Matt Originally posted on 12.17.02.
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Be afraid, be very afraid. And oh yeah, don't do drugs. Never do drugs. If you continue doing drugs, it's entirely possible that they'll continue to make cartoons like this. Cartoon All-Stars To The Rescue was a McDonald's-promoted special teaching kids the dangers of using illegal drugs. Their mission was an admirable one, because everyone knows the quickest way a kid can spiral down the tubes of madness is by lighting up a joint. The show starred characters from every hot cartoon series at the time, from The Smurfs to The Chipmunks to Alf Tales and beyond. Positive anti-drug messages aside, the real reason to track down this tape is clear: it's the largest crossover special in television history. Itís a must-watch TV event, even for those who are in luxury drug rehab trying to kick off the habit.
The crossover has a great cake-topper, too. Where else are you going to find Simon, Garfield, and Pooh talking about smoking crack and shooting juice? Their terminology, not mine. While you can't argue against the point of the special, I don't think it was too effective. You might be able to trick eleven-year-olds into thinking that smoking pot will make your brain explode and your skin turn green, but those kinda lessons aren't lasting. I would've opted for the simpler approach. Have Papa Smurf stand in front of the camera and say "hey, if your father catches you smoking grass, he's going to beat the fucking shit out of you." I'd have to assume that methodology would work a lot better than telling kids that drugs will make your eyeballs melt and other shit that attacks a demographic which barely has to deal with drugs to begin with. Here's my review...
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The show kicks off with a special message from then-president George Bush and some kind of albino circus bear they've managed to fit into a cobalt blue evening gown. They tell kids to enjoy the cartoon, and make a point to reference how easily lives can be destroyed by drugs no less than thirty times in no more than thirty seconds. Seriously, every other word out of George Sr.'s mouth is 'drugs.' Considering that every third word out of his mouth is either 'Smurfs' or 'Slimer,' this was a pretty surreal way to begin the video. At least we know one thing for sure. George might not have been elected for a second term, but this was one president who didn't inhale.
Now, the cartoon...
The premise: Michael used to be a good kid, but not so much anymore. Now he's stealing his little sister's piggy bank! Historically, big brothers who indulge in this kind of behavior can only be one of two things: drug addicts, or people who think pink ceramic pig banks are too cliche to exist. Judging from Michael's harrowed frame and sunken eyes, I'd bet on the former. But hope is not lost! His little sister might not be able to help him, but all the characters living inside her dolls and comic books can give it a shot!
They're all here - Alf, Garfield, Alvin, Brainy, Slimer, Pooh, and more. We immediately get our first shock moment, as the group finds Michael's box of drugs under the bed, prompting Simon to nail that crucial line: "I think it's marijuana." I know not too many of you have had the pleasure of watching this video, but time seems to stop when Simon mouths that word. It comes off more like "maaaaarrrraaaajuuuuaaaannaaah," and everything else in the world seems to temporarily fade to gray. From here on out, the drug references don't stop. You've got Alf talking about heroin, you've got Miss Piggy talking about cocaine. It's really, really strange to watch. We're talking strange on the same level as watching Mrs. Cleaver give Wally a rimjob. Sorry, I'm not usually this crass. It's just that hearing Papa Smurf yell 'LAY OFF THE DOPE, MICHAEL" tends to shake one's foundations of reality. I'm sure it'll pass.
They didn't dog it here, either. All of the characters' usual voice-actors were hired for the special, and everyone gets to hit some of their classic lines just so you know they weren't there merely for effect. I must say though, I never really got a chance to watch much of the Alf cartoon, but if this show was any indication, he was quite the little furry prick.
Sally figures out that Michael stole her piggy bank cash, but she still has no idea that he's on drugs. The rest of the crew are a little sharper, so they head off to save Michael from the perils he's putting himself up against.
There's little continuity from here on out - it's mainly just Michael falling into the laps of every cartoon character you could imagine and trying to justify his drug use. The cartoon guys, of course, aren't buying any of his excuses. I said that this special couldn't have been too effective since it was tackling an age demographic that really didn't have to deal with drugs, but I just thought of another faux pas. If I was five-years-old and watching this thing, the only 'lesson' I would've taken away from the tape is this: do lots of drugs, fuck yourself up, and maybe your animated heroes might come try to save you! Hell, I would've played hooky in the second grade to smoke crack if I thought Kermit and Gonzo were gonna drop by to give me advice because of it.
Since it's completely unheard of for anyone to do drugs simply out of curiosity or desire, they needed to set up Michael's story another way. In this case, he's a victim of peer pressure. He just wants to be one of the guys. Which is admittedly tough, since his friends include a blonde skater chick and a black basketball player. When a common bond isn't easy to find, just smoke some hash and break the ice that way. Michael's a little concerned - his buddies are upgrading into more dangerous drug territories. He was okay with the pot, that's kid stuff. But how's he supposed to keep truckin' if he's smoking crack? Especially because his friends, for whatever reason, are smoking it right in the middle of their local video arcade?
Michael's drug-using compatriots are about as cliche as you can get, seeming to exist for the sole purpose of pressuring drugs onto those who don't want to do them. If that's not bad enough, Michael's own bad habit is manifested in another cartoon character - a humanoid cloud of gray smoke with evil eyes who continually tells him that drugs are 'cool, man.' He's up against some pretty insurmountable odds here, the pressure must be incredible. No wonder he's smoking so much damn pot. I take solace in knowing that the contents of a little girl's piggy bank can't possibly buy too much crack.
