July 31, 2015

"ROWDY" RODDY PIPER DEAD AT 61



Wrestler and actor "Rowdy" Roddy Piper died on July 30th. You can read the full story here.

Although not voicing himself, his wrestling persona served as the basis of the lead villain on Hulk Hogan's Rock 'n' Wrestling. Piper did appear on an episode during one of the live-action segments.

July 25, 2015

JURASSIC PARK CRUNCH

JURASSIC PARK CRUNCH CEREAL


General Mills

            After the success of 1993’s Jurassic Park film, author of the novel on which it was based Michael Crichton was pressured by fans and director Steven Spielberg to write a sequel. In 1995, he released The Lost World and production began almost immediately on the sequel of the same name. Despite mixed reviews, the film was a box office success.



            To promote the film, Universal Pictures went all-out with an expensive marketing campaign. One of the items to come out of that was a cereal licensed by General Mills. Called Jurassic Park Crunch, the cereal featured sweetened corn pieces with four two-colored marshmallow pieces shaped as dinosaurs and a hatching egg. The boxes were completely covered in foil and featured a skeleton matching game on the back. Some boxes came with a microchip that let the box “roar” when it was opened, indicating the winner of a trip offered on the box, or a number of other Jurassic Park-themed prizes.
 .
Back of the box.

            Once the film was released and the promotional period ended, so too did the run of the cereal as it left the shelves before the end of the year.

CONAN THE ADVENTURER

CONAN THE ADVENTURER
(Syndication, September 12, 1992-November 22, 1993)


Sunbow Productions, Jetlag Productions, Graz Entertainment (season 1), Créativité et Développement, AB Productions (season 2)

MAIN CAST:
Michael Beattie – Needle
Scott McNeil – Zula, Greywolf, Misha, Wrath-Amon, Ram-Amon, Yang Doo, Erik the Flame-Lord
Janyse Jaud – Jezmine
Kathleen Barr – Sasha, Mesmira
Garry Chalk – Snagg, Gora, Conan’s father, Torrinon
Alec Willows – Falkenar
Doug Parker – Dregs, Skulkur, Windfang, Kari Dragon, Zogar Sag, Jhebbal-Sag (corrupted)
Richard Newman – Set, Conan’s grandfather, Dong Hee, Jhebbal-Sag


            After a trip to the Rio Grande in 1932, Robert E. Howard fully conceived of his latest character: Conan the Barbarian. Upon his return, he rewrote his rejected story “By This Axe I Rule!” and replaced the star character, Kull, with Conan to call it “The Phoenix on the Sword,” as well as wrote an original story called “The Frost-Giant’s Daughter.” He submitted both to Weird Tales magazine, and after some editing “The Phoenix on the Sword” appeared in the December 1932 issue.

The first appearance of Conan.

            Series editor Farnsworth Wright had Howard write a personal essay detailing the world of Conan for his own personal use and future reference. Conan is a Cimmerian, a tribe descended from the ancient Atlanteans based on the Celts or Gaels. He was born the son of a blacksmith and became an adept fighter by the age of 15. Living in the fictional Hyborian Age (which was the title of Howard’s essay), Conan began wandering the lands and spent time as a thief, outlaw, mercenary and pirate until he eventually sized his own kingdom in his later years. While often depicted as an incredibly strong, muscular man, Conan has intelligence to back up his skill making him an excellent commander as well as a skilled warrior. Originally, Conan was depicted as having a keen sense of humor, although in future adaptations of Howard’s work that was largely downplayed or removed.

The beginning of Marvel's 30-year relationship with Conan.

            Howard published 17 out of 21 completed stories, with numerous others left in unfinished fragments before his suicide in 1936. Since then, other writers have taken up the Cimmerian’s adventures in pulp and book form. In 1952, Conan made the leap to comics in the Mexican anthology series Cuentos de Abuelito from #8 through #61, featuring adaptations of Howard stories as well as original works (and Conan as a blonde, rather than a brunette as Howard intended). In 1970, Marvel Comics acquired the license to the character and consistently published him in various titles, primarily written by Roy Thomas, and crossed over with their other characters until 2000. Some of the comics were also adapted into daily newspaper comic strips.



            In 1982, Conan made the transition to film with Conan the Barbarian. Directed by John Millus and starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, the film featured Conan escaping enslavement by Thulsa Doom (James Earl Jones) and seeking revenge against him for the death of his family and people. Despite mixed reviews, the film was a box office success and led to the 1984 sequel Conan the Destroyer. Directed by Richard Fleischer, the film had a less positive reception than the first but was still a box office success. A third film, Conan the Conqueror, was planned, but with Schwarzenegger committed to Predator and unwilling to negotiate a new contract with producer Dino De Laurentis, the film fell into development hell. In a bit of history repeating itself, the script was repurposed for Howard’s other character Kull in 1997’s Kull the Conqueror starring Kevin Sorbo.

Conan and his horse Thunder.

