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1985 TV commercial title card for Madballs
Madballs is a series of toy rubber balls originally created by AmToy, a subsidiary company of American Greetings in the mid-1980s, later being revived by Art Asylum (2007-2008) and Just Play, Inc. (2017–present). The balls incorporated gross-out humor and each was given a character synopsis and an odd name. The toyline expanded into a franchise with an animated television series, comic books and a video game for the ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC and Commodore 64.
- 1 Overview
- 2 Toys
- 3 Animated series
- 4 Home video releases
- 5 Comic books
- 6 Madballs re-releases
- 7 International modern revival
- 8 Video game
- 9 References
- 10 External links
The toys were rubber or foam collectible bouncing balls with grotesque faces and designs which had a fascination particularly on the part of boys; However, the toys only sold well as a passing fad. There were two series of the original round Madballs collectible toys. Each series consisted of eight balls, as well as a collection of Super Madballs, a larger version of the original Madballs shaped like other sports balls, such as the American football-shaped "Touchdown Terror", the soccer ball named "Goal Eater" and the basketball named "Foul Shot".
There were a total of three Super Madballs in the larger series. In addition, four of the first series of eight Madballs were each made available as water-squirting and miniature wind-up variants during the 1980s. There was also a short series of Head-Popping Madballs, where bodies were attached. Each of the heads on the Head-Popping Madballs were interchangeable and were capable of being ejected from the body, creating more possibilities for enjoyment. There was also a vehicle made for the Madballs called the "Madballs Rollercycle". There were also countless other licensed Madballs items, such as stickers, shampoos, Valentine's Day cards, tablecloths, silly string, party favours and more.
Original series Madballs
- Screamin' Meemie: A screaming baseball with a large tongue.
- Slobulus: A drooling green creature with one eye hanging out of its socket.
- Aargh: A one-eyed, blue Frankenstein's monster-style creature with stitching all over its face.
- Horn Head: A horned cyclops with a nose ring (which is chained to its ear in the Art Asylum era).
- Dust Brain: A mummy with rotting teeth and wrinkly teal skin.
- Oculus Orbus: A bloodshot eyeball (later sporting a mouth in the Just Play era).
- Skull Face: A skull with large eye sockets sporting tiny red eyes, a big set of teeth, and a partially exposed brain (which is depicted as a sentient being in the Just Play era).
- Bash Brain: A red-skinned zombie with a partially exposed brain. This Madball was originally named "Crack Head", but was later renamed "Bash Brain", due to the unpleasant connotations of crack head as a slang term for a drug user.
All Madballs toys were conceived in the early 1980s by the creative team at American Greetings Properties, which was formally named Those Characters From Cleveland, or TCFC: Ralph Shafer, George Chanter, Mark Spangler, Jim Elliott, Kim Hammeren and Vint Gonser. Editorial by Clark Wiley and Tom Jacobs.
Second series Madballs
- Snake Bait: A forked tongue-sporting gorgon (later depicted in the Just Play era as a monster being devoured by a snake).
- Freaky Fullback: A mutant football player.
- Splitting Headache: A monster with the skin on half of its face peeled off.
- Bruise Brother: An ugly biker with a battered blue helmet.
- Wolf Breath: A werewolf with large, rotten fangs dripping with blood (drool in the Art Asylum era).
- Fist Face: A severed hand clutching an eyeball (later depicted as a severed hand with an eyeball emerging from it in the Just Play era).
- Swine Sucker: An ugly, drooling wild boar.
- Lock Lips: A creature with its jaw locked shut and one eye covered by a riveted plate.
- Touchdown Terror: An American football with a manic grin and missile-like fins and tip.
- Goal Eater: A soccer ball with very large pointed teeth.
- Foul Shot: A basketball bursting open to reveal a face with worms crawling out of one eye socket.
These were posable figures, with an ejectable/swappable head:
- Dust Brain, Skull Face, Screamin' Meemie, Oculus Orbus, Horn Head and Slobulus from Series 1.
- Bruise Brother, Wolf Breath and Lock Lips from Series 2.
Due to the popularity of the Madballs, there were many similar toys, such as:
- "Blurp Balls" by ERTL – Boney Tossteeth, T-Retch, Count Heave-A-Heart, Spittooey Sooey, Biff Barfball, Sharkey Skullsquert, Retch-A-Rat Tomcat, and Croakey Bugchuck. These toys were designed by artist James Groman with character names and editorial by Rick Reising.
- "Weird Balls" by The Mel Appel Company – Sewer Face, Worm Skull, Wart Hog, Spit Ball, Shrunk Head, and Snot Nose.
- "Spit Balls" by Lanard Toys – Sharky, 20/20, Ba-Boom, and Crybaby.
