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Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue

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”Stay away from drugs and alcohol,” First Lady Barbara Bush pleads in her introduction to this animated lesson about substance abuse. That’s a laudable message. Unfortunately, what follows looks like Reefer Madness for kids. Cartoon All-Stars uses scare tactics instead of getting to the root of the problem: low self-esteem and spiritual desolation.

When 9-year-old Corey discovers her piggy bank missing, the Cartoon All-Stars — including Bugs Bunny, the Smurfs, Winnie the Pooh, Garfield, Slimer, and Muppet Babies Miss Piggy and Kermit — help her track it down. Brother Michael, it seems, took the money to buy marijuana, and the All-Stars try to persuade him that drugs are bad.

It’s fun seeing all these characters together — kind of like watching the stars on Oscar night — but the broad ”casting” makes sympathetic character development impossible. In fact, the most vivid character is not one of the All-Stars at all — it’s ”Smoke,” an insidious, purple, ghost-like creature (with the voice of George C. Scott) who embodies the lure of drugs, whispering taunts to Michael like ”Scared to try something new?”

The All-Stars, for their part, are not too persuasive: They hit Michael with cliché’s (”You think you can stop anytime you want to, but you can’t”), take him on bad trips (a roller-coaster ride through his stressed-out brain), and show him how ravaged he’ll look if he keeps using drugs. But it is only when Corey becomes tempted by Michael’s stash that Michael concedes he needs help.

The one-note plot of this video — simulcast by the TV networks in April — is easy to follow, but the drama is largely trivialized by the producers’ efforts to keep the message simple. When Miss Piggy says, ”Listen to us. We care about you, Mikey,” she sounds insincere. Even the story’s song — ”Wonderful Ways to Say No,” written by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, the two-man team that won an Oscar for The Little Mermaid — is uninspired and unintelligible. C

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