For some reason, movie studios aren’t content with the millions of dollars they make off of hit movies. Even after the avalanche of money that a hit movie makes, studio executives try to milk every single penny out of a franchise. There are ill-conceived sequels, over the top merchandising, and, worst of all, terrible cartoon spinoffs. This list is exclusive to great movies made in terrible cartoons, not great movies made into great cartoons, like Clerks, or even great cartoons turned into terrible movies, like Rocky & Bullwinkle.
10. Rumble in the Bronx – Jackie Chan Adventures
Rumble in the Bronx was the number one grossing movie in Hong Kong history; but, more importantly, it was the breakthrough vehicle for Jackie Chan’s popularity in the United States. Even though the film won multiple international awards, it’s the cartoonish fight scenes that run throughout which are the highlights. Shortly after Chan exploded into superstardom in the movie rush Rush Hour with Chris Tucker, production started on the cartoon Jackie Chan Adventures. Though fiction, the series makes multiple references to Chan’s life and movies. Here is the 5 year series in a nutshell: kick bad guys, find trinket, repeat. (Embedding disabled on writer’s clip selection – check our playlist for other footage from this cartoon.)
9. The Three Stooges – The New Three Stooges
The original Three Stooges need no introduction. They appeared in 190 short films, appeared in 20 additional full-length films, and are cultural icons. They started as a vaudeville act in the 1920’s and then started making movies in the 1930’s. Their shorts are on some television stations to this very day (I watched them this morning on IFC). In 1965, someone had the brilliant idea to use live action segments between poorly animated and poorly written cartooning. The resulting mess was one season of The New Three Stooges. Three live action old stooges in their 60’s with diminishing slapstick skills was actually the highlight, because even though the stooges supplied the voices to the animation portion, the resulting cartooning was unwatchable.
8. Rambo – Rambo: The Force of Freedom
The first Rambo film came out in 1982. Vietnam veteran, beaten down by the system, takes vengeance and blows up a lot of stuff. I know there’s more to it, but apparently that’s all Ruby-Spears Enterprises saw, because in 1986 they tried to take a hard rated R movie, with adult themes and the serious subject matter of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, and sugar coat Rambo down to teen-friendly pabulum. In the cartoon series, Rambo is a hero fighting the forces of S.A.V.A.G.E. The cartooning isn’t that bad, it’s similar to the G.I Joe cartoon- it’s mostly the premise and the execution that make it bad.
7. Police Academy – Police Academy: The Animated Series
The original Police Academy movie came out in 1984 and took a very similar franchise arc as the Rambo franchise. Great R rated film spawns sequels, merchandising, and even worse sequels. The same production company that thought Rambo: The Forces of Freedom was a great idea rolled out Police Academy: The Animated Series. When you strip away the sexual innuendo and adult humor of the movie, you are left with generic slapstick and the average writing of the cartoon. The Police Academy cartoon lasted 64 episodes over 2 seasons vs. 65 episodes for Rambo. For those of you who think I’m a jerk and love everything Police Academy, don’t worry, rumors of Police Academy 8 continue to circulate to this day.
6. Attack of the Killer Tomatoes – Attack of the Killer Tomatoes
The 1978 original movie is a cult classic. Made on a shoestring budget of under $100,000, it surprisingly spawned 3 sequels, video games, comic books, and a cartoon series. The cartoon series of the same name debuted on Fox Kids in 1990 and production ended in 1991. In a vacuum, the cartoon series was average, making cursory nods to the films, but its sin is that the cartoon omits one of the greatest characters in cinema, Sam Smith, the master of disguise. The cartoon is actually based on the sequel to Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, Return of the Killer Tomatoes. Everyone knows that Sam Smith was killed in the original when he infiltrated tomato headquarters and mistakenly asked “please pass the ketchup.”
