Another series is in the bag as the past 13 weeks have covered 90s relic Bucky O’Hare and the Toad Wars. As evidenced by my posting on the toy line by Boss Fight Studio as well as other pieces of Bucky media, this show has a special place in my heart. It was something I loved intensely as only a child can for a short duration that then broke my heart, but I got over it because for kids most things are short term. I found something else to obsess over and didn’t think about Bucky O’Hare much until I reached adulthood when suddenly looking back on childhood things held new meaning.
I won’t lie to you all and say that Bucky O’Hare and the Toad Wars is a great television series. I’m not even sure I can say it’s a great children’s show. It does have things going for it, and then it doesn’t. It certainly suffered from a small budget, which isn’t a surprise as the property wasn’t exactly tried and true nor was it backed by a major studio. Those putting up the dollars to make the show likely viewed it as a toy commercial primarily with the hope it would find a footing so more money could be made off of it via other merchandise. Had the show arrived in the 80s it would have largely fit in with other shows on television, but for a 1991 show it was rather shoddy looking. The animation is choppy, there’s numerous visual errors, and few sequences that seemed to attempt anything truly artistic. The classic cartoon where a lavish intro serves as a red herring for what’s to follow.
In addition to the rather poor visual fidelity, the budget is further constrained in the sound department. A small cast of voice actors was forced to shoulder the load. When a new character shows up there wasn’t a thought to getting a guest voice actor (or if there was at the time of recording it was abandoned before release) so get used to a lot of characters sounding the same. This isn’t a knock on the cast, all of which I thought did a good job with the scripts provided, but a short-coming nonetheless. The music also suffers in the same manner. Doug Katsaros handled the music, including the memorable opening and closing number, and was apparently only hired to write and arrange about five tracks which are recycled through every episode. I like the music in the show and consider it perhaps the show’s greatest attribute, but it certainly was becoming repetitive by season’s end.
Those are the show’s most obvious flaws production-wise. Serving as both a strength and weakness is the show’s writing. There are some early sequences, namely anything involving Willy DuWitt’s time on Earth, that are dreadful. Just pandering, talking down to the audience kind of stuff. The show also had pacing problems, particularly early on, where the episodes tried to cover too many things and never had a chance to breathe. The end of the first episode is supposed to be stressful so I don’t fault the writing there, but there were other episodes where plot points were basically glossed-over or the end felt rushed. The show is happy to use Willy’s genius as a deus ex machina to get the gang out of trouble on many occasions which probably won’t entertain an adult, but kids may have been more forgiving. I know for me personally as a kid characters like Willy and Donatello from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles annoyed me a bit with how they could seemingly invent their way out of any problem, but I don’t know if I was the exception or the norm.
Another aspect of the show that works, but also doesn’t, is the nature in which Willy was approached. He’s clearly meant to be the audience stand-in. As more of this universe is unveiled, we experience it alongside Willy. Whenever the show takes us to another world, we experience that world via Willy who has to learn about the cat people on Jenny’s world and learn how to deal with pirates in the Dead-Eye episode. It’s the type of approach that probably sounds good on paper, but in practice it’s not as successful. Willy just isn’t interesting, and having almost every episode center around him in some way harms the show. The only episode I actually felt this approach worked was the finale, and that’s because the crew was hiding something from Willy and thereby hiding it from the viewer as well.
Otherwise, the writing for Bucky O’Hare and the Toad Wars could be really ambitious and even better than the average slop thrown at children in 1991. The first three episodes are serialized and even the fourth fits into that as well. For the rest of the season, the show often reflects back on past events and there’s a feeling of continuity throughout, for the most part. Networks were loathe to attempt this sort of thing with kids as many just don’t respect the intelligence of the audience. Serialized story-telling isn’t necessary for every show, but it is rewarding for viewers in the right setting and that’s true of adults and kids. It’s why I found the show riveting as a child, and I believed there were more stakes here than was the case with the other shows I watched.
