Yes, this is the Marvel you’re thinking of.
Last Week…And this Week!
A Canadian animation group created a debut for those cuddly Care Bears that was slightly less than cuddly. It had nothing to do with their fate, but the special still gives me the uneasies.
Today, another animation group created an equally uneasies-provoking debut for another merchandising tie-in, while also having a production logo that weirded me out as a little kid, but looks amazing now.
We go from Ottawa, Ontario back to sunny Hollywood, California to pay a visit to Marvel Productions.
Yes, again, you read that right. Stick around, and to quote Bill Cosby in the Fat Albert cartoons (produced by a different defunct animation group, friends), you just might learn something.
Yes, I watched ALOT of television growing up, what of it?!
Marvel Productions: The Animation Arm of Marvel
Marvel Productions Ltd. was established in 1981 as the animation arm of Marvel Entertainment Group. The establishment was a result of DEF Films (the production company of David H. DePatie and Isadore “Friz” Freleng) being sold to Cadence Industries, Marvel Comic Group’s owners. DePatie and Freleng collaborated on the popular Pink Panther animated shorts, as well as Dr. Seuss specials during the 1960s and 1970s. Upon the disestablishment of their company, Freleng went back to Warner Bros. (which he had left upon Warner closing its animation unit in 1963), and DePatie stayed on with Marvel until his retirement a few years later.
During the height of Marvel Productions’ life, it was known for its animated Hasbro toy line tie-in cartoons, such as Transformers, GI Joe, My Little Pony (as well as their “friends,” the Glo-Worms, Moon Dreamers, and The Potato Kids), Inhumanoids,and Jem. Their output was not exclusive to Hasbro toy tie-ins, as they also were responsible for the original Muppet Babies series, the animated version of Fraggle Rock, Little Clowns of Happytown, Little Wizards, and Defenders of Earth. Of course, they also had hand in their own superheroes having television shows; among them, Spider-Man, The Incredible Hulk, an X-Men pilot that would serve as the basis for a new series (Pryde of the X-Men), and Rude Dog and the Dweebs.
Interestingly enough, Marvel Productions also had a hand in Dino Riders, which was a Tyco toyline (hence, co-produced by Tyco Productions). That had to be quite a break in form from Hasbro’s lineup of toy-related cartoons. However, by this point, all those series were off the air, so it was Tyco’s time to shine…sort of.
(It only lasted 14 episodes, and three of those didn’t air on television).
Changing of Hands
Cadence Industries owned Marvel Productions until 1986, when Marvel Productions was sold to New World Pictures, along with Marvel Comics Group, thus incorporating them into Marvel Entertainment Group.
However, New World suffered cash flow issues, and the company was then sold to Andrews Group in January 1989. The company would stay Marvel Entertainment Group in name until 1993, when they were renamed to New World Animation. At this point, the final two series produced by this renamed group were Biker Mice From Mars and The Incredible Hulk.
Marvel Action Universe
Marvel Action Universe was a syndicated block of programming produced by Marvel Productions/Marvel Entertainment Group, airing from October 2, 1988 until September 26, 1991, for four seasons.
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The block was 90 minutes long in some markets, and featured airings of Dino-Riders (which was a cool toyline whose series never caught on – my brother had Dino-Riders toys, and I believe we watched the cartoon too), with Robo-Cop (yes, an animated version of an ultra violent movie little kids weren’t exactly allowed to watch back then – we saw the cartoon, and I’m pretty sure the original movie) as the second show in the block.
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Seriously, this didn’t catch on? The commercial jingle alone was epic! DINO-RIDERS!
Oh, and there is a 9-minute promotional video meant to sell the toyline, which is what the television series aimed to do. I think I’ll be taking a look at that promotional video for another time…
Rounding out the block at 90 minutes were reruns of the 1981 Spider-Man cartoon, alternating with Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends. Rebroadcasts of Defenders of the Earth, Dungeons and Dragons, The Incredible Hulk, The New Fantastic Four (continuing on the trend that nothing good can ever come of a Fantastic Four adaptation…ever), and Spider-Woman were also featured.
The block was notable for its 1989 airing of Pryde of the X-Men, which was meant to be a pilot for an X-Men cartoon that went unsold (as you know, X-Men eventually did get their own cartoon on Fox).
A revived, albeit short-lived block akin to The Marvel Action Universe was The Marvel Action Hour, returning to the original title in its second season in some markets.
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This 60-minute block featured Iron Man (which I used to watch while babysitting) and Fantastic Four – not to be confused with the 1979 series. When I first saw a trailer for Iron Man in 2008, I took one look at Robert Downey Jr., and having remembered what animated Tony Stark looked like, knew there was no one else to play the part. This block was cancelled in 1996.
Oh, and…Stan Lee did the introductions for this incarnation of the programming block!
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The End of Marvel Productions…But Before the Renaissance of Marvel Itself
Marvel Productions/Entertainment Group was disestablished in 1996, when its animation team was re-organized by Marvel Productions. Marvel Films Animation succeeded this company. This hardly where the Marvel story ends, with its best years yet to come.
Today, all non-Hasbro Marvel Productions/Entertainment Group properties are owned by Disney as of 2001 (the purchase of the film group in 2009 brought all Marvel properties under the same umbrella), with the exception of Dungeons and Dragons. Hasbro has retained the rights to their series and movies (GI Joe: The Movie, Transformers: The Movie, and My Little Pony: The Movie), which were co-produced with Sunbow Productions.
So no, don’t weep for Marvel.
And How About Those Logos?
The logo history for Marvel Productions, as well as its association with Sunbow Entertainment, is actually quite cool. Looking back, they had great logos even in the pre-Marvel movie phase of the company.
The one I remember the best, aside from the Marvel-Sunbow logo that was featured at the end of Transformers, GI Joe: A Real American Hero, Jem, and My Little Pony and Friends, was the Spider-Man logo. I remember seeing this one at the end of Muppet Babies, and I think it was the closing chords of the show’s outro theme, but silver Spider-Man was terrifying! In all fairness, little me didn’t know who Spider-Man was, so to see this masked silver man with glowing eyes reaching out while standing on the letters MP felt a little strange. Of course, at the time, I had no idea there was a more extended version of the logo (Muppet Babies only had the last part of it) until many years later.
Naturally, seeing that version (as an adult) made me take notice about how awesome the Marvel Productions logo really was!
You saw Silver Spider-Man, I saw Silver Man with Glowing Eyes!
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Epic? You bet!
And Now, You!
So, in the case of this theme month, this one seems to be the animation studio with the most prominence. It’s re-organized version continues to thrive, with films and animated series based on its ultra-popular comic book icons. Knowing the company as it is now, it is hard to believe that at one time, they were heavily into producing series that launched whole toylines and worlds that kids of the 1980s hold deep.
So, putting aside Marvel as it exists today, focus on the original version of Marvel Productions (the 1981-1996 Hasbro toy cartoon-producing company that launched Optimus Prime, so many pretty little ponies, Real American Heroes, and a holographic singing sensation. What were your favorite shows at that time?
My favorites at the time were Jem, Transformers, GI Joe: A Real American Hero, and of course My Little Pony and Friends (yes, I liked the “friends” segments).
And yes, I remember Dino-Riders pretty well, if not whole plotlines, I remember those toys and their commercials. Do you?
For me, I’m deeply rooted in personal nostalgia of this time in Marvel’s life. Before I saw The Avengers in 2015, I forgot how many Marvel-produced shows I grew up with. Of course, this was after claiming I’d never watched anything Marvel aside from the shows in the mid-1990s while I was babysitting.
Oh, and while you’re here…
In Case You Missed It…
The Time The Coca-Cola Made Television Shows (May 7, 2019) – The story of syndication unit Coca-Cola Telecommunications, who had a brief hand in several animated series, as well as non-animated syndicated programs…as well as an Action Max VHS game.
The Incredible World of DIC! (May 14, 2019) – The story of DIC Entertainment, its well-known cartoons, and its even more well-known production logos.
Heavy Metal, Raccoons, and That One Care Bears Special: The History of Atkinson Film-Arts (May 21, 2019) – The story of Canadian animation group Atkinson Film-Arts, who animated successful shows, holiday specials, and the creepy debut of the Care Bears.
We’re wrapping up this theme month, but don’t despair, I’ve got more coming next month! I’m working on a few different themes, and I think I’ve got June’s theme ready.
Have a great day!