            In 1992, Conan entered the world of animation in an American-French-Canadian adaptation. Developed by Christy Marx, who also served as sole story editor, the series focused on the discovery of star metal made from meteors that fell from the sky. Conan’s father (Garry Chalk) would forge the metal into tools and weapons that would never dull, break or rust; including a sword for Conan (Michael Donavan) that he placed in a sealed crypt for Conan to claim when he was strong enough to open it. The evil wizard Wrath-Amon (Scott McNeil) learned about the metal and laid siege to Conan’s village to get it, turning his parents into stone. Conan began a quest across Hybornia to find a cure for his family’s condition, prevent Wrath-Amon from building pyramids needed to unleash his Serpent-god Set (Richard Newman) upon the world.

Snagg, Zula, Conan, Jezmine and Greywolf.

            Conan was joined on his quest by several allies; Thunder, Conan’s willful and loyal horse with star metal horseshoes that often tossed Conan from his back rather than enter a city; Needle (Michael Beattie), a phoenix who resided on his shield, spoke in the third person, and was often required to disguise himself as a parrot (which he resented); Zula (McNeil), Prince of the Wasai who wielded star metal bolas that the later reforged into a more useful boomerang; Jezmine (Janyse Jaud), a circus performer and thief who wielded star metal throwing stars and had strong feelings for Conan; Greywolf (McNeil), a wizard from Xanthus whose staff was eventually given the star metal Claw of Heaven topper that increased his power; Snagg (Chalk), a Viking-like barbarian with a sense of humor who wields a star metal axe and grapnel and is often at odds with Conan because of their opposing cultures; and Falkenar (Alec Willows), champion of the kingdom of Kusan armed with a star metal whip who is able to fly using the Mantle of Wind. Sometimes joining them were Greywolf’s older brother and sister Sasha (Kathleen Barr) and Misha (McNeil), who had become transformed into wolves by Mesmira (Barr)

The demon Set.

            The primary villains of the series were the Snake Cult led by Set. The Snake Cult was comprised of Serpent-Men who could take the shape of ordinary humans, hiding amongst the populace. Only unprotected exposure to star metal could reveal their true identities or cause them to be banished to an alternate dimensional limbo known as the Abyss (a way of sanitizing enemies being killed for the benefit of the cartoon-viewing audience). All worshipped the cobra-like serpent demon Set.

Wrath-Amon.

            As said, the leader of The Snake Cult was Wrath-Amon. Originally a gila monster transformed into a man-like creature, Wrath-Amon overthrew his master Ram-Amon (also McNeil) to become the high priest of the cult. His Black Ring protects him from the more harmful effects of star metal. Serving Wrath-Amon was his assistant Dregs (Doug Parker), a sneaky Naga who was essentially Needle’s opposite and nemesis; Skulkur (also Parker), an undead warrior empowered by the Black Ring that could animate skeletons to fight for him; Windfang (Parker again), an enslaved four-armed winged dragon man that could breathe fire and sought his freedom from Wrath-Amon; Mesmira, the evil queen of Stygia and a powerful sorceress; and Gora (Chalk), Zula’s cousin, also a Prince of Wasai and a sorcerer who worked as a spy for Wrath-Amon and sought to eliminate Zula in order to inherit his throne. Yang Doo (McNeil) was an exiled warlord who frequently joined Windfang on his own independent schemes.

Ready for sacrifice?

            The series was produced by Jetlag Productions and Sunbow Entertainment and premiered in syndication on September 12, 1992. It ran for two seasons with the first running on Saturday mornings produced by Graz Entertainment and then daily for the second produced by AB Productions and Créativité et Développement. Animation Korea Movie (AKOM) Productions handled the animation duties throughout while the theme was composed by Chase/Rucker Productions. Although it was criticized for the taming of the Conan character and the world in which he lived, the series proved popular with fans of the character and general audiences. It was also highly praised for staying close to Howard’s original material.



            In 1992, Hasbro produced brief a line of action figures based on the series. Included was Conan in four different outfits, Greywolf, Skulkur, Wrath-Amon, Zula, Thunder and a horse for Wrath-Amon. Each figure came with a pull-cord battle action. In the United Kingdom, Maximum Entertainment released several episodes in 2004 and the complete first season in 2008 on DVD. Maximum also released episodes as part of a three pack in Action Man/RoboCop/Conan the Adventurer. Force Entertainment released the complete series in Australia in 16 single-disc volumes of four episodes per disc. From 2011 to 2012, Shout! Factory released the complete first season followed by half of the second across two volumes.


EPISODE GUIDE:
Season 1:
“The Night of Fiery Tears” (9/12/92) – Wrath-Amon attacks Conan’s village for the metal they made from fallen meteors, prompting Conan on a quest to free his family from statue form.

“Blood Brother” (9/19/92) – Conan is sold into slavery and leads a revolt against their captors, befriending Prince Zula along the way.

“Star of Shadizar” (9/26/92) – Conan and Zula head to Shadizar to find the Star of Transmutation and Jezmine joins them on their quest.

“Conan the Gladiator” (10/3/92) – Conan and Jezmine set out to find Zula after hearing he was captured by cannibals.

“The Heart of Rakkir” (10/10/92) – Wrath-Amon and Conan both want the Heart of Rakkir, which can control a sea monster—if the user is Atlantean, which Conan is.

“Men of Stone” (10/17/92) – Conan threatens the loss of his friends to discover the secret of Wrath-Amon’s stone spell.

“The Terrible Torrinon” (10/24/92) – Conan and friends fall into a trap when they attempt to rescue a woman kidnapped by a wizard, who also fools Wrath-Amon leading to a duel.

