A woman bursts out the front door of a fancy mansion in the south, running, with a rolled up map in her hand. A trio of bikers appears and surrounds her. She escapes by tricking them into crashing into a fountain. The lead biker tells the others, "Nail her before she gets to the stadium!"
That night, Bigfoot and the Muscle Machines is a sold out show at the nearby sports stadium. The crowd cheers as the monster trucks roll out and pulp some cars during their introductions. Bigfoot is driven by Yank Justice, a stoic southern man (think Clint Eastwood) in boots, jeans, and a cowboy hat. The Orange Blossom Special is driven by Professor Dee, a black aging country scholar with a tweed suit and a handlebar moustache (and his pet armadillo, Dilly). Black Gold is driven by Red and Redder, a fiery pair of identical twin redheads.
The woman races toward the arena, reaching the parking lot as she notices the bikers catching up to her on foot. Both parties plow their way through security and the crowd that couldn't get tickets, then find themselves on the arena floor, weaving their chase through the monster truck mayhem. The woman scrambles into a mountain of wrecked and piled cars, so the bikers steal a monster truck (not one of our hero trucks, but from some other unnamed competitor) and start mowing their way up the stack to where she's hidden.
The heroes have spotted the woman's plight and know stadium security won't get there in time to help, so Yank Justice races into action, lassoing the hook of his tow-line around the stolen monster truck's bumper and using Bigfoot to drag the other vehicle off the mountain of cars. While Yank is busy in a fistfight with the bikers, the woman hides the map beneath Bigfoot's front seat and runs, but is then attacked by the lead biker. He demands the map, but she hooks another tow-line on his belt and he's dragged into the arena. She takes off.
The next day, the lead biker, Slye, meets with his boss, a portly, shadowy figure in the back of a limo who has a signet ring and a golden headed cane. Footage from the show reveals where the woman hid the map, so Slye is ordered to recover the document, then destroy Bigfoot. Slye suits up in a horned suit of biker armor.
Bigfoot and the Muscle Machines are driving down a mountain road. Slye and his gang - the rest also now dressed in horned, studded leather armor - set off a series of explosives, dropping an avalanche on the convoy of vehicles.
The trucks plow through and over the wreckage of the avalanche, getting past it by the skin of their teeth. Hidden on a cliff above, the woman watches them drive away. The heroes would investigate, but have a show in Vegas they need to get to, and use their CBs to discuss their suspicions over whether or not this was an accident, how this ties into the previous night's events, and if the woman's beauty caught Yank's eye.
As our heroes turn onto a winding mountain road, they spot company on their tail. Slye and his gang have arrived on tricked out motorcycles and ATVs, and are armed with swords, lances, axes, and spiked maces. They attack the trucks, going for the windows and tires, and our heroes fight back with skill and whatever they have on hand: oil, a tarp, Dilly, Red and Redder even take some down with a compact and nail polish. Yank gets into a fight over Bigfoot's steering wheel that takes him out onto the hood of his own truck, and he just barely manages to keep from going over the cliff. Slye shares some harsh words with him, then kicks on some thrusters and disappears down the road.
The heroes catch their breath and take stock of things, then pull into a local garage to repair their trucks while continuing to ponder the meaning of it all. The woman slinks through the shadows, trying to get into Bigfoot, but scurries away again just before Yank spots her.
None of them realize that the head mechanic in the garage is really Slye. He puts in a call to his boss saying the targets are in position, then heads outside where a crane hoists up a giant wrecking ball and smashes it into the building.
Everyone takes cover as the wall comes down before them. When the wrecking ball comes in for a second swing, Yank lassos its cable with his tow-line, kicking Bigfoot into gear and pulling the cable taught. He then releases his winch and the wrecking ball flings back, totalling the crane. The villains get away, but Professor Dee spots a symbol on the crane's wreckage, which he recognizes from the biker gang's vehicles (and the audience recognizes from the shadowy boss's signet ring).
With "his" machine shop trashed, the heroes offer to hire Slye as their road mechanic. He gladly accepts, then says he knows a good route to their next stop. Slye activates a tracking signal and leads the heroes into a stretch of desert, then tries to steal Bigfoot by throwing both an opened soda and a clenched fist into Yank's face. When Yank doesn't go down, Slye quickly tries to search for the map, but Yank throws him out the door. The two get in a dust-up in the sand, but before Yank can get any answers out of Slye, Slye's goons show up in a dune buggy, which he uses to escape.
