The 1980s Cartoon Knock-Offs

Successful things have always had imitators, copiers and hangers-on but when it becomes obvious that animation studios and toymakers just pillage the good bits of pre-existing stuff, cobble it together with something else good the results do not always live up to expectations. Take a look at these…

Transformers + Cheap 1970s Anime = Challenge of the Go-Bots

The seminal 1980s cartoon, adored by 40-year-olds and destroyed by Michael Bay is the defacto robot/vehicle cartoon by which all others are judged. Aside from other more obscure mecha based cartoons such as Battletech, Robotix, Gundam and Shogun Warriors (to us, UK audience members anyway) the main ‘knock-off’ of Transformers is of course ‘The Challenge of the Go-Bots’ which take all these aforementioned innovators of titanic battling robots and frankly make a watered-down poor man’s version.

Ironically Gobots came out in the same month and year as the far superior Transformers (September 1984 in the US) but as you can see by the fact that last Christmas’s Bumblebee saw the sixth live-action cinematic outing of the ‘Robots in Disguise’, the citizens of Cybertron have fared a lot better in the long-run.

Instead of Autobots and Deceptions going head to head Go-Bots had the good guy ‘Guardians’ and the evil ‘Renegades’. Each faction was led by a charismatic leader – for the Guardians instead of Prime, we had the tedious Leader 1, with Megatron’s opposite being an evil pun-fulled ‘Cy-Kill’ (go on guess what he turned into). Both teams also had comedy characters, with Scooter being a thinly veiled Bumblebee. Big or combined versions of the robots didn’t escape the duplication – gone were the Constructicons and Omega Supreme and in their place stood Guardian and Zod who were frankly a bit embarrassing and looked like huge robot dogs. With the tag-line ‘Mighty Robots… Mighty Vehicles’ the producers of both the cartoon and the inevitable toy-line could have not been more wrong as the Go-Bots looked like Duplo bricks in comparison to the much more complex, sleek ‘Lego-like’ Transformers.

Probably most famous here in the UK  for being part of the Summer Holiday children’s line up in the early 1980s for TVAM most people were introduced to the Go-Bots thanks to Timmy Mallet and his legendary comment that ‘Go-Bots go Botty’, they were Botty indeed – a right old load of ‘Bum’.

Thundercats + Terminator + Thunderbirds = Silverhawks

Panthro, Lion-O, Cheetara: all anthropomorphic feline characters who for many seasons and toy lines aimed to protect their planet from mutants, space marauders and of course Mumm-Ra an ancient evil mummy. Now the Silverhawks of course were another set of anthropomorphic characters, this time they are birds, who (and you can see where I am going) protect their planet from mutants, space marauders and Mon*Star an evil space creature who with the help of ancient spirits of evil could transform into a much more menacing and hideous form.

Silverhawks also had a ‘kid’ character to mirror Wilykit and Wilykat in Thundercats, were able to access fabulous playsets and more expensive toys (sorry ahem advanced weapons and command bases) and through the series had additional characters added so once you had all the toys you could buy an entirely new range of lesser known and secondary characters, something that admittedly Thundercats also did. But in all honesty, which one of these shows got a new ‘anime’ inspired show? Yup, Not the ‘hawks who we suspect the Thundercats would attack in the garden, torment, eventually kill and present to you as a ‘gift’ on your back-door-step.

Dubbed as being ‘partly metal, partly real’ the Silverhawk’s were essentially ‘all rip-off’, lampooning everything from Star Wars to Thunderbirds to the cyborg and robots craze that swamped the 1980s. Admittedly they were not as bad as The Centurions but really if you are wrapped up in a tin-foil suit and shot off into space it’s a surprise that they were never a part of some intergalactic barbeque… Mmmm tastes like grilled chicken.

Still, they did have a great introduction and theme music!

Smurfs + Rock Pooling in Cornwall = Snorks

While the Smurfs are universally known and loved the Snorks, let’s face it, are less. It may well be because they leave soggy footprints everywhere they go or because they smelled of fish but the Snorks never even got even a fraction of the pop culture fame or popularity that their blue, hat-wearing cousins got.  These little aquatic copyright infringers had such similar adventures that it was, at times difficult, to know if you were watching a repeat of the Smurfs with just a different colouration job done on the animation and some underwater effects added on after.

Even giving them a whole different rainbow set of colours to indicate which Snork was which didn’t work, the Smurfs were all monochrome but everybody loved them, the Snorks just seemed pale imitations that were trying too hard.

Again, it’s not the Snorks that have had a 3D film in cinemas and while that didn’t perform to amazing standards, it still proves that the original blue-skinned cute big-headed goblins have no competition when it comes to ‘Smurfing’. However, to give the Snorks some credit at least they are not the Paw-Paw Bears.

He-Man + Village People = Bravestarr 

Space and Cowboys are always a great combination, just ask John Favreau (directors of Cowboys vs Aliens)and the cast and crew of Firefly. It’s with this outlook that Bravestarr was born. A mystical native American who had the ‘Strength of a Bear’ and other supernatural powers of animals like being able to run fast or see really far and such. With a set of talking prairie dogs, a cyborg-horse thing and the rest of a Wild West posse including a wise native American mentor, Bravestarr helped defend New Texas from Tex-Hex and the fantastically designed Stampede (who was part skeleton, part cyborg and part ghost!). But while all this should have worked it didn’t. It was for all intents and purposes a complete rip off of previous action-adventure cartoons only with a Wild West feel and the excitement and appeal of ‘The American Adventure’ Theme Park.

Really while the rest of the universe seemed to be quite happily going about its business without the need for spaceships that looked like a wagon trains and for all secondary characters to look like refugees from your local western line-dancing club the penchant for dressing up like cowboys for no real actual reason apart from maybe a fetish for leather and riding chaps had no real purpose. Who would need to use spurs in space and how long would a Stetson last on your head when you are on a speeder-bike that looks like a horse? While New Texas actually looked like the Wild West, why did they lived on a totally different world? The futuristic humans and aliens co-habiting together looked more like a theme night at a social club – admittedly space is often seen as the ‘new frontier’ with, prospectors, explorers and law-makers and such rummaging around the galaxy but this really is no excuse to hit the dress-up box to find cast-offs from one half of the Village People.

Wacky Races + Megaforce + Cannonball Run +Day of the Triffids = Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors

Everyone has their favourite vehicle in Wacky Races, whether it’s Dick Dastardly Double Zero, Penelope Pitstop’s Lipstick Car or Rocks and Gravel’s Flinstones custom car there is a vehicle you just inherently love, and Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors is a bit like this, only the vehicles all have spikes on them and they spend their time pruning mutated flowerpot men. This may well sound fantastic but the mullet sporting Jayce looks like a refugee from Megaforce and is teemed with the Oom, who may well be the most whiney robot in the galaxy and the first entrant in the ‘the most annoying sidekicks of all time’ Jayce was a mix of ‘Cannon-Ball Run’,  Mad Max and Day of the Triffids and was so lame it didn’t even have its own set of toys. Admittedly the intro and theme tune was amazing but once again the lure of 1980s rock ballad advocating that when ‘your wheels getting you there, things will turn out right’ just didn’t do justice to a lack-lustre and lame plant infested Star Wars space opera parody.