Cartoon spin-offs: Back to the Future, Beetlejuice, and Police Academy

Over time, as everyone discovers, nostalgia and low-grade forgetfulness can warp your mind into remembering things far more fondly than they have any right to be remembered. Looking back, one may be wistful to be a young kid again, with the innocence and playful imagination that goes with it. Naturally, one may also forget about the bane of young children: the early bedtimes, the orders by parents, the forced spinach consumption. The grass is always greener on the other side of your memory, as they say. Wait, no one actually says that. Yet.

So it is with kid cartoons. Let’s face it: it’s not that hard to impress a little person who still might well believe that Easter bunnies can lay creme-filled chocolate eggs. Cartoons we thought of as The Best Ever back then might really embarrass us today to even be in the same room with. So looking back at a number of movie-inspired cartoons has the potential to be a traumatic land mine for all involved.

Then again, we can just forget the whole “nostalgia” bit and take a wild and wooly ride through the insane minds of TV network mad scientists, as they try to breed popular films with kiddy animation!

Back to the Future (1991-93)

And speaking of time travel, let’s definitely not overlook the fairly decent Back to the Future animated series, which also came out in the early 90’s. Continuing somewhat from the end of Part III, the DeLorean was reconstructed and the crew expanded from the two-man team (Doc and Marty) to a veritable troupe of time travelers — Doc’s wife and two kids (and Einstein), along with the time traveling train, were all aboard for this ride. Moving the era of the series forward a bit, Marty was in college and Doc’s kids old enough to be young teens themselves.

Created by Robert Zemeckis (who directed the films), BTTF the cartoon got some serious love by fans and the network alike. Other than the legacy connection to the movies, its strongest selling point was that Christopher Lloyd would bookend each episode as Doc Brown in person (live action); however, his voice for the series was done by some guy named Dan Castellaneta, who’s since gone on to be some Homer Simpson character or somesuch. Also returning from the films to reprise their voice roles were Mary Steenburgen (Clara) and Thomas F. Wilson (who played Biff and all of Biff’s ancestors).

Thw shows weren’t anything too radically different from the movies — travel to a new time period, get into trouble, meet a Biff ancestor and a Marty ancestor, and then return home. Woo-hoo! It’s leftovers each and every week!

As an interesting sidenote, television networks in the early 90’s were pressured to provide more “educational segments” in their Saturday morning line-up — something which eventually contributed to the demise of the glory of Saturday morning cartoons — and the live-action Doc Brown was often visited by Bill Nye (the science guy) to teach kids about science. Yay for progress.

The show was okay… not bad, but not super. I remember watching it whenever I could, and thinking it a bit kiddy (this when I was about 14 myself). The constant focus on Doc’s kids instead of Marty probably contributed to this conclusion.

Beetlejuice (1989-91)

Now this is an odd one. Making a cartoon out of a family-friendly movie is one thing, but creating an animated series based on a dark, horror-themed film about death and the afterlife is quite another. Didn’t think Beetlejuice the movie was so popular with the kiddos, but the networks did, took a gamble on the show… and surprisingly won big.

The sharpest change from the movie to the show was that Beetlejuice himself went from being a nasty villain to a prankish main hero. Along with goth-wannabe Lydia, each episode would feature Beetlejuice getting into trouble in both this world and the Netherworld, and Lydia getting them both out of it again.

While movie-based cartoons traditionally have an extremely short lifespan on the tube, Beetlejuice did make it three complete years, boasting over 94 shows to its credit. It’s a very watchable show, with a catchy theme song (Danny Elfman’s theme with sound effects and some quotes thrown into the mix).

Police Academy: The Series (1988-89)

Seeing as how Police Academy, by about the fourth film, was exclusively catering to the younger crowd instead of adults, an animated series wasn’t a huge leap of imagination. Using the myriad of one-dimensional characters from the films, the show focused on Mahoney, Lassard, Harris and all of the other weird cops at the academy, fighting crime each week with their “wacky” personalities.

There isn’t much to say, other than the obvious fact if you liked the films, you probably swallowed the show rather painlessly. It wasn’t a bad show — I remember watching it without remembering afterwards any sort of plot points — but it was completely disposable. Two seasons, 64 episodes. I’m pretty much the only person who remembers it, which is probably how it should be.

One comment

  1. The educational stuff actually is something I miss. I grew up with that stuff and it actually really helped. Mind you, I was living in a poor community with an immigrant father, so ignorance and violence were more normal for me than I think a lot of suburban white kids. Not just the science stuff, but reminders that adults shouldn’t abuse kids helped me and my siblings stay safe.

    I do think there are ways to go about this with a lighter touch, but especially with stuff that’s really fluff (like the old Carebears cartoons and modern reality shows like), I think book-ending something generally devoid of true value with useful information can really help people from less well to do backgrounds.

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