?So you’ve created The Next Big Cartoon. There’s just one problem: You gotta make it appealing to kids, and the easiest way to do that is by adding a character with whom every bratty little viewer can identify. You need a kid sidekick.
Not all kid sidekicks are terrible. If used properly, they can grow into intriguing characters and bring a grounded perspective to a story. Yet it’s all too often that a kid sidekick is an irksome pustule of dead weight implanted by lazy writers and meddlesome production executives. In a stroke of irony, children usually hate the younger characters that are supposed to amuse and educate them. And these ten are the easiest ones to hate.
10) Harry Grimoire from Darkstalkers
There shall be no forgiveness for the American-made Darkstalkers cartoon, which turned Capcom’s gorgeously animated fighting game into a cheap, unfunny comedy. Now, Darkstalkers isn’t very serious to start with, and its four-part anime adaptation wasn’t all that great. But at least it looked like the games. And at least it didn’t force in a boring human kid straight out of The PageMaster.
Yes, in a show with a werewolf, a vampire, an abominable snowman, a zombie rocker, a ghost-girl, and a perfectly human monster-hunter, our main character is a whiny young nerd named Harry Grimoire. Harry is there to unsubtly voice educational tidbits and somehow ignore the fact that a half-naked catwoman is living in his bedroom. This is evidence that the people behind this show actively hated it.
And there’s some more evidence.
9) Molly from My Little Pony
The creators of ’80s cartoons often didn’t trust children to identify with non-human characters, even when those characters were a commune of marketable neon horses. So My Little Pony had Megan, a human girl who helped the ponies defend their homeland from constant attacks by giant squids, lava demons, dragon-men, and who knows what else. Ponyland was to ’80s cartoons what Belgium was to World War I, conquered and re-conquered every twenty-five minutes.
For the My Little Pony movie, the producers decided to add Megan’s two siblings: Danny and Molly. Danny perhaps served as a bratty foil to the Pony order, but Molly was, by most fan accounts, just a younger version of Megan. What purpose did she serve?
Oh, right. The toys. Anyway, Hasbro soon abandoned the idea of selling My Little Pony toys based on human characters, as girls preferred ponies with color-changing hair, helicopter tails, jewel eyes, spring-powered cap guns, and detachable heads that turned into smaller robot ponies.
8) Willy Duwitt from Bucky O’Hare
If Bucky O’Hare was intended as fantasy fulfillment, it’s a strange fantasy: a middle-school kid named Willy DuWitt is sucked through a dimensional breach and plunged into a galaxy where green rabbits and duck-men fight desperate space battles against an empire of sniveling toads and other cold-blooded creatures. And Willy is there because…uh, kids watch Saturday morning cartoons.
And like most kid characters shoved into stories where they don’t belong, Willy is the least interesting member of Bucky’s crew. Hell, one-eyed, catchphrase-spouting little robot named Blinky upstages him. Willy’s out of place everywhere, even in the show’s theme song, which is WAY too excited about slaughtering frog-people just for kicks.
7) Sailor Mini-Moon from Sailor Moon
You might expect Sailor Moon’s audience to be children and pre-teens, but never underestimate anime geeks. A lot of the show’s followers in Japan and America were college-age viewers and versions of That Creepy Fortysomething Guy Who Made You Swear Off Anime For Years. And while Sailor Moon was a success, its handlers wanted more kids to watch the show and read the comics. So the klutzy teenage Sailor Moon was joined by her daughter, Sailor Mini-Moon.
No, Sailor Mini-Moon (or Chibi-Moon, if you must) isn’t introduced through a cautionary tale about teen pregnancy. She’s actually Sailor Moon’s daughter from a thousand years in the future, and she travels back in time to irritate her mother and a lot of viewers. Perhaps that was the whole plan: Mini-Moon makes the rest of the show’s gaggle of squawking anime superheroines more tolerable by comparison.
6) Scott Trakker from M.A.S.K.
Here, watch the opening of M.A.S.K. Notice anything wrong?
Yes, there’s a kid riding a fat robot-cycle around all of the jet-fighter Camaros and laser-spewing pickup tanks. That kid is Scott Trakker, the son of M.A.S.K. protagonist Matt Trakker, and he and the rotund T-bot are the focal point of far too many M.A.S.K. episodes. Any sensible father would send his son away from a line of work where a motorcycle can conceal a machine gun array, but Matt, bland Ken doll that he is, lets Scott hang around to ask expository questions and provide comedy relief. Not that the adult M.A.S.K. characters are particularly interesting, but at least their transforming vehicles don’t look like R2-D2 laid an egg.
