So a while back when I first started this blog, I wrote an article about all the times kiddie cartoons copied famous slasher movie villains like Pinhead and Freddy, but I’ve written a lot more about the times cartoons have used classic public domain monsters. Dracula, Frankenstein and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are associated closely with the silver screen, but they were books first, books that have fallen out of copyright thus they can appear in tonnes of TV shows and cartoons. Likewise, mummies became famous due to the movie with Boris Karloff, but the idea of a walking mummy is generic enough not to be copyrighted (besides, most TV and toon mummies are groaning shambling corpses as opposed to Karloff’s more intellectual antagonist).
Because of all this, we have Dr. Zitbag’s Transylvania Pet Shop, Igor and Hotel Transylvania, all of which have been covered on this blog. Though of course there are many more, some which are worth noting but not so much that they deserve a full article. So here we are, the many ways cartoons have abused classical monsters.
Flying Rhino Junior High
The Phantom of the Opera is a Universal Monsters movie, yes, but the Phantom is not as married to Universal as Dracula is; the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical is more famous an adaptation. Though there have been other film versions of Gaston Leroux’s novel in the past: we have had a more horror-based adaptation with Robert Englund (yes, Freddy fucking Krueger), a rock opera by Brian De Palma, and of course, a cartoon series where the Phantom is a midget nerd.
The villain of Canadian cartoon Flying Rhino Junior High was called The Phantom and bore a strong resemblance to LeRoux’s character. He lurked in the school’s basement, played a pipe organ and had a talking rat as a sidekick as a possible reference to the rat catcher in the original novel. This Phantom, however, was not Erik. He was Earl P Sidebottom (yes, that was actually his name) and while the original Phantom was deformed and persecuted, Earl did what he did simply because he got a D on his formerly perfect all-A record.
And of course, Earl wasn’t going to bring any young women to his lair and pay homage to music, muuusic. Instead, he had an “Environmaster” which he used to change the school into a different world every episode, to get revenge on the kids of the school whenever they made fun of him. So, really, more Carrie than Phantom. Thing is, that Phantom’s a grown-ass man in the series, so him torturing kids just because of a bad grade he got and because the kids are teasing him makes him seem more pathetic and skeezy than threatening (seriously, it’s a creepy-ass man spying on kids, not unlike a dorky Slenderman; do all monsters have to be potential sex offenders these days?)
Erik was deformed and was an attraction in a freak show, thus you understand why he is the way he is. Earl gets all pissy because he doesn’t know the name of the dinosaur from The Flintstones.
Arthur – Jekyll Jekyll Hyde
I am unfamiliar with the Arthur series. All I really know about it is that Arthur’s first story was about his insecurities of having a long nose only for that nose to ironically be jettisoned in later stories, and that Neil Gaiman had a guest role in one episode. Oh yeah, and their ode to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde:
I found out about this song due to its use in this video, but that doesn’t make it any less bizarre. A character from the show, Brain, dreams he is re-enacting the Robert Louis Stevenson story and becomes Mr. Hyde…or rather the Cryptkeeper crossed with King K Rool from Donkey Kong. Like Stevenson’s Hyde, he thus enjoys being able to do bad crap without feeling bad about it, though it’s petty stuff like graffiti, not trampling over girls or anything like that.
What’s really bizarre about this take on the story is how fucking catchy it is. When I listened to it one time, I had to listen to it again. Brain may be no James Nesbitt, but he knows how to carry a tune.
Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (the animated adaptation)
Ye gods. You know, these cartoons use a lot of famous monsters from books, but rarely ever do straight adaptations of the books themselves. This is because the works of Stoker, Shelley and Stevenson are a bit too dark for a kiddie cartoon to do them justice, and we need look no further than the 1986 animated version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde for proof.
Oh sure, it kept some of the dark elements of the book in. Mr. Hyde is still a murderer and Jekyll still dies at the end, but it’s hard to take it seriously when Hyde looks like a vampiric version of the Hulk and sounds like a chain smoker. He looks and sounds funnier than Brain’s Hyde up there.
I guess they’re trying to play the story straight, but it’s hard to tell. In one scene, Hyde kills a woman, but he does so off-screen, and pulls the woman away with motion lines and puffs of smoke. In the original book, the main character was Jekyll’s friend Mr.Utterson, but while Utterson does appear in this cartoon, the focus is on their wimpy Jekyll and their laughable Hyde. There’s even a bizarre sequence where Hyde talks to Jekyll through some weird spirally crap. Phelous from That Guy with the Glasses even reviewed the movie here.