“Greywolf of Xanthus” (10/31/92) – Conan and friends travel to Xanthus to find a cure for the stone curse.

“Shadow Walkers” (11/7/92) – Conan and Greywolf offer aid to a group of ninjas in exchange for ninja training.

“The Claw of Heaven” (11/14/92) – Conan and Greywolf have to convince the Picts to give up their piece of magic-amplifying star metal before Mesmira and Skulkur get their hands on it.

“The Serpent Riders of Set” (11/21/92) – Conan and friends agree to help an ousted ruler drive Wrath-Amon from his lands before he can resurrect the Serpent Riders of Set.

“Windfang’s Eyrie” (11/28/92) – Wrath-Amon has Windfang kidnap Jezmine.

“Seven Against Stygia” (12/5/92) – Conan rallies his allies against Wrath-Amon before he completes his second pyramid.

Season 2:
“Tribal Warfare” (9/13/93) – Groups that resemble Vanirmen and Cimmerians attack each other, leading to a war between the tribes and Conan and Snagg.

“Curse of Ahx’oon” (9/14/93) – Gora has Conan and Zula deliver the mask of Ahx’oon to the Wasai in order to bring peace to the two kingdoms.

“The Master Thief of Shadizar” (9/15/93) – Conan and Jezmine team-up with a thief to rob a wizard’s tower.

“The Vengeance of Jhebbal Sag” (9/16/93) – Zula calls beast master Jhebbal Sag’s spirit into the real world, allowing it to be captured by Wrath-Amon.

“The Red Brotherhood” (9/17/93) – After being rescued by the pirate Valeria, Conan and Snagg agree to join her crew.

“Thunder and Lightning” (9/20/93) – While looking for the maker of weapons duplicated from his father’s, Thunder falls for a female horse causing Conan to take another named Lightning.

“The Crevasse of Winds” (9/21/93) – When pursuing the Book of Skelos Needle must decide if he’s loyal to his friends or the tainted phoenix guarding it.

“Hanuman the Ape God” (9/22/93) – Investigating a possible star metal sighting in a magical golden city, Conan and Jezmine discover the god the city worships is actually a prisoner.

“Isle of the Naiads” (9/23/93) – Conan and Snagg lose all their strength to waters of weakness as Wrath-Amon and Windfang lay siege to a nearby land.

“In Days of Old” (9/24/93) – Conan and Jezmine seek out a sorcerer that turned Greywolf into an old man after their encounter.

“Birth of Wrath-Amon” (9/27/93) – Conan is sent back in time to prevent Wrath-Amon’s spell.

“Earthbound” (9/28/93) – Windfang kidnaps Jezmine in order to use a spell to break free of Wrath-Amon’s control.

“The Treachery of Emperors” (9/29/93) – Conan agrees to save the kidnapped princess of Vendhya on the promise of being made a king.

“A Needle in a Haystack” (9/30/93) – Looking for his stolen shield leads Conan to rescue Jezmine from a dungeon and learn of Wrath-Amon’s latest plot.

“Return to Tarantia” (10/1/93) – Journeying to Tarantia reunites Jezmine with her family and exposes dark secrets.

“The Book of Skelos” (10/4/93) – Conan, Jezmine and Zula seek the second Book of Skelos which leads them to a demon-ruled alternate dimension.

“Labors of Conan” (10/5/93) – Wizard Zulanti comes to Conan’s aid against a group of Serpent-Men and reveals he can reverse the stone curse.

“The Amulet of Vathelos” (10/6/93) – Conan encounters a man who knew his grandfather and is told how his grandfather stole the amulet of Vathelos.

“Final Hours of Conan” (10/7/93) – Conan is stung by an imp created by Wrath-Amon which slowly turns him into a Serpentman.

“An Evil Wind in Kusan” (10/8/93) – Conan must train a weak boy how to fight in a duel in order to save Kusan from a transformed Falconer.

“Blood of My Blood” (10/11/93) - Jezmine teaches Conan how to read while Mesmira hatches a plot against them.

“Dragon’s Breath” (10/12/93) – Conan’s old master Dong tells him that an answer may lie with the Kari Dragon.

“The Queen of Stygia” (10/13/93) – Mesmira is able to entrance Conan into fighting against his friends.

“Nature of the Beast” (10/14/93) – Mesmira transforms herself into Sasha in order to trap Conan and his friends.

“City of the Burning Skull” (10/15/93) – A sorcerer needs the bodies of a town’s populace in order to maintain his life.

“Son of Atlantis” (10/18/93) – Wrath-Amon uses a horn to summon the Cimmerians to Stygia through their Atlantean blood.

“Conn Rides Again” (10/19/93) – Mesmira claims she’ll free Conan’s family, but sensing a trick Conan and Greywolf plot against her.

“Down to the Dregs” (10/20/93) – Needle is forced to team up with Dregs to escape an animal collector.

“Dregs-Amon the Great” (10/21/93) – Dregs becomes ruler of Stygia.

“The Wolfmother” (10/22/93) – Greywolf goes after Sasha and Misha when they run away in a frozen country.

