Welcome to Super Saturday, a new ongoing weekly column that will pay tribute to the animated classics of yesterday, and will be offered on Saturday mornings, a period that many of us remember being the only time animated kids’ programming was offered. Hope you enjoy and feel free to leave any feedback or personal remembrances in the comments!
After Ronald Reagan was elected President in 1980, he threw out the Federal Communication Commission’s regulations that TV shows, specifically those aimed at children, could not be used to sell products. This led to an explosion of toy-based cartoons, starting with ‘He-Man and the Masters of the Universe’ and continuing with ‘G.I. Joe’,’Transformers’, ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ and so many more. But nearly all of them aired in syndication, on weekdays, not on the networks on Saturday morning.
But there were a few toy-based cartoons that made their way onto the networks, but none were similar to those in syndication, which were usually based on action figures or dolls, which lent themselves easily to crafting original stories. The networks had to get more creative.
Even with the regulations of basing cartoons on toys removed, the networks were still more heavily moderated when it came to violence (there had to be less) and educational content (there had to be more).
But without an action figure or doll line to base a series on, ABC chose to make a cartoon out of the Rubik’s Cube, the puzzle game designed by Ernő Rubik, which became a huge fad in the ’80s. How do you take a puzzle and turn that into a cartoon? You bring it to life, of course.
‘Rubik the Amazing Cube’ premiered on ABC on September 10, 1983. The series was created by Ruby-Spears Enterprises, a company founded by former Hanna Barbera animators Joe Ruby and Ken Spears.
The inanimate Rubik’s Cube was turned into Rubik, a cute magical character who could fly, talk, and perform other feats of mysticism to help his friends, the Rodriguez siblings, Reynaldo, Lisa, and Carlos. Rubik would lose consciousness when he became scrambled and would be ineffective until one of the kids “solved” him, which was the point of the actual toy. To keep things interesting, the kids usually had to solve him in precarious situations, like hanging upside down.
I may be wrong about this, but I believe this was the first ongoing cartoon series to star Latinx human characters. I say “human” because obviously, characters like Speedy Gonzalez, José Carioca and Panchito Pistoles from Disney’s ‘Three Caballeros’ existed but they were anthropomorphic animals. There may have been some Latinx characters on cartoons (there were two Latin American Super Friends, for instance), but I think this was the first show STARRING a Latinx cast of humans.
Along those lines, the theme song to ‘Rubik the Amazing Cube’ was performed by Puerto Rican boy band Menudo, who were also featured in music video segments that aired on ABC Saturday mornings in between shows in 1983.
Ron Palillo, who had previously portrayed Horshack on the live-action ’70s sitcom ‘Welcome Back Kotter’ provided the voice for Rubik, which he said he recorded by speaking extremely slowly. The recording was then sped up to give Rubik a high-pitched cutesy voice.
Michael Bell voiced Reynaldo Rodriguez. Bell, a prolific voice actor, would go on to voice another Latino character, Rio, the romantic male lead on ‘Jem’. Lisa’s voice was provided by Jennifer Fajardo, while Michael Saucedo voiced Carlos.
In the opening theme song, it was revealed that Rubik had belonged to an evil magician, but one night, the box in which he was kept, fell off the back of the magician’s stagecoach. (Because that was still a major form of transportation in 1983?) The magician was the main villain of the show, but he didn’t appear in every episode. The kids also ran afoul of bullies and other bad guys and dangers.
‘Rubik’ first aired as part of the ‘The Pac-Man/Rubik, the Amazing Cube Hour’. There were only 13 episodes produced and all 13 aired by the end of 1983. It was rerun after that, disappeared during the 1984 season, and then, for whatever reason, was brought back in reruns as a stand-alone show in 1985.
There were a few pieces of merchandise based on the show, like a magic screen. Some episodes were released on VHS, but I don’t believe it’s available in any other format. A lot of the Ruby-Spears catalog wound up owned by Warner Brothers, who also own Hanna Barbera, The Cartoon Network, and Boomerang, but I don’t believe that ‘Rubik’ has aired on those networks.
‘Rubik the Amazing Cube’ has remained fairly obscure, but it is notable for featuring Latinx characters as the main cast. But overall, it’s one of the more oddball cartoons to air on Saturday mornings during the ’80s. Do you remember this series?