Thursday, August 23, 2012

Whatcha Gonna Do When Cartoons Run Wild On You?

About a week ago the wrestling news community was abuzz about WWE's latest venture.  No, not the delayed WWE Network, next Marine film, or even 2013 Hall of Fame rumors.  The news that had everyone talking was the announcement that the next Scooby-Doo animated film would be set at WrestleMania!  Not only that, but WWE names such as Vince McMahon, John Cena, Brodus Clay, and (of course) A.J. would be providing their own voices for the show.  I'd be lying if I said that I wasn't excited over this news.  For all of the silliness in wrestling these days, this is the type of thing that works.  On our fanpage I went as far as to promise a review of the movie right here on the blog once it is released.

This isn't wrestling's first foray into Toon Town.  In 1985 the WWF was snatching up licensing partnerships left and right.  It was the dawn of Hulkamania and there was no better way to market that to children than partnering with DIC Entertainment and creating the "Hulk Hogan's Rock n' Wrestling" cartoon series.

Featuring a cast of top WWF stars like Hogan, Andre the Giant, Wendi Richter, Lou Albano, Junkyard Dog, Tito Santana, Hillbilly Jim, Roddy Piper, Big John Studd, Iron Sheik, Nikolai Volkoff, Mr. Fuji, Fabulous Moolah, Mean Gene Okerlund, and Bobby Heenan, one would think that the cartoon centered around wrestling.  Not really.  Instead, the "good" wrestlers were pitted against the "bad" wrestlers in traditional cartoon situations.  Robots, Amazonians, and cruise ships were just some of the tough topics tackled by the crazy cast from the squared circle.

Seeing as that each character was based on a real life persona, one would also think that the wrestlers would voice their respective 'toon.  Not quite.  The WWF's schedule at the time most likely prevented this from occuring.  Voice actors were instead used to provide the familiar tones of the WWF elite.  While some like Albano and JYD sounded very close to the real deal, others like Piper and Fuji weren't even close.  Giving life to the voice of the Hulkster was non other than Brad Garrett, who went on to play Robert on "Everybody Loves Raymond."  Other notables included Lewis Arquette (father of the many current Arquette actors) as Snuka and James Avery (Uncle Phil on "Fresh Prince" and the voice of Shredder in the original "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" cartoons) as JYD.  The visual look of the wrestlers was what you'd expect from an '80s cartoon, although a peek at their early designs in the September/October 1985 issue of WWF Magazine shows that the characters were originally more realistic looking than the final product.

Probably one of the most attractive upsides to doing this cartoon was that a whole new line of merchandise was produced off of the show itself.  Games, coloring books, puzzles, bed sheets, backpacks, stickers, pins, and home videos were all produced under the banner of the cartoon. 

While no action figures, or "dolls" as they were frequently labeled then, were produced for the show there was a line of erasers which, in recent years, have become the most popular item to come from the cartoon show.  Regular figures were most likely not allowed due to WWF's agreement with LJN, but a company called Winston Toys nearly got around that.  Hogan, Piper, Snuka, Sheik, JYD, and Richter were the six characters used by Winston for their line of erasers.  Around 3 1/2 inches tall, the erasers were just a tad shorter than the LJN Bendies and are often mistaken as such.

Curiously, Sheik and both versions of Hogan and Snuka are almost shrunken down versions of their familiar LJN counterparts.  Piper and JYD are the only pieces in the line that actually look like their cartoon counterparts.  While both of them are very difficult to come by, it's actually the Richter eraser which seems to be the rarest of them all.  Not only is it the only figural representative of Richter ever produced, it is my speculation that had Richter stayed with the WWF and been produced as an LJN figure, the eraser is an example of what the finished product would have looked like.

The Richter eraser isn't the only female controversy to arise from the cartoon.  The infamous Mad Maxine was originally scheduled to be on the show as the "evil" opposition for Richter.  Although the fact that her run in the WWF was so short is probably the real reason for her omission, speculation has always been that Fabulous Moolah somehow had her removed from both the show and the promotion so that she herself could be featured on the cartoon.  Moolah did indeed end up appearing in the show, but her merchandising was relegated to a pin and an appearance in the card game.

The cartoon lasted two seasons for a total of twenty-six episodes.  Many of those episodes were released on VHS video over a period of many years.  Some were distributed by DIC during the cartoon's original run while WWE re-released many around a decade ago in new packaging.  With the release of Hogan's "No Holds Barred" film to DVD just weeks ago, it may be only a matter of time before WWE decides to once again revisit their original cartoon venture in the current media formats as well.

Although a cartoon show is exactly what many wrestling purists say is what was wrong with the WWF's national expansion, it's also what brought many, many fans into wrestling in the first place.  Who is to say that promoters from decades earlier wouldn't have jumped on producing a cartoon show given the opportunity?  Certainly the wrestlers involved in Rock 'n Wrestling cut their teeth in the territories.  Fans of those wrestlers, as well as the cartoon, can take comfort in the fact that their favorite stars received much more merchandising money from ventures like these.  Wrestling was, and still is, a business.  The Rock 'n Wrestling cartoon is something, like the new Scooby-Doo/WWE team-up, that we should just sit back and enjoy rather than bash.

While I cannot say that Rock 'n Wrestling started me on pro wrestling, the first wrestling collectible that I ever owned was spawned from the series.  The coloring book shown here in this entry holds the honor of being the first ever item in my collection.  I can still recall sitting in restaurants and coloring in my vast collection of coloring books based on various kid-friendly properties of the '70s and '80s.  My artistic skills?  Impeccable!  Did you know that Andre the Giant had green hair?

You do now!

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