The Weirdest Animated Spinoffs of Blockbuster Franchises
Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous and Fast & Furious Spy Racers are two of the more recent and successful animated series adaptations of movie franchises, but there have been a few really strange shows over the years.
This month, Netflix and Dreamworks are releasing the third season of Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous, an animated spin-off of the popular Jurassic Park franchise that focuses on a group of kids trying to survive in Isla Nublar. And in April, the fourth season of Fast & Furious Spy Racers premiered on Netflix — another show that took a huge live-action franchise and made it more accessible for younger audiences.
This is not unlike a trend in the ’80s and ’90s that saw all kinds of live-action franchises turned into kid-friendly cartoons, no matter how not-for-kids the movies were. Everything from RoboCop to Godzilla were turned into a toy-churning machine that entertained, and baffled, kids on Saturday mornings. To celebrate the release of the new season of Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous, grab your favorite cereal because we’re looking at the weirdest animated spin-offs of blockbuster franchises originally aimed at adults.
Why the Original Isn’t for Kids: Though no Godzilla movie has been rated R, the films still feature a story about a giant monster rampaging through the city and sensationalize the horrors of nuclear power. The much-maligned 1998 film unleashed a giant monster (which basically treated Godzilla like a dinosaur) on the Big Apple and caused all kinds of chaos. This year’s Godzilla vs. Kong scored better on the Tomatometer but is still rated PG-13. What the Cartoon Changed: For many ’90s kids, this was their definitive Godzilla story. It helped that the cartoon actually had its titular monster go up against other amazing monsters, from mutated animals to mythological beings like Quetzalcoatl and the Loch Ness monster. Though not really a violent show, there was a lot of cool monster action, creature designs, and even homages to horror films like The Thing.
Why the Original Isn’t for Kids: An R-rated franchise about a Vietnam war veteran suffering from PTSD who kills, maims, and otherwise obliterates dozens of people wherever he goes, Rambo is a franchise that doesn’t really scream Saturday morning cartoon. And yet, a 65-episode show graced our screens in the ’80s. What the Cartoon Changed: Well, to the surprise of no one, Rambo: The Force of Freedom (“The Animated Series”) severely toned down the violence from the original movies. Rather than being dropped into a war zone or sieging a small town while struggling with his PTSD, this Rambo leads a team of heroes from around the world to fight an evil organization called S.A.V.A.G.E. This is basically G.I. Joe but with more muscular men. Rambo never mentions the Vietnam war, nor does he ever kill anyone, but he certainly does take the time to teach kids about morality, doing the right thing, and even the environment. He even dressed up as Santa Claus at one point!
Police Academy: The Animated Series (1988-1989)
Why the Original Isn’t for Kids: Though later films would tone down enough to get even a PG rating, the franchise started life as an R-rated comedy with everything from foul language, to nudity. The franchise is known for its low-brow humor, sexual innuendo, and physical comedy. Still, that didn’t stop it from becoming a cartoon made by Warner Bros. that lasted two seasons and 65 episodes. What the Cartoon Changed: Taking place between the fourth and fifth films in the franchise, the cartoon focuses on the cast getting into trouble, some slapstick comedy ensues, and the mismatched group of cops learning to be a team and solve crimes ends up saving the day. Some episodes start featuring a recurring villain in the form of a crime boss nicknamed Kingpin, whose stature and intelligence really resembles that of the Marvel villain of the same name.
Why the Original Isn’t for Kids: Out of the films in this list, Beetlejuice is the only one rated PG, but that doesn’t mean it was kid-friendly. After all, there is a lot of talk about suicide, and the eponymous Beetlejuice is a depraved and devious poltergeist who tries to force a teenage girl to marry him. What the Cartoon Changed: The ABC animated show brings back Tim Burton to executive produce, and only loosely adapts the movie into a long-form series. The scares and gore are gone, as is the sexual innuendo. Instead, the show turns Beetlejuice into a lovable goofball who goes on journeys with his friend Lydia across the Neitherworld. Beetlejuice usually tries to scam the residents of this afterlife realm, and the duo goes on adventures with monsters, ghouls, and other creatures. The show was praised for its mix of traditional 2D animation along with CGI, and it won an Emmy for best animated show.
