One of the glorious things about the ’80s and early ’90s is that apparently no intellectual property was off limits when it came to creating cartoon spin-offs. It didn’t matter how wildly inappropriate the subject matter was, if it was popular, it was prime pickins to be repackaged for the youth audience. This is why we got RoboCop, Police Academy, and Beetlejuice cartoons. And it’s also what led us to today’s feature topic.
Honestly, I have just no idea why anyone would pitch a Killer Tomatoes cartoon in the first place. Don’t get me wrong — I myself am one of the biggest fans of this franchise. I loved the 1978 original, the sequel with George Clooney, and even the third and fourth movies that nobody else saw. But these were weird cult spoofs that never broke into the mainstream in any significant way. Ghostbusters? Men in Black? I can understand a cartoon spin-off.
But Killer Tomatoes? That didn’t make sense.
Back in 1990, I wasn’t questioning the logic of this miraculous appearance; I was simply thanking my lucky stars for it. I watched the Attack of the Killer Tomatoes animated series from its debut in the fall to its cancellation a little over a year later. I remember thinking that it was a good show — and that the theme song was the best of the entire series. It still holds up, even today!
For the genesis of this show, we rewind a bit to 1987, when Muppet Babies actually used clips from Attack of the Killer Tomatoes to make a well-received “silly tomatoes” episode. This, in turn, prompted the filming of 1988’s Return of the Killer Tomatoes, which actually made a tidy profit ($5 million off of a $1 million budget). Owners Four Square Production and studio New World saw momentum from this unexpected revival and decided to go for broke. Two sequels went into production — as well as an animated series for the Fox Children’s Network.
What makes the cartoon of significant interest to Killer Tomato fans is that it was made by the films’ creators and serves as an actual continuation of the wacky storyline. It more or less follows the events of Return of the Killer Tomatoes by having Professor Gangreen (who was voiced by John Astin, who played him in the sequel) and his assistant Igor (TMNT’s Cam Clarke) are still hard at work unleashing mutant tomatoes on the world. Standing up against him was Chad Finletter (who was modified from an adult in the sequel to a 10-year-old boy here), former tomato Tara, Tomato War vet Wilbur Finletter, and F.T., a fuzzy tomato.
Like the films, there was a deep sense of irreverence and silliness that ran through all 21 episodes of Attack of the Killer Tomatoes’ two seasons. The show tossed a lot of dumb jokes, parodies, and sly references to the viewer. There even was a “Censor Lady” who would appear if the episode was getting close to showing something inappropriate.
Like the last two movies, the evil tomatoes themselves were given more personalities, with a whole group of Zoltan’s Gang of Six making regular appearances as well as other weird creations.
Season two saw a couple of significant developments. For starters, it became the first Saturday morning cartoon ever to be computer animated. For another thing, there was a continuing storyline that ran through most of the season and culminated in a worldwide tomato conflict that actually saw the tomato force taking over the entire world (for a while, that is).
Even after the show was cancelled in November 1991, Fox continued to run repeats for the next several years. Plenty of toys and action figures from the show were created (probably far more than you’d assume).
As unlikely as it was to exist in the first place, the animated series had a couple of things that helped to elevate it above some of the other shows at the time. Tara, of course, was a big draw to certain teenage boys who appreciated her midriff and ability to transform back and forth into a tomato. What else would you want in a girl? And the show itself was so weird as to be delightful to people bored of the same-old, same-old.
While the Killer Tomato revival fizzled out after 1992, we did get a glorious four-year run with three movies and two seasons of this show. I’m not complaining.