Friday, May 13, 2011

CHUCK NORRIS KARATE KOMMANDOS

"Chuck Norris can punch his fist through trees and pull out pencils."

In 1986, right about the time his motion picture stardom for Cannon Films peaked with THE DELTA FORCE, ass-kicking action icon Chuck Norris teamed with Ruby-Spears Productions and Kenner Toys for a five-episode animated television miniseries and line of action figures (plus vehicles) called the CHUCK NORRIS KARATE KOMMANDOS. Now, thanks to the archivists at Warner Archive, everyone can experience - or re-experience - the unadulterated Eighties awesomeness of this legendary cartoon on DVD.

The premise is that martial arts master Chuck Norris (voiced by Chuck Norris) leads his team of cartoon stereotypes - a noble modern-day samurai warrior, a constantly-eating sumo wrestler, a pretty girl, a teenager, and an Asian kid named Too Much, whose catchphrase is, "Too much!" - collectively known as the Karate Kommandos, against the forces of VULTURE, an evil organization of costumed nutjobs, led by The Claw (whose right arm is a big, metal... claw) and his lieutenant.... wait for it... Super Ninja. In each half-hour episode, Chuck and his Kommandos foil The Claw's nefarious schemes while employing a wide variety of absurd accessories, non-lethal weapons and vehicles.

Each episode opens and closes with a live-action intro and outro by the Man himself, apparently shot in one afternoon in Chuck's home gym. The stories play out like parodies of G.I. JOE scripts, with ridiculously over-the-top plots and Chuck-full of explosions, laser guns, and anemically-animated martial arts action. Chuck's bugnuts-insane adventures take him from the depths of the sea, to an island of zombies, and into outer space to single-handedly retrieve a hijacked space shuttle!

Frankly, even bearing in mind that it was aimed at small children and intended as commercials for toys, it's difficult to imagine that anyone involved with this series (and there are a few impressive names in the credits) actually thought it was any good. Still... it is incredibly fun to watch. While it certainly embraces with great enthusiasm everything that was wrong with these Eighties toy-commercial cartoons, it also demonstrates what made them so enjoyable to kids - and certain types of adults. It's bright, colorful, loud and never stops piling absurdity on absurdity (i.e.crocodiles with parachutes). Additionally, as a cartoon, Chuck is a considerably more expressive actor.

The single-disc DVD-R from Warner Archives' "Hanna-Barbara Classic Collection" (Ruby-Spears was absorbed by Warners/H-B) includes all five episodes ("Deadly Dolphin," "Target: Chuck Norris," "Terror Train," "Menace From Space," and "Island Of The Walking Dead") presented in their original 1.33:1 aspect ratio. Picture quality isn't particularly great - colors bleed and there is some interlacing evident in some scenes (it looks like it was sourced from videotape) - but overall, it's quite acceptable, considering the age of the material. There are no bonus features included. On the other hand, the Manufactured-On-Demand disc is very reasonably priced.

CHUCK NORRIS KARATE KOMMANDOS is (presumably) unintentionally hilarious. It's definitely not a good cartoon, but it is a great deal of campy fun, and Chuck Norris completists will definitely want to pick it up.

BUY: Chuck Norris Karate Kommandos