Ah, here's Bugs Bunny! Bugs tries his best to make Michael understand how wrong it is for him to do drugs, but the boy just won't hear it. Actually, I think I know what's really going on here. As the special progresses, Michael keeps acting like he doesn't get it, so more and more cartoon characters keep showing up to give it a shot. Why quit with Bugs Bunny? That's a waste. He should hold off till he meets some of the real big stars, like that green scientist Muppet with no eyes, or Galvatron. I think Michael's already accepted his behavior as 'wrong,' and now he's just waiting things out till he's met all his animated heroes. Hey, opportunities like this don't come by very often.
Meanwhile, Winnie The Pooh tries persuade Sally into telling her parents about Michael's drug habit. Wow, I never thought I'd type that sentence. There's sort of a dual message going on in this special - the more obvious one about not doing those nasty drugs, and the secondary one about knowing when it's okay to tattle. Subplots are always welcome when they help move the action along, but they're even more welcome when they lead to Winnie the Pooh talking about smack.
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are represented by Michaelangelo, who tells Michael what a dope he's being. I might have to take back my earlier theory - sure, meeting all your cartoon heroes is nice, but it kinda loses its luster when all of them keep calling you an idiot. Mikey finally addresses the smoky villain hanging out with our teen-in-peril, but Michael (the kid, not the turtle) still won't listen to reason. Good God, what's it gonna take? If a mutant turtle and Smurfs aren't enough to convince him, I don't know what's gonna do it. Besides, it's not like all these cartoons coming to life is 100% effective anyway - Michael probably just thinks he's tripping out.
By the way, Cartoon All-Stars To The Rescue still lives in infamy today. It was promoted heavily back in 1990, in fact so heavily that kids were preparing themselves for an animated event like no other. Screw the nicey-nice anti-drug sentiment - this was all about cartoons. Of course, the video ended up being pretty damn stupid, so every kid who was waiting intently to watch Alf and Garfield slap hands was real disappointed. And, because of the strange subject matter, anyone who has seen it can't ever forget what they've witnessed. Though rare, you can still locate the tape on eBay, for an arguably low price. Why you'd want to do that is another matter entirely, but hey, at least the option's there.
Finally, all the cartoon characters seem to be getting to Michael. He's beginning to understand that drugs are bad. Just to cement that fact, everyone sings the worst song I've ever heard. Even worse than the 'Goodness Makes The Badness Go Away' song from the Smurfs Christmas Special, and dare I say it, maybe even worse than Tim Curry's Anything Can Happen on Halloween from The Worst Witch. Okay, it's not that bad, but Christ, don't ever hand those ducks the karaoke mic if you can avoid it. They're fucking terrible.
While Michael seems to be on the verge of ending his ill-advised habits, he's not quite there yet. What this guy needs is a little trip through the hall of mirrors in a fun house with Alf. Huh? You were expecting something else? Come on, funhouse mirrors and Alf help kids kick their drug habits every time! Look, I'll prove it...
See? See what drugs will do to you? They'll turn you into a zombie! I think these cartoon guys are taking a few creative liberties with the assumed effects of drug use, but gosh darnit, they've gotta prove their point somehow. Everything else they told him didn't do the trick, and they're running low on ideas. Fortunately, telling Mike that drugs will ultimately make him look ugly worked a whole lot better than telling Mike that drugs will ultimately kill him, so he finally agrees to stop taking them and to be a better big brother. Alf, you're a godsend.
Michael returns home a new man, and is shocked to find his old smokey drug buddy trying to persuade little Sally to take a puff. So he kicks the ghoul's ass and tells Sally not to take drugs unless a doctor prescribes them, or if she somehow ends up watching an old episode of Chris Elliot's Get A Life. No other reasons are justified. Sally agrees, and she's happy to have her brother back to normal. Yayayay.
All the cartoons jump onto a poster and wave goodbye to their new friends. You know, the only thing I could think of while watching this video was how much more entertaining the viewing would've been if I was stoned. I'm not sure if that was unintentional or some brilliant Cheech and Chong effort on the part of Buena Vista Home Video.
Overall: You really can't make fun of the effort here - the message was a good one at heart. Personally, I think the anti-drug campaigns are almost always flawed by design. I mean, I understood them when I was in elementary school. I knew drugs were bad, and had little interest in taking them. Of course, drugs didn't show up much in the third grade, so it wasn't exactly a big issue anyway. The ones that are directed to a more on-target demographic - the high school audience - are always too hokey to make any kind of real difference. Then again, very few people are going to be so influenced by commercial campaigns and television specials that their actual life decisions will be affected, so to some degree, these things are playing towards a moot point. If you want to make kids afraid of smoking pot, that's fine. But they should go after the things that kids will actually care about. Getting arrested, getting thrown out of school, things like that. Telling teenagers that they might become a little less alert isn't gonna sway their opinions much. Just my opinion.
As for Cartoon All-Stars To The Rescue, I'll award 5 points for virtue, but I've gotta take away at least 15 for forgetting to include a shot of Shredder or Gargamel puffing on a joint. Now that might've worked.