In my last post here, I stated that I think BraveStarr is one of the best 80s cartoons to adapt to a movie. I’ve long felt this way, so it came as a surprise to me when I found out Bravestarr already had a movie and a theatrical release at that! BraveStarr: The Legend had a very small release in 1988 and told the tale of the titular hero’s origin: how he received his powers, how he arrived on New Texas, and how he met the other protectors of Fort Kerium. Why Filmation chose to tell all of this after the series had already run its course, I’ll never know, but I’m glad I had a chance to check it out.
BraveStarr (I guess I’d been missing the capital S this whole time) the series lasted for 65 episodes and ended in 1987. I couldn’t find a timeframe for when the production of the movie was started, but it was released less than a month after the final episode was aired. It played on weekends and matinees on its limited run and was considered a box office flop, which led to Filmation closing down a year later. It’s a real shame because the movie itself is pretty great.
The plot of the movie expands on BraveStarr’s and, to a lesser extent, Tex Hex’s origins. The movie begins with Stampede reviving a dead criminal and turning him into Tex Hex in a scene reminiscent of Galvatron’s creation in Transformers: The Movie, with some incredible animation and a ton of Bipack Glow. For those unfamiliar with the phrase (as I was until I did this review), it’s the animation technique that makes things glow in cel animation. It’s used all over the place in this movie and it really makes whatever scene it’s in, just pop. Stampede gives the unnamed criminal three new powers–Transformation, Destruction, and Sorcery!–and he literally rises from the ashes as Tex Hex. Such a great way to start the movie!
After this, we get a flashback to Stampede, trying to steal a huge source of power on the planet inhabited by Shaman and his people. Protecting a young BraveStarr, Shaman fails to stop Stampede, who absorbs the power and becomes strong enough to destroy the whole planet. Shaman and his people escape and scatter among the stars. Shaman gives BraveStarr, now asleep in an escape pod, half a medallion to help the child find him, and then jettisons the pod above the Galactic Marshalls’ headquarter planet. In an even bigger display of underlighting, Shaman covered his eagle-shaped ship into asteroids and crashed it into the planet of New Texas.
Marshall BraveStarr makes his entrance years later and what an entrance it is! He’s sleeping on the shuttle to New Texas, wakes up to see JB, the greenhorn judge of New Texas, looking through some of her things and he checks out her ass. Even worse, she catches him doing it and scolds him about it. This right here is one of the best things about BraveStarr, and sets him apart from the ideal heroes like He-Man and She-Ra. Where they do the right thing all the time and are shining examples of humanity, BraveStarr has his faults. He’s not perfect, and that makes him way more interesting.
BraveStarr’s arrival on New Texas goes a lot better as he is immediately introduced to Tex Hex and his gang but treats them as Judge JB’s reception party, loading them full of her trunks and boxes in a bouncy animation. I reviewed GoBots: Battle of the Rock Lords last year and one of my criticisms was that the movie looked like it was animated just like a regular episode without any extra added flourishes. BraveStarr: The Legend is obviously done in-house at Filmation and most of the movie looks to be on par with the series with its heavy re-use of rotoscoping, but there are scenes like this one and Tex Hex’s creation that Filmation could really do. It’s just such a shame we didn’t see it enough. A lot of the best animation from the show’s intro is seen here as well.
After BraveStarr gets whisked away by a retreating Tex Hex, he’s saved by Shaman and we get another flashback showing how the Marshall got his powers. In the explosion of Shaman’s home planet, BraveStarr received each of his powers in another impressive animation (though not as cool as Tex’s). When we first see him, he uses his powers at random and says he’s not sure how they work. After meeting Shaman, he learns what his powers are and how to call on them, using “Speed of the Puma!”, etc. However, even after this part, he uses his powers without calling on them multiple times and it’s a lot more egregious in the movie than I ever noticed it in the series. However, I don’t mind him not calling them out every time; you can only hear “Strength of the Bear!” so many times in one episode.
