Telling you that during the minute long opening credits of "Chuck Norris Karate Kommandos" (yes, the title is grammatically incorrect), that the name Chuck Norris is uttered NINE times, is probably all you'd need to know about blink-and-you'll miss it 80's cartoon series. Running for a one glorious September week in 1986, the series spawned a toy line that had approximately four Chuck Norris variants. Now, the complete series, five episodes, has been gathered by Warner and released as part of its burn-on-demand Warner Archives series. Slapped with moniker of being a part of the "Hanna-Barbera Classic Collection," "Karate Kommandos," is pure excrement, but every so often, a juvenile urge takes over and poop ends up being quite hilarious.
Each roughly 20-minute episode opens in with a live action introduction, filmed it what appears to be Chuck Norris' home gym. Chuck and mustache are present to poorly read a half-baked tie-in to the upcoming episode and right away you know what to expect when Norris' eyes are blatantly scanning the lines of an off-screen cue card. The messages are pretty generic: don't lie, don't be afraid, bullies are wimps, etc. The only memorable element of these intros that caught my eye is Chuck's ceiling mounted TV disappears after episode one and is replaced by a giant model ship. Now you might be asking yourself, "Chuck Norris phones it in?" Yes, I'm sad to report that the live action segments are the most dull live action moments in Chuck Norris film/TV history, but once you hear the man of a thousand fact's voice work, you'll see he was saving his energy.
The premise of "Karate Kommandos" is as deep as the over-excited narrator relays in the opening credits. Chuck Norris leads a motley group against the schemes of VULTURE, which is referenced on the DVD case, but I can't recall once in the show the name being uttered. VULTURE is controlled by Klaw, who obviously has a giant claw for an arm. Klaw is your standard, big-talk, no-walk villain, barking orders to a band of inept and in some cases offensive minions. If you were a kid in 1986, you were in for a treat as Chuck and his crew had to stop Klaw's forces from flooding all world's coastal towns from a small secret sea lab, incinerating all the world's cities from a space weapon, holding the world hostage for a billion dollars, and even attempting to kill Chuck Norris. Every single one of these episodes follows the same generic formula and ends with the same generic result: good guys win, bad guys lose, live-action Chuck clumsily reiterates an often-inapplicable moral.
What makes "Karate Kommandos" so noteworthy now is it's sheer awfulness. First and foremost the animation is awful, with characters regularly defying the laws of physics, fight scenes appearing to use the same three or four moves ad nauseum, backgrounds and settings awash in a sea of bland, and continuity errors being a regular occurrence. If the bargain basement production level of the show wasn't enough, the voice acting seals the deal. The majority of the Kommandos are passable and forgettable, but Chuck's right hand man, the sumo warrior Tabe, is an obvious relic of an era where you could just throw a fat guy on screen, make constant food references, and make him talk with a dopey cadence, because back then, fat people were as stupid as they were hungry. Klaw's henchmen sound like a load of COBRA rejects from GI Joe, with Chuck's perennial nemesis Super Ninja, screeching like a banshee, constantly annoyed that his encounters with Chuck last 5-10 seconds before Chuck puts the hurt on him. Yes, even in animated form, no foe or implausible obstacle and stop Chuck Norris, which leads us to the crown jewel of sheer awesomeness and awfulness all in one, the man himself.
I commented above that Norris must have saved his energy for the voice work and I stand by that assumption, because it takes a true actor to consistently deliver a flat an uninspired vocal performance. Whether the world is on the line or dolphins are being observed, Chuck sounds like he could not care less. It's a surreal sight to see the man in animated form bending the laws of physics and finding weapons you'd likely buy at your mall's import store, everywhere he goes. The show was created by Norris himself after all, so the celebration of all things Chuck makes sense, but does every weapon the heroes brandish need to have Chuck's initials plastered on them? Personally, I'm a huge Norris fan, but his animated persona is the ultimate Mary Sue meets Superman; we know Chuck will never lose (in one scene he throws a ninja star at a thug's hand and the thug drops his weapon before the star connects), never be in danger more than a few seconds (he'll strangle a giant snake and use it as a rope), and thusly, not a single episode is exciting.
If you are fortunate enough to gather a group of like minded individuals together to bask at the enigma that was "Chuck Norris Karate Kommandos," be prepared for three solid episodes of unintentional comedy, with the remaining two episodes existing as firm evidence why the series lasted only one week. If you have kids, don't subject them to this for two reasons: one, it's terrible and two, it was produced in a time where you could make a henchman an albino for no other reason to exploit negative stereotypes and make fun of a group different from the status quo. My mind still struggles to comprehend how any of the scripts made it out of a writer's meeting and into the animation studio. Thankfully, we have it now to mock and we all deserve to tip our hat to Chuck Norris, the man unashamed to be the creator of one of the worst cartoon series' I've ever had the simultaneous fortune and misfortune to come across.
The 1.37:1 original aspect ratio transfer is ugly. Color levels aren't consistent from scene to scene, there's an abundance of mild damage to the source material, and aliasing is heavy. It isn't quite as bad as something taken from an old VHS-recording, but it's close.
The Dolby Digital English Mono soundtrack is flat and hollow. There's no depth or life to the track and while dialogue is essentially clear and understandable, there's much room for improvement.
"Chuck Norris Karate Kommandos" is an example that no matter how popular someone is at the time, you just can slap their likeness to uninspired garbage and expect people to enjoy it. This five-episode series is a strange blend of no-effort production, cookie cutter pacing, forgettable characters, and a dash of insensitivity, making for a truly entertaining viewing as a target of mockery. The abysmal technical presentation is aptly fitting. Rent It.