“Serve the public trust. Protect the innocent. Uphold the law” Three directives that Robocop lived by. There was a fourth one that was “Classified” which we learn prevents him from turning on any member of his masters OCP. I was very young when I first saw Robocop and didn’t know what classified meant causing me some confusion. It’s not until Robocop 3 that directive four is no longer classified, though by adding ninja androids and rocket packs, it’s safe to say that since the screenwriters weren’t paying attention to the plot why would the viewer?
Classified was indeed a big word for someone whose age hadn’t even reached double figures yet. Thankfully the plot of Robocop was pretty straightforward, good guy cop gets brutally murdered only to come back from the dead as a machine and exact his bloody revenge on the most horrendous bunch of baddies the eighties could produce. Children’s cartoons had their fair share of villains, however as much a bastard as Mumm-ra was he drew the line at blasting Liono’s hand off with a shotgun while Slithe and Jackalmen stood about pointing and laughing as our hero was slowly butchered.
The question dawned in my adult life as to why the hell I was watching Robocop at such at a young age anyway? Arguably it still stands up as one of the most brutal and violent films ever made so what made him so marketable to kids that a barrage of toys were produced? I suppose the main thing about Robocop was his look. If ever a character was designed to be an eighties toy it was this guy. He looked like a human transformer with a gun the size of Megatron. As the film was clearly intended for adults an animated series was released to herd in younger viewers. The violence was considerably toned down for the cartoon, most notably firearms being replaced by lasers (because if 80’s cartoons taught us anything it was that lasers were cool and kids could buy them unlike real guns).
In 1994 Robo was repackaged as a TV show to again appeal to a younger audience. The key difference between this Murphy and the original was that he never killed anyone opting to instead use non-lethal force and actually arrest the bad guys. This idea is suggested to Robocop in the plot of Robocop 2 (the film where the main bad guy is a vicious sadistic drug lord). Robo would often shoot the scenery, causing it to fall on the bad guys, neutralising them. It was ridiculous, but I was still young enough to like it plus it was better than the fucking Roboteer of Robocop 3, streaming through the air in his Jet Pack that was probably only attached to him to sell more action figures to an audience who legally couldn’t even see the fucking film anyway!
By not killing anyone, this meant the show could produce recurring villians; a good thing because who wants to buy a toy of someone who is dead before the first ad break intended to sell said figure?
Not that Robocop was alone in the inappropriate toys for children game. His cyborg cousin the Terminator got his own range off the back of Terminator 2 – Judgement Day. I was too young to remember how they marketed these toys though I do remember having an Arnie figure that came with a detachable rocket launcher for an arm. I never liked this accessory as it made no sense, but hey I’m not supposed to have seen the film so what the fuck should I know about faithful representation? For all I knew Arnie could fly, no wait that was Robocop 3 again.
At least the team behind Robocop neutered their product for children, the people behind Terminator did no such thing. No animated series followed, they didn’t seem to care if you had seen the film the message was clear: buy the fucking toy!
Having toys about machines that killed people is one thing but there was one children’s toy that really pushed the boat out so far that you felt like you were in Waterworld. The Freddy Krueger fancy dress for kids? When everyone else is dressed like a Ninja Turtle or their favourite Ghostbuster, you can be the envy of all your friends by celebrating Halloween as the dead incarnation of a murdered child killer. At least Robocop was the good guy.