Judge JB also gets an origin story, though it’s not nearly as dazzling. After following BraveStarr into the desert, she is surrounded by Dingos, the clan of nameless criminals that fill out the show’s bad guy roster. She’s saved by the Prairie People, the planet’s indigenous inhabitants. They bring her into their underground community and give her a gavel weapon and her more familiar outfit. I guess they just so happen to have a human female costume hanging around. None of them speak English, but Fuzz – in just his first appearance – grasps the language and becomes an interpreter during the cut-away!
Shaman sends BraveStarr to retrieve a weapon, giving him his first chance to use Speed of the Puma. BraveStarr finds a giant gun in a treasure room in some ruins, bathed in light like it’s some kind of relic. Once he tries taking it though, he’s attacked by a giant with a horse’s head: 30-30! The fight here is another great piece of animation and it’s pretty funny too. BraveStarr wins, but before they can call it even, 30-30 knocks him out. It’s great that when BraveStarr meets two of his closest allies on the show, he ends up looking like a jerk both times.
We finally have a fight between BraveStarr’s good guys vs Tex Hex and his band of criminals. Unfortunately, it’s incredibly short. 30-30, JB, and Fuzz get to show off a bit, but it’s just not that impressive. BraveStarr and Tex Hex face off again, with Tex becoming a fiery giant, but BraveStarr still knocks him on his ass. More great animation here that can be found in the show’s intro, and I think they use that scene with Fuzz being lassoed and dragged past the camera for the second time in the movie.
BraveStarr leads the rebuilding effort, turning the town into the fortress we’re all familiar with. This scene has a ton of jokes, like strength competitions between BraveStarr, 30-30, and Handlebar, the town’s barkeeper. It includes one of the best side characters in the movie, a little blue-clad robot undertaker, who loves taking measurements right before a fight. He even took a little kid’s measurements! Though it’s not unusual for a kid to die in this show, I’ll come back to that another time.
Fuzz helps build a turret to convince BraveStarr to let him become a deputy. Filmation gets a chance to do their PSA about racism during the show, as the mayor hates the Prairie People for no reason other than being Prairie People. BraveStarr and JB double-team the mayor into not being an ass hole. It’s always been interesting to me that BraveStarr uses the Prairie People as an allegory for Native Americans while having actual Native Americans in the show. I don’t have a problem with it by any means. And if you doubt the connection, the episode titled “Revolt of the Prairie People” makes multiple direct references to Native Americans and their reservations on Earth.
We’re in the final battle now and even Shaman and Stampede are joining in the fight. I don’t think I need to go through the whole scene, so I’ll just say that true to form, everyone’s aim sucks. It’s well animated and gives the good guys plenty of opportunities to show off their skills, but none of the bad guys do. It would have been nice to see Sandstorm or Thunderstick do something cool. BraveStarr launches Shaman’s staff into Stampede’s chest, defeating him and all the bad guys disappear. Roll credits.
While mostly being a normal Filmation production, it does have some spots of excellent animation and effects. My main gripe about it is that it’s a prequel that comes after the whole series, so while explaining some concepts of the show, there’s no tension there. Granted, when watching an animated movie for kids, there isn’t a chance that the bad guys are going to win (unless you’re watching Transformers), but it would be nice if something was left up in the air. Not to mention it introduces stuff that never shows up in the series, like the romance between BraveStarr and JB. They flirt a lot in one scene with a hug and some moon-lit kisses, but there’s nothing in the series to suggest it besides some blushing glances.
Personally, I would have loved it if the movie was mostly in flashback while BraveStarr dealt with some new problem related to the origin, like Stampede corrupting someone else of Shaman’s people. Then the flashback could provide information necessary for BraveStarr to win. We still learn his origin, but there’s tension there because the stakes are higher than ever. It doesn’t necessarily need to reference any events from the series, but then you could finally have BraveStarr and JB end up together without creating any continuity errors.
Overall, I enjoyed the movie, and watching it as a kid in the theater would have blown my mind. While it’s not quite the level of Transformers: The Movie, my pinnacle of 80s animated theatrical releases, it certainly rates way above GoBots: Battle of the Rock Lords. You know, this has really gotten me thinking of how I’d adapt all these cartoons to the big screen. I’ve got some ideas brewing.
If you’re interested in big flashy villains or just 80s cartoons in general, you can check out my book Old School Evil, available in paperback or Kindle, only on Amazon.