With the exception of maybe around the time that the Children’s Crusade was happening, it would be difficult to mount a convincing argument that any time in history has been more ridiculous than the time we live in now. The president of the United States is a reality TV show host with an understanding of the world that, at best, rivals that of a six-year-old. Every day, the news largely consists of short-lived celeb controversies that wink in and out of existence at an alarming speed because we are plugged into every single famous person’s every thought. Tumbleweeds are taking over American towns. It’s a very silly time. And, yet, in some ways, the 90s absolutely eclipsed us for silliness.
In the shitty and embarrassing way that we now think that every household appliance and human behaviour is somehow suited to being tracked, activated or otherwise interfered with by an app, the shadowy media execs of the 90s were absolutely convinced that anything and everything was fair game for a spin-off TV show. Sometimes this was very good (hello, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Stargate SG-1). Other times, this was very, very bad.
Before kids got their kicks from watching YouTube compilations of Russian dash cam crashes, they got them from cartoons. They were hungry for what seemed like literally anything – and these media execs were more than happy to give it to them. Did kids really want a cartoon based on the 1998 Matthew Broderick Godzilla movie? It’s hard to imagine any one child specifically asked for that, and yet here we are, in the universe where it exists.
Mostly to check whether they are actually real or if maybe I just have a series of patently insane false memories that I acquired while watching breakfast TV with a bad fever, let’s take a look at some of the most weird and improbable cartoon adaptations of movies that were not in any way asking to be adapted.
Jumanji: The Animated Series (1996 – 1999)
Pictured: “Are human eyes giant or tiny?” “Eh, try both.”
Here’s a pitch: imagine the movie Jumanji, but it’s 880 minutes long, the board game is sentient and prone to mood swings, and there’s a massively paradox-inducing time travel element that means that the only reason Alan survived in the Jumanji jungle is because he was helped by kids who only entered the game because he survived in the Jumanji jungle (try not to think about it too much).
Presumably because whoever was in charge of the money was on a massive coke binge, this pitch was accepted, produced, and (as I’m sure you remember) very much broadcast on Australian television. What a wild ride.
Mighty Ducks: The Animated Series (1996 – 1997)
Pictured: What the fuck is this. No, really, what the fuck is this.
It’s hard to decide which is the more crazy thing to come out of the Mighty Ducks franchise: the Stanely Cup–winning NHL team (no, really) or the cartoon where the Mighty Ducks are actual anthropomorphic ducks who fly around in a spaceship and use hockey-based attacks to vanquish their enemies. A bit confused? Don’t worry, let this paragraph from the Wikipedia article help you:
In another universe exists a planet populated entirely by humanoid ducks. Dubbed “Puckworld” by its inhabitants, it is an icy planet, perfectly suited to the Ducks’ favorite pastime, hockey. For the citizens of Puckworld, hockey was not simply a sport, but a way of life, occupying virtually every aspect of day-to-day existence.
Just kidding about the whole ‘help’ thing.
So, conceptually, it’s similar to Howard the Duck but with more hockey and less of, uh, this:
Pictured: I am so, so sorry for showing you this.
If the concept alone isn’t nuts enough for you, you’ll be delighted to learn that the protagonists had such badass names as Wildwing Flashblade, Canard Thunderbeak, and Check Hardwing – all of which sound like the joke manly names from the Mystery Science Theatre 3000 episode Space Mutiny:
The show ran for a startling 26 episodes and somehow, much like the Jumanji show, managed to secure the incredible voice talents of Tim Curry, in addition to the splendid, gravelly tones of Clancy ‘The Kurgan’ Brown. As a kid, I was incredibly wowed by the show’s bonkers visual aesthetic and I am forced to admit that, actually, with the clarity of hindsight and a more mature artistic sensibility, it still looks very, very dope.
Godzilla: The Series (1998 – 2001)
Pictured: “With my new entirely squid-based workout program, you too could get a six-pack like this.”
