Saturday, 15 November 2014

Animation Saturday: Bucky O'Hare and the Toad Wars (1991)

Science fiction and anthropomorphic animals are two clichés of animation I always find heart warming. The reason for this was my introduction to both tropes through the adventures of a green rabbit and his motley crew of animal adventurers. Ladies and gentlemen and third gender, I give you the 90s serial Bucky O’Hare and the Toad Wars.

Anyone who enjoyed the original Star Wars trilogy would know that this series was easily a kids version of said franchise but with animals instead of humans and aliens. It had every single cliché of soft sci-fi: an evil imperial menace, a hero who’s down on his luck but proves himself as the best in the fleet (Bucky O'Hare), a cat with a set of psychic powers – ideal for mental manipulation (First Mate Jenny), hyperspace and time travel (Blinky the Robot), and duck pirates (Dead Eye Duck).

Yes, you heard me correct there: Duck Pirates!

(Four armed duck pirates to be exact).

Anyway, the series surrounds the eponymous Rabbit Captain and his battle to rid the Aniverse of the Toad empire. And in the middle of said battle, a boy genius, Willy DuWitt, from San Francisco accidentally ends up in the parallel universe by building a photon accelerator.

Now I’m no physicist, but I do know that photons travel at the speed of light, so wouldn’t accelerating them lead to time travel rather than entering a parallel universe inhabited by anthropomorphic animals who have mastered space travel? I don’t know. If any physicists are reading this, please give me some light on this. But then again, we are talking about a 90s cartoon where the villain is a Toad on a screen.

The backstory explains the Toads were a harmless race who wanted to use technology to help keep order and bliss, and they invented KOMPLEX, a televised servant who would do all the boring things the Toads didn’t want to do. But eventually KOMPLEX took control of the race sent them on a course of military aggression and made them into an imperialist military hell bent on destroying any warm blooded animals.

As you can see, we have elements of Star Wars and hints of 1984 with KOMPLEX resembling Big Brother and the telescreens observing the everyday moves of Winston Smith, etc. Plus one of the villains is Toadborg, a Toad soldier whose body was put into a robot body to carry out KOMPLEX’s heavy work – plenty of references to Darth Vader there.

But what I could never get my head around was that Captain O’Hare and his crew were the only ‘Mammalian’ warriors employed to take on an entire empire. That’s as if the Rebel Alliance decided to cut back on all the X-Wings, Y-Wings, A-Wings, etc. and instead just commissioned the Millennium Falcon to battle the Dark Side. Never once in this series do we see the good guys stage a battle of epic proportions against the forces of evil. And most of the episodes cover Bucky and his friends carrying out covert operations which makes you wonder who is keeping up the heavy work in this war?

But if you want a pretty funny satire on the USA’s addiction to TV and money, the concept of ‘Toad TV’ might make you smile on more than one occasion. Having watched the show again as an adult, it’s a pretty mediocre cartoon, but the whole concept of animals at war and using cold-blooded vs warm-blooded as a metaphor for racism is pretty damn original.

And yes, we do see the damsel in distress trope here, again! In the final episode our psychic cat pilot Jenny is captured by the menace and needs the ‘funky fresh rabbit’ (seriously, that’s how the theme song goes), to save her life. That’s a pretty stupid storyline to employ after you’ve seen Jenny thwart the plans of the Toads using her high levels of intelligence and mental-manipulation techniques that no other animal is capable of wielding. Something I presume would give her enough power to help her try and escape – but this cartoon was to sell toys more or less.

So if you want a cartoon that will help young people understand science fiction with more colours and family friendly characters than the Star Wars films, give Bucky O’Hare a shot – but don’t expect anything mind blowing. And the Willy DuWitt character does bode well as an introduction into Low Fantasy and will be a good character for anyone wanting to overcome bullies who don’t have any legit reason to pick on him.

But most of all, if you want to hear one of the catchiest theme songs ever, this is the cartoon for you. Another piece of TV remembered today mostly for the theme song and the NES game. Theme songs were big business in the 80s and 90s, just give it a listen and you’ll know what I mean.

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