Animation Block: Bravestarr

By 1987, the landscape of American animation had changed dramatically. Anime was slowly creeping in, while merchandise-derived shows were trying to keep up with the older audiences and attract new buyers at the same time. Given this, a space western themed show seemed like an odd choice to go with for the troubled Filmation studio.

BraveStarr made its debut in the fall of 1987, though the origins lie not with some toy company executive, but rather Filmation itself. As the story goes, studio head Lou Scheimer was approving the cast for their revival of the Ghost Busters show as a cartoon when he noticed a character drawing dubbed ‘Tex Hex’, a skeletal cowboy based loosely on actor Lee Van Cleef. Declaring the character of Hex too good to be wasted as a background villain, Scheimer had his animators build an entire show around Hex.

A movie was developed first, but the show was put together roughly around the same time. Filmation’s stock was dropping by this point; always budget-conscious, with BraveStarr they went to an almost extreme degree. Footage was recycled constantly. At one point, they took nearly twenty minutes straight from the movie and redubbed it.

The show played it pretty straight when it came to the western genre. BraveStarr was a Galactic Marshall, assigned to the planet of New Texas. The planet is loaded with a rare element called Kerium, a red ore that could do whatever the plot needed it to do. Causing trouble nearly week was the outlaw Tex Hex, an evil skeletal cowboy with magic powers, and his band of claim jumpers and bushwhackers. Aiding BraveStarr were his deputies, a talking cyborg horse named Thirty-Thirty and comedic relief-supplier Fuzz. There were plenty of prospectors hooting about riches in the hills and doe-eyed children to impart lessons to; romantic tension was supplied by Judge J.B. McBride, the only judge I’ve seen to actually use her hammer to concuss criminals. Aside from that, the roles were very standard. The heroic marshal battled the outlaws, saved the miners, headed them off at the pass, etc. Aside from the references to space or aliens, the show could have easily been an actual western.

Typical with Filmation productions, there was little continuity and a moral at the end of every episode. The episodes themselves were fairly heavy handed in their lessons but a few of them managed to be both entertaining as well as informative. Like many 80’s shows, there were many ‘Very Special Episodes’ mostly dealing with drug use.   The background of Tex Hex in the show was annoyingly brief. Unlike Skeletor from He-Man, we were allowed to glimpse Tex’s past and see his background. BraveStarr’s as well, although this is mostly to serve as more lessons to impart to the viewer. There were also plans for spin-offs as well. The first would have been about Sherlock Holmes set in the 23rd Century (which has more than a passing resemblance to the later produced Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century) and a show just for the Prairie People (Fuzz’s race) but both shows died on the table when Filmation shut its doors in 1989.

There were some problems with the show. From an adult perspective, it is annoying repetitive, with footage being lifted over and over again. The lessons imparted tend to overshadow the story, and the character of BraveStarr could at best be called generic. His powers, explained in the theme song, allowed him to solve nearly every issue that came up. It always made me wonder why Tex Hex even bothered. Also like many 80’s shows, there was no finale.

With all those gripes aside, the show was pretty decent for its time period. It was first released on DVD by BCI in 2007, but when they went under the rights were picked up by Mill Creek Entertainment, who just re-released the entire series in one box set. It is also available on Hulu. If you’ve never seen it or just want to go down Memory Lane again, you will have plenty of options.