The heroes arrive in Vegas where they discover they've been bumped to second billing beneath Graveroller, a flamboyant new monster truck that's become more popular with the kids. Yank demands a one-on-one between Bigfoot and Graveroller, then storms out of the manager's office. The manager calls the shadowy evil mastermind, revealing this was the plan all along.
That night at the packed arena, the other drivers take one look at the menacing Graveroller and try to talk Yank out of it, but he believes in Bigfoot and takes the wheel. Just as he revs his engine, the map rolls out from beneath his seat. He doesn't have time to investigate it, though, because Bigfoot and Graveroller are chained bumper-to-bumper with a pit of water between them, and the announcer is giving them the final countdown.
The engines are roaring, the tires are spinning, and there's clouds of dust in the air. The driver of Graveroller triggers some extra tires that extend beneath his truck, giving him extra traction, while Red/Redder spots another goon pouring a tank of acid into the pool. She tries to warn Yank, but the tires of Bigfoot have almost reached the bubbling liquid.
You see, this is why I freakin’ love the 80s! In what other decade could a truck become such a sensation that it got its own cartoon? And make no mistake, Bigfoot was something of a sensation. I don’t know how much attention it got on the coasts, but in flyover country, people - especially kids - went nuts for the big blue truck that crushed cars beneath its mammoth tires.
The success of Bigfoot quickly ushered in a whole monster truck phenomenon. I can still hear the TV announcer’s voice now, promising that this “Sunday! Sunday! SUNDAY!” a lot of shit would be destroyed at my local arena in the name of good, clean fun. Monster trucks were soon showing up everywhere, from toy shelves to movies.
I was aware there was a Bigfoot cartoon of some sort, but if I ever watched it, the details have long since faded from my memory like an old tire track. This will all be new to me. Let’s start ‘er up.
Bigfoot and the Muscle Machines is about as subtle as you would imagine a show centered around the exploits of a monster truck to be. For instance, our hero is named Yank Justice, and right away I appreciate that kind of simplicity. I know who Yank Justice is and what makes him tick without him saying a word. Yank Justice wears Wranglers and Old Spice. He likes his women the same way he likes his pancakes: short and stacked. He eats meat, votes Republican, and fears the Almighty. In fact, he’s voiced by God himself, Lance LeGault. Yank Justice is proof that Flint Dille has embraced the absurdity of this premise in a giant bear hug. I like him. I like Yank Justice. The rest of the characters similarly fit well worn archetypes. You have the token black guy (imagine Morgan Freeman dressed up as Mark Twain). The token hot females. The evil, rich, old white dude and his dimwitted henchman. Seriously, what’s not to love here?
Well, the animation for one. It sucks. Inhumanoids wasn’t exactly classic Disney, but this show looks like it was animated by people who were rejected by that study at home art school you see advertised on TV late at night. You’d think that they would at least have spent a little effort on the titular Bigfoot, but it looks like a blue shoebox with wheels.
Thankfully, it makes up for its lack of aesthetic graces with balls-out action. It just never stops! There’s also a certain Hanna/Barbera quality to this show that I liked. You have this big redneck and his monster truck traveling the country with two hot twins, a scientist, and his pet armadillo (named Dilly, naturally). This premise is somehow fused together with an ancient map and the search for some secret artifact. And it works. By
Bonus! More facts about Yank Justice:
- Yank Justice smokes camels. Not Camel cigarettes, actual camels.
- Yank Justice doesn’t hunt, the animals all simply surrender to him.
- When Yank Justice went to the store to buy some furniture polish, the sales clerk showed him a can of Pledge. Lance told the man the only thing he pledges is allegiance to the flag.
For once, Tony and I have come to the fork in the road that is this weeks episode, and instead of splitting off down separate courses, we hang tight like a convoy of massive-wheeled diesel chuggers looking for wreckers to smash and some cheering crowds to blink the lights and wink a smile at. Instead of one of Dille's cynical satires where he pretty much snarks at everyone involved, we instead get a whimsical fairytale about contemporary southern Americana where your heroics come in shades of red, white, or blue.
