Animated Shorts: 'Yo JOES!' - Real American Hero History

With the upcoming release of the new live action film from Paramount, it’s only appropriate to look back on the animated series that insured G.I. Joe would be indelibly stamped in the animation world.

Once upon a time, Hasbro had a series of action figures based on soldiers. They named it G.I. Joe after some 40’s movies. Introduced in 1964, they had a pretty good run into the 70s. Around 1976, the figure’s popularity started to peter out. It needed a revamping. In 1981, legendary animator Friz Freleng decided it was time to retire from the business, and sold his DePatie-Freleng studio (home of the Pink Panther) to Marvel. Marvel began looking for something strong to launch the new studio with.

As it happened, Marvel writer Larry Hama had a comic book idea entitled “Fury Force.” When the House of Ideas rejected it, Hama pitched it to Hasbro. In the end he came up with many of the basic bios of the new Joe team. This included such original characters as Duke, Snake Eyes, Lady Jaye, Flint, Scarlet, and Hawk.

Another key player in the creation of the Joes was a former marketing exec turned TV scriptwriter Ron Friedman.

According to the just released DVD boxed set from Shout Factory!, GI Joe: Series 1.1, Friedman takes credit for coming up with the line, “G.I. Joe is the code name for America's daring, highly-trained special mission force. Its purpose, to defend human freedom against COBRA, a ruthless terrorist organization determined to rule the world" Friedman is also credited with writing the first five episode mini-series, which debuted in syndication in September, 1983.

According to Friedman, he created the Joes and COBRA as two warring families. “Big Daddy” for the Joes was, of course, Hawk. Oddly enough, for COBRA it was Destro. Friedman claims that while Cobra Commander was supposed to be the leader, he was all bluster and bombast. Friedman called him the “bumbling uncle,” which apparently the Joes didn’t have any of. He did go on to state the weasels of the respective families were Zartan and Shipwreck (the last of which he actually voiced and modeled after Jack Nicholson).

Whatever Friedman modeled the Joes after, they sure were a lot more fun than an episode of Family Feud (with or without Richard Dawson). Hama, Friedman, and company managed to mix some high-octane action with a proper dose of low humor. It was a good thing they also were syndicated, because the level of violence in that mini-series, best known as “The M.A.S.S. Device,” would never had flown on network television. Even though both the Joes and Cobra tended to shoot what looked like ray guns more than real government issue, they did a lot of shooting. Naturally, being this was an 80s cartoon, the violence and the science bordered on the surreal. Yet it didn’t matter, the series was a smash with Hasbro’s intended audience, and the toyline blazed toy stores like wild fire.

Then again, when you look over the credits, it isn’t hard to see why the show was simply a cut above the network competition, which could only muster Dungeons & Dragons as the closest competition. Other Saturday morning fare consisted more like Mr. T, reruns of Spider-Man/Hulk or such unforgettable fare as Saturday Supercade (as in you saw it once and you wished you could forget it for the rest of your life).

Let’s admit it, bumbling uncle or not, Cobra Commander was a hoot. As voiced by legendary Charles Latta, he was a high-pitched whiner of the worst order, but then could also turn around and perform the most dastardly of deeds with the flick of a wrist. Destro could alternate from murderously cruel to magnificently unctuous, as the case best suited him, to maximum effect. Then there was the Baroness. She filled out her catsuit wonderfully, didn’t she?

As for the Joes? They were ably lead by the super-parent figures of Hawk and Lady Jaye. From there, they could alternate from all-business, such as Snake Eyes, to a ton of fun (take your choice). Thanks to Hama and/or Friedman, they were all fairly well fleshed out characters, with humorous quirks and murderous specialties. In those pre-911 days, they were the ideal team to defend “truth, honor and the American Way” (Wait that was another guy).

Even more important, there was some amazing talent working behind the scenes at Marvel Productions. Among the animation crew were young guys with names like Buzz Dixon, Frank Paur, Boyd Kirkland, Bruce Timm, and Larry Houston. Story people would eventually include Denny O’Neill and Steve Gerber. In the voice cast had future VOA superstars like Loren Lester, Charlie Adler, Frank Welker, Corey Burton, Rob Paulsen, and Susan Blu. With this kind of skillfulness in the mix, how could the show fail? Well, it didn’t. The first mini-series was quickly followed by a second, then a third. By 1985, GI Joe was teamed up with Transformers and it was one of the true destination locations for hardcore animation fans and kids alike.

The boxed set contains the first three miniseries; “The M.A.S.S. Device", "The Revenge of Cobra”, and “The Pyramid of Darkness,” as well as a handful of the first real season episodes. For those who want to hear one very slanted version of Joe's history, there’s a three-part interview with Friedman. It will make you want to know just what this guy has against Marvel to not mention them, or Hama, at all. For more fun, there’s some Joe toy commercials as well as the infamous “Knowing is half the battle” PSA’s.