“Conan of the Kosaki” (10/25/93) – Conan and friends are imprisoned in a faraway kingdom and must join the Kosaki people to stop a pyramid from being built.

“Torrinon Returns” (10/26/93) – After ticking off Wrath-Amon, Torrinton summons Conan, Snagg and Jezmine for help.

“The Frost Giant’s Daughter” (10/27/93) – Snagg seeks a flower in the garden of the frost giant’s daughter to win the heart of a warrior woman.

“Cornucopia of Grondar” (10/28/93) – Wrath-Amon gets the Cornucopia of Grondar, a horn of plenty that can create everything—even star metal.

“When Tolls the Bell of Night” (10/29/93) – Yin Doo and Wildfang unleash an evil fear demon from ancient times, which proves too powerful for them to control.

“The Last Dagger of Manir” (11/1/93) – Conan and his friends end up captured by pirates, and Conan must convince their captain of the danger of Set.

“Thorns of Midnight” (11/2/93) – Mesmira is after the same plants Conan and Greywolf need to restore Sasha and Misha.

“The Vale of Amazons” (11/3/93) – Jezmine must defeat the queen of the Amazons to rescue Conan.

“Bones of Damballa” (11/4/93) – Wrath-Amon sends Skulkar to assassinate his potential replacement, Shadizar, but Shadizar ends up

“Turn About is Foul Play” (11/5/93) – Conan and Zula are imprisoned and sentenced to die by a queen who is really a Serpentwoman.

“Once & Future Conan” (11/8/93) – Wrath-Amon lures Conan to a garden for a cure and sends him into the future.

“The Sword of Destiny” (11/9/93) – A kid steals Conan’s sword to face Wrath-Amon and prove himself as great as Conan.

“Sword, Sai & Shuriken” (11/9/93) – Conan has to defeat an unstoppable warrior in Phenion.

“Full Moon Rising” (11/10/93) – A wizard defeated by Greywolf and Conan teams up with Mesmira for revenge.

“The Stealer of Souls” (11/11/93) – Wratjh-Amon summons the Stealer of Souls and Gora uses it on Zula, his uncle and Conan.

“Amra the Lion” (11/12/93) – Gora uses voodoo magic to drain the life from Conan and Zula, and Conan uses his new totem animal to find Gora in the forest before it’s too late.

“Escape of Ram-Amon” (11/15/93) – Conan finds and frees Wrath-Amon’s predecessor Ram-Amon.

“The Star Metal Monster” (11/16/93) – Wrath-Amon seeks the living star metal statue created by a lonely orphan girl with magical powers.

“Into the Abyss” (11/17/93) – Conan and Jezmine travel into the Abyss in order to recharge the Amulet of Vathelos with some of Set’s magical energy.

“A Serpent Coils the Earth, Part I” (11/18/93) – Wrath-Amon completes the pyramids and frees Set, who begins to conquer the Earth with his army.

“A Serpent Coils the Earth, Part II” (11/19/93) – Conan infiltrates Wrath-Amon’s fortress and finally defeats him, reverting him to his original state and destroying his black ring.

“A Serpent Coils the Earth, Part III” (11/22/93) – After Conan and his allies close off the Abyss, Ram-Amon captures the heroes and aligns himself with Set for the final battle.

THE KARATE KID: THE ANIMATED SERIES

THE KARATE KID: THE ANIMATED SERIES
(NBC, September 9-December 16, 1989)


Saban Entertainment, Columbia Pictures Television, DiC Entertainment

MAIN CAST:
Joey Dedio – Daniel LaRusso
Robert Ito – Keisuke Miyagi

            When Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) moved from Newark, New Jersey to Reseda in Los Angeles, California, things weren’t all that great. Befriending cheerleader Ali Mills (Elisabeth Shue) drew the wrath of her boyfriend Johnny Lawrene (William Zabka). Johnny and his cronies, all students of the unethical and vicious form of karate known as Cobra Kai, attacked Daniel until he was saved by Kesuke Miyagi (Pat Morita). Daniel enlists Miyagi’s aid in learning karate, and before long he has a rematch with Johnny in a tournament.



            That was the plot of The Karate Kid, a 1984 movie from Columbia Pictures directed by John G. Avildsen and written by Robert Mark Kamen. The film opened on June 22nd and became a critical and commercial success, earning over $90 million and getting Morita nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. 1986 saw the release of the first sequel, The Karate Kid, Part II, which followed Daniel joining Miyagi on a visit back to his home village in Okinawa. Despite mixed reviews, the film grossed even more than the original and led to the production of The Karate Kid, Part III. The second sequel focused on the teacher of the Cobra Kais, John Kreese (Martin Kove) seeking revenge on Miyagi and Daniel. It was poorly received by fans and critics, and only grossed $39 million.

Taki, Miyagi and Daniel.

            Before the third movie’s release, Columbia partnered with DiC Entertainment and Saban Entertainment to build on the franchise’s popularity with a Saturday morning cartoon developed by Dan Distefano. Forgoing the tournament aspect central to the plots of the films, the show was done as a quest show as Daniel (Joey Dedio) and Miyagi (Robert Ito) pursued a miniature shrine with mystical powers after it was stolen from a temple in Okinawa. The shrine traveled around the world and bestowed powers upon those who ended up with it, and usually found a way to elude the heroes just before they could retrieve it. Along the way, they usually ended up having to help those they encountered with problems besides the ones tied to the shrine. Joining them on their hunt was an Okinawan girl named Taki (Janice Kawaye), who bore a resemblance to Daniel’s girlfriend from the second movie, Kumiko (Tamlyn Tomita). Haim Saban and Shuki Levy provided the series’ music.