Scooby Doo and the Reluctant Werewolf
I was thinking of doing a write-up on this flick, but then I realised it wasn’t really worth the bother, and a short bit in a list is really all it deserves. The monsters Scooby-Doo is mostly known for dealing with are men in Poundland masks, but there were actually TV movies where he dealt with actual supernatural creatures. These supernatural creatures weren’t exactly competent, but still.
In Reluctant Werewolf, Shaggy is turned into a werewolf by Dracula and forced to race in a Monster Road Rally, including Frankenstein’s monster (he’s just called Frankenstein in this, but I guess that’s okay), the mummy, even Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (called Jackyll and Snide here; strange, I thought Jekyll and Hyde were public domain when this movie was released). The movie is basically the Halloween edition of Wacky Races, where the monsters’ cars all had special abilities like lightning and magic potions. Also, Velma, Daphne and Fred were absent; we had the dreaded Scrappy Doo and some annoying chick named “Googie”, Shaggy’s girlfriend who we’ve never seen before or since this movie.
Nonetheless, it’s fun and entertaining in a goofy, corny Hanna Barbera way. Given the choice between this and Hotel Transylvania, the film with the cowardly Great Dane wins any day of the century. Both movies include a comical Dracula with a terrible Bela Lugosi impression, but at least Reluctant Werewolf’s Dracula is treated as comic relief rather than a character to be emphasised with. He actually looks like Dracula, rather than a guy dressed up like Dracula, and has a plane that shoots tombstones, a “bat-laser” system and a giant ape called “Genghis Kong”. That pun is so ridiculous it goes all the way back to being brilliant. I guess this is proof Dracula works better as Snidely Whiplash than he does as Edward Cullen 1.0.
Nonetheless, the movie does rely too much on slapstick and puns, most of which are not nearly as good as the “Genghis Kong” one I just mentioned. Dracula’s hunchbacked minions, “The Hunch Bunch”, give Shaggy and Scooby some food which they say was made from a certain type of beans. I half-expected them to say “human beans” but instead they say “scream beans” and the food makes Shaggy and Scooby howl. Huh. Okay then.
Monster in my Pocket – The Cartoon
Monster in my Pocket was a pretty neat toyline, a group of multi-coloured little plastic beasts from literature, mythology and various other sources. You could get tiny versions of the Jabberwock from Through the Looking Glass, the Umi Bozu from Japanese legend, and even the mighty Kraken. The cartoon spinoff, however, was a little more limited in the monsters it used, utilising the old Universal/Hammer standbys for their heroes.
By that, I don’t mean the main characters were Dracula, Frankenstein, the Mummy and the Werewolf. No, the main characters were The Invisible Man, Frankenstein, the Mummy and the Werewolf, and Dracula (or Vampire rather) was the villain. Big difference. Invisible Man (okay, he was called Henry Davenport here) was the jailer for a prison for monsters, and Vampire tried to escape the prison by shrinking himself and his henchmen. It ends up backfiring and not only shrinks the good monsters and the evil monsters, but…ends up…propelling them to Los Angeles.
Talk about your miscalculations.
So the good monsters are the aforementioned Davenport, an utterly snobby British stereotype, Big Ed, the dumb Frankenstein with the moron voice (guys, he was smart in the book), a Mummy who sounds like Woody Allen for some reason and Wolf-Mon. No, that’s not a typo. He’s Jamaican. Wolf-Mon, get it? They befriend the daughter of horror writer Edgar Raven GET IT?!?!!?
The monsters may be small, but a certain sound can temporarily make them grow bigger. The evil monsters – Vampire, Medusa and Swamp Monster – grow bigger due to the sound of a scream from a horror movie, but since the nice monsters are nice monsters, they grow when Raven’s daughter laughs. I don’t know why, considering her voice acting is among the worst I’ve heard ever in a cartoon. She’s irritating even by the extremely low standards of kid sidekicks.
The pilot, for there was only a pilot and not a full show, is ridiculous, and not even in a good way. The animation and art is static and the story is plodding, so even though the idea of the show should be hilariously stupid, it’s just plain stupid.