Lee Maughan: A production of DiC Entertainment, the animation studio responsible for smash hit children’s shows like Ulysses 31 (1981), Inspector Gadget (1983-1986), Heathcliff (1984-1988) and The Real Ghostbusters (1984-1988), Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n’ Wrestling was the WWF’s attempt to cross-promote its booming, kid-friendly in-ring product with the Saturday morning cartoon crowd. Debuting on September 21st, 1985, the show ran for two seasons on CBS, packed full of typical cartoon archetypes and wacky plots, with wrestling rarely mentioned and acting as little more than a device to characterise the heroes from the villains.
Whilst many of the wrestlers featured did appear in live action wraparounds, none of them voiced their own characters. Of note, Hulk Hogan himself was voiced by Brad Garrett (best known later on in his career as Robert Barone from the sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond), Junkyard Dog was portrayed by James Avery (the voice of Shredder on the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles animated show and perhaps most recognisable as Uncle Phil on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air), ‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper by Charles Adler (Silverbot in Transformers), and Hillbilly Jim by Pat Fraley (Krang, Casey Jones, Baxter Stockman and more than fifteen other characters on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Marshall Bravestarr in BraveStarr, plus many other voice acting roles spanning over 30 years including The Jetsons, Centurians, Galaxy High, Fantastic Max, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventures, Darkwing Duck, Biker Mice from Mars, Toy Story 2, King of the Hill and just about any animated show you could care to imagine). In addition to that, the show boasts two other notable wrestling connections. Firstly, ‘Captain’ Lou Albano gets a run out as a member of Hogan’s posse, with Albano going on to later cartoon fame as the voice of Mario on The Super Mario Bros. Super Show! Secondly, the voice of ‘Superfly’ Jimmy Snuka was provided by Lewis Arquette, father of future WCW World Heavyweight Champion and Ready to Rumble star David.
Speaking of Snuka, he along with Wendi Richter were characters who continued to be featured throughout the entire run of the show despite having left the WWF in real life by mid-1985, a consequence of the long production times required by animated programming. That slow turnaround also resulted in Roddy Piper’s position as Hogan’s number one foe and leader of the heel gang lasting long after Piper had turned babyface in the real fake world. Confused? Don’t be. Piper would actually turn babyface in the first portion of the series’ final episode (aired on October 18th, 1986, although reruns continued until June 17th, 1987), entitled Rowdy Roddy Reforms, but the show had long been cancelled by that point. Still, at least Piper got to be on the show at all. Consider poor old Mad Maxine, a post-apocalyptic lady Amazon introduced to the WWF in 1985 as the principal villain for Richter. Maxine appeared in animated form in commercials for the show, but had vanished both from the program’s line-up and WWF rings too, barely remembered even by fans of the day, so short was her run. It was hinted in Hulk Hogan’s autobiography (so take it with a bucket full of salt) that her sudden status as persona non grata was a result of drug issues, though one popular theory suggests that Fabulous Moolah, at the time the “controller” of most women’s wrestling in the US, complained to Vince McMahon about Maxine, got her kicked off the show, and reaped the benefits of the open spot (and the “name and likeness” royalty cheques) for herself. As Fox Mulder might say: the truth is out there.
Every episode begins with a power ballad credited to “The World Wrestling Federation All-Stars” that briefly served as Hulk Hogan’s ring entrance theme during the brief period between ‘Eye of the Tiger’ and ‘Real American’. The theme was actually composed by a Grammy Award-winning producer called Jim Steinman, who later worked with such (ahem) hard rocking acts as Celine Dion, Barry Manilow, Barbra Streisand, Air Supply, Meat Loaf and Boyzone. A vocal version of the song, titled ‘Ravishing’, later appeared on Bonnie Tyler’s album ‘Secret Dreams and Forbidden Fire’, with Hogan appearing in the music video.
On the shelf for twelve years save for an overseas run in the early 90s on Saturday morning kids magazine show Gimme 5 during the WWF UK boom period, selected episodes were released on VHS during the Monday Night Wars era, with three volumes hitting shelves in North America on November 23rd, 1999, and a further three on March 21st, 2000. My only assumption is this was an attempt by DiC Entertainment to capitalise on the renewed interesting in the wrestling business at that time. It’s too bad they didn’t wait a couple more years given the 2002-2005 nostalgia boom brought about by 80s kids all reaching the “disposable income” stage of young adulthood, coupled with the DVD market finally supplanting VHS for good. As of 2013, WWE has never officially released a complete box set of the show in any format, with these tapes and a scattered few single episode releases being the only way to find the show outside of bootleg copies or the internet.