5) Corporal Capeman from Inspector Gadget
Inspector Gadget was basically Get Smart for the ’80s, only Don Adams played a bumbling cybernetic detective constantly rescued by his dog and brilliant niece. It was a simple formula, but it held the show together for one season. And then DIC decreed that if a dimwit character like Inspector Gadget was popular, an even dumber character would be a grand addition to the show.
That character is Corporal Capeman, an eager young buffoon who dresses like a superhero and talks in that lisping, duh-duh voice so enshrined in cartoon acting. Inspector Gadget viewers loathed Corporal Capeman, to the point where they’re making amateur MST3K videos about him even today.
4) Keyop from Battle of the Planets
Gatchaman, known to Americans as Battle of the Planets and G-Force, set many standards for superhero anime. Unfortunately, among these was the standard of sticking a kid alongside The Main Guy, The Beta Male, The Woman, and The Fat Guy. Gatchaman had Jinpei, a little spy who wore a duck-hood when the rest of the team had slightly more dignified bird cowls. He wasn’t particularly cloying in the original version of the show, but something happened when Gatchaman came to North America as Battle of the Planets.
To be specific, Jinpei was renamed Keyop and given an annoying vocal tic: every other word out of his mouth is a clicking, whirring noise, as though he’s attempting mid-sentence bird calls. The rest of the dubbing is acceptably cheesy ’70s cartoon voicework, but Keyop just tweets and chirps his way into any viewer’s ire. And speaking of Gatchaman’s legacy…
3) Copper Kidd from Silverhawks
Silverhawks is remembered today as a less successful follow-up to Thundercats. Of course, in the heyday of ’80s toy-toons, “less successful” meant that Silverhawks still had three waves of action figures and 65 episodes of a TV show. It also had Copper Kidd, a gold-skinned lad with a weirdly simian look and the habit of speaking only in computerized noises. That’s because he’s from the planet of mimes. Apparently kids were just crazy about mimes back in 1987.
The Silverhawks themselves are a bit silly, being metal-suited superheroes who fly through space, shoot lasers from their armpits, and fight villains with Thundercats-reject names like “MonStar.” But Copper Kidd stands out as the lamest of them, and that’s no small feat in a cast that features a blue-steel space cowboy playing a guitar that turns into a robot bird. No, Lorrimar and Rankin-Bass didn’t try any new cartoon-and-toy projects after Silverhawks. Why do you ask?
2) Scrappy Doo from Scooby Doo
Was Scrappy Doo really that awful? Perhaps history is a bit unkind to Scooby’s fierce little nephew, added to keep the show on the air in the late 1970s. Considering how one-note every Scooby-Doo character is, can we blame Scrappy for sticking to his tough-guy act? And considering how every monster on the show was a conniving old landlord in disguise, can we also blame Scrappy for attacking them without fear?
All right, so Scrappy’s still annoying, and he’s funniest when depicted as a bitter little runt in satirical commercials. Maybe it’s not Scrappy people hate so much as it’s what he represents. He’s the perfect example of a sagging, cheaply written show’s attempt to freshen itself up by adding a younger, smaller, allegedly funnier version of the main character. Scrappy epitomizes everything repetitive and uncreative about Scooby Doo and TV in general, and that’s his true flaw.
1) Daniel from Transformers
As far as kid sidekicks go, Spike from Transformers wasn’t very annoying. Sure, he was there just in case children were alienated by giant shape-changing robots, and many episodes focused on Spike instead of Huffer or Skids or Bluestreak. But teenage Spike was good-natured, reasonably smart, and likable enough to date a woman who was already in college. But when the Transformers universe moved ahead a few years, it was decided that kids needed a younger, shriller, and less interesting representative: Spike’s son, Daniel.
Surprisingly, Daniel was introduced in the thoroughly violent Transformers movie, which is full of battlefield carnage and hideous robot death and other things that make a kid character a jarring presence. It’s especially apparent in a scene where Daniel, outfitted in a mechanized transforming suit, rescues his father from falling into a vat of acid.
Daniel saves his dad, but not before he whines about it and fumbles with his suit. This allows all of the robots ahead of Spike to be dropped in and melted alive, screaming all the way. Nice one, Daniel. Even Scrappy-Doo never got anyone killed.