April 23, 2022

ROAD ROVERS

 

ROAD ROVERS
(The WB, September 7, 1996-February 22, 1997)
 
Warner Bros. Television Animation
 
 
MAIN CAST:
Jess Harnell – Hunter
Tress MacNeille – Colleen, various
Jeff Bennett – Blitz
Kevin Michael Richardson – Exile, Confuseus
Frank Welker – Shag, Muzzle, President Bill Clinton, various
Joseph Campanella – Professor William F. Shepherd/The Master
 


            Road Rovers was a comedy/action-adventure series created by Tom Ruegger and Jeff Gordon, and developed by them along with Bob Doucette, Mark Seidenberg, Hyunsook Cho, Joey Banaszkiewicz, Bob Lizarraga, Joe Denton, Herb Moore, Brian Chin, Ron Roesch, Rhoydon Shishido, Bobbie Page, John Dubiel, Bob Foster and Scott Jeralds. The series began with the sinister General Parvo (Jim Cummings) kidnapping the beloved dog of scientist Professor William F. Shepherd (Joseph Campanella) to exchange for his experimental transdogmafier technology. However, that turned out to be a trap and Shepherd was given a bomb instead. A year later, Parvo began using the transdogmafier to mutate common household dogs into mutant soldiers to carry out his bidding and conquer the world (it would eventually be revealed that Parvo himself was actually a mutated housecat that ended up with a more human-looking form). Shepherd, who survived the blast, had spent that year preparing to counter Parvo’s eventual plans.

The Road Rovers: Muzzle, Shag, Hunter, Colleen, Blitz and Exile.


            From his secret underground lab that resembled a series of fire hydrants, Shepherd summoned five dogs from around the world that contained the qualities he was looking for. He turned them into “cano-sapiens” with his own refined transdogmafier, giving them human bodies and the ability to speak while maintaining their dog heads, tails and fur. They were Hunter (inspired and named after Ruegger’s dog, voiced by Jess Harnell), a Golden Retriever mix from the United States who possessed super speed, unparalleled optimism and loyalty, a sense of humor and a level-headedness that made him a good leader (although he was often a little dense); Colleen (Tress MacNeille), a Rough Collie from the United Kingdom who was the no-nonsense team coordinator, extremely athletic and a skilled martial artist; Blitz (Jeff Bennett), a Doberman Pinscher from Germany that could be selfish, immature, spiteful, faint-heated and temperamental, and possessed powerful claws and jaws; Exilo Michalovitch Sanhusky, aka Exile (Kevin Michael Richardson), a Siberian Husky from Siberia that tended to mix up words when speaking English and possessed super strength and heat, ice and night vision; and Shag (Frank Welker), an Old English Sheepdog from Switzerland that only transformed part of the way, possessed super strength and the ability to store a lot of things in his fur, and was also very cowardly. Along with their suits of armor, the Rovers utilized dog-themed gadgetry and vehicles in their efforts to save the world. Additionally, there was a team of Space Rovers who protected the cosmos around Earth in a ship that resembled a dog with a frisbee, captained by Persia (Easton), an Afghan Hound. Their suits, and the fact the frisbee section could separate, was a direct reference to Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Professor Shepherd as The Master.


        A sixth dog arrived with Hunter: a Rottweiler named Muzzle (Welker). Muzzle was actually Shepherd’s dog Scout after a failed mutation from Parvo turned him aggressive sometimes, necessitating his usually being restrained in a straightjacket and muzzle, but otherwise was a shy sweetheart. While Muzzle remained with Shepherd, the other Rovers would revert to their normal dog forms in their downtime and were given homes with various world leaders. Hunter lived with American President Bill Clinton (Welker); Colleen lived with British Prime Minister John Major and his wife, Norma (Easton); Blitz with German chancellor Helmut Kohl; Exile with Russian President Boris Yeltsin (Maurice LaMarche); and President of the Swiss Confederation Arnold Koller. There were times that the Rovers, in their civilian guises, had to intervene with their masters’ governances to prevent trouble.

General Parvo and The Groomer.