S1, E10: Small But Mighty
And where else to start than with, uh, episode 10 of the first season. Not that it matters much since all the episodes are completely interchangeable anyway, with the possible exception of Rowdy Roddy Reforms at the end of Season 2. Incidentally, this episode was penned by the legendary Larry DiTillio (incorrectly identified by the on-screen caption as Larry DiTillia) who also wrote for He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (both the 1983 Filmation original and the Mike Young Productions 2002 incarnation), She-Ra: Princess of Power, Centurians, Galaxy High, The Real Ghostbusters and The California Raisins Show before moving on to live action TV with Babylon 5, Swamp Thing, They Came from Outer Space and, er, Murder She Wrote.
Wraparound: Roddy Piper loses his rag with a “dumb blonde” whose car has broken down, so he gets the engine revved up by shouting at it. Indeed.
Hillbilly Jim’s pet raccoon Mortimer hasn’t been sleeping well recently, so Hillbilly tries to feed him some of Granny’s herbs. Mortimer flees but falls asleep in the back of Hulk’s car, so the gang decide to let him rest there while they go much through a vat of chilli that Junkyard Dog has cooked up. Lou Albano, portrayed as a gluttonous pig just like his real life counterpart, soon begins choking on a little bag of Granny’s herbs that have found their way into the cauldron. “Maybe it’s a chilli bean bag! Ha Ha!” remarks Tito Santana. Hillbilly tells everyone that the herbs are designed to make you feel younger, but doesn’t mention the side-effect that comes along with it – the whole crew regenerates into children, just in time to see a pair of crooks drive off in Hogan’s car. Hulk calls the police but they think he’s just some kid playing a prank, so the young ‘uns do the sensible thing – they split up and start accosting strangers in an attempt to gather information about the burglars. As night falls, the crims return and get into a confrontation with the pee wees, only to frame them for another vehicular theft once the cops show up.
Wraparound: ‘Mean’ Gene asks Lou Albano about the macho men of the WWF, as a shirtless Albano rubs himself like Goldust. This is a children’s show, you say? He namedrops all the top stars of the day, including the very team he manages, “the English Bulldogs”. Lou asks Gene to leave so he can play with his rubber ducky, as the camera pans out to reveal he’s actually sat in a bathtub. Chortle.
Back at the cop shop, the chief of police demands to know all the kids’ names and addresses. Their response, being the rational adults they really are, is to trash the station and escape. JYD builds a new pedal-powered Hulkmobile out of scrap material and the gang take a trip down to Joe’s Garage, knocking a bloke off a ladder and busting through a portrait of the Mona Lisa along the way. What, no boxes piled up in the middle of the road? The rozzers give chase but Hulk avoids them by driving through a sewage pipe to the garage where Hotwire, one of the thieves, demands to have the car cut up for parts. Naturally the micro maulers make mincemeat out of Hotwire and his buddy with a series of manoeuvres every bit as Machiavellian as those devised by little Kevin McCallister in Home Alone, all backdropped with the strains of a ridiculously 80s power number, led of course by a wailing lead guitar solo.
The fire alarm gets pulled amidst the ensuing ruckus as PC Plod soon arrives, discovering the truth about the garage and apologising to the teeny titans. Hillbilly goes to check on Mortimer, only to find out the real reason the raccoon hadn’t been settling is because it was pregnant, and has now given birth to a litter. The magic herbs finally wear off, revealing the full-sized Hulk and his buddies, causing the sergeant to faint as everybody has a good belly laugh. Well, everybody in the show anyway.
S2, E3: Ten Little Wrestlers
Hulk, Wendi, Hillbilly, Lou and Andre the Giant have been invited on a weekend cruise by a promoter named Mr. King to discuss an upcoming tour he wants them to wrestle on. Wendi gets a cabin of her own, but the boys have to share bunk beds. Yeah, right. Like Hulk Hogan is going to bunk up with those three. Between Andre’s farts, Hillbilly’s slop-splashed overalls and the general stench of Lou Albano, Hogan must be wishing his nose would fall off, all cooped up in there. In fact, one of Andre’s sneezes is so strong it causes Lou to go flying out of an undersized, pressure-tight window. Hold on tight ‘Hulkster’, it’s going to be a looong weekend.
