SWAT Kats: The Radical Squadron (1993-1995)

A cartoon can be cancelled for a variety of reasons. It could naturally run to the end of its lifespan, and the studio in charge is fine with keeping the show on only as reruns. It could be because the studio thinks the show’s not popular enough with viewers (however accurate that perception can be). Or it could just vanish into the ether, never officially cancelled but simply have production run out without being renewed, with no official reason given. SWAT Kats is not one of these shows.

In fact, it performed really well. It was the top syndicated show of 1994, was full of potential for action figures and toy vehicles, and its popularity has stayed at such a level that in 2015 a Kickstarter campaign to revive the cartoon met its target in a day. And Hanna-Barbera fully planned on continuing it, having renewed a second season with plans for a third, improving the animation while allowing the writers to take a different tone in the second season, and authorising a SNES game that released in 1995. Instead, the problem lay with Ted Turner. His company was the one who was producing and airing SWAT Kats, and he wasn’t happy with the amount of violence in the show, believing it would have a strong adverse effect on kids unlike the non-violent Scooby-Doo and The Flintstones. As such, merchandise was delayed, the show got cancelled, and three episodes never moved past pre-production in favour of a clip show ‘special news report’ on the SWAT Kats. As such, I’m writing this review with two questions in mind. Did the show deserve to be cancelled? And is it still good enough to warrant so much support for a follow up?


SWAT Kats: The Radical Squadron is an action cartoon that aired between 1993 and 1995 for two seasons, one of thirteen episodes and another of ten and a clip show special. The show follows T-Bone and Razor, who were kicked out of the Enforcers (Megakat City’s paramilitary force) after an incident brought on by Commander Feral led to the destruction of the new Enforcer building. They were sent to work in a military junkyard until they’ve repaid what they’ve destroyed, where they use the scraps they’ve found to build a personal fighter jet. Taking on codenames, they become vigilantes, protecting the city from criminal masterminds, giant monsters, and other nefarious villains, all while causing copious amounts of property damage.

Starting off with the intro theme, it sets up the cartoon pretty well. It starts off with some giant monsters attacking the city alongside foreboding music as the Enforcers try and fail to stop them. Then the SWAT Kats get the alarm as an electric guitar kicks in, playing with all the radicalness the 90s could condense into 35 seconds, before coming in and quite handily saving the day. My main problem is that I believe it’s entirely recycled footage from the season, which is more a stylistic nitpick. This is partially fixed in season 2’s intro. While it does still use some recycled footage, it’s much less prominent with most of it being footage freshly created for the intro. It also does away with the foreboding intro and instead starts with the SWAT Kats getting the alarm, as well as gets rid of the cohesive story of our protagonists defeating the threat in favour of explicitly showing some of the recurring villains. I don’t think that’s bad, per say. I do prefer the original, but it is a matter of personal opinion. What is bad, though, is that while the intro music is great, I can never recall it or any particular melody from it. It’s all style with little substance, which is a good representation of the show overall.

For a show made for syndication, I feel that it has some decent slow burn at the beginning when it comes to revealing stuff about the main characters. This wasn’t fully intentional, with the first episode actually having been the third in production (it was brought forwards due to largely featuring dinosaur enemies and Jurassic Park being popular at this time), but it still works. The first episode has no backstory whatsoever. There’s a villain, the deputy mayor contacts the SWAT Kats to come help because she knows the Enforcers can’t do crap, they save the day with their jet and a variety of missiles. Pure SWAT Kats, nothing more, nothing less. The second episode has them reveal their secret identities as cats working in a junkyard without any respect, and simply leaves it at that until the third episode, where we’re actually told why they’re there, why they have their skills, why they’re doing what they do. But as good as I think the build up was, the way they handle exposition is very much in the same way all Saturday morning cartoons seem to. That is, with a clumsy segue, they say everything they want the viewer to know with little regard of how much sense it makes or how awkward it sounds.

With the exception of having lucked out with the opening episodes, this cartoon handles impactful plot elements very poorly. But, in my opinion, the cartoon knows this, and it doesn’t try to be something it isn’t. In every episode, they set up the threat for a good five minutes at least, they bring in the SWAT Kats, and they struggle but ultimately succeed in taking them down. While they have a general order of things, nothing ever has a lasting effect, with the only instance of such taking place in one of the unfinished episodes. It’s your standard affair for a syndicated show, and it had a short enough run that, thanks to some variety through the episodes, it doesn’t get stale to watch. This does, unfortunately, also come at the cost of many characters being pretty flat in terms of personalities, though the SWAT Kats and Commander Feral do get moments which show glimpses of a complex character. But what does strike me is that, as soon as the villain’s defeated, they very quickly cut to the end credits. Half the time, they barely have 10 seconds before this happens. Is this a bad thing? No, it actually suits a show like this to build up to the action, and as soon as that’s done to go away before kids get bored or some pesky plot comes in. But it does mean that, in today’s age where you have access to shows with both excellent action and plot, such as Avatar: The Last Airbender, it’s hard to come up with a genuine reason as to why to pick up this show.

