Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue

I have no idea how to effectively teach kids about the dangers of drug use, but I don’t think hanging the subject on a gimmicky hook will do anything more than distract them from the main issue. Having a celebrity appear in a 30-second PSA just boils down the issue to a forgetable sound bite, and catchy slogans like “Just Say No” do nothing but pander to their intended audiences. The anti-drug campaign is a complicated, serious matter deserving maturity and fact-based instruction, not half-hearted attempts to paint it as being “cool” or “hip.” Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue proves this without a shadow of a doubt, as I don’t see how it could possibly teach children anything about the hazards of drug use.

For many, reading this review will be a trip down Nostalgia Lane, since many of my generation watched this 1990 made-for-television short. As a child who took weekly Guidance Counselor classes with the rest of his peers, I recall All-Stars effectively scaring the crap out of me during key moments. This isn’t a testmant to the movie’s skills at actual education but rather its ability to manipulate its extremely young viewers. As a college student who does not use drugs of any sort, I watch it now and clearly see its sense of desperation, a tactic pulled out because no one knew how to really make an anti-drug video. As such, it’s likely to produce more nightmares than knowledge.

Cartoon All-Stars begins with then President George Bush and his wife Barbara sitting in the Oval Office. It’s a bizarre way to open the video, since even Mr. Bush knows he’s not capable of making children listen to his lecure on the evils of drugs. Therefore he introduces the cartoon segment as fast as humanly possible before fading away into a stock image of the White House. From there we’re taken to a neighborhood sketched to look so warm and cozy it comes complete with a rooster crowing at the crack of dawn. This, of course, ends up being ironic when we find our drug-using teen Michael stealing his little sister Corey’s piggy bank.

The robbery alerts a literal parade of animated celebrities, including but not limited to Alf, Garfield, Alvin and the Chipmunks, a veritable army of Smurfs, the Muppet Babies, Huey, Dewey, and Louie, and Winnie the Pooh. I’ve gotta say that these characters have way too much time on their hands if the theft of a child’s piggy bank makes them come to life and fight the good fight, but I suppose it’s that darn suspension of disbelief coming into play. The fight, of course, being the battle against Michael and his drug use, which is represented by an villainous cloud of exhale known as Smoke (voiced by George C. Scott of all people).

How do they bring Michael back from the Dark Side? Well, in a variety of ways, really, though none of them are really effective if you think about it for more than a few seconds (longer than the average child’s attention span, of course). One explored avenue sees Bugs Bunny taking Michael back in time, where we see how it wasn’t his choice to start doing drugs after all. It was peer pressure, by golly, and as we all know, peer pressure is the perfect excuse for avoiding any personal responsibility. Later on Kermit and Miss Piggy take Michael on a roller coaster ride through his own brain, a nightmarish world where skulls appear at random and membrane lightning strikes at every turn. This represents the “higher high, lower low” concept, but because Kermit and Miss Piggy are screaming the whole time it’s hard to hear their argument. As such, the scene comes off as nothing more than a scare tactic.

Alf gets his own shot at ridding Michael of his need for crack rocks and dirty needles by taking him into a house of mirrors, one of which shows what the boy will look like if he continues to use drugs. The vision is downright ridiculous, painting Michael as some sort of green-skinned, bony zombie. Granted, I can see a heavy drug user becoming dangerously thin over time, but green? Come now. That’s three strikes in and of themselves, but the video actually gets worse when it has the entire cartoon cast break into song, one so badly sung you can only comprehend about every other lyric. Why? Because none of these characters were meant to sing in the first place, especially ones like Miss Piggy and the Chipmunks. It’s painful to the ears and makes you want to run away, which is exactly what Michael does in the end. Who would blame him, I ask? Plus the song is just impractical, instructing kids on the various ways to say “no” to drugs. “I’ve got homework!” will just make you sound mentally disabled, if you ask me, so why not just…say no? Dang, I guess that campaign does make sense. Oh well.

As the video winds down it pretty much stops trying to give us any more information on drugs (though it was doing a pretty poor, slipshod job in the first place) and just puts Michael in one hallucinatory situation after another. You’d have to be on drugs to come up with some of the stuff in this last section, since at one point Michael is sucked into Miss Piggy’s mouth through a gigantic straw and then spit out into a demonic carnival filled with randomly placed buzz saws. What does this have to do with drugs? Why is Huey trying to mow down Michael in a roller coaster like a crazed lunatic? None of it makes sense, so I have to assume this was all meant to frighten kids into a permanent state of cold turkey.

Everything ends on an upbeat note of course, as I guess seeing Michael drown in his own vomit while a homeless man stole his pants would be too much of a downer. The All-Stars save our boy from such a fate, and as the credits roll we endure yet another drippy, sappy tune. I can best compare this one to the celebrity-fueled “We Are the World,” with every single cartoon character getting his or her own lyrical solo. “Don’t forget how to say no,” they warn us, each one sounding more sad and lonely than the next. It’s a guilt trip through and through, and I’m sure it sent more than one child into a state of sobbing hysterics. Manipulative? Oh yes, and downright irresponsible to boot. It’s sad we had to be taught about drugs by the likes of Slimer and Alf, since it proves no one wanted to come right out and give us the facts needed to protect ourselves. No one trusted their own message, and it comes off strikingly in this video.

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