This is something I’ve been meaning to write about for years, but having to suffer through issue #3 of Thundercats: Hammerhand’s Revenge today just really drove the point home and I have to get this out of my system. The hatred of the “mascot character” (sometimes also called the “kiddie character”) is getting old. Rip Van Winkle old.
Look, I get it. Kids can handle more than some adults think, but at the same time there are limits, and what both sides of the argument forgets is that kids are individuals. Some can handle more than others. I also get that there are people out there who don’t believe in comic relief characters because they think everything needs to be dark and intensive the entire movie, especially in something not geared for kids. (And there’s that small group who I swear thinks “for kids” equals “I have to like it too but my sister won’t flip out if I show it to their kids”.) And there are plenty of comic reliefs who are just annoying, like any character Rob Schneider has ever played. (And yet somehow he gets to be the main character in stuff.) I’ll even be coping to mascots who just aren’t very good near the end of this commentary, which went way longer than planned. However, I want to take some of those mascots you all hate and explain why they’re actually good characters. Because characters evolve over time, even in shows without a continuous story, because the character serves a purpose on the team, and sometimes because of both. Remember, the Doctor of Doctor Who didn’t start out as the champion of the weak and defenseless. In his first storyline he was ready to kill a wounded man by smashing his skull in with a rock even though he wasn’t a threat to him or his kidnapped companions. Which HE kidnapped. Characters do get better, but it’s the early years that seem to cause a lot of bias.
Let’s start with the character that pushed this one out, loyal Snarf. I don’t care how cute the re-imagined Snarf is. Yes, they did something with him, and I haven’t seen the full second season of the newer Thundercats. However, a lot of hate is dropped on the original and he doesn’t deserve it. Of course, what Fiona Avery did to him was just plain terrible and actually damaged the story by having a character that annoying. Avery’s Snarf is a whiny coward and one wonders why, if the Thundercats hate him as much as Avery seems to write him, why he’s even here? Snarf was never like that on the show.
Snarf was cautious. Snarf was also brave. His job when the series started was as the nursemaid to the boy Lion-O. When they crashed on Third Earth, Lion-O’s suspension capsule was damaged and he aged more than the others, becoming a man physically, but as Tygra noted never went through those life experiences that lead to maturity. So Snarf had to sometimes protect the manboy Lord from his own immaturity. He was always loyal to Lion-O, protecting him even when he was overwhelmed with the odds. He tried to help. And then there was that time….
SNARF SAVED THE THUNDERCATS FROM MUMM-RA ON HIS OWN WITH ONLY A BAT AND A SPIDER!
Yeah, could new Snarf do that? I don’t think so, but again I haven’t seen all of the new episodes. Yet old Snarf once saved Lion-O and friends from Mumm-Ra’s tomb. How? Because he evolved over time, around the time of the trials where Lion-O went from hereditary Lord to official Lord Of The Thundercats. Snarf found new ways to be useful, and that’s the key word here, useful! That will come up quite often in this commentary. Snarf learned the land. He learned the legends and history. He learned what foods were safe to eat. He was practically the ambassador to the Berbils. And he was the voice of reason, not the whiny coward I’ve been forced to read the past few weeks. Snarf made himself useful to the team and was a friend to all of them, even being an honorary (if not official) Thundercat. Even the Thunderkittens, who liked to tease him, would agree with that statement. And that’s my point.
Take another hated mascot, Godzooky from the first Godzilla cartoon. He was a goofball, a big lizard, curious, and playful. And no, he isn’t Godzilla’s nephew. He’s not Scrappy-Doo, who of course we’ll be discussing in a moment. He was the comic relief in a show about giant monsters threatening the planet, sometimes directly, sometimes just the crew, and sometimes working for some evil person or alien. You know, like the regular Godzilla movies of the time. It’s just we had the same four humans every story instead of rulers of fictional countries and scientists creating new things while reporters and manga artists saved the day. Godzooky was someone for the kid on the show (who was also the ship’s chef–there’s that useful thing again–while traveling with his aunt on dangerous adventures for…some reason) could play with and talk to. In fact, Pete could somehow understand Godzooky, at least in general. Kind of like Ash Ketchum does with God Pikachu.