Concerning the action itself, I can say that it doesn’t get stale over the show’s run. This is largely due to the sheer amount of missiles the Turbokat flies around with, allowing them to fight the monster of the week with bolas, buzzsaws, blinding flashes of light, and if all those fails just plain old explosive missiles. And while they’re often fighting giant monsters, they do always require some different tactic, and sometimes it’s a different type of opponent such as someone in a jet or a floating air base which prevents people from being able to fly near it. Is it too violent, though? Well, that’s always subjective, but I can say that Ted Turner does seem to have a point. While weapons did shoot what look like lasers, at times they are called and can be seen as actual bullets, there’s no instance of seriously attempting to talk down an enemy, and if capturing is too difficult the SWAT Kats are completely ok with straight up killing their foe. One early episode opening has a character practically killed on-screen. Is it stuff that kids can’t handle? No. Is it stuff that would’ve “Encouraged kids to kill each other” as Ted claimed? No. But is it something that shouldn’t be on the channel of someone talking to the US congress about reducing violence in kids media? Yes.

Oddly enough, season 2 doesn’t have quite the body count of season 1, either civilian or villainous, and bullets are taken out for consistent lasers. However, it does take on a much darker tone to the first. Most of the episodes had darker concepts, such as being trapped in an alternate universe with evil SWAT Kats and one of the SWAT Kats’ missions resulting in civilian casualties. They got rid of some of the more kiddish sections, such as T-Bone constantly watching a ‘Scaredy Cat’ cartoon that doesn’t fit in with the show to begin with. And the animation isn’t just improved, but it also used a darker colour pallet to reflect the changes. However, along with the improved animation, it also became notably…anime. In some parts, this is minor, such as the villain splashes in the opening song feeling like something out of an anime opening from the period. In others, it’s notable but doesn’t affect much overall, such as the deputy mayor gaining larger eyes and having much more anime-y expressions and mannerisms. In others, though, it feels completely against the feel of the show. This is most prominent in Commander Feral’s introduced niece, Felina, and one of the season’s villains, Turmoil. In the first season, everyone was distinctly cat-like. This is most obvious with the SWAT Kats themselves, though practically any male from the cast will show you what characters look like. The deputy mayor and news reporter, the two recurring females from the first season, are more human but still notably cats. But then come these two, who look just like a catgirl from any given anime. They have a black nose and cat ears, but that’s practically it. They’re human in all other regards. It doesn’t matter much in the long run, it doesn’t affect the plot or really my enjoyment of the show, but it still goes completely against everything that was established in the first season.

In Summary

SWAT Kats is a fun show, and while there’s nothing exceptional about it, there’s certainly very little bad. But in today’s age where you can easily watch shows with as good if not better combat, usually alongside a better story with more in-depth characters if that’s your thing, I struggle to come up with a reason to watch this show in particular. I happily recommend it if you’re interested, but don’t feel obliged if it hasn’t already caught your interest.


Ozzy & Drix (2002-2004)

In my last review, I looked back at 2001’s Osmosis Jones. I largely agreed with the critical reception of the time in that the animated portions of the film, while deep rooted in the cliches of buddy cop movies, was made relatively enjoyable thanks to the interpretation of the body as a city. I also agreed that the live action sections were extremely weak, largely due to them being the primary source of the movie’s gross-out humour. A year after the movie hit cinemas, something that seemingly addresses these faults comes out: The cartoon Ozzy & Drix.

It used to be the case that practically anything popular with children, no matter how little sense it made, would get a cartoon series. The Mask made sense, but then there was the Robocop animated series, and I’m not sure exactly who was asking for a Police Academy cartoon. But, given how Osmosis Jones did perform better on home media than it did in the box office, pandering to the demographic they might have seen as responsible could be a successful idea.

Ozzy & Drix

Ozzy & Drix is a cartoon that ran for 2 seasons of 13 episodes between 2002 and 2004 on Kids’ WB. Following the events of Osmosis Jones, the titular Osmosis and Drix get sucked up by a mosquito while chasing after the disease Scarlet Fever. It transports them from the city of Frank to the city of Hector, a 13 year old boy. After saving Hector, they are allowed to continue living there by the mayor, setting up a PI business behind his eye. Together they constantly butt heads with the mayor and the police force as they try and protect the kid from all manners of bodily threats.

As it’s the first thing anyone’s exposed to while watching a cartoon, I feel I should look at the intro first. And in both the music and the intro animation, it’s clear that the creative team were trying to some degree, but they didn’t put their all behind it. The animation does do its job, it gives a summary of things you can expect from the show, such as Ozzy and Drix fighting some threat from outside the body with the mayor taking the credit. It’s not amazing, but it’s decently fluid. However, this doesn’t mean they don’t cut corners. Several scenes are taken directly from the show itself, and even in one particularly noticeable example with Drix dancing from the movie that spawned it, dragging it down slightly from what would otherwise be a completely alright intro.

