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Saturday, August 13, 2011

Saturday Morning - Cartoon All-Stars To The Rescue

April 21, 1990 was a very important day in the history of Saturday morning programming.  The day started off like any other day, with ABC, CBS, and NBC all trying to one-up each other with various cartoons, competing to see which network's programming would come up on top for the 8-14 demographic.  In all honesty, I actually think that I was one of those kids who watched cartoons that April 21.

Something was different about this Saturday though.  Over the last couple of weeks, I had heard about this cartoon special that was supposed to have cartoon characters from no less than ten cartoon series come together on one show.  I was very excited about this prospect.  I mean, nobody ever expected to see Garfield on the same program as Bugs Bunny, or mixing Smurfs with Ninja Turtles.

Then came the next bit of good news.  This cartoon special was set to air on all three major networks at the time simultaneously.  There was no chance of missing this once-in-a-lifetime cartoon special because ABC, NBC, and CBS would be showing it at the same time.  Now, THAT was huge.

I was really excited to tune in and watch it.  I mean, if they booted off some of my favourite cartoon shows at the time for one week, it had to be worth tuning into, right?

The cartoon special reportedly garnered some major buzz on cable channels as well, as the USA Network and Nickelodeon screened this special the same day.

So, what was this cartoon special that seemed to make the world pause that one spring day in April, 1990?

Cartoon All-Stars To The Rescue.

The program was financed and funded by McDonald's, and included an introduction by George and Barbara Bush, the American president and first lady from 1989-1993.

And the subject of the 27-minute special was drug prevention.

But, wait a minute, I hear you saying.  A drug prevention public service announcement?  On Saturday morning?  A time period where kids could, would, and should be kids?  Where kids should not have to deal with adult problems?

I see your skepticism and I raise you this.  After viewing this cartoon special as a barely nine-year-old boy, I made the decision right then and there to never use drugs.  And that's a promise that I have abided to since then.  I'm not saying that the cartoon special was responsible for every child in the world going drug-free...that would be quite ignorant to say, considering that drug abuse is still a concern at schools today.  But the special did educate me on how serious drug abuse could be, and it helped me make the decision not to do any.  And I can't speak for others, but I'm doing just fine living the drug-free life.  I don't even touch alcohol all that much these days.

I think part of the reason why the special worked at the time was mostly because they had all sorts of characters from cartoon shows all throughout the Saturday morning cartoon line-up to help a boy named Michael kick the drug habit once and for all.  As I mentioned before, no less than ten cartoon shows from all three networks had at least one representative from the shows.  A total of twenty cartoon characters made a cameo in this special.  They include...


Huey, Dewey, and Louie from DuckTales
Winnie-The-Pooh and Tigger from The New Adventures of Winnie The Pooh
Slimer from The Real Ghostbusters
Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck from The Bugs Bunny and Tweety Show


Garfield from Garfield and Friends
Michelangelo from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Baby Kermit, Baby Gonzo, and Baby Piggy from Muppet Babies


Alf from ALF: The Animated Series
Alvin, Simon, and Theodore from Alvin And The Chipmunks
Hefty Smurf, Brainy Smurf, and Papa Smurf from The Smurfs

So, while ABC definitely had the edge for most characters represented, the other two networks had lengthier scenes.

And another reason why the special worked was because it didn't really sugar coat things.  Certainly, because it was a Saturday morning special, there were limitations to how far they could take things.  But, they were quite honest about what effects drugs could have on not just your body, but your relationships with your loved ones as well.

I managed to find the whole special that someone uploaded on YouTube, and it has been divided up into three parts.  Let's watch the first one together, shall we?

Okay...two things right off the bat upon rewatching this program twenty-one years later is that it hasn't exactly aged well.  And secondly, how weirded out were you when Simon of the Chipmunks and Bugs Bunny dropped words like joint and marijuana?

That out of the way, we have our basic plotline.

Someone breaks into little Cory's room, and swipes her piggy bank.  The culprit later turns out to be her older brother, Michael.  When Cory is woken up by the commotion caused by the cartoons, she walks into Michael's room to see the broken piggy bank.  Cory is more concerned about her brother's behaviour than she is about the pocket change that he stole from her, but Michael is secretive, antsy, and aggressive towards her.  Cory knows something is wrong, but doesn't know exactly what.

Meanwhile, when the cartoons discover Michael's marijuana stash in the little blue box, they become concerned for Michael's well being, and feeling a loyalty to Cory, they all decide to find out what is going on and how to help.  Cory meanwhile, wants to tell her parents everything that is going on, but can't seem to find the right words to say it.

It all comes to a head at the video arcade, where Michael's friends from all the wrong places, encourage him to swap his marijuana for something stronger.  It's not determined in part one what the white crystals are, but it is implied that they are cocaine, or crystal meth.  To make matters worse, Michael seems to have an anti-conscience, so to speak, in the form of smoke (voiced by George C. Scott).  The cops soon arrive at the arcade, and all the teens flee, but Michael hits a dead end.  Luckily, the person after him isn't a cop.  Isn't exactly a person either.  And we see Bugs Bunny take out a time machine to transport them back in time to see how Michael was before he started using.

Right off the bat, we see that this story is loosely based on the classic Dickens tale 'A Christmas Carol'.  Assuming that we ended part one in the black and white past, we're bound to see the present and the future at some point.

