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Published June 15, 2017

Cartoon All-Stars to the rescue CoverRemember that PSA where a group of cherished American cartoon characters from the early 90s banded together to help a teenager beat his addiction to pot? Nobody does, and yes it is a thing, and yes it is just as bizarre and cheesy as it sounds. Welcome to Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue.

This is my first entry in what I’m calling “Nerdy Obscurities,” my reflection on nerdy games, shows and other miscellany I have become aware of over the years that are super obscure. As far as obscure goes, this is about as obscure as you can get. How did I discover it, you ask? I didn’t see it when I was the target age; I remember I read about it in an interview with Adventure Time creator Pendleton Ward where he listed it as an inspiration, but I can’t find that interview, so maybe I just dreamed it? I first watched the video on YouTube a few years back, and my brain melted.

This thirty-minute special was created during the age of video arcades and “Winners Don’t Do Drugs,” and was financed by McDonald’s. Since it was a public service announcement, all the different animation studios and license owners allowed their creations to be used together in one film, and for free, in the joint cause of stopping kids from doing drugs. Basically, a young lad is addicted to marijuana (“An unlawful substance, used to experience artificial highs”) and his sister and a bunch of cartoon characters work to make him see the folly of his ways and say nope to dope.

The irony? This bizarre, unfunny and dark video could only have been dreamed up by a creative team hopped up on all sorts of substances. Please, if you grew up in the early 90s, or are young (I hate you) and just want to see what “old” cartoons were like, or just want something really weird to watch while high, take 30-minutes and watch this. You won’t regret it, or you will – either way, it’s important viewing. And yes, it is introduced by former president George Bush Sr. and his wife, Barbara Bush.

Whelp. Obviously, if you’re reading this, you’ve already watched the video! What did you think? Did it convince you to kick drugs to the curb?

From a pure cornball perspective, I do love this video. It’s so bad you have to chuckle, and the sequences where the protagonist Michael takes some bad trips are… really, pretty freaky and well done. That was the way though – get them while they’re young, and try to put the fear of drugs into them. Those “Your brain on drugs” commercials were actually really harsh, and I felt them pretty intensely when I saw them as a sensitive young lad.

The reason Cartoon All-Stars feels so weird though is that you have all these generally innocent and cute cartoon characters trying to explain and prevent very dark scenarios. Somehow, to me, Muppet Babies and drug prevention don’t exactly fit together naturally. Alf, Bugs Bunny, and The Ninja Turtles work because they aren’t kids, but Winnie The Pooh feels really out of place. Having Baby Kermit explain to me the highs and lows of drugs, just feels off – I mean, what makes him an expert on drugs? He’s a baby! Did he start in the womb and kick it early?

This video is an artifact that hasn’t necessarily aged well – when the dad tells his wife he’s going to work in the garage and to “call him for lunch” I cringe. Not to mention all the 90s hair. Still, if you consider yourself an animation aficionado, this is one of those obscure yet necessary-to-view videos to add to your repertoire the next time you are talking about stuff nobody remembers anymore.

Thanks for taking this journey down the rabbit hole with me! As a reward, I’ll leave you with a short Canadian PSA that’s a real treat and very fun to reference in adult life: “Don’t Put It In Your Mouth.”

Did you enjoy this nerdy obscurity? Have any memorable or favorite PSAs from your childhood? Let me know in the comments! If you enjoyed this mess of a post, consider following Nerd Speaker on Twitter and Facebook.

13 Comments

  1. I like the Spider-Man/Power Pack child abuse special issue where Spider-Man was mildly molested. Well maybe like is the wrong word, but it was certainly memorable.

    • Didn’t know about that one, just looked it up! There’s also that Green Arrow one I was aware of, also never read, but I know the famous cover: “My ward is a junkie!”

  2. I think even if it weren’t a PSA, this special would fall victim to that common crossover problem where they have more characters than they know what to do with. In stories like that, you wonder why half the cast is even there. In any case, I saw a review of it several years ago, and it really is one of those ideas that was doomed from the get-go.

    • You have to wonder how many kids it turned ON to drugs, rather than the other way around!

  3. The 90’s kid in me can’t help but love this crazy thing. Haha it’s fantastic. It looks like they tried really hard on this. I remember some anti-drug PSA animations feeling cheaply made and not well put together. Thanks for sharing this fun bit of animation history!

    • No problem, glad you enjoyed! It’s such a trip, eh? Love stuff like this.

  4. Chris Scott Chris Scott

    The late 80s and early 90s were a weird, weird time. It is amazing that any of us made it out of that era to become functioning human beings.

    • Ha, no kidding. I was partially raised by cartoons and my NES, and I watched Ren & Stimpy regularly from a very young age. Very weird to think about – not to mention all the neon fanny packs and slap-on bracelets and Pogs.

  5. Oh my lord I remember this. Ah the 90s. I’ve tried to go back and watch some of the cartoons from that era like The Super Mario Brothers Super Show or He-Man (which I can’t remember if he was 80s or 90s now), and it’s kind of painful. Oddly enough, Transformers is one of the few cartoons I can still stomach, maybe because they’re no more ridiculous than Michael Bay’s interpretations? Also the War on Drugs *shakes head*

    • I adore the Super Mario Bros. Super Show – Lou Albano and Do The Mario! I have a limited tolerance for those shows, despite the fact that they WERE my childhood. Every once in a while I’ll watch an episode of The Real Ghostbusters on Netflix. There was one old show I adore that aired in Canada called Stop The Smoggies, it’s all on YouTube, that I still watch and unironically enjoy – that might be another Nerdy Obscurity I write about.

      Hey, Winners Don’t Do Drugs! Pot will give you the reefer madness!

  6. Legendary PSAs. In Canada we had (have?) these psas called ‘Concerned Children’s Advertisers’ (CCA), and they’re so worth checking out if you haven’t seen them. I think the ‘Don’t you put it in your mouth’ one might be one of them — they’re amazing :p

    Zaahida | http://yestalgic.com

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