Episode Number: 1
Original Air Date: September 8, 1991
Directed by: Karen Peterson
Written by: Christy Marx
First Appearance: Bucky O’Hare, Jenny, Dead-Eye Duck, Bruce, A.F.C. Blinky, Willy DuWitt, Toad Air Marshall, Frix, Frax, Komplex, Any Phibian
The premiere episode for Bucky O’Hare and the Toad Wars begins with what is probably the most memorable aspect of the show: that theme song. Doug Katsaros is credited with the music of the show as well as the theme song. Supposedly, Larry Hama hates it. In looking over credits for the show, some familiar names show up in the storyboard section, and if you’ve been reading along with the Batman posts, those names should be familiar to you as well: Boyd Kirkland, Frank Paur, Will Meuginot, Larry Houston, to name a few. Paur and Kirkland also have producer credits on the show and they’re most associated with Batman where both directed episodes. Will Meuginot did one episode of Batman as well as one of X-Men and has generally been all over children’s programming (The Real Ghostbusters, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Captain Planet, and many more). Larry Houston is most familiar to me because of his work on X-Men as he was featured a lot in the Previously on X-Men book about the series as he was one of the only staff members who was actually a fan of the property. He also worked on storyboards for Batman and many other programs, as I’m sure a lot of the other storyboard artists did as well. Those were the guys who just stood out the most.
Back to that theme song though. It’s very upbeat and the horns section gives it this triumphant quality. Everything builds to the “Bucky!” parts and the lyrics are effectively cheesy. Effective in that they capture the spirit of the show while also interjecting some goofy nonsense, like the ending of “Did you say Bucky? I said Bucky!” And like most shows of this era, the animation on the intro is noticeably better than what is in the actual episodes. Sunbow was quite good at sinking money into brief pieces of animation, like for toy commercials, and was well-versed in this. It’s not as bad as Thundercats, but I do wish the whole show could look like this. That intro makes the show look like an action heavy broadcast with Bucky running and gunning his way through the Toad Empire, but the show is a bit more slow-paced than that, as we’ll see. The song also does employ the age old technique of introducing most of the characters by name as well as the general conflict. Just watching it lets you know this show is about mammals fighting toads in space.
The episode begins onboard the Toad Mothership. Frix (Terry Klassen) and Frax (Scott McNeil) are two Toad officers that apparently don’t take their job very seriously. They’re spending their time watching Toad TV and the only thing on is a commercial in which a female toad expresses her admiration for male toads who feature a lot of warts. The Toad Air Marshall (Jay Brazeau) interrupts them and demands they shut off that brain-rotting Toad TV. He wants them to congratulate him for taking over the home world of Bucky O’Hare as he happily anticipates getting a new medal as recognition for his conquest. He speaks in between grunts or croaks that sound more like burps. Think Rick from Rick and Morty or Krang from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. He also drools a bit, and these are characteristics that are going to be dropped in later episodes, which is welcomed as the grunts are a bit annoying. He’s short, chubby, and excitable so he’s a fairly typical villain for the era.
We’re then shown the Righteous Indignation, the frigate captained by Bucky O’Hare (Jason Michas). The ship is shown from the front and we can see Bucky and First Mate Jenny (Margot Pinvidic) in the command tower/cockpit and Dead-Eye Duck (McNeil) down below behind the guns. Bucky then signals to the rest of the crew to get ready for action, and we get our first animation error as it cuts to Dead-Eye near the lockers as he races over to his guns excitedly, even though the establishing shot a second ago placed him behind the guns to begin with. Also introduced is Chief Engineer Bruce (Dale Wilson), a large baboon creature referred to as a Betelgeusian Berserker Baboon, and Android First Class Blinky (Sam Vincent), a diminutive little robot with a large, orange, eye for a head. Bruce is bemoaning how junky their photon accelerator is, which is the device that allows them to utilize warp drive, which is their light speed and is also referred to as a hyper space jump by the characters. He voices his concerns to the captain who tells him to back-burner it for now because they have work to do.
Bucky then tells Jenny she’ll be part of a boarding party, as they’ve located a Toad Slave Ship and six fighters. They intend to spring whoever is being held captive while dispatching the fighters. Dead-Eye is quite eager to fire up his guns and the Toad fighters are equally eager to engage the frigate. Dead-Eye takes out a few rather quick, and as the Toad Double Bubbles are destroyed the pilots inside are show floating in bubble-like escape pods which I assume is there to quiet the censors. Dead-Eye also shows his tally of defeated toads as he marks each “kill” with a piece of chalk.