Godzooky, however, was also useful to the team. While Godzilla fights the monster, Godzooky can fly the humans to safety. In one episode Godzooky’s ability to survive ocean pressures allowed him to attempt to rescue the bathysphere after Quinn and Brock decided to be idiots. (Here the scientists only save the world because they already got themselves into trouble.) And when the others need Godzilla’s help and they don’t have access to the signal device, Godzooky can call him for help. Yeah, I know some of you don’t like that either, but this is when Godzilla protected people in the movies too. It’s my childhood and you can just deal with it!
I could list more but I want to discuss one more before I discuss how do to a mascot wrong. Of course we have to talk about the most loathed of the mascots, Scrappy Dappy Doo. He’s so hated by fans that Cartoon Network once had a flash game where you threw garbage at him. They made him the villain of the live-action movie, which of course sucked all the eggs for a lot of other reasons as well. The rage against Scrappy is huge online, but a few people are starting to revisit the character and see that might be overblown. My fellow Reviewers Unknown refugee, the Cartoon Hero, doesn’t hate him, and “save the world from bad animation” is his tagline. So why does he get such hate?
Well, he lives up to his name. He’s scrappy. In the early years Scrappy would actually drag Shaggy and Scooby back to the monster or accidentally trap them. (You know how in modern times Fred is ridiculously obsessed with traps? He has nothing on early Scrappy-Doo.) His battle cry of “PUPPY POWER!” upsets the nofuns. However, there’s something they don’t realize. Scrappy-Doo saved the franchise. I point you again to Mark Evanier’s article on how ABC was going to cancel the series without something fresh, and the story of how Scrappy came to be.
(Lennie)’d send me links and I’d follow them to read how Scrappy had “ruined” the Scooby Doo series. I never quite understood the sentiment being voiced so long after Scrappy had done this alleged damage, and coming — as it often seemed — from people who weren’t that wild about the show before Scooby’s little nephew joined the team. Others seem to view the pre-Scrappy series as animation that compared favorably with Fantasia…but suddenly when this one character was added, it abruptly turned into a Saturday morning cartoon show.
I don’t know why some people hate him so. I don’t see that the show was any better the season before…and as I’ve explained here, his presence got the network to order another season. My read is that the folks who don’t like Scrappy are few in number but loud in voice. When I watch one of those 1979 episodes, I can’t possibly dislike Scrappy…because he makes me think of Lennie.
Evanier’s friend who passed in 2006, Lennie Weinrib voiced Scrappy for the first season, after a ton of recasts, before Don Messick would assume the role until that crap live-action movie where they got Scott Innes. The template for Scrappy was Henery Hawk from the old Looney Tunes. And if you compare the first season of Scooby & Scrappy Doo to The Scooby-Doo Show you’ll see he’s right. There isn’t a huge difference. The cases both shows had were some of the best of the Saturday morning years. Yet nobody throws a hissy fit over Scooby-Dum, Scooby’s lunkhead cousin, who had a recurring appearance on that show. And I will note that Evanier himself, who wrote the pilot for the new title, wasn’t a fan of the character either even if he doesn’t get the hatred the little pup gets.
Yes, the later seasons were not as good until the last season or two when the mysteries got back on track and was fun without being silly, and then came 13 Ghosts Of Scooby-Doo (speaking of bad and/or pointless mascots, I still point you to Flim-Flam) but that’s my rage. And over that time Scrappy went from the annoying kid to something more useful. He wasn’t as impulsive (although on occasion he’s still rush the monster or show his superhuman…superdog?…strength), but was becoming a pretty fair detective in his own right. As a kid he of course got more into computers and gadgets than the others. (It was the 80s.) He did what a good mascot character should do. He pulled his weight, he evolved as a character, and he became useful. I think so many people judge a character from the first episode or so and then ignore how a character evolves. Again, the Doctor was willing to murder someone because he thought the guy would attack him and the people the Doctor kidnapped once he recovered.
