Cartoon All-Stars To The Rescue: The Truth About The Largest Anti-Drug PSA Effort

Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue was supposed to be the ultimate cartoon mash-up . On April 15, 1990, all of the famous Saturday morning cartoon characters were going to come together for one incredible special. The children of the '80s and '90s were going to see treasured characters like Winnie the Pooh, The Smurfs, Muppet Babies, Looney Tunes, ALF, Alvin and the Chipmunks, Garfield, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Michelangelo cross universes into one show. At the time, this was practically the equivalent of Crisis on Infinite Earths.

Financed largely by the Ronald McDonald Foundation and McDonald's, as Esquire reports, the special was set to be broadcast simultaneously on ABC, BET, CBS, Fox, NBC, USA, and Nickelodeon. What kids got was an expensive, highly publicized anti-drug PSA, complete with a message from then-President George H.W. Bush and First Lady Barbara Bush. The special shows us the story of a rebellious teenager named Michael whose experimentation with marijuana troubles his younger sister. And it's up to characters like Bugs Bunny, Baby Kermit, and the Smurfs to save Michael and get him to quit drugs. How? By showing Michael his grim future as a zombified heroin/crack addict in a nightmare-inducing journey. The kids of the '80s and '90s may have been intrigued at seeing their favorite characters together, but 30 years later, those same kids are now adults and can see this special as more of an elaborate inflated piece of anti-drug propaganda.

Cartoon All-Stars Was Pretty Jarring

Kids were pretty fascinated by the sight of all of their favorite Saturday morning cartoon characters interacting with each other. Still, it was odd to watch these same beloved characters spout their vast understanding of the seedy underworld, complete with drug slang. It's incredibly bizarre to hear Bugs Bunny identify a "joint" and sweet little Simon from Alvin and the Chipmunks readily showcasing his impressive knowledge of marijuana. Thankfully, we were spared any remarks from Winnie the Pooh about pot or crystal meth. In an interview with Vice, voice actor Jim Cummings thought it would be a little too inappropriate for Pooh Bear to have any comprehension of drugs or their associated slang references.

But what was incredibly disturbing about this special was how marijuana was identified as the ultimate "gateway drug." Michael seems to be pretty content with smoking some weed and occasionally nicking one of his father's beers — kids shouldn't be doing drugs or drinking while their brains are still in development, but this is not exactly beyond the pale when it comes to rebellious teenage behavior. But Michael's cartoon pals berate him and tell him that if he keeps up with this pot-smoking, he's going turn into a full-fledged heroin addict. Seriously: There's an image of future-Michael looking like a zombie grasping a heroin needle — one of the more disturbing moments of the show.

After its initial airing, Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue would continue to be shown in schools as part of their anti-drug programs for years to come.

The Aftermath of Cartoon All-Stars

But how effective was it? The kids who saw this program in the '90s are now well into their 30s — and today, there's never been a greater push for the legalization of marijuana. Already, as Addiction Center reports, there are currently 15 states that have legalized marijuana for recreational use. Business Insider relates that 36 states have legalized it for medical purposes. Since the '90s, we've come a long way in learning more about drugs — particularly marijuana.

We know now that, as Medical News Today tells us, cannabis can have certain medical benefits (in doses). It's not without risks, but it's far from being the dangerous gateway drug as the cartoon portrays it (and as debunked at the Drug Policy Alliance). Heroin and marijuana are two entirely different types of drugs. The show doesn't specify how Michael would make the transition from pot to heroin, but according to our cartoon friends, once you try one drug, you're going to want them all. Heck, even when Michael's friends cheerfully suggest that they put aside the pot and score some crack (which apparently only costs $10?), Michael isn't entirely on-board, because a crack is another drug completely different from marijuana. The Cartoon All-Stars should probably have been running more interference with Michael's friends who seem to want to dive headfirst into every drug under the sun rather than terrorize one kid with a nightmarish fever dream.