The conversion of adult-themed properties into children’s cartoons is not unheard of. Anyone who’s read the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics knows that they were pretty damn violent. Ghostbusters, which may be beloved by kids the world over, is certainly aimed at a more mature audience. And Beetlejuice? Sorry, but the “Ghost with the Most” was NOT meant for kids, no matter its PG rating!
I bring this up because this phenomenon was essentially a gateway for many children to get taste of something before moving onto something more intense, something deeper. How many of us grew up watching “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”, “The Real Ghostbusters”, or “Beetlejuice” and then graduated to watching the films or reading the comics they were based off?
I bring this up because while I grew up with the Alien films (my mom loves Sigourney Weaver, so she would watch them with me), I recognize how many of my friends weren’t allowed to experience the same. If a movie was R-rated, they’d have to wait until they were older or they’d have to find a way to sneak watching it behind their parents’ backs. If only there had been a cartoon series based on the Alien franchise that parents would’ve been okay with!
Funny enough, that almost DID happen! Back in 1992, a cartoon series based around Ripley and the Colonial Marines was supposed to begin airing a few months after the release of David Fincher’s Alien 3. However, due to the lackluster response to the film and the alright but not earth-shattering box office numbers, it was cancelled before a single episode even aired. But there’s more to the story than just that. In fact, there was an entire transmedia marketing plan in place that would’ve included comics, toys, and more.
Now, little is known about the series itself. Supposedly Fox outsourced the animation to a Korean studio and everything was going swimmingly, up to and including having merchandise and toys designed and ready to go to production. In fact, there were items that hit store shelves with the “Operation Aliens” label on them, including this Plaster Moulding & Painting Set, this board game, this puzzle, or this TIGER handheld electronic game. But then the plug was pulled, the pilot episode of “Operation: Aliens” yanked, and the entire operation ceased. To this day, no footage of whatever was animated has surfaced and the only proof that such a cartoon exists is in the form of the above screenshots.
The general thought of the series was that each episode would’ve followed Ellen Ripley and several of the marines from Aliens, including some of the dead ones, as they travel the galaxy and face off against the Xenomorphs in various environments on different worlds. By doing this, the studio and toy makers, specifically Kenner, could then justify creating many of the Alien toys that seemingly made no sense, such as the bull, mantis, or Flying Queen (see examples here). As we’ve seen in Alien 3, when a facehugger attaches itself to something non-human (such as a dog or bull, depending on the version of the film you watch), the Xenomorph’s characteristics will change accordingly. That mechanic would’ve given the show a wide variety of options to play with. Can you imagine if they’d found a way to have a facehugger impregnate a giant insect? Or what about something that lives in water?
A couple of years after “Operation: Aliens” was supposed to air, Dark Horse Comics released a trading card-format comic where people had to collect 15 different cards and place them in the right order to reveal a short original story. With art by Denis Beauvais and writing from Jerry Prosser, the story followed a Lieutenant of the USMC who is tasked with rescuing scientists at a research facility where Xenomorph specimens have gotten loose. While it’s never been reprinted, the good folk over at Comic Art Fans have collected them and you can see them in all their glory.
So why was the cartoon cancelled? That’s the problem. No one knows. The most obvious answer is that it’d be damn near impossible to create a show based off the Alien universe that is kid friendly. While HBO’s “Tales From the Crypt” did get its own Saturday Morning Cartoon adaptation, it’s easy enough to create scary stories that are age appropriate. I don’t know how “Operation: Aliens” would’ve been able to find a way to tell the story of Xenomorphs being birthed without showing chests exploding. That’s kind of an integral part of the Xenomorph birthing process…
While the show may not have worked back in the early 90’s, there’s no reason why it couldn’t be successful today. Shows like “Rick and Morty“, “Robot Chicken“, and so many more have paid homage to the series AND are rather adult in nature themselves. I think we could all imagine Adult Swim getting behind a show like this. Now, who wants to start the petition to make this happen?