So what are examples of BAD mascot characters? Well, I mentioned Flim-Flam, and then there was Snarfer, Snarf’s nephew (who at least was an ace mechanic when it came to spaceships but they never fixed his more annoying flaws, nope nope). Probably my best example is Ferbus from Saban’s rework of Masked Rider. Ferbus came with Prince Dex from Edenoi, supposedly to help Dex be less homesick. And then he proceeded to do squat all to be of any use. They had to hide him ALF style to keep Dex’s secret as the Masked Rider, but that didn’t stop the childlike mutant platypus from getting into all kinds of trouble. In the first few episodes Dex and his adopted siblings had to hide him from their parents because the father was allergic. That was dropped almost immediately but Ferbus found other ways to get into trouble. He was supposed to be comic relief, but the non-action segments were already written like some kind of sitcom, so he wasn’t needed for that.
I could almost see if Ferbus was needed to boost Dex’s mental communication with his grandfather since they were on different planets light-years apart, but nope. Dex made better contact than a cell phone right next to a cell tower. So he could call home and that would help his homesickness, wouldn’t it? Plus his friend kept dropping by to give him upgrades to his powers. Calling the vehicles? All part of the Masked Rider powers, so Ferbus wasn’t needed for that either. In other words, Ferbus was useless both in-universe and in creation. THAT is a bad mascot.
But it can get worse. At least to me. There’s the mascot that the show not only didn’t need, but actually took over the show. Oh, you have a problem with Scrappy-Doo. Let me introduce you to Gremlin the Dragon! Introduced in the second season of Flash Gordon due to NBC marketing apparently doing everything it could to ruin the show (which included eliminating the “movie serial” format because it makes their dumb “theme week” gimmick impossible or something), Gremlin was something the show did not need. Filmation was already very close to the original Alex Raymond comic strip because it was one of Lou Schiemer’s influences to become an artist and later an animator. Producing a cartoon was a dream project for him. And then marketing wanted something to…I don’t know, sell plushies for I guess, but I don’t remember a toyline based on the show to begin with. Gremlin is also not from the comic although most everyone else was.
Gremlin added NOTHING to this show, to the point that I all but forgot about him until the DVDs recent came out. Instead it seemed like far too many episodes were ABOUT him rather than what the second season should have been about, Flash and his comrades trying to keep Ming from reclaiming the throne of Mongo after losing it in the first season and dealing with any new threats to the new peace on Mongo. Gremlin’s “aren’t I cute” antics got in the way of the show rather than being of any help and along with dropping the serial format led to everything that was good about the first season being lost, leading to the show’s cancellation. So it’s not that I’m blindly loyal to mascots, it’s that I know the difference between a good one and a bad one.
A good mascot character serves as the occasional comic relief, but he’s also a character that serves a purpose on the team. He (or in the rare occasion she, although most mascots are male) should have talents that benefit the group, even if he suffers from some issue that makes those talents a problem; for example Orko on He-Man & The Masters Of The Universe, whose magic fails except when it’s really needed or fails to the benefit of the heroes. Hey, it worked for Dynomutt and he was the title character of his show. The character should be liked by most of the others without it coming off as forced (whether you like him or not shouldn’t be the factor, Fiona, but whether or not it makes sense for the characters unless you’re just that cynical). A good comic relief is part of the story and a good mascot is more than just comic relief. The Cisco Kid would be lost without Pancho, the poor drunk Mexican stereotype. And a good mascot, like any other character, at some point becomes a better, fleshed out character as a series gets long enough. If their original purpose is lost they find a new way to be an asset to the group. They may be annoying at the start but over time they become better characters as the writers start finding ways to make them fit into the story. And the characters I pointed to succeeded because, despite vocal outcries, that’s just what they did, while the characters that didn’t fail to the point even I can’t defend them.
Look at where characters like Snarf, Godzooky, Scrappy, and Orko went and stop focusing on what they were before the writers and possibly the performer found their “voice” and purpose. Snarf got better. Godzooky did help the heroes out. Scrappy was further developed. Orko became a lesson in not giving up and did occasionally learn from his mistakes. Those are GOOD mascot characters, whether you like them or not.