Rounding out this trio of Hasbro toy-based films put out by Marvel/Sunbow in the mid-1980s, “GI Joe: The Movie” has the dishonorable distinction of being funneled straight to video and subsequently syndicated on television due to the lack of success for the “Transformers” and “My Little Pony” movies at the box office the year before. But does that mean it’s a bad film? Well, some might argue yes, others hell no, and many more fall under the category of loving it because it embraces its flaws and plays them up to maximum entertainment. Don Johnson and Burgess Meredith provide voices for this completely off-the-hook action-adventure-science fiction extravaganza that serves as a precursor to the dumb-but-fun action blockbusters people either love or love to hate from the 1990s.
Marvel joined with Sunbow to deliver the first of four animated feature films based on Hasbro toys in the 1980s with 1986’s MY LITTLE PONY: THE MOVIE, which took the popular toy line of dolls resembling ponies and other animals (plus a few humans) and pitted them against three dastardly witches who can’t stand their rampant pleasantness. Danny DeVito, Cloris Leachman, Madeline Kahn, Rhea Perlman and Tony Randall do their best to bring this colorful musical adventure to life. Critically and commercially tanking at the box office at the time, it’s about time we look this gift horse in the mouth and see what we find with this retrospective review!
The first of four feature-length ventures between Marvel Productions and Sunbow Entertainment that centered on toys made by Hasbro, THE TRANSFORMERS: THE MOVIE would make for an ambitious way to not only sell toys and entertain fans, but also to set for a new course for the animated TV series, in this bridge between the second and third seasons of the show. A critical and commercial misfire, the film has gained cult status among Transformers property aficionados and lovers of cultural oddities of the 1980s, not only for its bold story choices, but also for its eclectic voice actors (Orson Welles, Judd Nelson, Eric Idle, Leonard Nimoy, Casey Kasem, Robert Stack, Lionel Stander, John Moschitta Jr, and Scatman Crothers), as well as its driving hair-metal soundtrack.
The Cannon Group took a bath with the failure of MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE in 1987, a film that had gone over budget and well beyond schedule.
The film starts off in the mythical land of Eternia, where the ruthless villain Skeletor (Frank Langella) has managed, with the help of a powerful musical cosmic key, to capture Castle Grayskull, the source for a wealth of magic and power in the region. Skeletor has taken the powerful good Sorceress (Christina Pickles) prisoner and has been draining her of her essence to channel into his own, making him more powerful as time goes on. However, the great hero of Eternia, He-Man (Dolph Lundgren), is still free, and with his cronies, the faithful Man-at-War (Jon Cypher) and his daughter Teela (Chelsea Field), he seeks to thwart Skeletor’s plans for dominion over Eternia and restore Castle Grayskull back to its original state.
Their plans go awry when the cosmic key’s creator, the dwarven creature known as Gwildor (Billy Barty), opens up a portal to modern Earth with a prototype of the same key for them to escape Skeletor’s clutches. The key is lost on arrival to Earth, soon found by a couple of high school aged teens named Julie (Courteney Cox) and Kevin (Robert Duncan McNeill), who activate it thinking it must be some newfangled musical device. However, using the device alerts Skeletor as to its whereabouts, and once he has pinpointed its location, he sends a band of mercenaries to recover the key and ensnare He-Man, of whom he plans to make an example of in custody to break the will of any would-be heroes left in Eternia.
John Boorman’s polarizing but highly ambitious take on Arthurian legend is a visually and aurally striking look into the myth, the fantasy, and the haunting imagery that the medieval Thomas Malory tale has evoked over the last several centuries. A then-nobody, but now all-star cast that includes Helen Mirren, Liam Neeson, and Patrick Stewart appears alongside stars Nigel Terry and Nicol Williamson to spin this sword-and-sorcery take on this well-known tale unlike any other that has seemingly come before or since.