In the 1998 film Godzilla, Matthew Broderick played a nebbish scientist who ultimately helped the US military destroy the fearsome and terrible Godzilla. In the animated series, Sharknado‘s Ian Ziering voices the same scientist, except he’s somehow able to control Godzilla’s one surviving child (who they have creatively named “Godzilla”) and uses him to fight against a dizzying array of other giant mutant animals.
While the primary way that the universe of the film Godzilla differed from our own is that French nuclear weapon testing caused Godzilla to exist, the series takes a few further departures, adding the existence of robots, ancient aliens dwelling on the ocean floor that are voiced by Ron Perlman, and a giant Komodo dragon that has a child with Godzilla.
Weird trivia: the series provided veteran actor Roddy McDowall‘s final acting role before his death, in an episode in which he played a scientist that was attacked by the Loch Ness Monster (this universe the Loch Ness Monster is also real).
The Mask: Animated Series (1995 – 1997)
Pictured: Me, forcing my co-workers to listen to me talk about the weird shit I found doing research for this article.
At the end of the 1994 film The Mask, Jim Carrey‘s character throws the mask away, realising that, with confidence, he can find happiness, and that he doesn’t need to be possessed by a somewhat sinister magical artefact to get what he wants. Imagine if, instead of that, he kept the mask and used it to fight crime.
Given that the mask supposedly belonged to the Norse god Loki, it’s not entirely surprising that Satan would also exist in this universe but it’s still weird as hell that the Mask going to battle with him would be a major plot point.
Probably the strangest part of the show is it that apparently existed in the same universe as the Ace Ventura cartoons, which manifested itself in a scene where the Mask attaches itself to Ace Ventura‘s ass, gaining a face.
Pictured: I just, fuckin’, I don’t even – man – fuckin’, I don’t fuckin’ know.
Like the Jumanji and Mighty Ducks cartoons, this show somehow managed to get Tim Curry to do a voice in it. Tim, mate, what were you doing in the 90s?
Free Willy (1994)
Pictured: This is what it looks like / when whales smile.
The plot of the 1993 film Free Willy is pretty straightforward, if a little improbable: a young delinquent and an emotionally scarred captive killer whale become best friends, eventually orchestrating (or ‘orcastrating’, if you will) a dramatic escape from the theme park in which the
fish wet mammal was contained. The TV series was… not that. I will let this paragraph from Wikipedia speak for itself:
The overarching conflict is reminiscent of Moby-Dick: a powerful oil baron, known to the main characters only as a cyborg called “The Machine” until the final episodes, loses his arm and part of his face to Willy while committing an environmental atrocity and wants revenge upon “that rotten whale… and his boy”.
I’m not entirely sure that a vengeful cyborg quite fits into the look and feel of the original film, but that sure didn’t stop the show’s creators:
Pictured: When you do the assignment without having read the book you’re writing about.
It is very, very important to note that because the protagonist, Jesse, has the ability to speak to and understand animals, every animal in the cartoon has a speaking role. Yes, that’s right, not only can Willy speak, he can also deliver the worst jokes you can possibly imagine.
Disappointingly, this one does not include the incredible voice acting skills of Tim Curry.
Honourable Mention: Jackie Chan Adventures (2000 – 2005)
Pictured: A luchador? For some reason?
This doesn’t qualify for two very important reasons: not only is it not an adaptation of a movie, it is also not a 90s kids’ show. Despite not meeting both of the criteria for inclusion on this list, it’s definitely spiritually in the same territory. The premise of Jackie Chan Adventures is a bit strange – it’s not Jackie Chan playing any one Jackie Chan character, it’s theoretically Jackie Chan playing Jackie Chan himself, except in this universe Jackie Chan is not an actor and martial arts expert, he is an archaeologist. Yeah, I’m not sure either.
In it, Chan, his niece, and his uncle travel the world trying to stop a series of magical talismans from falling into the hands of an evil organisation called the Dark Hand.
The show featured the actual voice of Jackie Chan and ran for five years and 95 entire episodes, so obviously can’t have been all that bad, but all I can remember about it from watching it as a kid is this incredible opening sequence:
The past was an absolutely incredible place.