(Re)Animations: ProStars (1991)
“It’s All About Helping Kids.”
An animated series starring all three of the most iconic sports star of the nineties – that’s just wacky! – ProStars was absurd but, by virtue of nostalgia, it’s still fun to think that some fans thought this animated series was a fun idea.
For the most part, ProStars was a pretty ridiculous but beautifully engineered series that managed to capitalize on the appeal of three major sports stars: Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky and Bo Jackson. The good thing about these three athletes was that even if you weren’t a sports fan, you knew who they were AND you knew they were considered rock stars of their sports. They were money makers, highly publicized, and worshiped among legions of sports fans across the world. So… an animated series was only inevitable.
Originally intended to air on ESPN, the series came from a long tradition of sports-inspired Saturday Morning cartoons like Super Globetrotters and Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n’ Wrestling, where sports stars just inexplicably want to fight crime in their quest to be good role models. Just to reinforce how goofy the series was, the intro is a mixture of sports footage featuring the trio and their animated counterparts fighting crime. The theme song then has to basically explain their respective sport, their backstory, origin, how they decided to fight crime, and establish the series’ premise in just over a minute.
Every Pro Star has to get their own time in, and it tries heavily to sell to sports fans and general audiences. As a kid I hated sports, but even when ProStars came on I considered the premise to be brilliant. I mean, three of the biggest sports star fighting crime? That’s amazing! Even if they were too recognizable to be covert and even if a bad injury could ruin their career, it was still rather incredible.
Luckily, the trio had their own special gizmos to enhance their natural sports skills. Michael Jordan, who can jump really high, has rocket powered sneakers that allow him to swoop through the air and inflatable basketballs. Wayne Gretzky has his own skate shoes and weaponized hockey pucks and sticks he uses to fling at enemies. Bo Jackson, who represents baseball and football, has his own specialized bat that can shoot balls (*chuckle*), grappling hooks, and assorted lasers. Each of their “weapons” are assigned to them by their technician, Mom, and her assistant who keeps the trio in check with her zaniness and tech savvy.
The ProStars operated out of a secret gym where they took requests from children for new missions. Apparently, since they have no careers or family on the show, they merely wait around for calls and are always in full regalia which are, of course, matching sports jerseys that suit their body types.
Keeping with the positive messaging for children every episode began with a few words from the stars of the show. Oddly enough, while Gretzky and Jackson offer their own words and descriptions on upcoming episodes, Michael Jordan is nowhere to be found and is only really featured in archive footage and stills of him slam dunking.
Predictably, ProStars becomes very exhausting after more than two episodes, and much of it feels like a cheap-o cash grab. By virtue of growing up in the early 90s, the prospect of this series was incredible, but looking back at it, it all feels so stitched together. Every episode revolves around sports and every episode contains a stock villain who devises their own traps for the ProStars and is foiled in the end because of the team’s courage and ability to be unstoppable sports stars. Come to think of it, there isn’t a single villain in the show I can really remember.
The writers also made sure never to plant focus on one particular member of the at any time. There’s zero backstory or exposition to anything that goes on and the small range of supporting characters are there merely punchlines for weak gags and goofy exchanges between the baffled sports superheroes.
Even with its endorsements from Jackson and Gretzky, the series didn’t last long. It ran for only thirteen episodes in 1991 on NBC (US). It was re-broadcast on various networks across the country in syndication and was even given a VHS release of most of its episodes from DiC, but only a brief DVD release in 2007. In the end, ProStars is definitely one of the more forgettable and groan inducing relics of the 90 that never really scored.