The shrine in sinister hands.

            The series debuted on NBC on September 9th, 1989, nearly three months after the release of the third movie. With the movie franchise already on the way out with its audience, it came as no surprise when the repetitive nature of the show failed to win them back and was cancelled after a single season. The series never saw release on home media, but in 2009 Sony Pictures, Columbia’s new parent company, released the series to digital streaming platforms such as iTunes, Neftlix and Hulu. Dedio and Kawaye would go on to star together again as Wheeler and Gi respectively in Captain Planet and the Planeteers, on which Ito would guest star.



            In 1994, the original Karate Kid franchise gained its final chapter in The Next Karate Kid. The movie was the first to not feature Daniel, be written by Kamen or directed by Avildsen. Instead, it was written by Mark Lee and directed by Christopher Cain. It focused on Miyagi visiting Boston and training the granddaughter, Julie (Hilary Swank), of his former commanding officer during WWII. The film, while a breakout role for Swank, was even more poorly received than the third movie.



In 2010, Columbia attempted to revive the franchise with a reboot movie starring Jaden Smith and produced by his parents Will and Jada. The movie, written by Christopher Murphey and directed by Harald Zwart, focused on Jaden’s character Dre Parker moving to Beijing and being rescued from bullies by janitor Mr. Han (Jackie Chan). Han trains Dre in the ways of Kung Fu and Dre enters a tournament where he competed against Master Li (Rongguang Yu) and his merciless students; in particular Cheng (Zhenwei Wang). Despite mixed reviews, the film was a box office success and a sequel has been announced.

EPISODE GUIDE:
“My Brother’s Keeper” (9/9/89) – Miyagi and Daniel help a South American boy learn what he needs to past his tests of manhood besides relying on a mystical shrine.

“The Greatest Victory” (9/16/89) – Miyagi helps a Chinese neighborhood form an organized effort to oppose the gang terrorizing them as their leader uses the shrine gain new members.

“The Homecoming” (9/23/89) – Daniel returns to New Jersey to find a shrine where he used to live.

“The Tomorrow Man” (9/30/89) – In France, a clairvoyant predicts Miyagi’s death as they try to beat a smuggler to the shrine.

“All the World His Stage” (10/14/89) – In London, a prop sword ends up infused with the power of the shrine and the actor who wields it can no longer distinguish reality from fantasy.

“The Paper Hero” (10/21/89) – The trio join forces with Daniel’s FBI uncle in Mexico to stop banditos who have gained the power of the shrine.

“Over the Rainbow” (10/28/89) – A Himalayan village becomes young again due to the shrine’s powers, and abandoning their responsibilities leave it their home vulnerable to a blizzard.

“The Return of the Shrine” (11/4/89) – The trio finally get the shrine to Okinawa, but a family feud can result in its being lost again.

“Walkabout” (11/11/89) – In Australia, an Aborigine man sees the shrine but is being blackmailed by members of his tribe.

“East Meets West” (11/18/89) – A scientist steals the shrine from a Russian lab in order to empower his son playing hockey in the Friendship Games.

“The Hunt” (12/2/89) – When a whale swallows the shrine the trio get jobs aboard a whaling vessel in Norway to pursue it.

“The Gray Ghosts” (12/9/89) – The trio enlist the help of senior citizen group The Gray Ghosts in San Francisco to get the shrine from a wealthy recluse.

“A Little World of his Own” (12/16/89) – A young boy uses the shrine to shrink objects to add to his collection and get revenge on bullies, and accidentally shrinks the trio.

July 20, 2015

GEORGE COE DEAD AT 86



Actor George Coe died on Saturday, July 18th. You can read the full story here.

As well as being a founding member of Saturday Night Live, Coe guest-starred on an episode of Camp Candy and portrayed Tee Watt Kaa on Star Wars: The Clone Wars.

July 18, 2015

THE WIZARD OF OZ: THE ANIMATED SERIES

THE WIZARD OF OZ: THE ANIMATED SERIES
(ABC, September 8, 1990 – December 1, 1990)


DiC Entertainment, Turner Entertainment

MAIN CAST:


            In 1900, the George M. Hill Company published The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, with illustrations by W.W. Denslow, inspired by a desire to capture the wonder of the stories of the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen without all the horror. Publisher George Hill didn’t have much faith in the book and had given a skeptical prediction of selling around 250,000 copies. He only agreed to publish it after Fred R. Hamlin, manager of the Chicago Grand Opera House, agreed to turn the book into a musical stage play for publicity. The book ended up becoming a phenomenon, selling out of every printing. And the musical, which opened in 1902, did just as well.

The cover to the first edition of the book.