1985’s THE BLACK CAULDRON represents Disney at its nadir as an animation studio, resulting in a box office failure and years of obscurity. It’s first PG-rated animated feature struggled to find an audience clamoring for its dark and violent tones. However, it has garnered a significant cult following over the years, with its tales of swords, sorcerers, and black magic-infused battles brought to life with stunning visuals that incorporate the studios first forays into computer-generated elements into its hand-drawn animated cels. Does it deserve obscurity, or is it about time to reappraise a hidden gem in Disney’s vast and storied filmography?
Disney collaborated with Paramount Pictures to make a fairly adventure for audiences that were a bit older in DRAGONSLAYER, a rousing but somewhat brutally dark tale of a sorcerer’s apprentice who must undertake the treacherous journey of slaying a dragon that regularly consumes the women of a nearby village as a peace offering. Adventure and one amazing dragon, perhaps the best ever put to film, make this a notable entry for lovers of 1980s fantasy flicks.
Ray Harryhausen’s final film marked the popular early 1980s adventure based on ancient Greek myths, CLASH OF THE TITANS. Harry Hamlin stars as Perseus, the illegitimate mortal son of Zeus who ends up falling for the beautiful princess Andromeda, having to overcome puzzles and a variety of vicious beasts in order to gain her hand in marriage. If only she weren’t slated to be sacrificed to the giant (and reportedly invincible) Titan known as the Kraken…
Laurence Olivier, Maggie Smith, and Burgess Meredith are in supporting roles in this dated but charming fantasy flick.
The Disney Renaissance kicked off with this smash hit animated feature that brought the studio back in a major way, THE LITTLE MERMAID! Featuring great vocal talent, quality animation, and a killer score and soundtrack, it delighted a generation, and will delight many more, with its story of Ariel, a teenage mermaid who dreams of love with a hunky sailor prince, Eric, only made possible through a bad deal with a sea witch named Ursula.
Ron Howard directs this delightful romantic comedy that would score one of the biggest hits of 1984, SPLASH. Tom Hanks, Darryl Hannah and John Candy would all propel to a more secure stardom after their roles in this screwball but tender love story between a man who has trouble finding the right woman until a mermaid steps…or swims…into his life.
Andrew McCarthy and Kim Cattrall star in this smash hit bubblegum romance about a struggling artist who falls in love with a mannequin possessed by a lovelorn ancient Egyptian spirit who turns his life around. James Spader, Estell Getty, and Meshach Taylor have supporting roles in this quintessential 80s fantasy-romance. Does it hold up?
The much-maligned 1980 musical gets re-evaluated in this podcast review. Olivia Newton-John plays a muse who is sent to earth to inspire a struggling artist (Michael Beck) fulfill his dream of starting a roller-disco club with a retired construction magnate (Gene Kelly). Newton-John and pop group ELO deliver a powerhouse soundtrack in this visually impressive first effort from future political documentarian Robert Greenwald.
Following up two sci-fi masterpieces in ALIEN and BLADE RUNNER, Ridley Scott turned his gaze toward the realm of fantasy with LEGEND, starring Tom Cruise and Mia Sara. Critics greeted the film with a shrug upon its initial release, but it has gained a cult following over the years, and the Director’s Cut release has had some re-evaluate it. Is it still problematic, or is it a film that has aged well over time?
Rankin and Bass, the team that brought us Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer as well as the ThunderCats, brought this charming animated feature featuring Japanese animation from the team who would go on to form Studio Ghibli, and voiced by stars like Mia Farrow, Jeff Bridges, Alan Arkin, and Christopher Lee. Peter S. Beagle adapts his own children’s book, tapping into the metaphorical journey from the safety and security of youth to the strange and perilous odyssey of growing up, with the last unicorn as our guide. Featuring folk-rock tracks sung by America and written and composed by Jimmy Webb, the nostalgia is strong with this one.
Jim Henson conceived of this elaborate realm of fantasy in which two competing races vie for the destiny of a faraway planet, as the evil Skeksis try to thwart the Gelflings of prophecy from uniting the planet yet again and bringing equilibrium to life there for those enslaved. This imaginative film had been a disappointment on early release but has gained a rabid following among fantasy fans. Frank Oz co-directs this film done entirely with puppets, and is a rare film that doesn’t a human character in sight.