Lionsgate // 1986 // 300 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Paul Corupe (Retired) // February 16th, 2006
From skyscrapers to the canyons of remote mountain peaks, liberty's champion is unstoppable!
If I had to make a list of fictional characters from the 1980s that would make good role models for kids, not only would disenfranchised Vietnam veteran John Rambo probably not crack the top ten, but I doubt he'd even make it to the top 50. As played by Sylvester Stallone, the muzzle-blazing Rambo first made his debut in 1982's First Blood, an often brutal film that saw him the outcast survivalist using heavy artillery to blow away his army pursuers in bloody revenge for his personal military nightmares. This streak of unapologetic violence propelled the character through two sequels and literally hundreds of shot-up baddies, as he became an over-the-top icon of wartime machismo in the Reagan era -- a shirtless, rocket launcher-toting symbol of American might.
Despite all that explicit bloodshed, the good people at Ruby Spears had no qualms about producing a 1986 cartoon spin-off of the character, a syndicated action-adventure series that was yet another winking acknowledgement that young kids were indeed watching "forbidden" films like Rambo, Robocop, and Friday the 13th despite their R ratings. The producers took the opportunity to cash in on a curious trend in the 1980s and '90s that saw pre-teens buying up such licensed items as A Nightmare on Elm Street video games and action figures based on debatably appropriate films like Alien and Terminator 2.
Although First Blood was probably not a prime candidate for the toy aisles, the animated Rambo sure was, making this series little more than a 22-minute animated toy commercial for miniature plastic warfare. Drawing heavily on the popular G.I. Joe animated show, Rambo was recast by Ruby Spears as the leader of The Force of Freedom, a peacekeeping unit under the command of Col. Trautman. With his liberty-loving multicultural cohorts Turbo Johnson, a mechanic and weapons specialist, master of disguise K.A.T., ex-footballer T.D. Jones, and ninja White Dragon, Rambo battles the evil General Warhawk and his S.A.V.A.G.E. organization, including Gripper, Sgt. Havoc, biker Mad Dog, and a terrorist named Nomad.
As part of their ongoing DVD series, Lionsgate's Rambo Vol. 5: Snow Raid presents 11 episodes of the show:
* Snow Kill
Rambo intervenes when Warhawk's paratroopers take over a ski resort town. Turns out they plan to drill their way to a hidden cache of U.S. missiles, or Fort Knox, or maybe both.
* When S.A.V.A.G.E. Stole Santa
In this episode, destined to become a yuletide non-classic, Rambo comes to the aid of sad-eyed orphans when a Santa lookalike ex-weapons manufacturer is kidnapped by Havoc.
* Rambo and the White Rhino
Warhawk starts a war between two neighboring African countries by stealing a precious white rhino. Rambo wants to find out why he's creating the diversion.
* Children for Peace
S.A.V.A.G.E. attempts to crash a peace conference held by children in Australia, but the Force of Freedom is on guard.
* Reign of the Boy King
Warhawk exploits a young monarch by building a S.A.V.A.G.E. base in his small European country. When Rambo finds out, he straps on his big ol' knife and heads across the world to help.
* Return of the Count
A Halloween episode sees Rambo pitted against Count Dracula. No, really. The vampire grabs a trick-or-treater, and it's Rambo to the rescue.
* Robot Raid
Rambo's night at the disco is interrupted by S.A.V.A.G.E.'s cyborg army that has been hired to kidnap a local girl.
* Sepulcher of Power
Rambo and the Force of Freedom head inside a booby-trapped Mayan temple to get a sacred artifact, while Warhawk looks on, waiting for the chance to steal it.
* Skyjacked Gold
A plane carrying a shipment of gold guarded by Rambo is sabotaged by S.A.V.A.G.E. to go down in a nearby swamp.
Warhawk's men air-lift a 40-year-old submarine back to their lair, and the Force of Freedom has to find out why.
* The Halley Microbe
Black Dragon causes a madness-inducing space rock to crash land on Earth.
Ignoring the more controversial aspects of marketing violence to kids, Rambo really isn't a bad cartoon, it just lacks a personality. First of all, you can pretty much forget about the poorly defined Force of Freedom -- Rambo is the only real character worthy of attention here, and in some episodes he's all by himself, as if to prove it. Likewise, the partially robotic, eye-patched villains are virtually interchangeable, and they're forever engaged in flamboyantly evil plots like digging up sacred burial grounds, attacking children and ruining Christmas.
The choppy animation style is pretty typical for a 1980s weekday cartoon, with simplistic but generally well-rendered drawings. Action is handled relatively well, and cash-saving shortcuts are kept to a minimum -- except for a recurring sequence of Rambo suiting up into his bare-chested, red-headbanded "No More Mr. Nice Guy" mode. In a nice nod to the films, they've even given our guerilla hero a Stallone-like Brooklyn twang in his voice.
Sure this cartoon is full of gratuitous gunfire, explosions and weaponry, but this ain't your daddy's Rambo -- this guy would rather attend peace conferences and cold clock baddies with his rocket launcher than splatter them across the ground. As in the G.I. Joe cartoon, Rambo and The Force of Freedom expend more ammo than both World Wars between them without anyone actually getting hurt. Every gun blast is a warning shot, and every firebomb results in little more than dusty uniforms. It's not surprising that death and disaster is downplayed in a kid's show, but it also removes all possibilities for suspense -- we know that Warhawk will do something bad, Rambo will arrive and some vehicles will blow up, and the bad guys will miraculously get away after being soundly defeated. Ho-hum.
Instead of releasing all 65 installments of Rambo as a box set, Lionsgate has instead given us multiple volumes of the show with out-of-sequence episodes, surely not the presentation that fans were hoping for. At least the shows look okay, with only minor dirt, scratches, and other source artifacts. Much like the picture quality, the sound is unremarkable but reliable. As a mono TV soundtrack from the 1980s, there are no dynamics to speak of and the music and dialogue occasionally seem a little flat, but Lionsgate has at least presented them clearly, with minimal distortion. Those that have the other Rambo DVDs will find this release much on par with those releases. There are no extras included on the disc, but with 11 episodes, there isn't much room for anything else.
When it comes right down to it, Rambo is wholly derivative of G.I.Joe, right down to the animation style and the non-stop, non-lethal violence. I suspect the only ones actually interested in these DVDs are those nostalgia seekers who watched them in their original run-everybody else should pack up their bazookas and reenlist elsewhere.
Review content copyright © 2006 Paul Corupe; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Release Year: 1986
MPAA Rating: Not Rated