Cartoons On Drugs! The Highs and the Lows!

Reviewing C.O.P.S. recently provided me with the opportunity to review the drug episode of that series, but I thought I’d hold it off for this review, with a look at a few of the times where cartoons took on the issue of drug addiction to differing levels of success. If it’s good I’ll say it’s a HIGH, but if it’s poor then I’ll say it’s a LOW.

G.I. Joe – The Greatest Evil

This is a two-parter from the DIC series, not the original Sunbow series, so 99% different voices (Chris Latta’s still on the payroll at this point as Cobra Commander). Hasbro had tapped into issues like pollution and drugs with their toyline, so this was used to promote the Drug Elimination Force branch and the evil Headman, a drug dealer. Headman is getting kids on the streets addicted to drugs, but others aren’t exempt from addiction too – Falcon has got hooked, as has the sister of a Crimson Guard Immortal. Duke is concerned about the former, with a callback to them being brothers in the movie. A chance encounter with the Crimson Guard brings them together in a helicopter collision, after which they agree that G.I. Joe and Cobra need to combine forces to eliminate Headman and his Headhunters.

The DIC series gets a terrible rap and this pair of episodes pretty much confirms why. A good cast, but really bad acting that does nothing to enhance a rubbish script. There’s also overbearing music with a score that sounds like it was recorded using a single Casio keyboard. The animation is simplistic and poor quality. Things move along pretty quickly to the point you think the story would be done before the end of the first part, but they stretch things out artificially by having Headman’s sidekick Gristle kidnap Falcon and the girl. Making it longer doesn’t make it better, it just makes it more overwrought, so between being HIGH or LOW it’s definitely a LOW.

Galaxy High School – The Brain Blaster

For the uninitiated, two kids in the future transfer from school on Earth to a school in space, Galaxy High. Geek Aimee becomes the popular kid and jock Doyle becomes the target for bully Beef Bonk, and lots of other adventures take place between the various strange alien kids. In this episode, Doyle is succeeding at sports but is flunking in class, which a drug dealer capitalises on by trying to sell him the Brain Blaster, which can make him more intelligent but can be dangerous. The first try makes him a lot smarter, but he feels and looks awful for it after.

This episodes is everything that the G.I. Joe episode isn’t. The animation is awesome, with TMS providing lots of shading and great character designs, with dealer Punk McThruster being a rat-like villain with liver spots with hairs poking out of them. The animation of Doyle feeling the effects of the Brain Blaster is spectacular. Beyond the animation, the direction of the episodes is filmic too. And the script is really clever, with lots of good gags and lines. The downfall of Doyle is captured well as he goes from himself to someone completely different. Listen out for Nancy Cartwright as multi-lipped Gilda Gossip and David L. Lander as multi-armed square and class president Milo de Venus. Danny Mann as the Creep is always good for amusement too. This is a definite HIGH (school).

Defenders of the Earth – The Deadliest Battle

We’re off to a bad start because it’s one of the episodes with the poorer animation. Rick Gordon has lost his edge in school and as a hero, not helped by Flash being a complete and utter dick to him during training exercises, so when another student at school offers him some drugs he initially resists but inevitably succumbs. Kshin is more sensible and takes notice of a DARE campaign at school while his friends just want to go and get high. Ming is also getting high on power in a B-plot to match the main plot.

I feel conflicted about this one, because there’s a lot of good ideas in it, but they aren’t all executed well. Whereas the G.I. Joe episode should’ve rushed through their story without stretching it out, this probably needed a bigger build, going across two episodes. Rick could’ve started stretching himself too thin, started getting frustrated with himself, bitten out at Flash, had a big argument with him, then taken solace in drugs from bad influences. His relationship could’ve broken down with Kshin, who could’ve been conflicted about “outing” Rick as on drugs, and Ming could’ve capitalised while going through his own power addiction. So, I can’t really say it’s a HIGH or a LOW, but I’ll give it a TEMPORARY BUZZ. Worth noting it’s one of four episodes written by Chuck Lorre… shame he didn’t know Charlie Sheen at the time, could’ve taken some inspiration from him!

Transformers: Prime – Stronger, Faster

A bit of a jump forward in time for this one, the preeminent Transformers of the last twenty years, celebrating the ten year anniversary of launching this year. The Autobots are running low on energon, so Ratchet creates a new synthetic form and tests it out on himself. Then, when Arcee is at the mercy of a bunch of Air Vehicons, he joins the fight and takes them all down single-handed, giving him a new arrogance unlike the normal grumpy disposition he has.

