Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Hulk Hogan's Rock N' Wrestling Runnin' Wild

During the mid-1980’s, two major trends collided: professional wrestling and Saturday morning cartoons. As the World Wrestling Federation (now WWE) made its move to become the premiere name in wrestling, Hulk Hogan was already a household name, through his cameo in Rocky III as Thunderlips, and his victory over Rowdy Roddy Piper in the first WrestleMania.

Capitalizing on this success is the 1985-87 cartoon Hulk Hogan’s Rock N’ Wrestling. This cartoon takes place in an alternate universe where half the WWF’s stable lives in the same town and get into hijinks. Even the theme song is different from the more familiar “Real American” which Hulk would later enter the ring to, and was remade by composer/producer Jim Steinman into the Bonnie Tyler song “Ravishing”.

The plot-lines of these cartoons were mind-boggling, even for Saturday morning standards. Take, for example, a plot-line where Hulk and Nikolai Volkoff go into space, which seems to have been produced before the Challenger disaster and mercifully shelved until the end of the show’s run. Other stories involved getting Captain Lou Albano to shed a few (well, 40) pounds, and trying to hide Andre The Giant's true vocation from his French mamon:

The voice talents vaguely try to capture the essence of their respective wrestlers. Brad Garrett, the tall, husky voiced actor best known as the brother from Everybody Loves Raymond, plays tall, husky voiced Hulk Hogan, presumably because Bea Arthur was not available at the time. While late character actor George DiCenzo does a good Captain Lou Albano, he obviously didn’t take his method acting to the point to where he put rubber bands in his beard. Lewis Arquette, whose son David later starred in the wrestling movie Ready To Rumble, voiced Superfly Jimmy Snuka, and James Avery, best known as Uncle Phil on The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air, voiced the Junkyard Dog. And in the oddest irony, the milquetoast Mean Gene Okerlund is voiced by Neil Ross, who also voiced the super-macho Rambo in the Saturday morning cartoon.

But Hulk Hogan’s Rock N’ Wrestling is not without the presence of the actual wrestlers. Short live-action segments, each lasting about a minute each, are pretty cool reminders of what made these guys so popular in the first place. Rowdy Roddy Piper is more than the snivelling, almost neutered baddie he is made out to be in the cartoon, as you can tell from this scene where he forces an automobile to start itself:

While the actual wrestlers were (understandably) too busy to voice their own characters, I still would have loved for them to do so. These days I watch China, IL and enjoy Hulk Hogan as The Dean, and who doesn’t think of Super Mario (or crazy anti-drug PSAs) without thinking of Captain Lou? Judging from his Twitter account alone, The Iron Sheik would have been marvelous, and you can never get enough of Rowdy Roddy Piper. Then again, by the time the cartoon was ending, Wendi Richter already left WWF after losing to The Fabulous Moolah in a screwjob.

I was not around for most of the Golden Age of Pro Wrestling. In fact, I was being born just as Cyndi Lauper helped Richter beat The Fabulous Moolah at The Brawl To End It All. I only knew Superfly Jimmy Snuka and Junkyard Dog from their action figures which I got from my older cousin, and Andre The Giant was in his physical decline as I enjoyed him in The Princess Bride. Heck, even the mid-1980’s Axis Of Evil, consisting of the USSR, Iran and presumably Scotland, was falling apart as I was in kindergarten. However, watching these cartoons was a fun reminder of when pro wrestling was still kids’ stuff, and when mindless entertainment was allowed to air before prime-time.

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