In the first of a new series Tony Wilkins will be looking at animated series that have been largely forgotten over time.
Robocop was one of those truly iconic movies of the 1980s. Ludicrously violent and over-the-top it had a fascinating subtext about American culture and how for many people the company they work for is more important to them than the government; the company feeds them, clothes them, provides medical cover and so on. Robocop brilliantly embodied this in that the man, in this case the almost deceased Officer Alex Murphy, became an extension of the company Omni Consumer Products known more universally as OCP. Because of his cybernetic body he was effectively owned by the company. While animes such as Ghost in the Shell and Appleseed would look in to this aspect of cybernetics more closely Robocop remained true to its action rather than discussing the moral and ethical implications of Murphy’s predicament.
Given the extent of the violence in the movie it surprising that it was translated in to a cartoon aimed at children. The motivation behind this move was, as with a lot of children’s entertainment in the 1980s, profit from merchandizing. Although the franchise had a very mature audience it had obvious toy appeal and to reinforce this (and also explain why kids wanted toys from a very 18+ rated movie that they shouldn’t be watching yet) the cartoon was created.
In fairness the animated show remained as close to the source material as possible. The opening explains that Alex Murphy was indeed gunned down as in the movie although the scene appears briefly and nowhere near as graphically. Like many animated series of the time the opening more or less sets the entire scene for the show meaning you can effectively start watching it at any time and know what its about without having seen prior episodes. The opening is one of the only times we see Alex Murphy before he is “killed”. Bizarrely he and his partner Anne Lewis from the movies are drawn so similarly they look like brother and sister. The only noticeable change to Murphy as Robocop was the addition of a sliding red dot on his visor similar to those found on Cylons in Battlestar Galactica.
In order to tone down the violence (which in children’s shows is euphemistically called ‘action’) the guns were replaced by lasers. This along with the lack of coarse language were really the only major changes to Robocop’s format. The series remained quite an action filled affair up to the point of actual deaths. Innocent people were caught up in and injured in several episodes. For me this was one of the strong points of this show compared to similar cartoons such as Rambo: The Force of Freedom. Like Robocop, Rambo: Force of Freedom was based on a mature movie franchise but aimed at kids however that show completely reworked its format until it became Rambo in name only.
Robocop: The Animated Series has stood the test of time relatively well. The animation is quite clunky compared to modern cartoons but when put in context it is still pretty good. It’s 12 episode run however has been one of the reasons it hasn’t really made it into the repeat arena in the same way as the 7 season strong The Real Ghostbusters and its a shame. Robocop The Animated Series in many ways reminds me of the feel of the hugely popular animated Batman series of the 90s in that while it was a kid’s show it easily appealed to an adult audience. Sadly in the 80s, before animated movies/series were really acceptable for grown-ups, it meant that Robocop: The Animated Series was just a little misplaced.