Jenny and Bruce then leave via the Toad Croaker, a small, open-air, vessel which does not seem suitable for space travel. They head for the slave ship while Bucky leads the remaining fighters away. Inside, Toad Storm Troopers ready themselves to deal with the intruders in their slave ship. They’re quite cocky, until Bruce smashes in their door. This is where we learn that all toads have a paralyzing fear of baboons, and all drop their guns and run. Bruce, for his part, is overcome with a berserker rage and takes off after them leaving Jenny to shake her head. She makes her way into another area of the ship and is met by a security robot. She then demonstrates her powers for us, which seem to feed off of the many gems in her armor, as she magics up an energy blast to destroy the robot. She does the same to a door, and when she encounters some toads on the other side, they just act relieved she isn’t a baboon. She takes them out in a far less glamorous manner by punching one in the face (something Batman was never allowed to do) and kicking the other in the gut.
Bucky is still giving the remaining Toad fighters the slip, much to the disappointment of Dead-Eye who would rather be taking them out. He then does a loop move, something Star Fox 64 fans are familiar with, to maneuver behind their would-be assailants allowing Dead-Eye to finish the job. Bucky then shouts out a warning (I guess the ship has external speakers?) to the floating Toad pilots that the entire United Animal Space Fleet will be on their asses (not in those words). They receive a radio message from Jenny to come check out the slave ship and they head over. Jenny warns Bucky that he’s not going to like what happens when she opens the door to the holding area, but the dire warning was partially in jest as Bucky gets mobbed by several happy hares. Bucky then finds out the fate of his home planet from the prisoners, and he vows to head to Genus where the Animal Liberation Security Council convenes. Meanwhile, Toad Air Marshall is incensed when he finds out Bucky took out six fighters and captured the slave ship. The pilot also passes on Bucky’s threats and the Air Marshall is irritated to find out there’s now a fleet ready to oppose him. No matter, he declares that he will have Bucky O’Hare in dramatic fashion.
We’re taken briefly to Earth during these events to meet a young boy by the name of Willy DuWitt (Shane Meier). Willy finds his locker has been vandalized with the word “Nerd” spray-painted across it. Three kids convene on him by skateboarding right up to his face. One boy appears to be the leader of this trio, Doug (Sam Vincent), and he has a message for Willy. This is where many boys my age learned what grading on a curve meant, as Doug is ticked off that Willy keeps getting A’s on everything making it harder on the rest of the class. It’s interesting because these three boys are a lot bigger than Willy and basically look like normal people. Willy is shorter, and like most cartoon characters, he has a big head and feet. Either he’s skipped a few grades or this was just an odd stylistic choice. Willy professes that he loves math and science and it’s all easy to him, but Doug doesn’t care and demands he get an F on the next test and the three leave.
Bucky and his crew lead the Toad Slave Ship to Genus, which has a very advanced defense system surrounding it. It at first sees the Toad ship as an enemy vessel and begins firing upon it. Jenny is forced to transmit a security clearance to get them to back off. Once on the planet, Bucky and his crew storm a council meeting to inform them of what has happened to his home planet of Warren. He’s rightly ticked off, and this is where we find out that the entire mammal fleet is Bucky O’Hare and his crew and his threats to the Toads were just bluffs. He demands more help, and Dead-Eye is forced to silence the chattering bureaucrats with some gunfire at one point. An old pig then confronts Bucky to tell him they need documented evidence of Toad atrocities (apparently a slave ship full of rabbits isn’t enough evidence) in order to allocate more funds to building up the fleet. Bucky angrily leaves vowing to return with this evidence they seek.
Aboard the Toad Mothership, we see Toad Air Marshall at his desk looking over a massive sheet of paper containing a map. It turns out, he’s only holding up the paper to hide the fact that he’s watching Toad TV behind it, proving he’s just as bad as his subordinates. The TV screen then changes, and we get our first introduction to Komplex (Long John Baldry). Komplex looks like a polygonal toad face with red X-shaped eyes. It speaks with a menacing voice through the TV and it’s apparent that the Air Marshall both fears Komplex and is subservient to it. Komplex demands the destruction of Bucky and the hares.