This show was also really good to its female characters. Females were often an afterthought for shows aimed at boys. At most, they were often someone who needed to be rescued. April O’Neil was the gold standard at this point, a character who was confident and fearless, but ultimately always ended up captured by Shredder. In this show, we have Jenny who is the second in command and a powerful telepath. When she gets captured in episode three, it’s in addition to Bucky and Dead-Eye. It’s she who takes charge in her own episode to save her people, and in the final episode she gets captured on purpose as part of a master plan. The other female is Mimi LaFloo, a character determined to save herself and the other slaves who isn’t going to wait around for a hero. She becomes a captain herself, though we only get to see her in this role in one episode. The only negative is that these two characters are quite “catty” towards each other which feels too stereotypical. The most frequently used writer on the show is a female, Christy Marx, who wrote or co-wrote both episodes featuring Mimi so this may have been a contribution on her part or she was instructed to put these two at odds with each other. That aside, it’s cool to see the females in a heroic role and equally cool that a woman got to write them and I think it’s something that should be talked about as part of the show’s legacy.
The show also can be funny, and it’s not the sort of stupid humor I was accustomed to seeing in action shows. The show did tone down on the political humor with the obtuse and budget conscious S.P.A.C.E. bureaucrats. Some of it was retained, but I’m not surprised that Willy wasn’t made to sign-up for company healthcare before going on his first mission. Even the incompetent villains manage to remain funny throughout the season. Perhaps some of that is due to it only lasting 13 episodes, but at least the bumbling Air Marshall had yet to ware out his welcome.
I largely view Bucky O’Hare and the Toad Wars as a flawed series, but still worth watching. It’s definitely worth watching for kids of 1991 as there wasn’t much better on TV as far as action cartoons were concerned. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was pretty dumb and The Real Ghostbusters was well past its prime. The Pirates of Dark Water might have been the best contemporary for the show, but I find Bucky O’Hare to be more interesting. Come 1992 the television landscape for this genre would be forever changed with Batman and X-Men, but for a brief period of time, Bucky O’Hare and the Toad Wars was at least in the conversation for best children’s action adventure program. It’s a shame the show isn’t readily available on DVD or at least streaming somewhere. I suppose it’s never too late, but it definitely doesn’t feel like that is something that is going to change anytime soon.
With my final thoughts out-of-the-way, I felt it would make sense to close the book on this series with a ranking of the 13 episodes. Let’s start with the worst:
13. On the Blink – the Blinky episode on the koala planet is my least favorite. It feels inconsequential, and is, and has a lame resolution. It also was the first episode to really look poor. It does score points for showing Al Negator and the Air Marshall in golf attire.
12. The Warriors – Kamikaze Kamo would have made for a good action figure, but as a character he’s pretty annoying. I like that the episode gave us a new villain in Sly Leezard, and seeing the Air Marshall fired was amusing, but it’s a pretty ugly episode that didn’t do much to further the overall narrative of season one.
11. Corsair Canards – This episode is all right, and the overall plot is solid, though some of the execution is a bit off. Mostly, it’s ranked this low because it is absolutely the low point in terms of animation. So many errors and just plain ugly sequences. With some polish, this could have been one of the better episodes.
10. Bye Bye Berserker Baboon – Bruiser’s homeworld is surprisingly low key, but at least there’s some Toad ingenuity on display here. Plus, the Terror Toad looks pretty cool. The baboons just get pretty annoying though and Bucky’s Bugs Bunny impression felt really off for this show.
9. A Fistful of Simoleans – Now the list gets a bit tricky. I’ll put episode 2 here as it’s a bit slow and yet also over-stuffed. Al Negator is introduced and Bucky’s naivety is on display, though the message of the episode is kind of that racism can be okay? Basically, Bucky should have known not to trust Al because of his species, which is pretty shitty, but he’s also part of a fictional race of crocodiles so I guess it’s possible that they are all greedy, shifty, pieces of crap. I don’t think it was malicious on the part of the writers, but it comes off weird.