Jeffrey Combs was an awesome casting decision as Ratchet, normally grounchy and staid (“I NEEDED THAT!”), so having him play him as a cool guy is good for humour as well as disquieting, taking down Bulkhead with ease in a demonstration of his power (“HOOAH!”) and giving Arcee the wink as he walks past. Of course, having too much power and energy means he doesn’t know how to control it, wantonly knifing a Vehicon and almost killing a Decepticon energon miner. Optimus warning against breaking protocol is a bit rich when they had just sneak attacked a battalion a few minutes earlier, but Ratchet hits him harder with a stored up rant that he’s seemingly been thinking about for a while.

Of course, like all addicts, he loses control of himself and walks in on Megatron after taking down bruiser Breakdown. Megatron is too much for him and puts him in his place, providing a test subject for Knock Out to experiment on, necessitating massive regret and a rescue mission by the other Autobots. A great episode that shows why Prime was such a good show. The Autobots basically lose, but regain something in the mean time. A definite high, and this show is pretty much the best Transformers show since Beast Wars, the best show of the last twenty years, and a standard the new Netflix show will have to work hard to top. Definite HIGH!

C.O.P.S. – The Case of the Lowest Crime

Back to C.O.P.S. once again after last weekend, as planned. Probably the best known episode of the series, drug dealer Addict’em makes his debut, selling crystal twist to those who would pay for it. He’s a grey-skinned, white-haired, corpse-like figure who’s basically living death in human form. He makes the mistake of offering Buttons McBoomBoom, who was always my favourite villain in the show, some and he turns him down because “I get my kicks from crime!”, but takes him to Big Boss anyway because he can never turn down a chance to make money in a dishonest manner, but even Big Boss won’t stoop that low and sends him packing, with a warning to his other men not to do drugs.

Then, in the midst of a heist, Berserko takes a tumble into a crate of crystal twist and overdoses, ending up in hospital. This leads Big Boss and his men to the C.O.P.S., who are struggling to house all the addicts in their jails, with the offer of an alliance to take Addict’em off the streets and put him behind bars. The C.O.P.S. actually end up as supporting characters of a fashion in their own show.

It’s shocking that Bob Forward, who wrote the G.I. Joe drugs episodes from earlier in this review and was generally a preeminent animation writer, could produce such a stinker with Falcon and company at one point and then such a good one here. There’s lots of great touches, like Big Boss’ disgust at having to help out the good guys and combinations like Blitz and Buzzbomb as a team. The payoff comes when Addict’em runs into the hospital and gets caught by a recovered Berserko. The epilogue even mentions that some of his addicts remain hospitalised and in institutions, just so it’s not all entirely happily wrapped up. A definite HIGH and a contender for the best episode of the series, and definitely the most famous episode of it.

Bravestarr – The Price

Leaving the best until last (and I’ll be looking at this series further on request). Bravestarr had many great episodes, often focusing on some serious theme, and was probably the highest quality show Filmation ever produced episode-for-episode, although not as successful as He-Man. This episode is certainly in the best episodes of the show. A drug dealing Dingo called Dealer ensnares a young kid called Jay and gets him addicted to a drug called spin. I actually start crying whenever I watch the episode and see Jay happy and among his friends because I know what’s coming later. It’s not helped by a miner howling like a wolf and raving about being covered in man-eating spiders as he goes through withdrawals, already and addict. Bravestarr and Thirty-Thirty struggle to restrain him, so dangerous is he.

Jay takes more and more to where his health and behaviour takes a hit too, blackmailed by Dealer. Jay’s friend Brad struggles with “finking” on him and holds off on telling Bravestarr what he’s doing. Plus Jay starts stealing from his mom. A doped-up Jay is chilling to watch and listen to. Eventually, Brad realises he must tell Bravestarr with encouragement from Shaman and does, but it’s too late…

Again, it’s Bob Forward who pens this, and it’s up there as one of his best pieces of work with the He-Man episode The Problem With Power and the Beast Wars episode Code of Hero. I cried the first time I watched it back in 1990 and I still do when we get to the point where Bravestarr finds Jay after his last hit. The acting could be accused of being a little over the top, but I think it’s just right because it hits the mark exactly as it should, making you feel what you feel, and Shaman shedding a tear in the epilogue while a dedication to Raymond Hamada is superimposed onscreen adds to that. I have no idea who Hamada was and the internet doesn’t yield any results in finding out, but I’d assume it’s either a Filmation staff member or someone who died from drug addiction. Regardless of who it is, it hammers home the impact of the death and confirms that this episodes is THE HIGHEST OF THE HIGHS!

Conclusion: One or two disappointments, but the rest are just awesome. Don’t do drugs, m’kay?