Bucky decides to go to Warren for this evidence, which may not be the wisest choice. Toad Air Marshall anticipates the move, and he has a fleet of roughly 50 fighters waiting for him. On Earth, we see Willy’s homelife (in a house that could pass as the Tanner residence from Full House) and meet his parents David (McNeil) and Sunshine (Pinvidic), two hippies who have grown up. He’s not excited to eat his tofu burgers and tries asking his dad for advice on what to do about his bully problem and his dad tells him that sometimes you have to do what’s right no matter what the consequences. He’s only half paying attention to his son though as he’s reading the paper. Sunshine parrots her husband while referencing the need to save the whales and such. She then reminds her husband they need to head to a rally and take off leaving Willy all by himself.
The Righteous Indignation finds itself in a real predicament as the Toad fleet surrounds them. The Toads take out two of the six engines on the rear of the ship, and surprisingly the animators will account for that as the ship flees with only four engines illuminated. Their shields are taking a pounding and there’s no feasible way for one frigate to take on 50 fighters. Bucky calls down to engineering for a hyper space jump and Bruce advises it’s dangerous, but what choice do they have? He tries hastily making some adjustments to the photon accelerator, but it’s making a funny sound. He activates it anyway, and it immediately starts trying to suck him in. Blinky grabs onto some equipment as he too is being pulled towards the device. He grabs ahold of Bruce’s belt, but the accelerator pulls him right out of his space suit. Blinky goes flying too, but he braces himself against the accelerator and is able to unplug it before he meets the same fate as Bruce.
Blinky radios up to Bucky and informs him of what happened. “Calamity and woe,” he begins which is some-what of a catch phrase for the character. He tells his captain that Bruce was either pulled into another dimension or has attained oneness with the universe, as he puts it. It’s the closest thing to “death” as we’re going to get on this show. Bucky tells Jenny she’s in charge, as he’s positioned the frigate in a crater in a bid to hide from the fighters momentarily. He heads down to survey the damage while remarking they’ll miss Bruce, but he has no time for mourning. Blinky informs him he’s made some repairs, but he has no idea what will happen once the warp drive is engaged. Bucky decides they have no choice, as the Toad fighters have found them and their shields can’t last much longer. He approaches the photon accelerator and activates the warp drive.
On Earth, Willy is recording himself as he prepares for his greatest experiment. It seems he has constructed his own photon accelerator, and like Bucky, he’s not sure what will happen when he turns it on. His recording is intended to let his parents in on what happened, should something bad happen. He activates his, and everything goes dark. He tries looking out his window and sees just blackness. Meanwhile, on the Righteous Indignation all power has gone out. Jenny declares they’re in some kind of stasis field. Nothing can get in, or out. Bucky is more alarmed by the presence of a door that suddenly appeared near he and Blinky. It’s Willy’s door, and the backside of it just contains a swirling vortex. The door opens, and out steps Willy.
Dead-Eye nearly blasts Willy as he mistakes his flashlight for a lightsaber. Interestingly, in the comics Willy’s room is decorated with Star Wars stuff, so it’s nice they still found a way to slip in a reference via lightsaber here. Willy insists it’s just a flashlight and shuts it off. This seems to calm Dead-Eye some and the characters all stop to stare at each other. Willy is surprised to find a talking green rabbit, while the others think Willy is some sort of shaved baboon. Bucky introduced himself, seeming to take exception with Willy’s description of him, before introducing the others. He tells Willy what danger he faces by being aboard his ship, while Willy is amazed to see that they have a photon accelerator. Willy offers to help, but Bucky doesn’t see how this human could be of use, until Willy tells him that he built his very own photon accelerator. They need to head back to his room for some tools, but Willy thinks he can fix theirs.
Back in Willy’s room, the young boy is grabbing stuff while Bucky and Dead-Eye accompany him. Dead-Eye spies what appears to be a toy gun on Willy’s bed and confiscates it, pointing it out to Bucky in a hushed voice just in case Willy can’t be trusted. He also spies some play money and seems to mistake it for real cash and stuffs it in a duffel bag with Willy’s tools. They then head back to the ship and Willy makes the repairs. He vows to stay aboard the ship to see it through, even though he knows once the warp drive is activated his door will disappear. Jenny, in reward for Willy’s bravery, gives Willy a kiss and embraces him which causes Willy to blush and plants the seeds for his future life as a furry. As the crew gets ready to fire up the warp drive, the stasis field drops as a Toad gives the order to fire at full strength and our first episode ends on a rather major cliffhanger.
