freaking out on something, resulting in an exploration of his guilt that involves all the stuff he watched on TV earlier. It doesn't explain how his little sister can see them too, though...

It's also a bit sad because this mess was the first time Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck were voiced by anyone besides Mel Blanc. What a dreadful comeback, especially after Who Framed Roger Rabbit?.

In the end, I think to myself: Geez, was every cartoon I watched as a kid some surreal nightmare?? Was there always some scary, freaky parts? Okay, maybe not, considering a lot of it was standard cartoon gags, but still. It's no wonder I have such a twisted imagination! And it's all topped off with a gooshy, gushy and mushy ballad at the end that somehow pulls at my heartstrings despite it being sugarcoated with bleeding-heart sentimentalism. What sort of person am I, if I somehow enjoy the most bizarre cartoon crossover ever with the most psychedelic anti-drug message ever with one of the sappiest songs ever? A crazy, mixed-up kid at heart, I guess. I certainly like to think so, anyway.

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