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.
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?
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.
Don Bluth’s first big screen effort under his own name after splitting from Disney, along with several other Disney animators and artists, in order to try to return to the kind of groundbreaking style and commitments to storytelling that their former company had been skimping out on during the 1960s and 1970s. THE SECRET OF NIMH adapts Robert C. O’Brien’s 1972 book, “Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH”, and makes an interesting animated allegory for the experience these artists went through on their quest for independence and destiny.