There’s a lot to pack into this debut episode. We get the general conflict of Toads vs Mammals, and also a season-long storyline is introduced and that’s the enslavement of Bucky’s home world. We also get a peek at the leaders of the mammal world, who because of their relative safety behind their advanced defense systems, are reluctant to take the Toads seriously frustrating Bucky. It’s basically just Bucky and his crew left to fend off a planet’s worth of toads who are hellbent on taking over. We don’t know much about their goals or their methods just yet, but that’s still to come. We know enough though. The Toads are a serious threat, and Bucky is going to need help to drive them back.
We also get something that doesn’t arise in shows like this often: death. Well, a sort of death with Bruce getting sucked into the photon accelerator. It’s a bit clunky and weird, but at least the groundwork is partly laid in Bruce’s first scene when he remarks that it seems like part of the device doesn’t exist in their dimension. In the comic, Bruce just gets blasted by the Toads and reduced to a pile of dust. This is far more ambiguous. Blinky theorizes he got pulled into another dimension while also saying it’s possible he’s just dead, though he phrases it in a clever way. We’ll eventually find out that Blinky’s first guess was correct, but for now it looks like a member of Bucky’s meager crew got taken out, and Bruce was one of the most formidable. The whole sequence happens rather quickly, and since they’re in a dire situation there’s no time for the moment to breathe. It’s rushed, but also it’s the reality of war that you can’t stop and mourn in the midst of a fire-fight lest you want to end up like your comrade.
The inclusion of Willy is and has always been odd to me. If I had never read the comics I would have thought he was shoe-horned into the cartoon in an attempt to create a character kids could relate to. He was likely included in the books for the same reason, but it just always felt silly to me which is odd since we’ve got a bunch of animals fighting each other in space. He’s got time to prove his worth and win me over, but I’m not an instant fan. And his hippy parents are just confusing. What’s the message they’re trying to convey here? Did Larry Hama just hate hippies? They’re bad, yuppy, parents more consumed with their activist lifestyle than their child. I guess if the message is a bad parent can come from any background then okay, I guess. I think it has a lot to do with the cynicism of the 80s just viewing hippies as pretty goofy and silly and they’re just supposedly inherently funny as a result. “Ha, look at Willy’s dumb, hippy, parents!” I didn’t find it funny as a kid, and I don’t find it funny as an adult. They also made the choice to not show their faces, not an uncommon technique in kid’s shows of the era. Making them faceless hippies feels like a political statement of some kind, I’m just not sure what that is.
The animation on this show is pretty inconsistent. It reminds me a lot of another AKOM show, X-Men, as character models get shifty at times. Especially Jenny, whose face seems to change shape at times. The more cartoonish toads, especially the Air Marshall, look pretty good and there are some fun sequences during the firefights. Like one shot from in front of Dead-Eye’s guns. Unfortunately, the premiere episode is basically the high point in terms of visuals. There will be sequences here and there in future episodes that look as good or better than what’s here, but in general the animation quality only goes down from here. The voice acting is fairly capable though and I like the voices for each character. I mentioned Air Marshall’s weird croak/burps, but in addition to that it seemed like there was some confusion over what Dead-Eye should sound like. Scott McNeil does a stereotypical pirate voice at times, which is basically what will be carried forward. At other times though he goes for a southern accent, and even a Cajun one. They’re brief, but weird. I think things get more consistent going forward, as is often the case following a debut episode.
This episode throws a lot at the viewer and it’s a pretty demanding way to start the series. The scenes move quickly from one to the next for time considerations and the episode feels long, even though it’s only about 21 minutes including the intro. I personally like a lot of world-building in the first few episodes, so I’m mostly okay with it, but by the end I do want to see things start moving. Lets get some action. A lot of the characters are introduced though so the episode does accomplish a lot which will hopefully pay dividends rather quickly. It was probably harder for kids to follow, especially the scene with the animal council, and I know I hated how abruptly the episode ended. A week is a long time for a kid to find out how Bucky and his crew get out of that mess. You’re going to have to endure the same, or you could just run to YouTube or something and watch the next episode.