Starscream’s Toast looks at Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future and where it all went wrong.
Captain Power and the Soliders of the Future is proof that you need to know your audience before you launch a product or otherwise you’re going to have a pretty spectacular failure on your hands. In 1987 Mattel decided on a new TV series which would be live action although heavily reliant on CGI accompanied by a toy line that could interact with the episodes which sounds great in theory, although in practice it all went horribly wrong.
If you’re going to have a show with a lame title like Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future, then most kids are going to think it probably sucks before even trying it but if you hire J. Michael Straczynski to write the series featuring adult themes including genocide, kissing, sex and suicide then you’re likely to put the rest of the kids off. While the series had adult themes, the name and it’s marketing to children meant that adults who would have possibly enjoyed it never even gave it a look. When Mattel attempted to steer the series in a more appropriate direction Straczynski quit.
Unfortunately the adult themes and kids being encouraged to shoot at their TVs outraged parents, who strangely weren’t impressed or amused by Mattel’s encouraging of interactive violence and the show was also crippled by Screen Actor’s Guild payments and royalties to the actors which had to be made because it was a live action series instead of a cartoon.
Even if Straczynski had written an appropriate storyline it’s hard to imagine the toy line being a success as the quality of the figures wasn’t great. Lord Dread has a standard neck swivel, ball joined hips and shoulders with knee and elbow joints but no mid section hinge or bicep swivel like GI Joe. So while the figures sat next to GI Joe on the shelves they were less articulated, featured really bad paint jobs and Lord Dread here sported a pink cape instead of red…just what every young boy wanted – a crappy figure with a pink hanky attached to it. While the character designs weren’t great either (the good guys looked like budget Robocops) the vehicles were really cool and were definite competitors to Hasbro’s Joe line.
Lord Dread’s bio is essentially that he and the main good guy were scientists who co-developed a mind to control machines but Dread decided that he’d merge himself with the machine, resulting in bio technology wiping out most of the human race. Basically Reed Richards and Dr Doom co creating Skynet and Doom merging with it. I thought Straczynski was supposed to be a gifted writer?
Therein lies the heart of the matter – whether you love or hate Hasbro, they are the kings of marketing toy lines at boys and I can’t help but feel that in Hasbro’s hands Captain Power would have survived for more than one series.
Mattel went on to work with Disney and purchased Fisher Price and thankfully didn’t get Staczynski to write a storyline for it.
Straczynski went on to rage quit as writer for The Real Ghostbusters and Jake and the Fatman, before writing Babylon 5 for the Prime Time Entertainment Network. Babylon 5‘s production involved a lot of the same people who had worked on Captain Power which seemed to emphasise further the potential the series had.
Last year a reboot of Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future was announced.