I was riding my bike and as I passed this really long row of perfectly square shrubs I thought to myself how much I am really grateful plants are a) immobile and therefore unable to seek revenge and b) not in charge. Because if they could fight back I'd probably be living in a world where plants would ride their bikes beside long rows of perfectly squared off human torsos. It got me thinking about the one cartoon where plants actually got their shot at creating human topiary-Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors. Thanks to a recent post Shawn did at Branded in the 80s about a website with old cartoons I watched some Wheeled Warriors episodes. It got me all fired up then one thing led to another and the next thing I knew I had updated and reformatted the Wheeled Warriors section of the Vintage Space Toaster Palace!
AM I GLAD TO SAW YOU!
Albertsons 11/07/85Wheeled Warriors came out in '85 so that would make this year the 25th anniversary of the line. I felt like I was throwing my own Wheeled Warriors celebration as I spent the whole weekend immersed in it, doing internet research for the VSTP and watching the cartoons and working on the ads. It brought back a lot of memories. Back in '85 I was in 5th grade and our class got to go on a tour of the local UHF station. It was the channel that carried Wheeled Warriors and during some point of the tour a small group of us had to wait in the lobby. Wheeled Warriors came on and I will always remember being awestruck by Saw Boss's transformation in the opening sequence. Not because it was particularly dynamic or exciting, but because at home my dad didn't have a UHF antenna hooked up to the TV so our reception was always crappy. The signal was fantastic at the Channel 14 studios and I never realized UHF could look that great. This was the first time I ever saw the show all nice and clear and it really made an impression on me. Wheeled Warriors was one of those shows that you really needed a good signal to appreciate. I was happy to find the episodes really held up after all these years after watching some of them this weekend. I guess it figures I'd love it because it turns out the show was produced by J. Michael Straczynski with Larry DiTillio among the writers and Haim Saban wrote the theme song. Take those ingredients and add in some pissed off vegetable people that turn into armored Mad Max trucks and I'm sold.
YOU CAN'T GO WRONG WHEN YOUR BAD GUYS ARE THE VEGETABLE EQUIVALENT OF FURRIES
Wheeled Warriors does get compared a lot to Star Wars to the point of being called a rip off, but as a kid in 1985 I really wanted to see something Star Warsy in the post-original trilogy era when all we had on the air was Droids and Ewoks. Boy did Straczynski really deliver because Wheeled Warriors is essentially Star Wars where Darth Vader turns into a cucumber tank. Yet Star Wars wasn't the only parallel that could be made. I noticed Wheeled Warriors also had some of the technological sorcery society setting of He-Man plus many alien character designs reminiscent of Looney Tunes plus the transformation element of Turbo Teen. Also eggplants. Plus since the bad guys were motivated by their lust for the "magic root" (which was the most brazen marijuana metaphor in children's television ever) it also takes on a sort of intergalactic Miami Vice feel. It is essentially the further adventures of Luke and Han Solo as they travel the galaxy teaming up with furries from other planets to fight evil pimped out low riders with giant Venus flytraps on their hoods that want to steal Luke's stash of weed. It is no wonder the Star Wars prequels bombed! Straczynski raised the bar too high! Wheeled Warriors didn't rip off Star Wars, it destroyed it with stoned cucumbers.
ALL I KNOW IS THEY MAKE ME WANT TO PUT TOAST IN THEM
TG&Y 12/08/85Unfortunately the toyline did not capitalize on the cartoon gold that was the Wheeled Warriors show. There were no figures of the cartoon characters and instead the drivers of the vehicles were necktie wearing dudes. (This would have been remedied in 1986 I think. I swear I saw pages online of unproduced prototype figures based on the show characters that would have been packed in with rereleased vehicles for the second year. They even meant to make the Zoggies.) Since the text in the newspaper ads was from Mattel promotional material not based on the cartoon it looks like the original story worked up for the toys was that the necktie dudes were fighting the evil plant tanks in a battle on Earth. That too sounds interesting but for some reason none of this really clicked with me enough as a kid to actually go out and get any of them. The ads tell the story of the line's release in 1985 and rapid demise until they were all being clearanced out by holiday season 1986. I can't say I found the vehicle designs all that interesting. They were kind of small and I couldn't figure out if the good guys were coming or going half the time (I am the same way with Volkswagens). Sometimes even the retailers selling the toys couldn't figure out which side of the good guy cars was the front as evidenced by this TG&Y ad from December of '85. I guess the front was whichever way the big drill or arm or gun was pointing. Actually the idea of space cars with laser beams AND giant melee weapons is pretty dumb if you think about it. But Wheeled Warriors was all about making dumb ideas look great by putting big chromed rims on them.
SOMEBODY'S SMOKIN' THE MAGIC ROOT
Man, being so drenched in the Wheeled WarryWorld as I've been over the last few days sure makes me sad the line died before I could get a figure of Jayce or Oon or Not Han Solo. Knowing those didn't get made eases the pain of not being able to afford the Wheeled Warriors I do see on ebay nowadays. It's kind of ridiculous but eBay sellers expect hundreds of dollars for these toys that were being clearanced at two bucks a pop in 1987. What would be really great is if Mattel would come out with a 25th anniversary Wheeled Warriors line with transforming Monster Minds. I'd love a cucumber tank that turned into a robot with a giant rubber brain. Considering some of the crazy crap Hasbro's been putting out lately Mattel needs to hurry up before they get beaten to it.