8. The Kreation Konspiracy – The plot for this episode is pretty cool, and I like the added Toad lore. Really, what knocks this one down a few pegs is the resolution with Willy converting a planet into a giant ape. And yet, the actual ending is possibly the best ending of any episode of the show as it’s genuinely funny, if rushed. At least Blinky got to do something to make up for the lackluster “On the Blink” episode.
7. The Artificers of Aldebaran – This episode helped clarify how Jenny and her kind get their powers, even if it was pretty crazy given it involved a moon-sized demon in outer space. Mostly though, I rank this one here because I love how ruthless Toadborg is when negotiating with Jenny. He’s such a good villain and I feel like similar villains are rarely allowed to be this nasty in children’s shows.
6. Komplex Caper – This is just a fun action-heavy episode. The plot is a tongue-in-cheek commentary on television and works well in this show which is full of that stuff via Toad TV gags. We get to see Bucky take the fight to Komplex and also Dogstar’s crew gets a moment to shine. The only real negative for me watching as an adult is how the Toad fleet is weakened. In the first few episodes, Bucky and his crew couldn’t possibly hope to go toe to toe with so many enemies, but Dogstar’s crew seems unphased. Bonus points go to the humorous confrontation between Dead-Eye and the Toad Master Spy.
5. War of the Warts – The debut episode is very lore heavy, but it’s necessary to establish the world. Really, the only parts I don’t like are Willy’s experiences on Earth dealing with bullies who will thankfully not make it out of Episode 3. This is also the episode that “killed” Bruce forever creating stakes kid-me never knew existed in cartoons.
4. The Search for Bruce – The episode that brought Bruce back, albeit as a ghost of some sort. It does a good job of showing a character, in this case Bruiser, actually experience grief which is something “War of the Warts” didn’t have time to explore. It’s a bit sad, but there’s also some fun stuff in the middle as well as the show’s most violent sequence. The only real drag is the constant references to bananas by the two baboons. I get it, they love bananas, I don’t need the constant reminder.
3. The Taking of Pilot Jenny – The series finale does its job. While it has a few warts, namely with how Komplex is finally defeated, it’s largely a satisfying conclusion to the first season. Bucky gets to play hero and the mammals pull off an inventive scheme. Past plot points are revisited and the whole thing is just very satisfying. That last scene is still able to hit me in the feels, cheesy as it may be.
2. The Good, the Bad and the Warty – The conclusion to the first arch brings about the show’s first action-heavy episode. We get to see Bucky and his crew captured by the Toads and forced to escape. During which we see Willy’s ingenuity and Jenny’s impressive powers. It’s also our first real look at Toadborg and what he’s capable of and makes for an entertaining episode. There’s some more junk with Willy on Earth, but at least it also marks the end of his conflict with the bullies, something that felt really tacked on to make the show more “relatable” to its audience. The show in general features too much Willy, but at least he ditched the Earth problems for the most part.
1. Home, Swampy Home – I had a feeling this one would be my favorite and it remained so after all was said and done. It does have the one real strange sequence of Bucky meeting his off-camera mentor who had some really on-the-nose advice for the captain, but aside from that it’s pretty cool and a lot of fun. It showcases how the other hares idolize Bucky and view him as their Superman, in a way. He will save them, no questions asked. It also gives us Mimi LaFloo, who is a really interesting character for a 1991 cartoon aimed at boys. She’s an anti-princess, a female who isn’t going to wait around for someone to save her. She looks down on her fellow captives, the hares, because they’re just waiting for Bucky to save them while she intends to save herself. And while Bucky’s help is needed in the end, she’s rewarded for her efforts by being named captain of her own frigate. This was an era where pretty much every female cartoon character was just a damsel in distress, so seeing an empowered female character was pretty cool. Bucky’s dramatic reveal to Mimi and the hares is also my favorite moment from the show.