There are many things in life that makes me want to stop writing articles. The fear of being accidentally insensitive, for example. Or the fear of being cruelly exposed as not being quite as well versed in forgotten cartoons as these weekly pieces would have you expect. (And trust me: most of the time I’m learning along with the rest of you.)
There’s one thing, though, that puts me on edge like metal dental picks to your cracked fillings. It’s when you try to see if a cartoon’s run is on YouTube, and one of the top hits is a video essay from Channel Awesome. Doug Walker was staring back at me from a wacky thumbnailed image, his hands over his mouth, with his expression screaming, “Can you believe they made this garbage?”
He wasn’t the only one. Hammerman was a favorite subject from several other YouTube smartasses. Some YouTube series called “Animated Atrocities” has a Hammerman episode that has this far a quarter of a million views. The image made me confront a truth about myself.
Why was I even doing this? Why was my very first piece in this series about Fish Police? Am I doing all of this “just for the lulz”? Is this all just a crass attempt to pair nostalgia with outrage humor? Have I done the unthinkable… have I become That Guy With the Glasses, only far less successful? Such questions can lead one to a most unthinkable existential crisis.
MC Hammer was hardly the first musical celebrity to be turned into a cartoon. You probably have to go all the way back to the 60’s when The Beatles were starring in their own cartoon show.
Nor was he the first of the 90’s. Frankly, the association between pop music and cartoons was never stronger, what with Paula Abdul publicly dating a cartoon cat around that time and bridging human/toon relations.
The year previous to Hammerman’s debut saw a couple of entries into this lightly populated cartoon subgenre. The fabulously coiffed Kid ‘n Play had their own show that ran for one season on NBC in 1990 (a co-production of Marvel Productions and Saban Entertainment). Wikipedia tells me that Play — the guy with the huge hi-top fade haircut — was quite irresponsible and always gettin’ in to trouble. Oh, that rascal! He also already looked like a cartoon character in real life. Kid was the responsible one and always cleaning up Play’s messes. There was also an old jazz musician involved.
Not only that 1990 also saw the New Kids on the Block cartoon. The ABC show followed the animated adventures of Donnie Wahlberg, Danny Wood, Jordan Knight, Joey McIntyre, and Johnathan Knight as they got into crazy adventures while traveling from gig to gig. I have never watched this show, and the Wiki is scanty, so I have no idea what mischief they got into. I’m assuming that the one entitled “The Legend of the Sandman” meant that they met up with Morpheus in the Dream Country.
Lest you think this is a product of some bygone past, musicians are still making detours into the cartoon world. 2006 saw the Class of 3000, a Cartoon Network starring none other than OutKast’s André 3000. Here, André voices a music teacher named Sunny Bridges who teaches at the Westley School of Performing Arts. Meanwhile Major Lazer appeared in a self-title show on FXX in 2015. It featured the adventures of the band in an 80’s Sunbow-inspired world as seen on their music videos. These episodes can currently be seen on Major Lazer’s own YouTube channel. It’s far easier to find than Hammerman. Only a few episodes of which are available publicly, and via Finnish dub at that.
Our Master of Ceremonies shows up in the live action bookends as himself. At the beginning, he’s having a talk with a bunch of dancing kids wearing some sweet early 90’s gear like a bunch of brightly colored Dennises the Menaces. They’re talking from what appears to be Toontown. Buildings are drawn at angles that are no where close to 90 degrees. The colors are bright orange, blue, and purple. It resembles 60’s pop art a little.
Stanley “MC Hammer” Burrell doesn’t voice his alter ego on the show, though. That work goes to Clark Johnson, who’s not really a voice actor. He’s done some acting roles here and there. Mainly he’s directed TV episodes. Some of his recent directorial credits include Hell on Wheels, Luke Cage, and The Purge TV series. That’s right: Hammerman himself once directed the first episode of The Wire. Sadly, he’s not sitting in the director’s chair on this show. He gives Stanley a more youthful and enthusiastic voice than the more fatherly and world-weary tone of the real MC Hammer.
So what do you do with Stanley Burrell, i.e. MC Hammer? Well, let’s see what we know about him. His biggest hit was “U Can’t Touch This.” If you ever liked that song, you will probably be questioning your tastes by the end of an episode. It’s sort of the song that plays during his Sailor Moon transformation scene, complete with two fly girls. The Hammerwomen? Their existence is not explained, but they provide some of the harmony.
This was the same year as “2 Legit 2 Quit”, so “U Can’t Touch This” will be the MC Hammer song you will hear most on the show. I think some of Hammer’s other songs make it on the show, but I’m no expert. It could be Ice Cube for all I know. Or… just remixes of “U Can’t Touch This” that fresh up the original by … 25% or so.
This show is a prequel of sorts. It follows a fantastical origin story to Stanley’s life before he became an international rap star. Here, he’s just a humble guy who works at a community center. He’s approached by a old man everyone calls “Gramps”. It turns out he used to be a superhero named Soulman, a James Brown like guy who used soul music to fight off bad guys. (Fitting, as James Brown was sampled on “U Can’t Touch This”.) But, as the intro says, he got too old and needed a successor.
