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Oh, 80s. You were quite the decade. It was a simpler time, when greed was good and neon was an acceptable color palate for everything you wore. Skateboards and arcades were on every corner, and you couldn’t say that there was a truly bad Star Wars movie. However, you came with a price. For every Prince or Madonna you gave us, we also got USA for Africa and A Flock of Seagulls. And for every Real Ghostbusters, we got a cartoon like Gilligan’s Planet. The 80s were a golden age for awful cartoon shows. Most stuck to a pretty common format: take something that has a surprising appeal to kids, write a few simple stories with the characters that have nothing to do with the source, throw in some bad jokes and slapstick, hire Disney’s Non-Union Mexican Equivalent to animate it and slap it on Saturdays around 7am. Kids are dumb, after all. They’re mostly in it for the bright colors and cereal commercials. And because of this genius thinking, we got shows like Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n’ Wrestling. And with that, I bring to you the first installment of Saturday Morning Sludge: The Worst Cartoons of the 80s.
Try not to count how many people in this picture are dead now. You’ll make yourself sad.
Pro wrestling has been around for a long time, harking back to its carnival days in the early 1900s. And while business was strong in the 70s, the 80s was when it truly started to become mainstream. Wrestlemania, the Superbowl of professional wrestling, premiered in 1985. Wrestlers started to show up in movies, on talk shows, on magazine covers, on Saturday Night Live. Dr. Dave Shultz smacked John Stossel upside his smug little peanut of a head. Life was good. But they really hit their peak of the decade when they teamed up with MTV and created Rock ‘n’ Wrestling. Rock music and pro wrestling just naturally fit together, like spandex and feathered hair. It just all worked. Pro Wrestling, specifically the WWF, ruled the pop culture landscape with an iron folding chair and kids couldn’t get enough. So naturally the next step would be a Saturday morning cartoon show.
It’s a show starring wrestlers. So obviously they’re wrestling. Plus it’s about rock music. So it should simultaneously be kicking your ass with some sweet Van Halen guitar solos. Right?
Wait, what? They don’t wrestle. As in, basically never? Occasionally they’ll show the guys before a match, or after a match, or talking about a match, or in the ring as we assume a match is taking place. But they never actually do anything. It seems as though the writers thought it would be a lot more fun for kids to watch Andre the Giant open a bakery or help Mean Gene clean his house. I’m not being funny. Those are actual plots. Of course baking and cleaning naturally go together with watching living action figures beat the shit out of each other, but I’m not so sure that the writers should have kept their focus on the latter. While some cartoons had anthropomorphic turtles using ninja training to fight robots, Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n’ Wrestling was for kids with a more even temperament. Stories about Captain Lou’s diet and Nikolai Volkoff joining a ballet were probably more fitted with for those kids with mittens pinned to the sleeves of their t-shirts.
Doesn’t this look fun, Kids? Well fuck you, my rug needs vacuuming.
There’s also a surprising little amount of rocking. Occasionally they’ll do an episode where they’re singing and playing music. The bad guys are usually playing bagpipes, sitars, trombones or other non-rock instruments. Because it’s the 80s. And if you didn’t love rock in the 80s you were a god damned, yellow-bellied commie who squatted to piss. But even that premise shows up in only a handful of episodes. Which is fine. It’s not like it’s in the title of the show or anything.
The episodes usually come in two 15 minute episodes, but occasionally they decide to Godfather that shit and go the full half hour. Sometimes we’re treated with a live action bit in between the episodes or after the show, usually giving a quick 30 second skit written by the guy who does the Bazooka Joe comic strip.
As bad as that sounds, it’s more often than not the highlight of the show.
The Opening Theme:
Since it’s a show based on wrestlers, specifically Hulk Hogan, they decided to take the obvious route and use Hulk Hogan’s theme song. No, I’m not talking about Rick Derringer’s “Real American”. Even non-wrestling fans can agree that “Real American” sounds like the American Flag leg dropping Iran through a flaming table. With fireworks. And Eagles. The song kicks an insane amount of ass, is what I’m getting at. I walked into a Mongolia BBQ restaurant once and “Real American” was playing over the radio. It was like God telling me that he has a crush on me through a series of high-fives and bodybuilder poses.