With the coming live action movie, and just about every hardcore Joe fan worrying about it, this four-disc set could not have come out at a better time. Like many syndicated cartoons of this time period, GI Joe was a harbinger of good things to come and deserves the immortality it now has.

ANIBOOM TEAMS UP WITH THE HISTORY CHANNEL FOR NEW CONTEST

Aniboom, the world’s first virtual animation studio, announced a collaboration that will enable talented animators to create unique interpretations of ten readings and musical performances by A-list talent and compete for $35,000 in cash prizes and the opportunity to have their animation shown on The History Channel. The audio recordings to be animated are featured in the highly anticipated film airing later this year on The History Channel. The talent featured in the film includes Matt Damon, Marisa Tomei, Bruce Springsteen, Eddie Vedder, Viggo Mortensen and many others who have come together to celebrate democracy and give voice to the lives and experiences of ordinary Americans who have changed the course of history. Animators around the world will have the opportunity to submit their animations based on the 10 historic recordings beginning July 15th at www.aniboom.com/History.

”With this competition, Aniboom and The History Channel get to show the full force and growing impact of non-fiction animation and how it resonates with primetime television audiences,” said Uri Shinar, founder and president of Aniboom. “We are excited to give our animators access to such powerful words and entrée to such an incredible media partner. Our virtual studio encompasses creators in 72 countries--including many talented animators not living under democracy--who are now able to use their talents to bring new perspective to great words and in the process have their work seen by millions and pitched to a leading network.”

“We are pleased to work with Aniboom and the large number of animators and designers who participate in their online community,” said Chris Moseley, SVP, Marketing, The History Channel. “ is a film that so wholly demonstrates that history is literally made every day, from the ground up. With this initiative, we hope to encapsulate what these important, historical and game changing words mean to people on a visual level. We anticipate very powerful responses. As well, the contest will enable the History Channel to bring the expression of democracy to greater heights, on air, online, through words and graphics, making history an even broader ‘360’ experience.”

animation competition will be conducted in two stages. The first stage calls for the Aniboom community to submit their entries based on the 10 celebrity recordings from the film, . The second stage will grant five finalists $5,000 to further develop their original creation and may have the opportunity to have their work aired on the History Channel as a 30 second spot. The Grand Prize winner will receive additional on-air promotion, an additional cash prize of $10,000 and a development deal with The History Channel.

will feature dramatic performances chronicling the history of this country, including charter documents, letters, diaries and more, from additional celebrities such as Kerry Washington, David Strathairn, Don Cheadle, Jasmine Guy, Q’orianka Kilcher, Michael Ealy and musical performances from Bruce Springsteen, Eddie Vedder, Allison Moorer and John Legend. It is from these performances that Aniboom’s creator community will be deriving their inspiration and transforming the human form of the presentation into an animated version of the same story.

Aniboom’s content creation competition with The History Channel and organization comes off the heels of the current FOX-Aniboom Holiday Animation Challenge in which Aniboom has partnered with Fox Broadcasting Company and 20th Century FOX Television in a search of a new signature animated holiday special. The contest is generating substantial buzz and beginning next month, entries from up-and-coming animators around the world can be seen and commented on at www.Aniboom.com. The winner will be chosen later this year.

FUNIMATION MAKES A TON OF ANNOUNCEMENTS AT ANIME EXPO

Last weekend’s Anime Expo was turned into a major event for FUNimation Entertainment. They unleashed a barrage of announcements sure to keep anime fans hopping for some time to come. Among them were:

•    FE is releasing the series . The series was directed by Koichi Masumo and produced by Bee Train. American voice cast will include: Maxey Whitehead, Trina Nishimura, Clarine Harp, Ian Sinclair, Bob Carter, Monica Rial, Jamie McGonnigal and Christopher Bevins.

•    The also acquired the rights to , which is produced by Sega and Production IG. It tells the tale of a desert planet, one where everyone travels on huge wind-powered sail ships. The planet also has two races, humanity and the Therians. The Therians rule and guess what’s going to happen.

•    FE has signed a deal to produce a line of clothing based on the series . Yep, it includes the #1 headband. The manufacturer is a hip-hop fashion company called Jinx.

•    FUNimation will also release the fourth, spanking new, chapter of the legendary series. In a truly cool move, it has hired many of the original voice actors, including Lisa Ortiz as Lina Universe, Veronica Taylor as Amelia, Eric Stuart as Gorry and Crispen Freeman as Zelgadis. Michael Sinterniklass will take over the role of Xellos. It will start in 2010 and be 26 chapters.

•    Finally, the original series will be re-released starting this September. Still the best of all the DB line, the first volume will contain 31 episodes and introduce the likes of Goku, Master Roshi, Bulma and many of the other DB warriors. It will make you forget that horrendous live action film in a heartbeat and hits the market on September 15.

Next Column: CN is getting “real.” It’s also just killed Chowder, and from the sounds of things, a number of other shows. We investigate and editorialize. 

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