Friday, January 20, 2012

Nostalgia Theater: The Second G.I. Joe

This week we look back at the animated adventures of everyone's favorite "Real American Hero" action figures -- but not the ones you probably remember. It's easy to forget now, a quarter-century after the fact, just how impactful it was when G.I. Joe first came to television. Based on Hasbro's toys and created by Marvel & Sunbow Productions, Joe (along with their Transformers animated series) was one of the early examples of how the '80s transmogrified televised kidvid into an expansive lineup of animated half hour commercials. Debuting with a syndicated five-part miniseries in 1983  and a second mini the next year, the regular series started in September of '85 and aired until the next fall, with an impressive ninety-five episodes tallied when all was said and done.

But while Marvel/Sunbow ceased production after a G.I. Joe animated movie in '86, the toyline was still going strong, and so, after a layover of three years and after receiving a bargain basement bid from animation house DiC, Hasbro traded down from Sunbow for the next round of animated Joe in 1989. By then, DiC had already built a reputation as a low rent studio that could be counted on to crank out production, quality be damned (its repertoire included such toy-based 'toons as Mask and Hasbro's COPS), and its take on G.I. Joe did little to dispel that well-cemented notion. 

Although it served as a continuation of the previous show (with its initial five-parter, "Operation: Dragonfire," picking up directly where the animated movie had left off), there was an overall cheapness to the proceedings, from the character designs, which dispensed with comic artist Russ Heath's designs, to the synthesized underscore, which marked a sharp detour from the library of orchestral music the Sunbow show had always relied on. Still, while the DiC series was a qualitative step down in nearly every way, it did have a theme song that, while no patch on the original theme by Robert Walsh, is still catchy in its own way. Here's the intro from the '89 Joe's first year:

DiC's G.I. Joe lasted two seasons and 44 episodes, which isn't quite up to the mark set by its predecessor, but is still an achievement for animation. The show ended in 1991, followed by the Marvel comic folding in '93, and the toyline following suit shortly thereafter, making the second G.I. Joe series an artifact of the early '90s that's forgotten by all but the most devout of Joe-philes. However, Shout! Factory, who released the entirety of the Sunbow series in '09 in the ramp-up to the live action feature's release, have now put the first of DiC's two seasons out on platters, allowing this series to be rediscovered. Whether that's for good or for ill, I leave entirely up to you to determine...


Sean said...

Laser Viper! Metalhead! Gnawgahyde! Freefall! Ambush!

You're right. Not quite what one wanted when rumblings of a new Joe-toon were first rumored on the playground, but enough to forget about your problems for 30 minutes every weekday.

It's like the "Insurrection" of GI Joe shows. Not horrible. Not great. It's just nice to see the ol' gang back together.

Great stroll down memory lane, Z!

Zaki said...

Thanks! I think another reason this one isn't as fondly remembered as the original show is that it didn't have as iconic a batch of characters to work with. Grid-Iron and Salvo and Scoop aren't exactly Duke and Bazooka and Alpine...

paul said...

This was definitely part of the eventual demise of the Joe cartoon. This huge step down from the first run really showed a lack of care and the follow on series', up to and including the current one have shown that the market is dead for shows like the 80's series. Such a shame.

The second series was just awful and with seriously low rent characters. And the theme song was the worst. I remember us singing it as kids, but it never felt right. It was catchy, but not in line with what made the 80's cartoon so cool.

Anyways, it's always interesting to revisit these things, just to see how they've aged so poorly. However, I still enjoy the 80's Joe series very much and am pleased that the GI Joe Resolute series was even made, because it embodied everything I ever wanted in a GI Joe series.

The true shame is that it wasn't turned into a series on Cartoon Network. However, the kids just aren't into that stuff these days. Ah, well.

Zaki said...

Just wait'll I get to GI JOE EXTREME!

Anonymous said...

As one of the writers of the original Sunbow series, I appreciate this history of the post-Sunbow "G.I. Joe." After leaving animation temporarily in 1986, I was totally unaware until now that Hasbro had done more episodes with an animation house other than Marvel.

Given DIC's less-than-admirable reputation in the creative animation community -- largely due to sub-standard work -- your evaluation of their version of "Joe" comes as no surprise. Indeed, I find myself grateful for never having had to endure any of DIC's product.

Zaki said...

Thanks for your comment! Glad to know my Nostalgia Theater posts are leaving a mark with the show's creatives! Can you share any stories of your time in the animation trenches?

(Also, be sure to read my look back at GI JOE EXTREME: