In Defense of R-Rated Movie Characters Having Their Own Children’s Cartoons

On the 30th anniversary of ‘Rambo: The Force of Freedom,’ we called on Hollywood to make more cartoons for children based on R-rated movies.
Rambo Cartoons Based On R Rated Movies
Worldvision Enterprises
By  · Published on April 14th, 2016

On this day in 1986, the animated children’s program Rambo: The Force of Freedom made its debut with the initial installment of a five-episode miniseries. It was the first cartoon for children based on an R-rated movie and as a result, it was the subject of controversy months before it even arrived on the air (see this New York Times article from December 1985). Other seemingly inappropriate spinoffs would follow, adapted from such violent films as RoboCop, The Toxic Avenger, and Highlander.

For the past 30 years, I’ve thought this a strange decision by Hollywood. But it made sense for the 1980s when R-rated movies were easily seen by kids and nobody thought the wiser (save for those critical voices represented in the NYT piece). Even more films of the sort, including Commando, had action figure tie-ins. It was the inverse of today, when parents complain about characters from children’s cartoons, such as Deadpool and Batman, winding up with R-rated or at least dark PG-13 movies not suited for kids.

There’s actually nothing wrong with it, though. No more than kids seeing their parents kissing but not being in the room when the couple is making love. No more than babies being introduced to Disney characters before they’re allowed screen time with those characters’ shows and movies. Children’s programs and R-rated movies can have the same characters and premises without having the same kind of content. Never mind that the Rambo animated series is still probably too violent for a lot of kids.

As a father, I realized something about cartoons, recently, that I’d never thought about: they’re filled with characters and creatures that should be too scary or inappropriate for them. Even those rated as acceptable for toddlers. Dinosaurs appear in everything. Pirates are almost as popular. If you show the same kids live-action dinosaurs, they’ll be frightened, and if they saw the reality of pirates (and Vikings, army men, heck even police officers and firefighters) they’d be quite disturbed. It’s all in how they’re portrayed.

This isn’t like my issue with inconsistent ratings for movie franchises. Cartoons like Rambo: The Force of Freedom are somewhat innocently introducing kids to ideas and characters they may revisit in other forms as they grow up. That’s why, on the anniversary of that controversial series, I’m calling for Hollywood to get back to spinning animated children’s programs off from their most successful R-rated properties. To help them out, I’ve picked six iconic film figures who would make great cartoon characters.

Imperator Furiosa – Forget Mad Max, Fury Road‘s bald-headed, prosthetically armed badass is the one who deserves the spotlight in an action-packed — but not too violent — animated series that would empower young girls while being otherwise gender-neutral entertainment. And George Miller would be involved because he’s already shown a knack for quality family-friendly projects, like Babe. You know you’re giddy just thinking of seeing Furiosa driving around saving people on a weekly basis.

NeoThe Matrix has already spawned animated works, but while they did go down a notch rating-wise, they were still not necessarily for children. Now it’s time Warner Bros. gave Neo a program that’s lightly action-oriented, in a superhero cartoon manner, but also educational, about philosophy, technology, and the actual forthcoming simulated reality they’ll probably end up living in.

Ted – The Ted sequel was a flop, so maybe this doesn’t make sense. Or maybe it makes the most sense, in part because it’d breathe new life into the IP for Universal and, more importantly, because it’s an easily imagined cartoon. It’d take place in the ’80s when John is still a kid with this sentient teddy bear who takes him on misguided adventures. Seth MacFarlane doing another animated show full of pop culture references but for kids? I’m surprised it hasn’t already happened.

Freddy Krueger – My generation grew up knowing all about Freddy. We saw the Nightmare on Elm Street movies before we should have. We dressed up as the character for Halloween. Shockingly, we didn’t get a cartoon series starring the fantastical knife-gloved serial killer. He needs something like the Beetlejuice cartoon where he transports children (or one child?) to another world. It’d be a nightmare world, of course, but the one in Beetlejuice is the land of the dead so not much different. And this would be better for the young viewers, as it would help them understand and confront their worst fears and scariest dreams.

Bryan Mills – Yes, the old man from Taken needs an animated children’s program. One for very, very young children, in fact. Call it Bryan Mills’s Very Particular Set of Skills and make it a kind of Blue’s Clues-esque puzzle program where the character has to find his missing daughter or wife hidden in various pictures. Like Highlights magazine as a cartoon hosted by a badass dude wearing a leather jacket and the never-seen ability to break Swiper the Fox’s neck if he comes near his family.

Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.