The theme song itself is a hip hop track clearly inspired from the movie’s soundtrack. I don’t know how much room I have to criticize it, given it’s not a genre I’m overly familiar with, but it sounds somewhat generic, for lack of a better term. It’s a perfectly fine song, but even after listening to it over 26 times I can’t remember a single lyric except for the very beginning or the very end. It just doesn’t seem to stand out. With all that said, I can still call it the best track in the show, though that is to damn it with very faint praise. Also inspired by the movie’s soundtrack, Ozzy & Drix features an original song every few episodes. Not a single one of them was pleasant to listen to, with whatever band at the mic screaming exposition about the state of Hector, even though the viewer already knows it and the band sometimes really shouldn’t. Exposition is a strong word though, given at least one of them is just repeatedly calling out how doomed Hector is and the others are similarly simple lyrically. On top of all of that, there’s only one time where the song actually moved the plot along in any way, and since it was a representative of nicotine hypnotizing all the nearby cells to make them addicted to him, I don’t believe it was necessary to have the sequence be a song.

As you might have guessed from that, this show has the anti-smoking episode that is almost obligatory in edutainment show. That’s what the show is when you get down to it; while most episodes do devolve into Ozzy and Drix fighting the infection of the week, it’s framed through Hector refusing to brush his teeth, or finding out he has an allergy, or overusing a nose spray. But, in one of the show’s strengths, not every episode is like this. For example, one episode deals with the aftereffects of Hector getting a concussion and all the cells except the titular ones losing their recent memory, and another has the mayor give Hector a phobia of swimming after he almost drowned. On top of this, while the lessons being taught are extremely evident (the pilot having Osmosis go on a monologue about how Hector reminds him of Frank at that age, before he gained all of his horrible habits, which doesn’t seem in character), the primary focus of the cartoon is the action. Compared with how preachy the show could’ve been, I can appreciate this. However, the nature of the show can very quickly work against itself.

In each episode, Hector is required to get ill, cause himself an injury, or just gain some unhealthy habit to cause the problem that Ozzy & Drix have to fight. But what little personality he has changes frequently in order to fit the episode. He’s seen in the opening brushing his teeth, yet in the final episode of season 2 he apparently doesn’t and hasn’t for long enough to need fillings. He’s frequently seen playing basketball, skating, and so on, and yet in one episode he’s completely lost interest to the point where he’s almost had an entire artery blocked up with fat. This is one of the most infuriating aspects of the show, the sheer inconsistency of it. Changes between the movie and the cartoon are understandable, it likely wasn’t written with the intention of being a cartoon, and differences between the layout of Frank and Hector are understandable due to them being completely different people (though Frank had a lot more internal sense; the stomach was an airport terminal in the movie, while in the cartoon it’s a frequently used beach with children playing in the tide, even though it’s immediately acknowledged that it would quickly and easily dissolve them into nothing). Internal inconsistencies, however, are not. For example, when Ozzy & Drix save Hector from Scarlet Fever (who, as an aside, is essentially a less suave copy of Thrax from the movie), they’re treated as heroes, and not only are they no longer getting kicked out of the body but are being gifted ‘prime real estate’ in Hector’s eye. But in every following episode, they (Ozzy especially) are treated with nothing but contempt. It’s first shown that the cells can only see what Hector sees through a special feed in the Mayor’s office or through the eye using binoculars, but at some point it ends up being publicly available first through cinemas, and then through tvs. A season 1 episode has the penicillin G injection takes the form of a James Bond knock off, and yet a mouthful of chocolate cereal which Hector frequently eats brings with it several superheroes, with the event being apparently something special and unique. By far the most infuriating example of this is that, in half of the season 2 episodes, Ozzy’s car has an AI which offers some a few quips, but nothing more. By the final episode, there had still been no attempt to even suggest an origin to this. It’s not even a matter of an explaining episode being aired later than planned, the creating studio simply couldn’t be bothered to give an origin episode within the same season. Even if they were unexpectedly cancelled and they planned on making it a third season episode, it isn’t an excuse.

Even without the inconsistencies, this is still a very infuriating show to watch. Much like the aforementioned dancing Drix scene in the intro, the show frequently reuses animation from the movie, most often a shot of the tongue moving in front of an open mouth or two cops reacting to something coming in over the radio. It never fits due to the decrease in animation quality between the movie and the cartoon, and always looks awkward at best. It makes jokes relatively frequently, but not a single one over the 26 episodes landed for me. As far as characters are concerned, Hector changes personality and has his life threatened so often that I’m wondering how he’s still alive instead of actually caring for him, and everyone else is extremely one note. Much like in Osmosis Jones, the characters are their cliches, only this time no one ever goes through character development that holds any degree of impact on the show. And when there are elements that carry over between episodes that give them a definitive canon, such as Drix getting a dog made of dog saliva, it gets rid of the argument that they shouldn’t include major changes for when the show gets syndicated. It just feels all around lazy.

In Summary

Ozzy & Drix had the opportunity to take what worked with Osmosis Jones and turn it into 20 minute episodes, an idea which worked perfectly well on paper. Yet while I hesitate to say that Osmosis Jones had charm, Ozzy & Drix got rid of all of it, and while it may show how to do an edutainment cartoon well it doesn’t have the material needed to back it up. The lack of interesting characters and good humour persists, and is supported by bad writing, music, and a formula that is stale by the second season in spite of the variations.