In 1992, Battletoads was a hot game and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon was still going strong. Given the similarity between the two properties, it stood to reason that a good Animated Adaptation could give the games better Pop-Cultural Osmosis.
Someone must have thought so, because a Battletoads cartoon series, produced by DiC Entertainment, was launched.
The pilot was shown on Thanksgiving 1992. It is a prequel to the game, but does not provide the same backstory as the one published in Nintendo Power. It appeared to be based on a very, very obscure comic adaptation printed in some other gaming magazines at the time, rather than the game itself. In this origin story, Morgan Ziegler, Dave Shar, and George Pie are, rather than computer technicians, three teenage losers from Oxnard, California who are squirted with Super Serum by Professor T. Bird and turned into the Battletoads. Tasked with defending the Princess from the Dark Queen, they receive the "ancient names of honor": Zitz, Rash and Pimple.
It was directed by Kent Butterworth and written by David Wise, who were both major figures in the development of the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles animated series (Butterworth was a senior animator on almost every episode; Wise was the head writer for the majority of its run, and not to be confused in this context with the David Wise who wrote the music for the Battletoads games). A natural expectation would be these guys would make a decent TMNT-alike show.
The pilot bombed spectacularly. The aborted series is a textbook example of a Stillborn Franchise: a niche work being rammed into another medium, adaptation changes alienating the existing fans, critical panning, and a failure to capture a new mainstream audience. No further episodes were broadcast, and it likely destroyed any chance of a good Battletoads series ever being made, and it is now often compared to the Bubsy pilot.
For many years it was nearly forgotten (though it was released on VHS in 1994), buried in the wasteland alongside hundreds of other failed TV pilots, until rediscovered by the Internet. See it in its 30 minutes of glory here. An MST-style version by Retsupurae's Diabetus is here. The Annotated Series has also covered it.
Tropes appearing in the Battletoads cartoon:
- Acrofatic: George is by far the largest of the main trio but is actually able to move pretty quickly around a basketball court and even manages to jump high enough to do a slam dunk. (Though ends up going through the hoop himself in the process.)
- Adaptational Dumbass: In this series, the toads come off as dumber than they do in the games. Justified as they're teenagers still in high school.
- Adaptational Modesty: The Dark Queen is slightly more modest in design, though still startlingly underdressed by Saturday Morning cartoon standards.
- Adapted Out: Curiously, Robo-Manus is nowhere to be seen in the pilot.
- Alien Among Us: Subverted, T. Bird walks around openly and doesn't seem to be at all afraid of being seen. Played somewhat straight with Angelica, who tries to work like a normal human.
- Analogy Backfire: "Life is one big basketball game!" Um...what?
- Ascended Extra: Princess Angelica gets lines and some personality, which is more than she ever got in the games.
- By the Power of Grayskull!:
- "Let's get warty!"
- "Let's get normal!" to return to human form.
- Catchphrase: "'Toads rule!"
- Creator Provincialism: Oxnard, California "sounds so mysterious"?
- Dagwood Sandwich: At one point, the principal is seen making one. It falls apart before he can eat it, though.
- Dean Bitterman: The Principal, who for some reason has it in for the main three and threatens to suspend them if they keep hanging out together.
- Deadpan Snarker: Morgan/Zitz. After he and the others reveal their form as the Battletoads to their school and the principal orders for the police to be called:
- Demoted to Extra: Boss enemies from the games like Big Blag and General Vermin appear in the show, but only as no-dialogue background characters.
- Diner Brawl: The first Fight Scene.
- Epic Fail: Morgan/Zitz making a computer monitor explode just by pressing a few keys and Princess Angelica making a jelly doughnut explode by gently pinching it. Though the latter might have been an animation error.
- Fictional Video Game: Any resemblance between "Galaxy Wars" and any Real Life arcade game is coincidental.
- Flying Car: Introduced with a Back to the Future Shout-Out: "Where we're going, we don't need tires!"
- Frog Men: The eponymous heroes.
- How Do I Shot Web?: In the course of their first fight Rash activates a Smash Hit attack by accident. As soon as the professor tells them to "think with your hands" to do so in the future, they pretty much master it right away.
- Insignificant Little Blue Planet: According to T-Bird, Earth is "so backward and insignificant that the Dark Queen never dared to conquer it."
- Limited Animation: To the point where characters walk by moving their cels.
- MacGuffin: Princess Angelica's amulet.
- Sequel Hook: "The Beginning..." Doubly ironic, as the franchise itself went dormant after this pilot and the arcade game.
- Super Serum: The genetic essence of the ancient Battletoads.
- Theme Naming: Morgan Ziegler becomes Zitz, George Pie becomes Pimple, and Dave Shar becomes Rash.
- This Loser Is You: The three Battletoads start out as "the biggest losers in the history of Waldo P. Oxnard Junior High."
- Title Theme Tune: A surf pop song announcing that "here we come" and that "we're the Battletoads!"
- Took a Level in Dumbass: The Battletoads are decidedly dumber here than in the games.
- Totally Radical: The characters non-ironically use catchphrases like "psychotronic" and "cosmerific".
- Unusually Uninteresting Sight: The cashier at the Stop N' Scarf doesn't look up from his newspaper/magazine once during the Diner Brawl.
- Villain Teleportation: Including teleporting through the spigot of a frozen drink dispenser as a visual gag.
- We Don't Need Roads: T-Bird modified the car so it can travel between galaxies, saying "Where we're going, we don't need tires". A Shout-Out to Back to the Future.
- "YEAH!" Shot: At the end.