Invented by Erno Rubik in 1974, the Rubik's Cube took a few years to really catch on -- but once it did, there was no stopping the madness. Specificially from 1980 to 1984, a person's value was weighed only by their ability to make the novelty's colored bricks align. Rubik's Cube ultimately went way beyond a mere 'fad item,' becoming as much a part of Americana as greasy cheeseburgers and bumper stickers featuring clever variations on the Darwin fish. In its heyday, Rubik's Cube spearheaded the Great Puzzle Revolution with dozens of plastic brainteasers and party games.
If that's not enough for you, there's another Rubiky spinoff that truly proves its scope of popularity: the Rubik's Cube had its own cartoon show.
Rubik, The Amazing Cube premiered on a Saturday morning in September of 1983, bringing the once-inanimate puzzle to life and giving it a really ugly alien head. The series wasn't a phenom -- it only really lasted a year before getting thrown into that pile of cartoons that's only consulted when a network needs to quickly fill empty slots, but it's still pretty incredible that a full season's worth of 22-minute episodes were crafted about a toy puzzle. Sure, tougher concepts have been realized, but Rubik's Cube wasn't even strictly a kid craze.
ABC knew that a show like this would require some promotional assistance, so The Amazing Cube was slotted after repeats of Pac-Man's old cartoon. The duo became known as 'The Pac-Man / Rubik, The Amazing Cube Hour.' I wonder how many tireless hours were spent coming up with that name. For all the obvious reasons and then some, Rubik's wacky animated adventures never lit the public on fire. After failing in its second chance run in 1985, The Amazing Cube retired to the Island of Misfit Toons and hasn't been seen since.
Now that the Cube has been re-released and once again stocked heavily at every toy store you can find, I figured it was a good time to pull the poor show outta the vault. Here's a look back at Rubik, The Amazing Cube. It wasn't one of the best cartoons of the era, but you've still gotta appreciate a show that represents the Rubik's Cube as a bald, armless green alien who spits flight-granting pixiedust at children. I'm not sure why you've gotta appreciate that -- just seemed like something to clap for.
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Wellp, that's Rubik. Within the context of the show, Rubik is only brought to life when his rows of color are matched up, and the big gimmick was that very few people in the cartoon knew how to solve the puzzle. The friendly creature is either soft-spoken or retarded depending on your point of view, presenting his sentences at a rate of two words per hour. It'd be less grating if he didn't sound like he was talking to you from underwater, but I guess we were supposed to be impressed enough at a toy that can grow a head and arms. The speech capabilities were just a bonus.
Of course, giving Rubik sentience wouldn't provide enough action possibilities on its own, so the creature was also given magical powers. They seem to change from episode to episode rather conveniently, but the guy's basically a heroic genie lamp. Sadly, the show runs out of creativity here, filling the gaps with prototypical human characters who are either A) young and friendly, B) old and mean and dressed like pirates, or C) clueless parents who are only seen cooking dinner, eating dinner, or talking about when dinner is going to take place. Rubik didn't come to life in the most exciting setting, but at least he had a few pals...
Carlos is the lucky boy who discovered the enchanted Rubik's Cube, completing the puzzle and bringing his new friend to life. You know what's really amazing? The 80s were a pretty 'white decade' when it came to cartoon heroes, and when someone finally got the balls to bring in a little ethnicity, they did it with the RUBIK'S CUBE cartoon. Hard to tell if it's a step forward or backward, but make no mistake, Carlos' nationality was in name alone. Everyone on this show follows the very specific pattern of past cartoons, where the simple rule is that all humans must be two-dimensional boring clods who serve as subversive narrators while the stranger looking characters let their personalities shine. The show was all about Rubik -- these kids were just there to speed things along.
Carlos' siblings rounded out the group. Renaldo is the wise older brother, complete with Wise Older Brother Undefined Sports Jersey. Lisa was the befuddled younger sister, complete with the Befuddled Younger Sister Pigtails. Renaldo isn't really the star of the show, but he'll seem like it to you. Michael Bell, who supplied his voice, is better known for a horde of popular toon characters he brought life to: Duke from G.I. Joe, a ton of Transformers, Allstar from The Snorks, and even several Smurfs. He's not on the same plateau as Chris Latta or Frank Welker, but I sincerely doubt there's even a single person reading this who wouldn't recognize his voice within seconds. In a show as offbeat as The Amazing Cube, the familiarity is welcome.
The episodes were pretty much what you'd expect. The kids invariably end up having to fight criminals or save Rubik from criminals, leading to time-killing ten-minute chase scenes before Rubik remembers all of his magical powers to end the shows on a high note. It sort of had a Scooby Doo vibe to it, but Carlos was no Shaggy and Rubik didn't get any cooler when someone fed him treats. Rubik, The Amazing Cube was more 'adventure' than 'comedy,' which would've been fine had the adventures been at all interesting. Course, there's been plenty of plotless empty shows that made it big, but our little alien box monster just didn't have enough penciled-in charisma to launch a new legacy.
On the search for a positive, I'll say that the program did display some positive morals. Positive morals rarely garner interest from the six-year-old crowd, but at least Rubik wasn't going to be blamed for any kids murdering each other with hammers or wooden planks. At worst, the only bad thing a child could take from the show was the idea that shaking a Rubik's Cube puzzle over their head would enable them to jump off roofs without falling. And really, if a kid's that stupid, Rubik wouldn't even need his top drawer lawyers for the case.