One of the biggest issues Tony and I had with Dille's development of Inhumanoids and Visionaries was that the heroes were uninteresting and largely indistinct. What individuality the had was often played so subtly as to be easily overlooked and they were constantly overshadowed by the charismatic villains. Not so here. As Tony mentioned, this band of leads instantly declares who they are and what they're all about from the moment they hit the screen. You've got Red and Redder (don't know which is which, but I'm guessing that's the point), fiery, impulsive spitfires who are just as much fun as they are frustrating. Then there's Professor Dee, the wizened southern gentleman who approaches everything with logical deduction and a twinkle in his eye. And then we have Yank Justice. What more can be said about Yank Justice. He doesn't think or force his way through situations because every situation ends up being what he wills it to be before he tips his hat with a chiseled line on his face that might be either a grin or a frown and he turns on his heals and struts into a sun that sets in whatever direction he's headed at the time. You know all those stories people tell about Chuck Norris? They're telling them about Yank Justice. They just don't know it yet. This man steered his truck down a mountain road while lying on its hood. This man destroyed a wrecking ball with his tow-line. This man voluntarily rode a dune buggy over desert sands by dangling from its back bumper, then just stood up and dusted himself off. This man took a soda and a fist to the face, then gave the other guy a soda and a fist right back. Yank Justice is the man who put the man in manly.
However, the big problem with the show is also the exact opposite issue from what we had with past Dille programs: while the heroes are suddenly awesome, the villains are water soluble. They're trying to make the big boss a looming presence, with high tech equipment always on hand and stadium owners at his call, but by hiding him in the shadows, they're keeping him from developing a personality of any kind. By his bald, obese silhouette, I wondered if they were going for a play on Alfred Hitchcock (I don't know why they'd do it, just the first thought that came to mind), but when he talks, he sounds like Dom DeLuise chocking on a meatball while suffering a stomach flu. And then there's Slye. The first time I watched these chapters, I thought I was looking at a string of henchmen and didn't realized until the second time around that it was always Slye. I'd caught that they were all voiced by Chris Latta, but they sounded a bit different every time - like Starscream, then a boozed up southerner, then a constipated accountant - I could never get a lock on who this guy was supposed to be. And his constant costume changes didn't help, going from a typical biker jumpsuit, to the bizarre Road Warrior thing with studded leather and a horned helmet, to various civvie disguises. There's no dynamic, no personalities, nothing to let me know who these baddies are.
As Tony also mentioned, the animation is below subpar. The characters always stayed on model pretty well, but the vehicles looked like something traced on construction paper, and the animation itself was poorly laid out with really sloppy in-between work. Which is a shame because the writing strung everything along pretty well, driving us from scene to scene without feeling overly rushed and cluttered, and always letting us get in a breather between the action. Tony's not wrong by saying things have a Hanna-Barbera feel to them. The designs certainly have that feel, and its those types of characters. With the looser animation, I'd almost say it felt like a Ruby-Spears toon, something on the level of their Mr. T or Karate Kommandos cartoons.
These first few chapters, while a bit messily put together, certainly made for a rousing 20-odd minutes of entertainment, with a colorful lead cast, constant excitement, and a warm look at the sunnier side of the good ol' south. And true to Dille's form, he had me laughing most of the way through. Especially the running gag that the heroes are just living the excitement of their daily lives, almost entirely oblivious to this espionage plot that's found its way to them. I expect those heads to be yanked (no pun intended) out of the clouds the next time around, but for now, it made for an interesting setup to a show I'm a little bummed will be over with so soon.
A few thoughts:
- While I thought the leathered up look for Slye and his biker gang was odd at first, I warmed to it during their big attack with axes and lances where it became obvious they were a play on medieval knights. It'll be interesting to see how that angle develops and if it gives Slye any more depth.
- The opening is not good. I like the sentiment of it - "They're big, bad, dirty, and mean!" - but the tune is lousy and it's sung with the enthusiasm of an uncle trying to keep his sister's kids distracted after a few beers and a day hovering over the barbecue.
- What more can you say about Dilly than, yes, there's an armadillo named Dilly.
Tune in next Sunday as we take a look at Chapters 4-6 of Bigfoot and the Muscle Machines.