But no, the theme they use is actually “Hulk Hogan’s Theme”. This instrumental was on the first “Wrestling Album” and was actually Hogan’s theme song until Vince & Co. woke up one day and realized it was boring as piss. There’s no lyrics to sing along to, aside from a group of people yelling “Hulk!”, and it’s impossible to hum. It doesn’t get you pumped up, it doesn’t tell the back story. It is everything anti-80s cartoon, which should be brought up against a war tribunal.
Like a lot of 80s cartoons, Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n’ Wrestling consisted of two sides. For the good guys we got Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant, Junkyard Dog, Captain Lou Albano, Jimmy Snuka, Hillbilly Jim, Tito Santana and Wendi Richter. For the bad guys we had Roddy Piper, Iron Sheik, Nikolai Volkoff, Big John Studd, Mr. Fuji and The Fabulous Moolah. Count that up: that’s a total of 14 characters that are featured in just about every episode. Mean Gene also show up on occasion, bringing the total of regulars to 15. Since there’s little to no wrestling, he usually just commentates to nobody what’s going on. He’s like the Greek chorus if Sophocles wrote for brain trauma victims.
That a lot to keep track of, especially for 15 minute episodes. In the episode I mentioned where the good guys are cleaning Gene’s house (called Clean Gene), the bad guys sneak in without them seeing and sabotage their cleaning efforts. That’s 14 people in total in the house. As the episode goes on, the 8 good guys have no idea that the 6 bad guys are there screwing everything up. I’m guessing they were channeling their inner Earl Hebner from when the bad guy cheats.
The bad guys also never really have an evil scheme that they’re trying to hatch. They’re just kind of antagonizing dicks, looking to ruin any fun the good guys are having. And sometimes they’re not even the actual bad guys of the episode. The two faction leaders, Hogan and Piper, team up on several occasions. Remember that time He-Man and Skeletor hung out on a cruise ship together? You don’t? That’s because it never happened. Because it would have been fucking stupid.
Everyone has a simple personality. Captain Lou loves to eat, Andre lifts heavy things, Hillbilly Jim is, well, a hillbilly. This isn’t exactly Tolstoy. Like pro wrestling in general, the characters from other countries don’t have much character outside of being Mexican, Iranian or Russian. At least Junkyard Dog has his backstory of living in a garbage heap to make him a beefed-up Fat Albert so we don’t have to rely on black stereotypes. Oh wrestling. You do love your overt racism.
I love eating. Because I’m fat. There is absolutely nothing else notable about me.
Each team also has a couple of cars to drive around in, because of the 4th international law of 80s cartoons. The most notable of these is “Hot Rod” Rowdy Roddy Piper’s bagpipe-powered hot rod car. I’ve spent so much time of my life trying to decide if this is the greatest thing ever or incredibly fucking stupid. After last week’s aneurysm, I’ll give up the debate and let you decide. I tried hard to find a picture of it for you, but the internet apparently won’t let it exist.
I really hate to say it, but the voice work in this show actually isn’t terrible. First of all, Brad Garrett does the voice of Hulk Hogan. Yes, Raymond’s brother. He’s a little off from the actual Hulkster, but its a pretty good match. Also a fun note is that James Avery does the voice for Junkyard Dog. And he actually sounds a lot like JYD. It makes me happy to know that Uncle Phil actually gave enough of a shit to do a bit of research. Hillbilly Jim is played by none other than Pat Fraley, who voiced Krang, Casey Jones and Baxter Stockman on the original TMNT cartoon. He does just a basic hillbilly voice, which is a shame because if he had cared I know he could have done better. Another standout is Aron Kincaid. Killer Croc himself voices the Iron Sheik and does a damned good job. However, at no point in the show does Sheiky Baby threaten to fuck Hogan’s ass to make him humble, which I feel is a wasted opportunity. So points off for that.
Before Twitter i break everybody fucking back make them humble. Now more I break every body fucking back and they all grasshopper dicks
— The Iron Sheik (@the_ironsheik) May 20, 2014
Sheiky Baby can humble jabronis in 140 characters or less.
Really the only voice that’s noticeably off base is Charlie Adler, who voices Roddy Piper. He has talent and a pedigree, having voiced Buster Bunny on Tiny Toon Adventures. But his Piper is just completely off. I don’t know if its because I’ve heard Piper speaking for so much of my life, but it’s the sore thumb sticking out of an otherwise impressive voice cast.