            The book was about young Kansas girl named Dorothy Gale who is swept away with her dog Toto to the magical Land of Oz by a cyclone. Her house landed on and killed the evil Wicked Witch of the East, freeing the Munchkin people from her rule. The Good Witch of the North gave Dorothy the Wicked Witch’s Silver Shoes and sent her to the Emerald City so that the powerful Wizard of Oz could send her home. Along the way on the Yellow Brick Road, she met, befriended and was joined on her journey by the Scarecrow, who wants a brain, Tin Woodman, who wants a heart, and the Cowardly Lion, who wants courage. The Wizard agreed to give them what they wanted in exchange for freeing the Winkies from the rule of the Wicked Witch of the West. After doing so, they learn the Wizard was actually an ordinary man from Nebraska who was stranded in Oz when his hot air balloon was blown off course. The Wizard grants their wishes, but Dorothy ended up stranded once more and enlisted the aid of Glinda, the Good Witch of the South who revealed the Silver Shoes had the power to send Dorothy home. So, Dorothy returned home, the Woodman became king of the Winkies, the Lion king of a forest he rescued from a giant spider, and Scarecrow ruler of the Emerald City.

The final Thompson book.

            Baum had never planned beyond the first book. By popular demand, he ended up writing 13 sequels to the story; almost annually until his death in 1919. Ruth Plumly Thompson was named Baum’s successor by the publisher and she wrote 21 more sequels that were released every Christmas until 1939, before she left and others came in. As the books remained popular, they were translated into many other forms of media from radio plays to films, both live an animated. The most famous adaptation of Baum’s work came with 1939’s The Wizard of Oz by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.




            The musical film was directed by Victor Fleming with music written by Yip Harburg and composed by Harold Arlen. It starred Judy Garland as Dorothy, Billie Burke as Glinda, Ray Bolger as Scarecrow, Jack Haley as Tin Man, Bert Lahr as the Lion, Frank Morgan as the Wizard, and Margaret Hamilton as the Wicked Witch of the West. While the most faithful adaptation at that point, the film strayed from the original book by combining, condensing or omitting several elements. Glinda’s character was merged with the Good Witch of the North and the Queen of the Field Mice. Many of Dorothy’s side adventures were eliminated, with the focus placed on her meeting her friends and journeying to the Emerald City. The Wicked Witch’s role was enlarged to become a looming threat whereas she only appeared in one chapter of the book. Dorothy’s Silver Shoes were changed to Ruby Slippers in order to take full advantage of the Technicolor process used during all the Oz scenes of the film (the Kansas scenes were shot in a sepia tone, later made pure black and white). Dorothy herself was also older than the book depicted.

1949 re-release poster.
            The film, while critically acclaimed, was actually a financial loss for MGM in relation to its budget until its re-release in 1949 where it made an additional $1.5 million. It went on to become one of the first movies MGM/CBS Home Video released on VHS and Betamax in 1980, as well as the basis for several other Oz adaptations. One of those, to commemorate the film’s 50th anniversary, was an animated series adapted by Cliff Ruby and Elana Lesser and produced by DiC Entertainment and Turner Entertainment.

Scarecrow, Lion, Dorothy, Toto and Tin Man.

            The series depicted Dorothy (Liz Georges) and Toto (Frank Welker) returning to Oz by using the ruby slippers that appeared on her doorstep. They were sent by Glinda (B.J. Ward) to recruit Dorothy in helping Oz rid itself of the Wicked Witch of the West (Tress MacNeille) who was revived by the evil winged monkeys. The Wizard (Alan Oppenheimer) was trapped on his balloon that was constantly blown around by a magical wind. Reunited with the Scarecrow (David Lodge), Tin Man (Hal Rayle) and the Lion (Charlie Adler), Dorothy and her friends set out to find a way to free Oz from the Wicked Witch once and for all and rescue the Wizard.


Hyena captures the friends.

            Despite the visual similarities to the 1939 film rendered by Pacific Rim Productions and the use of several of its songs (with additional music by Tom Worral), a few things were changed for the show. For starters, the entire premise was closer to the books in that Oz was a real and vast place and not the trauma-induced delusion it was suggested as being at the end of the film. In order to keep the ruby slippers from being the dues ex machina of every story, their magic was shown to be unreliable because Dorothy didn’t know how to use them properly. The slippers also shouldn’t have been able to be removed from Dorothy’s feet until her death, even though they were several times. The Witch’s crystal ball was also limited, only able to work once a day due to its creator sabotaging it when she first stole it. The Witch was also rendered into a statue form, rather than having been melted when Dorothy doused her with water; which was how her monkey minions managed to revive her.

DVD cover art.
            The series ran for a single season on ABC before it was cancelled. The introduction depicted the backstory on Dorothy’s return to Oz and was produced in the same way as the movie; with the Kansas scenes in black and white except for the ruby slippers. Shortly after its conclusion, Turner Home Entertainment released 11 episodes on VHS between 1991 and 1995. Lions Gate/Trimark Home Entertainment brought three episodes to DVD as The Rescue of the Emerald City in 2002. In 2003, United American Video released The Continuing Story as part of the “Animation Station” line. Although it had the same cover art as the previous volume, it featured four different episodes. They next released four more episodes on We’re Off to Save the Wizard in 2005 under their new name of Sterling Entertainment Group. The only episode not released on DVD was “The Marvelous Milkmaid of Mechanica,” which did see release on VHS. 