            Along with Parvo, the Rovers faced a few recurring threats. The Groomer (Sheena Easton) was Parvo’s right-hand henchwoman that tried to branch out on her own by creating a mutated cat army. Captain Zachary Storm (Larry Drake) was a disgraced military man who constantly sought to get revenge on the country he felt wronged him. Professor Eugene Atwater (Steve Franken) was a scientist working with bugs under financing from Parvo, and after an incident with his bugs being mutated and seeking nuclear winter, he became unhinged and started actively working towards their world dominance.

Parvo's mutates.


            Road Rovers debuted as part of Kids’ WB on September 7, 1996. The series was written by Ruegger with Seidenberg, Chin, Dubois, John Ludin, Earl Kress, and Jeff Kwitny, with Seidenberg serving as story editor. The theme, which outlined the concept through lyrics by Ruegger, was composed by Richard Stone while the rest of the music was done by Gordon Goodwin and Don Harper. Animation duties were handled by Studio Junio, who also did the intro directed by Doucette, Jade Animation and Akom Production Company. The end credits featured either a quote from literature or pop culture, or a random joke. For the first two episodes, they played over the Rovers’ logo. For the remainder of the series, they played over a loop of Muzzle excitedly hopping while looking at the audience.

International puppies of freedom.


            Despite the involvement of Ruegger, who had a hand in Kids’ WB’s other hit comedy shows, as well as the involvement of the principle cast of some of those shows (particularly Harnell and MacNeille, with guest voices from co-stars LaMarche—including a vocal cameo as The Brain from Pinky and the Brain—and Rob Paulsen), Road Rovers only lasted 13 episodes before it was cancelled. No reason has been given for the short run, as some have claimed it even outperformed Superman: The Animated Series at one point in the ratings. However, there have been theories that it may have had to do with a lawsuit (US CD California CV 96-7578-GHK) filed against Warner Bros. by Bruce Blumenfeld claiming it was similar to his idea “Wing Puppies”. Reruns later ran on Cartoon Network between 1998 and 2000, and after nearly a decade the complete series was released to DVD in 2015 by Warner Archive. Episodes were also made available for digital purchase on Amazon Prime, Google Play, iTunes and YouTube.
  
 
 
EPISODE GUIDE:
“Let’s Hit the Road” (9/7/96) – Prof. Shepherd creates the Road Rovers to stop General Parvo and his mutant dogs’ evil schemes.
 
“Storm from the Pacific” (9/14/96) – The Rovers go to an island to stop a disgraced captain from using a laser-armed satellite as part of his revenge against the United States.
 
“A Hair of the Dog that Bit You” (9/21/96) – The Rovers head to London to investigate the disappearance of Royal Family members and rumors of werewolves lurking about.
 
“Where Rovers Dare” (10/12/96) – The Rovers seek to get back a stolen scepter to stop a war between neighboring countries.
 
“Let Sleeping Dogs Lie” (10/26/96) – Tracking some ninjas leads the Rovers to General Parvo’s plan to resurrect a T-Rex.
 
“The Dog Who Knew Too Much” (11/2/96) – The Rovers protect the star witness in a mob trial: the pet dog of a kidnapped victim.
 
“Hunter’s Heroes” (11/9/96) – The Rovers mount a rescue operation to free kidnapped dogs from Parvo’s prison before they’re mutated and distributed around the world.
 
“Dawn of the Groomer” (11/16/96) – The Groomer mutates cats in an attempt to create her own army.
 
“Still a Few Bugs in the System” (11/23/96) – Giant bugs created by Parvo plan to cause a nuclear winter since they know only they will survive it.
 
“Reigning Cats and Dogs” (2/1/97) – Parvo is accidentally turned into a housecat and sent back in time to stop the Rovers from being created
 
“Gold and Retrievers” (2/8/97) – The Rovers investigate a sudden flood of gold into the world’s markets.
 
“Take Me to Your Leader” (2/15/97) – Captain Storm returns with new alien accomplices whose mind-control ray pushes world leaders to declare nuclear war.
 
“A Day in the Life” (2/22/97) – Just an ordinary day in the life of the Rovers: freeing hostages, attending a press conference, battling villains, drinking from the toilet…

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