Does anybody else remember watching a little drug PSA called Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue (1990)? I think they combined all three kindergarten classes into one room at my elementary school to screen this. I recall it being a rather dark and unhinged journey into the drug-addled prepubescent psyche featuring several Virgil-esque guides in the forms of various popular cartoon characters. It is these guides that give the film its name and why it is easier to remember than half of the PSAs I saw in elementary school (although I do remember that one where the vampire in the haunted house learns about fire safety from a bunch of mystery-solving kids. Incidentally if anyone else knows the name of that one or where I can find I’d be appreciative).
Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue is unlike anything you’ve ever seen before if you’ve never heard of A Christmas Carol. In this movie a little girl becomes worried about her big brother when he starts acting weird. Turns out he’s on the stuff. Now the young girl’s magical hallucinations must go to the rescue and save her brother. I need not point out the irony.
These hallucinations include the Smurfs, Garfield, Huey, Dewey, and Louie, Tigger, Winnie the Pooh, a Ninja Turtle, the Muppet Babies, Alf, Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Alvin and the Chipmunks, and Slimer from the Ghostbusters cartoon show. I think that’s all of them. It’s a melange of late 80s/early 90s Saturday morning animated mayhem. Just imagine all of these childhood characters chasing you down through fun-houses from hell, popping out of the walls, taking you on magical roller coaster rides and then lecturing you on the dangers of using drugs. Now imagine further if you will, an anthropomorphic vapor of marijuana smoke voiced by George C. Scott personifying addiction itself and incessantly luring you with promises of even better highs. The clash of the whimsical cartoon characters and oily car salesman Scott-smoke is about enough to scare anyone straight…or at least make them curious enough to test it all firsthand. It’s kind of like those old, cheap books with the bad color schemes that told you that drugs are bad (m’kay) but the illustrations of the effects kept making them look awesome.
A lot of PSAs are cheesy and ham-fisted and this one really isn’t an exception, but I remember being overwhelmed as a child at how many characters they crammed in. The Muppet Babies segment was particularly memorable. Some of the characters are only walk-ons and don’t play a crucial role. Bugs and Daffy (alas, not voiced by Mel Blanc) should have done more…or better yet the Dodo! The Dodo would be the perfect anti-drug spokesperson. The animation is not the greatest (standard 1990 made-for-TV animation), but the characters still essentially resemble themselves. I don’t get Alf. Was he ever a cartoon? I only remember the puppet.
The VHS even had an introduction by then-president George Bush, Sr. and wife. It’s pretty smurfing cool.
It’s also interesting to note the mix itself. You have more contemporary characters like the Smurfs, Slimer, and Ninja Turtles alongside characters originally developed in the 60s, 50s, and even 30s. I find it interesting to note the staying power and significance of characters that just kept going on (Looney Tunes, Alvin and Chipmunks, Winnie the Pooh, the Muppets, and Donald’s nephews). They were all picked because they were the most recognizable and popular cartoon all-stars of the day.
During the movie the cartoon all-stars take the marijuana smoking boy on a trip to drug hell showing him the horrific effects of drug use and the dangers of gateway drugs and what the harder stuff can ultimately do to you. It really changes your perception of the characters because their universes are normally so innocent. It also makes you like them more when you see that they can step out of their imaginary worlds and join forces to help a kid get his act together. The ensemble actually helps make the point. I wouldn’t care if a dude in a chintzy dog costume told me that drugs are bad (m’kay), but I’d listen to Bugs Bunny. Pretty good ploy if you ask me. Garfield I always suspected of being a bit of a junkie though. Nobody gets lasagna cravings like that without some help. Michelangelo the Ninja Turtle is another toasted surfer dude to watch for. Where’s Shaggy from Scooby-Doo?
So it’s dated and hokey and the song is dopey, but I’d say it definitely appealed to its audience (which was a room full of kindergarteners when I saw it). The circus nightmare finale is actually intense (in that Brave Little Toaster kinda way). It was even a bit nostalgic for me to go back and watch it again. It’s not a particularly good movie or anything, but it was a pleasant stroll down memory lane and as far as PSAs go it’s probably more effective than most and seeing all those classic characters together acting out the dangers of drug use is just the bizarre icing on the pot cake. It’s like Who Framed Roger Rabbit but with a more perceivable agenda.
Stay in school. Don’t do drugs. D.A.R.E. kid for life. . . most of the time.