Heading out to grab some much needed sea air, Hulk’s crew bump into Roddy Piper, the Fabulous Moolah, Mr. Fuji, Nikolai Volkoff and the Iron Sheik, who Hulk charmingly calls a “bimbo”. Sheik responds by threatening to humble Hogan. Well not really, but it’s a thought. Deciding to go look for Mr. King, Andre breaks down the door to his cabin and all ten of them do a little trespassing. Between that and smashing up the police station in the last episode, Hogan’s crew are a right little bunch of troublemakers. Fortunately, Mr. King has left them a note to say he’s sorry he can’t be there, but to enjoy the cruise. So it was like he expected them to break into his room! Hogan and his gang head out to enjoy the pool, but Piper can’t stand to see any of them having fun so he abducts an octopus to drop on Hulk’s naked body from high atop the cruise liner. As you do. Unfortunately for ‘Hot Rod’, the octopus sticks to Andre’s back as Andre takes a dive in the pool, and Piper gets dragged in with him.
Soon, a series of disappearances begin taking place. First, Lou vanishes from the pool, then Hillbilly disappears after following a trail of chicken feed. Crying out Hulk’s name, Wendi also turns into thin air as Hulk finds a kilt at the scene and accuses Piper, only for the kilt to turn out to actually be a tablecloth. Hulk, you idiot! During the confrontation, Volkoff and Sheik both get snatched, so Hulk hatches a plan – that afternoon, he and Piper will stage a wrestling match while the remaining wrestlers go undercover to see if the perpetrator shows up. “Make it look real, Piper!” demands Hogan. Come on Hulk, it’s 1985 and this is a kids show, where’s the kayfabe, brother?! Moolah clobbers a burly guy in the back of the head with her handbag, but it turns out all he wanted was an autograph, while Andre and Fuji’s disguises are so good, they manage to get into a fight with each other and start fencing with tennis rackets. Shortly after, all three are wrestlernapped. I say shortly; Hulk contradicts that somewhat during the match when he tells Piper “the others should have been back hours ago!” HOURS AGO. They’ve been wrestling longer than the infamous Ganryujima death match between Antonio Inoki and Masa Saito! I can only presume the length of the bout is matched only by the ego of both men and that neither could figure out who was going to do the job.
And then there were two. Sherlock Hogan and Dr. John Piper go investigating through the bowels of the ship, finding a trail of greasy footprints. “No-one in their right mind would take eight wrestlers into an air conditioning shaft!” might be the least likely line ever uttered in the entire history of television. Piper falls out of an air vent and discovers a submarine, as the burly man from earlier suddenly appears. Hogan and Piper give chase but end up bear hugging each other by accident. Eventually they catch the guy by setting off a giant fan and freezing him, whereupon he reveals he was just following orders and “Mr. Patrick told me to bring you all to his yard at Tortuga Island!” Hogan steals the submarine and suddenly it’s Thunder in Paradise: The Animated Series. Good lord. They discover another ship near the island but find it deserted, so go deep sea diving instead. Incredibly enough, the other eight wrestlers are found snorkelling underwater, digging gold from a sunken vessel. Mr. Patrick reveals the abduction plot was because he needed “the strongest men [he] could find” before the sea washed the gold away. Why didn’t he just invite them to the island and kidnap them there? Seems like it would have been a lot easier that way.
Piper turns on Hogan, rescues his pals and attempts to steal the gold for himself, leaving everyone else behind. Mr. Patrick tries to accost Roddy with a robot submarine, but Hogan intervenes to save Piper as the ship falls into a trench. Hogan takes Mr. Patrick to the coastguards, who ask Hogan to sail the cruise liner back to port. Why not? He’s already stolen two transportation vehicles today, why not a third?
Wraparound: ‘Mean’ Gene finds Roddy Piper at an easel, only to discover he’s actually defacing a portrait of Hulk Hogan. “Ain’t I a knockout?” asks Piper rhetorically, as he punches his fist through the painting.
Summary: What an odd couple of episodes to start out Volume 1 with. First you’ve got a character transformation plot when you’ve had barely five minutes to establish who anyone even is, and then you follow that with an episode where most of the cast goes missing, blowing the old good guy/bad guy forced to team up trope before you’ve had the chance to establish Piper as the top heel! Not that it matters, any wrestling fans watching these things knows who everybody is anyway, but hey, I needed to write a conclusion so that’s what you get. Ten Little Wrestlers wins out this time on account of the more intriguing abduction plot, but I do wonder if Granny’s herbs and the absurd regeneration plot of Small But Mighty was really just an allusion to mind-altering drugs all along?