It’s silly stuff, but hardly the thing that makes multiple YouTubers put the show in their sights. The show needed an X-Factor to have people pay attention. And that would be… magic shoes.
And not only that, they’re talking shoes that have eyes and a mouth and such. When not being worn by Stanley, they banter and play inside of his gym bag. When Stanley puts the shoes on, though, he is transformed into Hammerman… a superhero who looks like Stanley wearing MC Hammer clothes. No one ever makes the connection that Stanley is Hammerman, though… not even Soulman’s granddaughter Ashley.
It’s fine. Hammerman ultimately exists in an incredibly cartoony world. Cartoon Oaktown is a place an airplane is saved, and as the people cheer the air traffic control tower decides to take a bow. Or where a living piece of graffiti stops every so often to steal a guy’s sandwich. Or one where the shoes have eyes and a mouth.
The shoes, though, imbue Hammer with some basic non-violent powers. Hammerman can leap tall buildings with a single bound. When coming down you better believe he needs something to slow his descent. Interestingly, the parachute pants rarely come into play. Once you’ve done the gag, it’s pretty much over if you don’t want to run it into the ground.
His other great power is dance. When Hammerman dances, he generates musical notes that can do all sorts of things. Sometimes the notes come to life and become projectile weapons. Sometimes it creates a staff that will wrap itself like a net made of five lines to disable villains — villains who have names like Boss Grindenheimer, which, in a recurring theme here at Made Aminated, sounds like the name of an exotic dancer. (His evil plan is hilarious in its morality. He plans on forcing kids to work in factories. Just move production overseas like real life villains do, Grindenheimer.)
Hammerman can also turn a treble clef into a bow while an eighth note becomes an arrow. Whatever is needed to move the plot forward. The power of rap also is an effective defensive mechanism against mind control powers, as evidenced in the episode where he’s being gassed by Boss Grindenheimer’s mind control chemicals.
I rather like how this cartoon looks. The style that alternates between angular and wavy does reflect some of the design elements that I remember seeing around that time. Think of the In Living Color logo, for example, wich was compose of the same orange, blue, and purple color palette and the same mishmash of jazzy styles.
One of the characters, too, wears a non-symmetrical shirt composed of broad swaths of different colored cloth. Good Lord, I must’ve had one or two shirts in my own wardrobe that looked like that.
The show is very earnest. It’s goal, as stated by MC Hammer himself in interviews at the time, was in trying to impart important life lessons to its kid audiences. Stay in school. Don’t despair if things don’t turn out perfect. Being old doesn’t mean you’re useless. MC Hammer is the Mr. Roger you didn’t know you needed.
Here’s the show’s biggest detriment: the animation. It’s very limited. It reminds me a little of Rocky & Bullwinkle, which nevertheless remains a classic despite not using up many frames. That said, shows with limited animation are usually saved by great writing, which this 1991 cartoon about a superhero MC Hammer does not have.
Worse, MC Hammer is a guy who is best known for his phenomenal dancing. When that doesn’t translate on screen, then you’ve got problems. For example, let’s take a look at this sample gif featuring unaltered footage of the Hammerman cartoon versus MC Hammer himself in the “U Can’t Touch This” video:
One looks like a vision of a man for whom gravity has no effect. His fluid footwork can be classified as a symphony. The other looks like a stompy robot. Look at him clonk around on those heavy boots and swing his hips like they were on a fixed bearing. Seeing that animation again reminded me that a webtoon I watched over ten years ago had parodied Hammerman.
Seriously, though, why make Hammerman a dance-based superhero when you didn’t have the resources to make it a reality? The animation was handled by DIC in conjunction with Italian and Spanish firms. (DIC was always an international effort, being founded in France by Jean Chapolin and with offices all over the world.) Some of the cartoons they created at the same time as Hammerman included that aforementioned New Kids on the Block cartoon, Captain N: The Game Master, and Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventures for Fox. Compared to those efforts, Hammerman is a substantial downgrade.
I wonder if part of it was trying to preserve that early 90’s urban look… that revitalization of older trends through a funky look that eschewed familiar patterns. Again, the show is visually distinct. It’s just that the story itself rather demands fluid visuals, and it falls on its face badly.
Later episodes feature the DIC house style —- i.e. it starts to look like Inspector Gadget. The show in some respects does look somewhat better, but it also loses some of that unique essence from the earlier episodes. Hammerman is less embarassing but more bland. Also, while at parts it now looks like they’ve used photo reference of actual dancing, the dancing animation still feels stilted.
Then again, maybe that’s the stuff that makes us remember it so much. No one makes annotated videos about the Kid ‘N Play cartoon. MC Hammer powered by the magic of talking shoes? That’s the thing that generates endless hot takes. Look how goofy the 90’s were! And just for the lulz, we’re going to … and I don’t know, make shoe puppets? Is that what the Nostalgia Critic did?
Look, I’m not going to watch that video. You’re on your own here, folks.
Check out all the previous classic animation reviews under the tag #MADE ANIMATED!
Episodes watched: “Defeated Graffiti”, “Winnie’s Winner”, “Rapoleon”, “Nobody’s Perfect”, “Dropping Out”, “Lights, Camera, Hammer!”, “Blast From the Past”