Sunday, November 10, 2013

Nostalgia Theater: Toxic Crusaders Brings Troma to TV

One of my favorite sub-categories here in Nostalgia Theater is animated kidvid adapted from R-rated movies. We've already discussed Rambo and RoboCop, but one entry that has to deserve some kind of prize for sheer audacity is Toxic Crusaders. Unlike those examples, which at the very least had public awareness before making the leap to animation, I doubt much of the target audience had seen the Toxic Avenger pictures put out by noted schlock factory Troma. The first film, released in 1984, cost half a million bucks and grossed slightly more than that. To get a sense of what the horror/comedy/superhero flick is about, watch the trailer below:

Now, I'm not going to get into whether The Toxic Avenger and its sequels are good films. They obviously have their fans. The one thing I will say without fear of contradiction is that it isn't really ideal subject matter for malleable young minds. Nonetheless, by the early '90s, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles juggernaut (itself adapted from a little-seen comic book) had raked in a small fortune for producer Fred Wolf, who saw in Troma's "Toxie" property just as much marketing and merchandising potential. And thus, here's what Toxie looked like when he premiered in syndication in January of '91:

Funny stuff, that toxic waste! Anyway, this being animation in the '90s, there was of course an array of branded merchandising ready to go, including a tie-in comic from Marvel (par for the course by now, but most especially during the early '90s), not to mention the requisite lineup of action figures and accessories from Playmates, the same folks who'd made a mint on Ninja Turtles (and still are, this many years later!). Here's a TV spot hyping the action figure line.

As you can see, the big sell here was an environmental message with both the toys and the 'toon that sort of belied the "ick" factor of the actual subject matter. That said, this was right around the same time Captain Planet (and Swamp Thing) found green by going green, so I'm sure that played a role as well. Nonetheless, Toxic Crusaders never really took off, ending its run after the initial thirteen episodes (though Toxie himself has crusaded on, with a fourth live action feature released in 2000 and a fifth one supposedly on the way).  I guess audiences took a look at the concept and decided the whole thing was a (toxic) waste of time.

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