EPISODE GUIDE:
“Rescue of the Emerald City (Part 1)” (9/8/90) – Dorothy returns to Oz only to learn the flying monkeys had resurrected the Wicked Witch.

“Rescue of the Emerald City (Part 2)” (9/15/90) – Dorothy and her friends manage to expel the Wicket Witch from the Emerald City.

“Fearless” (9/22/90) – The Witch disguises herself as a fortune teller and curses the Lion to become a coward every other time he hears the word “courage.”

“Crystal Clear” (9/29/90) – The friends track the Wizard to Crystal Land after he left, and learns the Wicked Witch had stolen the crystal ball the citizens made for Glinda.

“We’re Not in Kansas Anymore” (10/6/90) – Dorothy wants to visit her family and the Wicked Witch disguises herself and Truckle as Auntie Em and Uncle Henry to greet her.

“The Lion that Squeaked” (10/13/90) – A hyena working for the Witch captures Dorothy, Toto and the Lion’s roar.

“Dream a Little Dream” (10/20/90) – Truckle ends up with the ruby slippers and dominates the Wicked Witch.

“A Star is Gone” (10/27/90) – The Wicked Witch kidnaps the Green Luminary who takes the color from the Emerald Star, and when the friends investigate they’re accused of the kidnapping.

“Time Town” (11/3/90) – The Wicked Witch steals the History of Oz and begins erasing all that is Oz so that she can rewrite her own version.

“The Marvelous Milkmaid of Mechanica” (11/10/90) – The friends must rescue the Milkmaid from the Wicked Witch.

“Upside-Down Town” (11/17/90) – The friends track the Wizard to Upside-Down town, which lives up to its name and causes additional problems for them as they try to figure it out.

“The Day the Music Died” (11/24/90) – Maestro’s baton ends up missing meaning the land will be devoid of music unless Dorothy puts on shoes that appear that will allow her to find it.

“Hot Air” (12/1/90) – The Wicked Witch tricks the Wizard and Dorothy into participating in a balloon race of her own design.

ROBOCOP: THE ANIMATED SERIES

ROBOCOP: THE ANIMATED SERIES
(Syndication, October 1-December 17, 1988)


Marvel Productions, Orion Pictures Corporation, New World International

MAIN CAST:

            Part man. Part machine. All cop.



            That was the tagline used to market Orion Pictures’ 1987 film RoboCop. The story takes place in a dystopian version of Detroit, Michigan, in the near future (or circa 2014, ironically). The crooked mega-corporation Omni Consumer Products (OCP) owns everything, including the police. In order to achieve their dream of demolishing the poorer sections of Detroit and building their independent city-state of “Delta City,” OCP was tasked with eliminating the spiraling crime rate. They got their chance when Officer Alex Murphy (Peter Weller) was brutally murdered in the line of duty. Murphy was placed into the experimental RoboCop program, where he was transformed into a cyborg. After reclaiming his own mind though OCP’s programming, RoboCop stopped a crooked OCP executive and got revenge on his murderer before saving the life of OCP’s head, nicknamed “The Old Man” (Dan O’Herlihy).

RoboCop's armor.

            Edward Neumeier got the idea for RoboCop after a friend explained to him the plot of Blade Runner. The character himself was inspired by blending comic book heroes Judge Dredd and ROM (whose comic appeared in two scenes of the movie). Neumeier wrote the screenplay with Michael Miner, who was working on a script with a similar concept, and they got the chance to pitch it to a studio executive when they were all stranded at the same airport. The film dealt with several themes including corruption, privatization, gentrification, capitalism, masculinity, resurrection, the media and human nature.

RoboCop doing his trademarked gun spin.

            The RoboCop costume was designed by Rob Bottin. Originally, the design was sleeker and aerodynamic. Director Paul Verhoeven requested multiple revisions to the suit to make it look more machine than man. The end result looked close to Bottin’s original design, but bulkier and more cumbersome. Weller had hired Moni Yakim, the head of the Movement Department at Julliard, to help him work out the character’s movements. However, the awkwardness of the suit forced him to rethink how he moved, leading to a more robotic and slower method of moving. RoboCop’s primary weapon was a modified Beretta 93R by Ray Williams of Freshour Machine in Texas.

Bullet proof!

            The film was released on July 17, 1987 and became regarded as one of the best films of the year. Despite being an extremely graphic and violent R-rated film, the following year began a heavy campaign to market the character to children. Part of which (and the reason you’re reading this) included an animated series. Developed by Miner and Michael Charles Hill for Marvel Productions, the series began along the same lines as the movie but underwent many changes in both story and content to make it more suitable for its intended audience.

Lewis and RoboCop.

            Like the film, the series focused on RoboCop (Dan Hennessey) and his partner Anne Lewis (Susan Roman) as they patrolled the streets of Old Detroit. However, Old Detroit wasn’t quite the cesspool it was depicted as; instead it was more technologically advanced in line with other depictions of future timelines in various media. Notably, standard weaponry was replaced by laser guns in order to reduce the violence depicted. Without the physical restrictions of an actual suit, Animation Korea Movie Production, Ltd. (AKOM) was able to give RoboCop a greater range of motion in their animation, as well as RoboCop being depicted as being much faster. RoboCop’s visor was also given a red light which sometimes extended across its length. Though not as overt, the series dealt with its own themes including racism, workplace prejudice, environmental issues, terrorism and finding one’s humanity.

