Often in January, people use the phrase “New year, new you” meaning they plan to exercise more or make other changes. I’m completely misinterpreting that and for the month of January, I will be profiling cartoon series that were adaptations of live-action series.
Presumably, these cartoons were meant to expand the fanbase, even though most cartoons of this sort were based on live-action shows that already appealed to kids. I’m not covering these in any particular order, so for the first one, I am starting with ‘ALF’.
The live-action ‘ALF’ sitcom debuted on NBC in primetime in 1986, and the cartoon series kicked off on Saturday mornings in 1987. The live-action show was about an alien from the planet Melmac. The name “ALF” was an acronym for Alien Life Form. While the cartoon was called ‘ALF’, it was a prequel, set on Melmac before its destruction. The lead character was referred to by his real name, Gordon Shumway, since “ALF” didn’t really make sense in that context.
The cartoon was just called ‘ALF’, but in the years since, people have taken to calling it ‘ALF: The Animated Series’ to differentiate it from the live-action show. It is also sometimes called ‘ALF on Melmac’.
Despite the comedic tone of the cartoon, it is a little depressing when you realize that other than Gordon, all of the other characters on it died when the planet exploded, setting up the live-action sitcom. Gordon was voiced by Paul Fusco, the puppeteer that portrayed the live-action version. On the cartoon, Gordon is the oldest child of his family. He lived with his parents Bob and Flo, younger brother Curtis, sister Augie, and the family pets, a dog named Neep, and bird, Harry. Gordon spent most of his time hanging out with his pink-haired girlfriend, Rhonda, and two best friends, Skip and Rick. The primary villain of the series is the invader Larson Petty, who was assisted by Eggbert Petty. A popular fan theory is that Larson Petty was ultimately responsible for the destruction of Melmac, but that was never depicted on the cartoon.
Even though the cartoon was aimed at kids, in some ways it resembles later adult-targeted ‘toons like ‘The Simpsons’ or even ‘The Family Guy’, although not as wacky or drenched in pop culture.
Like the live-action series, the ‘ALF’ cartoon was an immediate hit. It lasted for two seasons, and spawned a spin-off, ‘ALF Tales’ in which the cartoon cast were used to retell famous fairy tales. ‘ALF’ and ‘ALF Tales’ aired back-to-back starting in 1988. There were 26 episodes of ‘ALF’ (two seasons of 13) and 21 of ‘ALF Tales’ (the second season only had 8).
Gordon appeared on the special ‘Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue’, an anti-drug event sponsored by McDonald’s and featuring then-President George H.W. Bush and his wife Barbara. The special included characters from Saturday morning cartoons from all three networks, including the Smurfs, Alvin and the Chipmunks, Muppet Babies, the Looney Tunes, and various Disney characters. It was established that Melmacians eat cats, so in one bit of humor, ALF tries to eat Garfield. After airing on TV, the special was released on VHS, distributed for free to schools and such.
For a time, both the cartoon and live-action ‘ALF’ were hugely successful and appeared on loads of merchandising, including a full action figure line from Coleco, McDonald’s Happy Meal and Wendy’s Kid’s Meal toys, a Marvel Comics series which lasted for 50 issues and specials, video games, and more.
Both ‘ALF’ cartoons ended in 1989, as did the live-action sitcom. The sitcom’s cancellation came as something of a shock because the ratings were still strong. It famously (or infamously) ended on a cliffhanger, which was later resolved in a little-seen TV-movie. The live-action puppet version of ALF was briefly revived for a talk show on TV Land in 2004.
The demise of the ‘ALF’ cartoon series essentially coincided with the decline in Saturday morning cartoons in general. Some episodes of both ‘ALF’ and ‘ALF Tales’ were released on DVD in 2006. There were rumblings of NBC reviving the live-action ‘ALF’ in primetime again (it was scrapped), so who knows what the future holds?
Were you a fan of ‘ALF’ either in live-action or animation?