The people at Shout Factory have recently decided to make the dreams of many
a child of the '80's dreams come true - they have obtained the rights for and
are releasing two of the decade's most influential animated programs -
Transformers and G.I. Joe - on DVD. These shows have been published on DVD
before, but Shout Factory's sets mark the first time they have been completely
restored, compiled into seasons and released at an affordable price. It couldn't
possibly have anything to do with this summer's two blockbuster films based on
these properties, right? Well, sarcasm and reasoning aside, those of us pushing
30 can finally relive our glory days through these new and nicely put together
sets. You can find my review for the Transformers set here. Unfortunately, the
G.I. Joe set doesn't quite live up to the greatness of the robots in disguise.
It has nothing to do with Shout Factory's presentation of the show - which is
excellent, by the way - it just boils down to the fact that the program itself
is just, for lack of a better word, lame.
Everyone knows G.I. Joe - everyone. Even kids today know the property, though
the encyclopedic knowledge of characters, toys and vehicles seems to be limited
to those of us who grew up with the show/marketing campaign. But even those who
only know the basics know the main setup and premise. G.I Joe are the good guys,
Cobra are the bad guys and no one can aim a weapon to save their lives (cartoons
weren't as violent in the '80s, and despite all the guns, shooting and lasers,
no one ever seemed to get hit). Each team has their more interesting and
memorable characters - Snake Eyes, Baroness, Cobra Commander, Scarlet - but the
show really only chronicles the two forces never ending fight against one
another. Maybe that's the problem.
Ok, it's a common and well-understood concept by now that the loves of your
youth don't always hold up to the test of time. Case in point - The Thundercats.
Everyone loved that show growing up, but when it appeared on DVD a few years ago
a tough lesson was taught: the show sucked. The Thundercats theme song was a
constantly repeating annoyance and the animation, voice acting and plots were
just plain stupid. Every so often, going back to an old love works out really
well. Shout Factory's release of the Transformers first season is a great
example. The show remains every bit as engaging and watchable as I remembered it
to be, and I might actually like it more now than I did way back then. Which was
does G.I. Joe go? It wasn't as devastating a letdown as the Thundercats, but it
wasn't much better, either.
The problems with G.I. Joe aren't complex - the animation and artwork is
sloppy and poorly put together, the voice actors are all trying way too hard
(with the exception of Cobra Commander, more on him later) and the show's
plotlines are patently ridiculous. First, the show's look. Even though Shout
Factory put a huge amount of effort into cleaning up the original masters, the
show still looks awful. The colors are amazingly washed out, and the animation
cuts all kinds of little corners, presumably to save money. This results in
static characters and environments with only one moving piece (i.e. a still
frame of, say, Duke, where his mouth is the only thing that is animated for a
bit of dialogue). And even when everything is fully animated, it still looks
slow, sloppy and amateurish.
The voice actors and plotlines are equally awful. Homestar Runner (if you
aren't familiar with the site, look it up) famously did a parody of G.I. Joe
with their "Cheat" character. The most memorable line came from the Cobra
Commander parody - "We're going to blow up the ocean!" - and it was really,
really funny. Imagine my disgust to find out that Cobra's actual schemes for
world domination were actually more outlandish and less believable. The
three-part episode that opens the series involves Cobra's evil plan to teleport
enemy armies directly into their own perimeters, which is pretty stupid in and
of itself, but they further complicate things with enslaving folks and making
them fight in a gladiator-style contest. Even Cobra Commander's
second-in-command, Destro, makes a comment along the lines of, "This is stupid.
Why aren't we taking over the world again?" Indeed. The supposedly fearsome
Cobra's plans get even stupider in subsequent episodes.
I won't elaborate on the voice acting too much. It is rather terrible in
almost all respects, but since Cobra Commander's voice remains my second
favorite animated character's voice of all time (the first being the Sheriff of
Nottingham from Disney's Robin Hood), I hesitate to be too hard on this
shortcoming. Few pop culture characters are as instantly recognizable by voice
as Cobra Commander, and there's a reason for it - he's just awesome.
To their credit, Shout Factory did do a great job with the DVD set, even if
the source material isn't all that great. As with the Transformers sets, the
episodes are all lovingly restored and cleaned up, and the bonus materials are
just fantastic. In this set, you get and few behind the scenes featurettes, a
couple of original Hasbro toy commercials and - yup - a few original G.I. Joe
PSAs, which are every bit as great as you remember them to be. "Thanks, Snake
Eyes! I'll make sure to stay away from downed power lines!" Hilarious.
Unlike the Transformers, G.I. Joe just doesn't hold up to the test of time.
Shout Factory's presentation is as great as it could have been, considering the
dated and boring source material, but it doesn't change the fact that even if
you have great memories of G.I. Joe, you should still skip this set. Go pick up
the first season of Transformers instead, and save the extra cash for season two
when it comes in September. I hate to say it, but this is one show that should
have stayed in the 80s.