Boddicker, alive and well.

The character of Bob Morton (Miguel Ferrer in the movie) who created the RoboCop project was omitted, replaced instead by Dr. Tyler (played by Sage Parker in the film) who was assisted by Dr. Roosevelt (Stephen Berrier in the movie) as they maintained RoboCop. Clarence Boddicker, the gang leader who murdered Murphy, was still alive despite having been killed off in the film. Other returning characters were their commander Warren Reed, OCP head The Old Man, and Dr. McNamara who served as a recurring villain always trying to upstage or destroy RoboCop. Lieutenant Roger Hedgecock, a minor character in the film, also gained villain status by constantly wanting to see all robots eliminated.

Drs. Taylor and Roosevelt giving Murphy a check-up.

The series began on October 1, 1988 as part of the syndicated programming block Marvel Action Universe, which featured new and old programs produced by Marvel. Although budgeted for 13 episodes, Marvel only produced 12 and reallocated the funds for the final episode into producing a pilot episode for a potential X-Men cartoon. Marvel Productions would become financially unstable in the following year, resulting in all projects except Muppet Babies being cancelled. Kenner produced a line of action figures related to the series under the name RoboCop and the Ultra Police. Debuting the same year as the cartoon, Kenner made 16 figures and 7 vehicles before the line ended. A large talking RoboCop was designed but never went beyond the prototype phase.



Best Film & Video Corp. released three episodes as part of the Marvel Video! line in America. Overseas, Jetix Films UK released 8 episodes on DVD in 2004 and 2005 as RoboCop Volume 1 and RoboCop Volume 2: the Hot Seat. Later in 2004 volume 1 was re-released as part of the triple pack Action Man/RoboCop/Conan the Adventurer, in 2007 as Part Man, Part Machine and in Transformers/MASK/RoboCop. Jetix release the complete series in 2008.


In 1990, Orion released RoboCop 2 directed by Irvin Kershner. It would be the last time Weller would play the title role due to his displeasure working on the film. Despite mixed reviews, the movie was successful and production began immediately on RoboCop 3. The film was directed by Fred Dekker, who heavily rewrote the screenplay by comic book writer Frank Miller. Starring Robert John Burke, the film wasn’t released until 1993 due to Orion’s bankruptcy and was a critical and commercial failure. However, that wasn’t the end of the franchise.



In 1994, Orion partnered with Skyvision Entertainment to produce a live-action television series set between the first and second movie. Starring Richard Eden in the title role, RoboCop was given new non-lethal means of apprehending villains in order to allow them to recur. Because of rights issue, many of the supporting characters were given new names. The series ran for 21 episodes including the 2-hour pilot produced from an unused RoboCop 2 script before its high budget-per-episode cost caused it to be cancelled.



In 1998, RoboCop returned to animation with RoboCop: Alpha Commando, played by David Sobolov and produced by MGM Animation, MGM Television and Orion Television. Set further in the future and featuring many of the same writers as the 1980s series, the series was even lighter in tone by giving RoboCop new gadgets such as roller skates and a parachute. Sgt. Reed was the only supporting character from the films featured, and he was voiced by Blu Mankuma who played his counterpart in the live series. In 2001, Fireworks Entertainment and MGM Telvision produced a four feature-length episode mini-series called RoboCop: Prime Directives starring Page Fletcher. In 2014, MGM and Columbia Pictures released the remake RoboCop, starring Joel Kinnaman, after several years in production hell. Despite mixed reviews, the remake went on to gross over $242 million making it the most profitable of the franchise.


EPISODE GUIDE:
“Crime Wave” (10/1/88) – Dr. McNamara hires a dangerous gang, the Vandals, to cause a crime wave in Old Detroit so he can prove his ED-260 weapon works.

“Scrambler” (10/8/88) – A jailed member of OCP hacks into RoboCop and uses him to escape and assassinate The Old Man.

“Project Deathspore” (10/15/88) – OCP’s experiment Project Deathspore escapes into the city’s sewers and begins draining everything with power.

“The Brotherhood” (10/22/88) – The Brotherhood wants to destroy all robots and cyborgs in the city and uses a high tech ball that disrupts their programming..

“The Man in the Iron Suit” (10/29/88) – McNamara puts Lt. Hedgecock into an iron suit and The Old Man puts him in competition with RoboCop to see which is more profitable.

“The Hot Seat” (11/5/88) – McNamara frees the Vandals and has them steal RoboCop’s charging chair.

“No News is Good News” (11/12/88) – McNamara sabotages OCP’s new tank and a reporter attempts to defame RoboCop.

“Night of the Archer” (11/19/88) – Archer plays Robin Hood in Old Detroit.

“Rumble in Old Detroit” (11/26/88) – Weapons go missing from the police lockup and are used to initiate a gang war.

“A Robot’s Revenge” (12/3/88) – RoboCop and Lewis are assigned to protect two visiting delegates, which are targeted by a terrorist-controlled ED-260.

“Into the Wilderness” (12/10/88) – RoboCop fights to shut down a polluting OCP factory.

“Menace of the Mind” (12/17/88) – RoboCop learns the leader of the Vandals is the man who killed him.