A staple in 80s cartoons is lazy and sloppy animation. Color problems, framing hiccups and wrong voices are all pretty common. Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n’ Wrestling, though, isn’t the worst of the bunch. It’s not a Miyazaki wet dream, but it’s not eye-rapingly terrible. The colors are diluted and the animation feels a bit bloaty. Details are missing, like Hogan’s generic grey championship belt. And in one shot I swear Wendi Richter was about floating about 2 feet off of the ground. But compared to some others that I’ve seen, I’m grateful that this didn’t make me give up on life.
I watched a handful of episodes for this post. At first, I was planning on talking about the episode Battle of the Bands, what with it being somewhat about music. But then I saw this:
Somebody give Jeffrey Scott the Emmy. Or the Peabody. Or the Nobel. As long as it’s shiny, he deserves it.
That’s right. Zombies. God damned zombies. Except unlike other wrestling zombies, this one isn’t here to rape your memories of ECW.
In the episode, Bobby Heenan has opened a Wrestling-themed amusement park. And no, he sounds nothing like the actual Heenan. Good guess, you’re learning quickly. But much like this wrestling-themed cartoon show, there’s no actual wrestling in the park. Instead, each ride is named after a wrestler. And whoever has the most popular ride will have their name featured in the name of the park. It starts out goofy enough. Volkoff and Sheik try to screw up Captain Lou’s roller coaster and fail “hilariously”. But things take a weird turn when actual zombies show up in Moolah’s House of Horrors. So Hogan, being the hero that he is, makes sure all the children get out to safety while he handles the zombies one big boot and finger point at a time.
Seriously. What the fuck am I doing here?
Of course, I’m just messing with you. It’s barely mentioned as the bad guys try to break down another ride. We have actual, from-the-grave, undead, dick-biting zombies roaming the park, and you’re trying to make us give a shit about the B story? Wendy Richter finally discovers that Heenan built the park on an old cemetery. Jesus, that’s fucking dark for a kid’s morning cartoon. Hogan eventually wins the contest, even though we never see anybody go to his ride. This of course proves that Hogan will never do the job, not even in cartoon form. Suddenly the zombies break out from the Moolah’s House of Horrors and run amok in the theme park; enjoying the roller coasters, spinning tea cups and dinosaur rides. Oh yeah, there’s dinosaurs you can ride. Which the zombies are taking advantage of at the moment. Sorry I didn’t mention that was an option earlier. But in my defense, neither did the show.
For exactly 4 seconds, this show achieved absolute perfection.
Wendy comes back to tell Hulk about the cemetery, but is unfortunately kidnapped by zombies. Because that’s what zombies do, kidnap people. They drag her to Hogan’s Jungle Adventure Boat Ride, which as we already know is the most popular ride in the park. Hogan and his crew give chase in their own boat, but they capsize. So how do they catch up to the zombies rowing away with Wendy (yup, the zombies are rowing)? If you said ride an army of hippos, you’ve either seen the show before or you have the same diagnosed mental condition the writers of the show had. In which case, I deeply apologize and hope you seek the help you need.
Hogan ends up saving Wendy as the zombies advance on them. Wendy explains that Heenan was supposed to build a memorial park, not an amusement park. Hogan sympathizes with the zombies (the joke is right there, but I swear I won’t make it), and sends them after Heenan. After a chase a go-kart race which crashes into a poorly constructed Ferris Wheel, Heenan agrees to create the cemetery. The park is built, the zombies shake hands with Hogan (without looking for crowd reaction first, amateur move) and crawl back into their graves. The show ends with Piper being grumpy that he got his name on a cemetery instead of a theme park and with me wondering what in the Wide World of Fuck I just watched.
All in all, this show falls pretty flat. What could be a fun concept with crazy personalities turns into very generic cartoon fare, with the exception being one completely insane episode. Its not absolutely terrible, but there’s no real spark. It would be entirely forgettable if not for the very loyal WWE fanbase and the kitsch factor. An 80s cartoon wrestling show should have been a slam dunk ratings hit. But after 2 lackluster seasons, they finally pulled the plug. The talented voice cast attempts to save what little there is to save, but bland plots, terrible jokes and broad stereotypes for characters keep this down for the pin. In the world of professional wrestling, this show comes up less like the world champion and more like the doughy job guy in the ill-fitting singlet who get pinned in 3 minutes flat.
However, this image alone justifies its existence.
Everything I’ve ever wanted in a single screen shot.
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