5. Little Shop of Horrors – Little Shop
In 1960, an odd little film called Little Shop of Horrors came out to rave reviews. Well written and original (with a young Jack Nicholson in the cast), the film was screened at the Cannes Film Festival. Strangely, its creator didn’t copyright his creation and the movie fell into public domain. The movie gained a cult following and was re-run throughout the 60’s and 70’s and eventually found new life on the stage. The film was re-made in 1986 by Frank Oz starring Rick Moranis and was a moderate success. Then in 1991 Frank Oz decided to turn the concept into a cartoon. But instead of keeping the edgy tone of the original, or even of the play, or even of his own re-make, Frank Oz dumbed down the cartoon to the point where the man-eating plant didn’t eat people, it was just smart. The musical numbers were watered down to G rated hiphop. And Frank Oz couldn’t even get any of his actors to do voice over work for the series. A 13 episode mistake.
4. RoboCop – RoboCop: Alpha Commander
Another edgy movie with dark themes, RoboCop was the surprise hit of 1987. Again, sequels, video games, and cartoons evolved. But here it’s a little different, for RoboCop was made into 1988’s RoboCop: The Animated Series. Even though it wasn’t great, it wasn’t that bad, at least attempting to capture the spirit of the film. The series only lasted 12 episodes, then off to oblivion. Then in 1998, for some unknown reason, MGM Animation tried a second crack at the RoboCop franchise coming up with RoboCop: Alpha Commander where RoboCop is now the robotic form of Inspector Gadget fighting the forces of D.A.R.C. (You know, Directorate of Anarchy, Revenge, and Chaos). Last year it was announced that MGM Animation was re-opening it’s doors, so look for Starship Troopers: The Animated Series to be added to my list in 2016.
3. Star Wars – Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Clip unavailable: currently aired on the Cartoon Network
So many choices here. The original Star Wars is universally acclaimed as one of the greatest movies ever made. It also spawned one of the most lucrative franchises based on a movie in the history of mankind. Problem is, after the first three movies, no one uses the word ‘great’ anymore when it comes to describing the actual product. Sticking strictly to cartoons, Star Wars has spawned cartoon movies and cartoon series, all of which can be described as average, at best. At least in the 80’s, the cartoon spinoffs Star Wars: Ewoks and Star Wars: Droids had the novelty of being a bit cheesy. But in 2008, out comes Star Wars: The Clone Wars, a CGI extravaganza that, as opposed to a lot of the entries on our list, looks like it cost a boat load of money to make. I watched the first episode and actually got a headache. Second episode I simply shook my head in disgust. I am now convinced that George Lucas would slap a Star Wars sticker on a shiny rock if he thought it would make money.
2. Godzilla – Godzilla
Hanna-Barbera is responsible for some of the most beloved cartoon characters in America, but in 1978 they really missed the mark with their series Godzilla. Godzilla made his first appearance in Japan in 1954 and has starred in almost 3 dozen films since in multiple countries and languages. The original is great, films like Godzilla vs. Megalon and Godzilla’s Revenge, not so much. When Hanna-Barbera’s version came out, the stars of the show were a team of scientists and Godzilla’s son Godzuki. Whenever the scientists would stumble into trouble, they would call Godzilla as a last resort. So let me get this straight, the show is called Godzilla, but the giant lizard is in about 2 minutes an episode? NBC tried this cartoon alone, then tried bundling it with Hong Kong Phooey, The Globetrotters, & Dynomutt in order to trick kids into watching it.
1. The Wizard of Oz – Tales of the Wizard of Oz
Tales of the Wizard of Oz is unequivocally the worst cartoon ever made where more than 25 episodes exist. In any category. One of the first forays into animation by the holiday hitmakers Rankin/Bass, Tales of the Wizard of Oz borrows characters from both the iconic movie and L. Frank Baum’s book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. In 1961, they churned out 200 episodes of pure crap. There are no redeeming qualities to this cartoon at all and all of the master copies should be burned. Animation, sound, writing, storyline, all are awful and unworthy of the Wizard of Oz name.
Did we miss a terrible cartoon spinoff? Let us know in the comments and maybe we’ll add it to our…
Terrible Cartoon Spinoff Playlist
by Fred Hunt, author of the book American Suicide.