In the world of cartoons, the image above can only mean one of two things. Either Rubik's delighting in the aroma of some far off cheese pizza, or he's performing some kind of supernatural spell. In this case, the latter. In an episode I've seen recently, Rubik managed to use his powers for all of the following in one 22-minute block: making kids and their dog fly, mixing cement, turning aforementioned cement into 'cement shoes' to trap one of the villains, flying a boat across the city skyline, unwrapping pieces of candy, walking through walls, dissapearing/reappearing, unwrapping more pieces of candy, and if I'm not mistaken, there's at least two instances where Rubik uses his magic to put 70% of the audience to sleep while the remaining 30% settle on chewing pen caps to pass the time. It wasn't a very 'exciting' show, but then again, Rubik's Cube wasn't really an 'exciting' toy.
Though it was pretty exciting to rip off and reapply all of the cube's stickers so I could pretend I knew how to complete the puzzle. Eh, that was more 'amusing' than 'exciting.' Rubik's really sucking the life out of me tonight...
The show's villains were straight from the pages of Plain Bad Guys: How To Draw Villains People Have Already Seen Ten Trillion Times On Other Cartoons. Running the gamut from 'mad scientist' to 'looting pirate,' most of the show's foils looked like an animated Vincent Price with tacked on Fu Manchus to note their evilosity. Rubik confirms that 'evilosity' is a word, so stop thinking whatever it is you're thinking.
It's up to Rubik and the kids to take down the criminal du jour, typically moving the show away from its usual settings to more adventure-ridden caves, islands and abandoned warehouses. Sometimes the villains are after money, sometimes they just want to beat up the kids. A few of the episodes sway from this derivative, but these were the common plots. The show raised tensions by giving Rubik one notable weakness: he'll often lose his color coordinated pattern when stunned, rendering him faceless and helpless...
Talk about product placement. It's the only cartoon in history where any scenes featuring the hero in dire straights double as a commercial. Okay, there's probably a few more cartoons like that, but Rubik did it with extra style. I'm not sure what the prime directive of The Amazing Cube was -- either to play off the puzzle's popularity with kids or to inspire more young fools to buy one of the things for themselves. In both cases, the creators had to know that they were only gonna be in this for the short haul. Shows like Rubik are rarely considered as long-running franchise-starters, and even the more highly regarded based-on-something programs like Saturday Supercade didn't last much longer than this one. These shows begin their run on borrowed time.
Anyway, when Rubik's sides lose their color coordination, it's up to Carlos to put him back in order. Nice of them to give one of the kids something to do besides yelling 'GO RUBIK GO!' in the background.
Call me crazy, but I sort of liked the show. Actually, no I didn't -- I just enjoyed the idea of a Rubik's Cube having a bluish head and little pop-out legs. Plus, he was one of the few cartoon characters I could successfully draw as a kid. To give you an idea, I spent two minutes trying to draw Rubik and two minutes trying to draw He-Man with a paint program. Here's the results:
Rubik's much easier, and I don't have to worry about making size appropriate nipples, which is always tough since anyone who draws nipples usually throws caution to the wind and makes them as large as possible. With Rubik, you've just gotta add a gnome head to a bunch of little squares. Even if the cartoon sucked, at least the guy helped kids feel like worthy artists. Drawing He-Man just made you feel dirty.
I'm sure there's plenty of you who've never seen The Amazing Cube despite being very much of 'cartoon age' in the early 80s. Rubik was up against more than a few bad scripts -- ABC put the show on at the most awful of times, going up against such can't-miss luminaries as The Smurfs and Looney Tunes. Most people weren't ready to skip the perennials in favor of a cartoon about a talking square, so Rubik wouldn't have made it even if it had all the right tools. After 1985, the show left the airwaves without enough episodes under its belt to warrant a lasting syndication deal. Don't feel bad for Rubik, though. You're not supposed to feel bad for cartoon characters, especially ugly naked ones.
In around the same time of The Amazing Cube, the legacy of Rubik grew even larger with Atari's Rubik's Cube game, a little known fan club exclusive that's become one of the rarest finds the entire video game universe. Originally a Rubik rip-off titled 'Atari Video Cube,' Atari bit the bullet and bought the rights to make the game official. I know we've gotta judge Atari games on a different level considering the era's available technology, but this thing was awful by anyone's standards. Here's a shot of the title screen:
Your goal is obvious: match up all the rows of color. Unfortunately, since you could only see one side of the cube at a time, you needed the memory power of something, uh, very powerful in memory to complete the puzzle. And it's not like any great rewards awaited the champions - you just finished the puzzle and started over. Atari was getting some serious flack at the time for some of its more terrible games, so you can see why this one was only available through their fan club. I've rarely seen this title on sale for less than a hundred bucks, so it's only for the truly devoted completist collector.
Regardless, the Rubik Dynasty was pretty remarkable. It's insane how far a company can go with a simple idea and a brand name, and the Rubik's Cube has enjoyed success and popularity for more than two decades now. Half the appeal lies in the puzzle's simplistic fun -- the other half was knowing that you'd receive big time bragging rights for solving a mystery everyone else in the world had plied their trade at. Over the years, the Rubik name was attached to countless variations on the original cube - puzzles with different shapes, board games, novelties, and my personal favorite, Rubik's Magic Puzzle...
Nobody in my family ever figured out how to 'use the rings,' but I always loved pretending the puzzle was a Chinese dressing screen for my action figures. Rubik worked on all sorts of levels. Hooray for Rubik.
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