Why the Original Isn’t for Kids: Alongside Rambo, this is arguably the weirdest film to have been adapted into a kids cartoon, but like most Paul Verhoeven films, RoboCop got severely misinterpreted and turned into a franchise that glorified what the first film criticized (as we’ll see later). A film that barely avoided an X rating because the titular character constantly blows heads and genitals off feels very much unsuited for a Saturday morning cartoon, but that didn’t stop Marvel from producing one anyway. What the Cartoon Changed: Rather than a scathing indictment of capitalism and militarization of the police, RoboCop is also turned into a superhero who fights everything from polluters to a KKK-like gang. At one point, RoboCop even plays a part in Middle East peace processes. Of course, the character doesn’t kill anyone, with his deadly weapons turned into non-lethal lasers that later are added to the main live-action franchise.
Conan the Adventurer (1992-1993)
Why the Original Isn’t for Kids: In case it hasn’t been clear so far, most of these cartoons were adapted from popular live-action movies that had a lot of merchandising potential, they just needed a way to market directly to kids, even if they could not watch the original film. Even if a kid was not allowed to watch Conan the Barbarian crush his enemies, see them driven before him, and hear the lamentation of the women, they might still want a muscular Arnold Schwarzenegger action figure that brandishes Conan’s cool sword. What the Cartoon Changed: Rather than a child slave, Conan is — you guessed it — kind of a superhero now. Like in the film, he’s on a quest for vengeance against a villain, but this time he embarks on the journey with more naïveté and sensibility than the film suggested. He does not rip a vulture’s throat out with his teeth, he’s more like He-Man, honorable and with a strong sense of morality. Despite this, the cartoon stayed strangely accurate to the original works of author Robert E. Howard.
Why the Original Isn’t for Kids:The Toxic Avenger is an early attempt at a superhero comedy. The story of a man who is dumped into a vat of toxic waste and becomes a hideously disfigured monster with superpowers, the film is hyper violent, full of sexual references, and incredibly gory. What the Cartoon Changed:Toxic Crusaders takes a cue from other environmentally conscious cartoons of the time like Captain Planet and Swamp Thing and focuses squarely on the toxic waste part of the Toxic Avenger. Now part of a superhero team, the Crusaders combat pollution and a lot of aliens.
Little Shop (1991)
Why the Original Isn’t for Kids: Whether you enjoy the original Roger Corman film or the Frank Oz–directed musical from the ’80s, Little Shop of Horrors has something for everyone — except children. The film versions are full of sexual innuendo as well as a ton of darkly comedic murders, which the musical takes a step further by having the man-eating plants conquer the entire world and eat everyone. What the Cartoon Changed: The early ’90s saw a lot of films turned into short-lived animated shows, especially those with environmentalist messages. Little Shop takes Audrey II and turns the man-eating plant into the prankster and “hip” rapper, Junior, who gets into all sorts of whimsical trouble with its friend, the de-aged Seymour. The plant can still hypnotize, but rather than hypnotize people, Junior can control other plants to aid in mischief. There are still a lot of musical numbers, but they are paired with moral lessons.
Why the Original Isn’t for Kids: Though not as hyper-violent as RoboCop, this is another franchise Paul Verhoeven touched that got its political aspect diluted with the years. The original Starship Troopers film was a poignant sci-fi satire about fascism and military-led nationalism. There is a ton of graphic violence involving soldiers being gruesomely killed by an alien race known as “bugs.” What the Cartoon Changed: The cartoon heavily tones down the political satire of the movie and book, focusing more on the sci-fi action and war against the bugs. There’s some cool sci-fi concepts brought over from the original novels like powered armor suits, and a new alien race. There is a surprising amount of depth to the storylines, and boundary-pushing CGI animation that hasn’t aged well but was ahead of its time.
Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1995-1997)
Why the Original Isn’t for Kids: Though not strictly for adults, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective had more sexual innuendo and broad humor than you’d find in contemporary family-friendly movies. Still, everyone likes Jim Carrey, and 1995 saw the premiere of not one, not two, but three cartoons based on Jim Carrey movies, including Ace Ventura. What the Cartoon Changed: Unlike most of the shows on this list, Ace Ventura wasn’t that toned down when adapted into a cartoon. The toilet humor and slapstick comedy are still there, and Seth MacFarlane even wrote for the show, displaying his signature style of humor. Rather, Ace Ventura as a film was already cartoonish, so the jump wasn’t so drastic. The show even had a crossover episode with The Mask cartoon, and you see Ace putting the Mask on his butt so it can literally talk.