Review by KC Carlson
His brain’s overloading
It has a chocolate coating
Textbook case for Sigmund Freud
— from the Freakazoid! theme song
There’s a pretty definite ascending level of cartoon insanity in the cartoon shows that Steven Spielberg produced for Warner Bros. in the ’90s, beginning with the out-of-control Tiny Toon Adventures (also out on DVD this week), followed by the zany Animaniacs (with Pinky & the Brain), and culminating in what has to be one of the most insane animated shows ever pretending to be kids’ programming — Freakazoid!
Freakazoid (the character) is equal parts Jim Carrey in The Mask, Jerry Lewis, Monkee Micky Dolenz, and that really, really strange guy in the control tower from Airplane! (the late, great Stephen Stucker) — except that he’s much odder than any of them. And he’s blue. And he has lightning in his hair. He’s a superhero, although he doesn’t seem to have any super-powers, except when he does. Occasionally it looks like he’s flying, but most of the time he runs around with his arms over his head, making whooshing noises with his mouth. Like you do when you’re four and you’re pretending to fly. Did I mention that he’s blue?
When he’s not Freakazoid, he’s teenage “nerd computer ace” Dexter Douglas, who becomes Freakazoid when he’s sucked into the internet and transformed in the midst of some sort of nefarious scheme of Ricardo Montalban’s that is thwarted by the assistance of Craig Ferguson, while being interrupted by former president of the Motion Picture Association of America Jack Valenti explaining the MPAA film rating system. Or wait… I guess these were all “cartoon characters” being portrayed by these actors. Except for Jack Valenti, who provided the voice for himself, as Jack Valenti. Really.
Did I mention that Freakazoid is blue?
Did I also mention that most of the stories here don’t always have a plot? There’s a great moment in one of the three commentaries where the show’s creative “brain trust” of Senior Producer Tom Ruegger; writer and Freakazoid’s voice, Paul Rugg (not be confused with Paw Rugg of the Hillbilly Bears); and writer John McCann get real quiet during a Paul Dini-scripted episode when they realize that “this one actually makes sense!”
Episodes are frequently interrupted by an animated Paul Harvey (explaining the “Rest of the Backstory”), network censors, Special Announcements, cameos by talk-show host Tom Snyder, cutaway live-action clips from episodes of F-Troop and The Rat Patrol (except that the commentary reveals that the footage isn’t actually from The Rat Patrol), frequent appearances by Bill and Hillary Clinton, and experimental processes like Relax-O-Vision and Scream-O-Vision. In addition, Freakazoid! often takes time to teach the viewers Conversational Norwegian or French (“Qui a coupe’ le fromage?”). All while being blue!
The villains of Freakazoid! are just as bizarre, including the Lobe, whose entire head is a gigantic brain. Brilliantly voiced by actor David Warner (Jack the Ripper in Time After Time), the Lobe’s clever plans are constantly undercut by his very low self-esteem. Then there’s Longhorn (a trucker who underwent plastic surgery to look like a longhorn bull), Cave Guy (an upper-class caveman), Cobra Queen (who transforms into and controls snakes), and others. As for allies, Freakazoid is frequently aided and distracted by Cosgrove, a street cop that is voiced by — and resembles — actor Ed Asner. No matter where Freakazoid is, Cosgrove always manages to find him to offer up some bizarre amusement (“Hey Freakazoid! Want to head over to the Great Hall of Spackle?”), to which Freakazoid excitedly replies “DO I!?!” and off they go. Then, and only then, does Cosgrove offer up a key bit of information that helps defeat the villain. Nice guy. Not blue.
Freakazoid’s girlfriend Steff is obviously modeled after a Dan DeCarlo ’50s style Betty Cooper (the reference is made explicit in the first episode where another potential female love-interest is clearly patterned after Veronica). The odd thing about most of the villains, allies, and supporting characters is that they were first designed by Bruce Timm. He was involved in the show when it was first conceived as a more straightforward adventure series. As revealed in a special feature on the DVD, after the series became more and more bizarre, Timm left and the Animaniacs crew came in to develop the show. Only they they had to use Timm’s designs that were left behind, often without any explanation of who the characters were, or even their names!
And it’s not just all about Freakazoid! There are occasionally one-off cartoons starring Lawn Gnomes or other superheroes such as the Huntsman (seemingly based on Kirk Douglas) and Lord Bravery. The latter is a John Cleese-like superhero who is quite inept. One of his episodes is a Monty Python-esque romp where he loses the right to use his own name and must now operate under the moniker of Lord Smoked Meats and Fishes. Plus, there’s a lovingly scathing parody of Jonny Quest called Toby Danger that is an absolute must-see. Beware of men throwing barrels!
Speaking of must-see cartoons, there are many episodes here that deserve repeat viewings, including “And Fanboy Is His Name”, a Paul Dini-scripted parody of kid sidekicks, comic book culture, and, er, fanboys, starring a perfectly-cast Steven Furst (Flounder from Animal House) as Fanboy; “Candle Jack”, a cartoon with more stupidity per square foot than any other; “Next Time, Phone Ahead”, an E.T. parody starring my favorite Freakazoid! character Mo-Ron, an alien that’s actually dumber than his name (voiced by my hero Stan Freberg in his should-be-patented “moron” voice); “Foamy the Freakadog”, where the jokes are obvious but still funny nonetheless; and “Handman”, where Freakazoid’s right hand becomes his own costumed sidekick, Handman, who falls in love with Freakazoid’s left hand. The two hands eventually marry and go off to Hawaii to honeymoon. Not a cartoon that you want to think about too deeply. And both hands are blue!
We interrupt this review to increase Dramatic Tension.
. . . . . . . . .
Thank you. And now back to our review. Here’s a clip of commentary that shows Cosgrove and Freakazoid:
Running for only two seasons (a total of 24 episodes) on the Kids’ WB!, in time-slots where nobody (including its staff) could find it, Freakazoid! was initially considered a failure. A cult audience for the show developed during reruns on Cartoon Network after its cancellation, but the show has been off the air for more than five years. That situation has been remedied with this Season One DVD release of the first 13 episodes (and in true Freakazoid! fashion, two of the episodes here have repeat segments, meaning that there’s really only 12 episodes’ worth of all-new segments).
Putting the show in historical retrospective, you can now see how the off-the-wall humor of Freakazoid! inspired future Cartoon Network programs like Cartoon Planet, Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law, and The Venture Brothers, among others, and ultimately laid the groundwork for what eventually became [adult swim].
You’d have to be insane to miss this quirky, strange, and classic cult show! (And mostly insane to understand it!) And here’s to enough insane people out there to ensure a quick release for Freakazoid! Season Two!