Although, the inside jokes present in the special were fun to point out.  Alf threatening to eat Garfield, Bugs saying that he borrowed the time machine from some coyote.  That's what made a show on such a serious topic a little easier for young children to tune into.

The show also illustrated that marijuana is widely believed to be a gateway drug for more dangerous ones, as shown in the arcade scene.  Now, I'm also aware that marijuana can be used for medicinal purposes, but that's a different debate altogether.

So, that's the opening.  Let's tune into part two (though you may wanna skip to the 2:20 mark, as the first part is the end of part one).

And, right there, I forgot just how overly cheery and annoying that 'There's A Million Ways To Say No' song really was. 

Cheesy music and terrible lyrics aside, there really was a million ways to say no.  No.  Non.  Nein.  No, way, Jose.  There's four right off the bat.

Maybe the program didn't express it...the best way, but they did showcase ways that extended drug use can wreak havoc on your brain, as well as judgment calls.  I mean, Michael's friends were really cool, stealing his wallet and insisting that if he didn't do crack, he wasn't cool.  Peer pressure has been a huge reason why some feel tempted to use drugs.  Personally speaking, peer pressure sort of had the opposite effect on me.  I saw first hand how drugs negatively affected some of the kids I went to school with, and I was could ANYONE think that was cool?  Not me.

It's here that we also get into more scarier imagery, like the roller coaster scene with the Muppet Babies.  Was it necessary?  Maybe looking back on it, I could see how it might be scary for six year old children, but to get the message across, they had to do something that would stick.  While I can't speak for anyone else, that scene resonated in my mind for years, and was the first thing I could remember about the special.

And as we see, Cory tried to tell her father about Michael's erratic behaviour, but couldn't get the words out.

So, that's where we are now.  Time to see how this whole thing plays out with the conclusion.

I'm sure that some of you reading this right now probably are thrilled to death that this special is finally over...but because I started talking about it, I might as well finish it.

By now, Michael is pretty freaked out over the idea of what drugs are doing to him, but the smoke surrounding him is literally putting the chokehold on him, and he is unable to think straight.  By this time, Cory tries again to talk to her brother, but he angrily grabs her and scares her.  After this incident, the smoke tries to convince Michael that his drug use is fine, and that it's not affecting him at all.

Alf decides to show him differently.  The scene changes to a carnival from hell, where he's lead by Alf into a fun house filled with mirrors.  He shows Michael an image of himself all drugged up, gaunt, and sickly looking...basically only a glimmer of the person that he used to be.  Michael did not want to see any more of it, and as you saw, he kind of went through a moment where he was in a living hell.

Finally, he managed to end up at a fortune telling booth, where Daffy showed him his future, which was not pretty.  Sure, the future Michael wasn't dead...but he may as well have been, reduced to nothing more than a quivering vegetable of a person.  Even for a Saturday morning cartoon, the image was pretty disturbing.  It was then that the whole cast of cartoon characters grouped together to tell Michael that he owed it to himself and his loved ones to quit using drugs for good.  While all this was going on, Cory happened to come across Michael's secret stash, where the smoke practically begged Cory to try them, misleading her into thinking that if she tried it, she could get her brother back.

Alas, Michael ended up seeing the light, and the way out of the nightmare, only to walk straight into another one.  Fortunately, he stopped Cory from taking any of the stash, threw the stash away, and managed to get the bad influence of the smoke away from him.  As he told Cory though, keeping him away would be hard work.  Luckily, he knew that he wasn't alone, and as the special ended, we saw Michael and Cory head downstairs to tell their parents everything.

Now, I hear what some of you may be saying.  The television special was weird.  It was creepy.  It was twenty-seven minutes that you will never get back again.  Again, I say that the special has not aged well at all.

That being said, it set out what it wanted to accomplish...well, at least it did with me.

I tell you, kids these days do not have it easy.  It almost seems like they are being exposed to gateway drugs at younger and younger ages, not being aware of how dangerous and deadly they can be.  That's why I wouldn't be opposed to letting them view this cartoon (or at least an updated version). 

The moment that I saw that scene where Daffy showed Michael that half-dead version of himself, that was when I decided never to go down the road of drugs.  Yes, I know that I was not even ten years old yet.  It didn't matter.  If drugs could do that to someone, I wanted no part of it.

I knew quite a few people who were just like the stoned friends that Michael had at the arcade.  They thought they were the kings and queens of the schoolyard, and thought that as long as they had their steady supply, they were invincible.  What they couldn't see was how destructive they were being to themselves.  They flunked out of classes, they spent their free time getting high, and just as Baby Kermit said, before they knew it, they needed the drugs to feel some sort of normalcy.  And lemme tell you, that is NOT normal.

It's been years since I've seen those people.  A few of them managed to see the light like Michael did, and are now living la vida sober.  Some of them still use though, and a couple of them have sadly passed away. 

Looking back on it, I'm really glad that I never ventured down that self-destructive path.  Don't get me wrong, as a teenager, I was very emotionally vulnerable, and it would have been very easy to have gotten stuck in that downward spiral...but despite the fact that at times my self-esteem was at low points, somehow, I must have had enough self-respect in me to not do drugs.  They would not have helped me.  It would have made things much worse, and I wouldn't have been able to forgive myself had I been that weak.

That being said...I hope that those people who do have drug dependency issues know that there is help for you out there, and that I hope that all of you will be able to find your way back.

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