Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue is a truly epic Drugs Are Bad TV special that was originally simulcast commercial-free on Saturday morning, April 21, 1990, on all four major networks (ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC) along with most independent local stations and several cable networks. Produced by the people who award the Emmys (and animated by Wang Film Productions and Southern Star Studios in Australia), cartoon characters ranging from Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck of Looney Tunes fame to the 1987 incarnation of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles try to teach an at-risk teen named Michael about the dangers of marijuana.
The special was relentlessly promoted in the days leading up to the simulcast. Interestingly, the anti-drug angle was underplayed in these commercials. Instead, the ads pushed the crossover among the various cartoon characters as the selling point.
There's been a long-standing rumor that the reason this special has never re-aired is that Garfield was used without Jim Davis' permission, and Davis threatened to sue if the special re-aired. However, Mark Evanier, head writer of Garfield and Friends, debunked the rumor on the Cartoon Research Facebook page. Evanier wrote, "Jim knew all about the special, he okayed Garfield's participation and approved whatever had to be approved. I believe the original plan, which got all the various copyright holders to agree to let their characters participate, called for limited airing." Disney Channel managed to sneak in a couple of repeat airings of it, however.
Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue provides examples of:
- Adults Are Useless: Michael and Corey's parents, especially their father, who's more concerned about his missing cases of beer. When he voices this concern, his wife laughs it off and suggests he forgot about drinking them while watching football. No wonder your son's fucked up. Lay off the lager, old man!
- The Aggressive Drug Dealer: In this special, not only are suburban teenagers lurking about giving away cheap-as-free drugs, Mikey also has to worry about Smoke; a shoulder-demon who looks like a businessman (tie and all). he's voiced by George C. Scott, and ceaselessly persuades you to experiment with said cheap-as-free drugs.
- All There in the Script: Smoke's name is mentioned on the VHS description, but not in the special.
- Alternate Continuity: Several cartoon characters are Living Toys brought to life by magic. Winnie-the-Pooh is a doll, Muppet Babies Kermit is an alarm clock, The Smurfs are from a comic book, ALF is a framed picture, Garfield is a lamp, and Alvin and the Chipmunks are implied to be from one of their records. Other characters appear without an origin for their appearance.
- Aloof Big Brother: Michael has apparently turned into this thanks to his drug use, much to Corey's distress. Her comment that "You always tell me everything!" suggests that they were very close before he started using drugs.
- Award-Bait Song: The ending credits feature a song about growing up and outgrowing cartoons (?) that's somewhere between sad, saccharine, and (thanks to the DuckTales cast, Chipmunks, and Muppet Babies) cacophonous.
- Body Horror: Michael's breaking point comes somewhere between the journey through his own badly damaged brain and the point when it's revealed that he will eventually be so strung out on hard drugs, he will turn into a Fred Kruger-esque zombie.
- Breaking the Fourth Wall: The cartoon characters who did it in their own shows are just as unkind to the one between Michael and Corey's reality and ours.
- Covers Always Lie: Smurfette appears on the VHS cover, but not in the special itself.
- Disney Acid Sequence: Most of the special, ironically enough.
- Drugs Are Bad: The entire special. As we come to find out drugs cause lightning storms in your brain and will leave you looking like a meth head by the time you are twenty.
- Future Me Scares Me: Something to do with becoming a zombie heroin addict in a twisted futuristic hospital. But then, zombieism is a well-known side effect of marijuana.
- Good Angel, Bad Angel: The "Cartoon All-Stars", who try to show Michael the negative effects of drug abuse, and Smoke, who tries to keep Michael addicted. And when the All-Stars start to get through to Michael, Smoke goes after Corey...
- Growing Up Sucks: The ending song, where the characters sing about growing up and leaving cartoons behind.
- Human-Focused Adaptation: Cartoons from several franchises band together but Michael is the protagonist/target of their care, with his sister Corey as the deuteragonist.
- Irony: ALF serving as one of the key characters. It's very possible that there never would've been an ALF cartoon if the live-action TV series hadn't run as long as it did, which was mostly due to outrageous scripts written by a guy on drugs (the movie Permanent Midnight is more or less based on this).
- John Barleycorn and Friends: The character Smoke is the obvious embodiment of drugs.
- Little Sister Is Watching: What finally persuades Mikey to clean up is Corey reaching for his box of drugs.
- Massive Multiplayer Crossover: A complete list of which cartoon characters appeared in this special can be found on Wikipedia.
- Monochrome Past: Used when Michael goes back in time because, as Bugs Bunny tells him, "This is the past, and the past is in black and white. Get it?"
- Nice Hat: One of Michael's female "friends" has a Kung Lao hat that absolutely must be seen to be believed. More proof that the people behind this thing had no idea how teenagers actually acted or dressed at the time.
- Off-Model: Ridiculously so, even by the standards set by the All-Stars' cartoons:
- ALF's eyes switch colors from their usual black with white pupils to the standard white with black pupils in a couple shots.
- In the scene with Michelangelo, Smoke says an entire line of dialogue without ever even moving his lips.
- Garfield accidentally opens his mouth when everyone says "Right!" toward the end of the special.
- During his Chair Reveal, Smoke briefly looks like a crude drawing. Phelous notes that this was likely a story-board sketch that somehow made it into the final product.
- For the most part, characters whose shows were animated by Wang (The Disney and WB characters, Slimer, Michelangelo, Garfield and the Smurfs) have the least off-model moments. The others (especially the Muppet Babies and ALF) don't fare as well. That the special was animated in only six weeks doesn't help.
- Original Generation: Michael and his family, Smoke, and Michael's "friends" aren't from an existing cartoon.
- Parental Obliviousness: Michael's parents talk about how worried they are about his behavior — while trying to find two cans of beer that have gone missing... and while ignoring their daughter who tells them that he's been acting strange. She, in turn, neglects to mention the theft of her piggy bank. Wow, that's not strange at all.
- Politician Guest Star: George H. W. Bush, then President of the United States, provided a live-action introduction along with first lady Barbara. Other countries that aired this special had their own political leaders provide an intro.
- Scare 'em Straight: The special is practically a textbook example of attempting this trope. Lightning storms in your brain, zombie future, Bugs Bunny threatening you...
- Sequel Hook: The special ends with Michael throwing out Smoke, who says he'll be back. Michael and Corey respond by saying that if he does come back, then they'll be ready for him.
- Society Marches On: Simon referring to marijuana as an unlawful substance. Decades after the special aired, depending on where you live, marijuana has been legalized or is in the process of decriminalization. Whether it be for medical or recreational use.
- Theme Tune Cameo:
- Very Special Episode: The U.S. government crafted this thing to be a very special episode for every cartoon they could come up with.