The X-men are, without any doubt, one of my favourite super hero teams. At least, they were back when Chris Claremont was doing his nearly two decade long run on the team. When he was still a couple years away from the end of his run, there was an attempt at making a television series based on the mutant team. It was 1989 and Marvel wanted to follow in Hasbro’s footsteps of making successful cartoons based off of their licenses to sell toys. So, why did Pryde of the X-men ultimately fail, thereby forcing us to wait for three years before the team would actually get their cartoon? Let’s take a look.
We open with Magneto being transferred, presumably to some prison, by a military convoy. Fortunately for him, the White Queen comes to his rescue. Weren’t his ties to the Hellfire club something he had for pragmatic purposes while he was the headmaster over the New Mutants and a member of the X-men? I guess the cartoon universe is just different. Cut to young Kitty Pryde driving to the X-mansion clutching a letter. Turns out, Xavier found out about her powers and, instead of wasting his time visiting with her parents to get her enrolled in his school (like what he did in the comics) he just decided to send her an ominous letter about how he knows her secret. The X-men run off to answer an alarm while Magneto leads the Juggernaut, who doesn’t even like mutants save for Black Tom, on an attack to steal a Cerebro circuit while Xavier is home with just the young Kitty Pryde. Now, it’s up to the X-men to foil his machinations and save the world.
The first issue with this as a pilot is just that they introduce far too many characters at once. Not only do we have the X-men, with Xavier, Kitty, Nightcrawler, Colossus, Storm, Cyclops, Dazzler and Wolverine but we also have a huge number of villains with Magneto, the White Queen, Juggernaut, the Blob, Pyro, Toad and little Lockheed hanging around their base for some reason. The next issue is with the action. We don’t actually see our heroes fight as a team or accomplish that much. Rather, the villains come at them one at a time and the X-men have one member bugger off to face the villain who shows up one on one. Save Storm who gets left behind to mind the atmosphere. And that doesn’t make for particularly compelling action. Seriously, compare it to the two part Night of the Sentinels from the good cartoon where we see the X-men fight as a team. We see every member contribute and we see robots getting torn to pieces in the final action sequence, which is about the same length as the big action scene here. Trying to connect all your major villains also really doesn’t work when you’re using a team like the X-men.
About the only bit of praise I can give this one is that the very basic premise could have worked. Having a seasoned team with a young mutant being added in who has to prove herself and learn to cope with her own abilities could have been used in a much better cartoon. You know, like the early 90s one where a team of seasoned mutants is joined by you Jubilee who has to learn to cope with her own abilities and prove herself. In all fairness, though, it could have also worked with the X-men team they used in this.
So, fifteen characters was clearly too ambitious for a pilot introducing the whole premise and the natural consequence is that the cast is really under-developed. There are some more specific issues, though. The first is that Colossus awkwardly refers to himself in the third person. Then there’s Nightcrawler. Poor Nightcrawler. Every time he appears in a cartoon they seem to really screw him up. Even the good cartoon. In this one, he comes across as kind of pervy and as someone you really don’t want near children. Remember when his appearance made Kitty uncomfortable in the comics so he was nice to her but generally kept a respectful distance until she was able to get comfortable with him? In this he gets kind of aggressive about forcing the issue and Neil Ross’s unintentionally creepy voice acting just makes it so much worse.
Speaking of characters who seem to be written perpetually badly in adaptations, let’s talk about Shadowcat. In the comics, she’s a young genius who comes across as a very bright youngster but is still believable as a youngster. This suffers the same problem as certain other adaptations where they decide to make her far less intelligent and more of a generic good girl. Magneto also suffers from losing his complexity and being made a more generic villain, like he was in the silver age. I guess Larry Parr just didn’t want complex Jewish characters. Or he just isn’t good with complexity period. That’s also a distinct possibility.
This is one area where I can, as a whole, give the cartoon credit. Toei did a lot of the animation work on this and it does look pretty good. I also do like the costumes it uses. Even if they did forget Magneto’s gloves and just left his hands bare and they made Wolverine too tall.
Any good will I might have from that is quickly cancelled by the sound. The acting in this is horrendously bad. Patrick Pinney gives Wolverine an Australian accent which is just stupid. He’s Canadian. What’s next, an X-men adaptation that has him voiced by an Australian doing a really poor fake American accent? No, I’m sure no production studio could possibly be that idiotic. The accents in this are just awful in general. Neil Ross’s Deutsch accent is bad. Dan Gilvezan’s Russian accent is terrible. The voice acting just comes across as low effort, no skill and they did get some people who can voice act. They got Frank Welker, for instance. The music is okay. Not anything good but decent enough.
Ultimately, it’s not surprising that Pryde of the X-men failed to transition into a full series. It’s not the worst X-men adaptation I’ve ever seen but it is pretty bad. The writing’s a mess, the characters are completely uninteresting and some of them are handled in off-putting ways, the acting is atrocious and it just fails to do the team any justice. Which is a pity because, like I said, this team composition could have worked if they’d put some effort in. My final rating is going to be a 3/10. Still better than what Madhouse did with the group. I guess Marvel tried too hard to copy Hasbro without understanding why they were a success. In fact, next month I’ll look at one of Hasbro’s toy-based cartoons and let’s see why it worked for them.