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Pilot Error: Animated Disasters

Not all pilots are live action. Many animated shows never get off the ground the same as their live action brethren. Sometimes these are kids cartoons and sometimes these are more adult animated fare.

Either way lets look at a few cartoon pilots that never went anywhere.

 

Coneheads

This one is bizarre. Produced in 1983 by Lorne Michaels and directed by the venerable duo of Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin Jr.  (Rankin/Bass). Featuring the voices of Dan Aykroyd, Jane Curtin and Laraine Newman reprising their roles from Saturday Night Live. This was even written by stalwart SNL writers Al Franken and Tom Davis. What makes this bizarre is that they were attempting to make a adult sketch from an adult show into a kids cartoon.

Obviously this would happen endlessly throughout the 1980’s (Robocop, Toxic Avenger, Rambo, Chuck Norris, Conan, Police Academy etc…) but what makes this different is Coneheads is not written to a child’s level. The oblique word play (that overly technical and succinct style of speech) and adult themes are present here as they were in the SNL sketches yet the animation and style of the animated pilot is clearly aiming at children. This was written like it was an SNL sketch and not a TV pilot for a children’s show.

I mean there is a sex joke less than 3 minutes in and beer plays a large role in the plot.

Remember this was the pilot for a CHILDREN’S CARTOON SERIES. At least I think they were trying to make a series… the tone is VERY kids cartoon and yet the script is adult almost as if this was made specifically NOT to be picked up.

The plot is simple… this is a prequel to the series of sketches from SNL showing how Beldar, Prymaat and Connie come to find themselves on earth telling everyone they are from France.

Needless to say this was never picked up, although it did air as a special and was eventually released on VHS. For some reason they decided to add a freaking laugh track which is both annoying and distracting.

Mass quantities were not consumed.

 

The X-Men: Pryde of the X-Men

The mutant age was not ready to begin. Pryde of the X-Men was a 1989 attempt to bring an X-Men cartoon to the small screen. The X-Men had previously guest starred in two quite popular episodes of Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends and as the 1980’s were closing out Sunbow (the animation company behind Spider-Man as well as G.I. Joe, Transformers and many others) decided it was time for the mutant age to begin.

Given a larger budget than other Sunbow series this pilot looks AMAZING. It still has that Sunbow style to it but the animation is very fluid and detailed and the lighting effects were above anything they had done up to this point. It’s a shame the script was not given as lavish a treatment. Now, I want to be clear this is NOT a bad script in and of itself, it just feels far too… god the only term I can use is “comic booky”. That might sound weird but as the animation and the story itself were obviously trying to be more mature (the scene with the black family telling Nightcrawler not to touch their daughter and calling him a filthy animal is a powerful one alongside the blatant Hitler allegory with Magneto) the script itself was full of nonsense; Breathing in space, ridiculous leaps of logic, jets traversing the planet in minutes, etc., undercut the tone. It was like they could not decide if this was a show for teens or kids. Sunbow would wrestle with this thing a few times. In G.I. Joe they had the character Mainframe reference the 1000 Yard Stare he saw in ‘Nam and again with Mainframe a running underground romance with Cobra agent Zarana all the while the stories in those episodes were about adults being turned into children via deaging or a man made out of stolen DNA. Sunbow clearly wanted to be making more mature and adult stories and yet could not stop themselves from acting like kids about it.

The plot is that Magneto wants to use a stolen fragment of Cerebro to redirect the Scorpio Comet into earth so all the humans die and mutants can rise up from the ashes. The X-Men (with newest member Kitty Pryde of the title) have to stop him.

Pryde of the X-Men also is somewhat jarring to fans of the X-Men comic books. They throw together many disparate characters from the comics into a mishmash that never gels. Also the voice acting is an issue. Cyclops is voiced by Michael Bell and he literally does his Duke from G.I. Joe voice with the character.

The worst offender would be that of Wolverine. Voiced by Patrick Pinney (ironically the voice of Mainframe on G.I. Joe) who chose (or was directed depending on who you ask) to use and Australian accent for the distinctly Canadian character. Not just the accent but even calling Toad a dingo at one point. Jarring does not begin to describe this choice.

The pilot was sadly not picked up but did air on TV many times as part of the rotating Marvel Action Universe block of cartoons. These consisted of Marvel animated series including Robocop, Dino-Riders, reruns of Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends and Pryde of the X-Men (sometimes Defenders of the Earth or Dungeons & Dragons episodes would run as well). The pilot was also released on VHS. There would be an X-Men series in 1993 but while that was better storywise… the animation was ass.

 

The Mini-Munsters

So, who the bright idea that by the early 1970’s The Munsters could be a cartoon? Yeah, they had a TV pilot as well. Now that I think about it this makes a kind of strange sense. The original Munsters series was altered considerably from it’s original pilot. The 1980’s series was altered considerably from it’s original pilot. The 2000’s pilot was never picked up so why not an animated one to go with that. The Munsters just had the worst luck with pilots.

The ABC Saturday Superstar Movie was a rotating band of TV movies (one hour) which brought a truly bizarre series of cartoons and live action insanity to Saturday Mornings.

Yogi Bear, The Brady Bunch, Popeye, Willie Mays (?) and The Banana Splits were all here along with Daffy Duck and Porky Pig Meet the Groovie Goolies (which is something both series have disavowed ever happened). The Munsters (specially The Mini-Munsters) were also featured in this animated spin-off attempt. Actually, is it a spin-off when the base series has been off the air for years? Anyway, this time we have the Munster characters all here (with only Al Lewis returning as a voice) but they are not the focus. This introduces us to The Mini-Munsters, the much younger cousins of the cast from the main series.

The pilot as presented originally was an hour long but that only aired once just before Halloween 1973. It was subsequently edited down to a half hour and aired throughout the 1980’s.

As a special it has limited animation (typical of off brand cartoons of the time) and with the main cast of the show being pushed off to supporting roles it feels cheap(er) and awkward.

 

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