Original Madballs re-release
In 2016, vinyl figure company Kidrobot released six of the original Madballs in their original foam style, slightly modified. They also released keychains and vinyl figure blind boxes. These are the Madballs that were released:
- Screamin' Meemie
- Oculus Orbus
- Skull Face
- Horn Head
- Dust Brain
Unlike most toys in the 1980s, the Madballs never had an actual television series. They did, however, have two direct to home video cartoons. The first one was a 22-minute episode in 1986 called Escape from Orb, which featured a female, cartoon-exclusive Madball named "Freakella", modeled after the Bride of Frankenstein. The second home video, released in 1987, was a series of jokes and skits in Monty Python animation style called Madballs: Gross Jokes.
- Screamin' Meemie: A baseball with an eerie grin. He is apparently the Madballs' leader, as he often refers to his friends as the "gang". He also seems to be a friend of Freakella because they are seen together near the end of the introduction and he is often seen speaking with her. He was voiced by Geoffrey Bowes.
- Horn Head: A cyclops face with a horn. He is the strongest of the group and was voiced by Keith Hampshire.
- Aargh: A blue Frankenstein's monster with one eye totally open and one totally shut. He is friends with Slobulus, even though he often abuses him and argues with him a lot, especially over who is the Madballs' biggest fan. He was voiced by John Stocker.
- Skull Face: A skeleton face with a smile, who is best friends with Horn Head and Dusty Dustbrain. Speaks with a slight stutter. He was voiced by John Stocker.
- Dusty Dustbrain: A very intelligent mummy, voiced by Jeri Craden.
- Freakella: A Bride of Frankenstein-esque Madball who hates being called "Mophead", voiced by Cree Summer in the first episode and Taborah Johnson in the second.
- Slobulus: A drooling face with one eye hanging from the socket. He is friends with Aargh, even though Aargh often abuses him and the two often argue, especially over who is the Madballs' biggest fan. He was voiced by Dan Hennessey.
- Bruise Brother: Looks like a biker with a German helmet, eye patch and beard. Wolf Breath's right-hand man, voiced by Dan Hennessey.
- Freaky Fullback: A purple monster wearing an orange football helmet, voiced by Dan Hennessey.
- Oculus Orbus: A giant eyeball, voiced by Len Carlson.
- Bash Brain: A normal face with its scalp ripped off to expose its brain, voiced by Len Carlson. He made a cameo in Escape from Orb and his first full appearance was in Madballs: Gross Jokes.
- Wolf Breath: The leader of the evil Badballs. He is a werewolf who has a habit of using breath spray frequently. Voiced by Don Francks.
- Skip: The Madballs' manager on Earth, voiced by Christopher Ward.
- Sandy: Skip's sister, voiced by Alyson Court.
Home video releases
In 1986, Nelvana released Madballs: Escape from Orb, in which the titular characters are a rock band who performs across the galaxy, but head for Earth as music is illegal on their home planet. The episode was directed by Laura Shepherd and written by Heather MacGillvray and John de Klein.
Marvel Comics' children's comics subsidiary, Star Comics, released a three-issue miniseries (September-November 1986),which continued with issue #4 (June 1987) as a bi-monthly comic book. The series was cancelled with issue #10 (June 1988). The main villains of the comic book were Dr. Frankenbeans, who was in many ways similar to Victor Frankenstein, and his bumbling assistant Schnivelitch, who was similar to Igor.
Additionally, there was the release of a one-shot issue called Madballs Annual (1988). Produced by Marvel in hardback format, it contains the comic book story of the creation of the Madballs by Dr. Frankenbeans and the ensuing chaos as he wrestles to control the rogue roundlings, as well as games and activities.
In early 2006, toy company Art Asylum announced that it had partnered with original rights holder American Greetings to revive the Madballs toys, with both classic characters and new designs. Toy company, Basic Fun Inc., took up the task of producing/selling the New Madballs designed by artist James Groman, who worked on the original line. As of November 2007, the toys began appearing in toy stores in the U.S..
Classic Series 1
Madballs Classic Series 1 consists of five re-designed Madballs characters from the original Series 1 (Screamin' Meemie, Skull Face, Bash Brain, Slobulus and Horn Head) and also the first new Madballs character since the toyline's demise in the mid- to late 1980s: Repvile, an angry, blue, scabrous reptilian. Newly designed sculpts for two other Madballs, Dust Brain and Freaky Fullback, as well as Super Madball Touchdown Terror, were also shown at Toy Fair and Comic-Con 2006, but the latter was never originally released. American Greetings also hinted at the creation of a "Goalrilla" Super Madball which would mimic the design of a soccer ball (possibly a redesign of the original "Goal Eater" Madball). Aargh from the original Series 1 is the only standard size toy that was not redesigned or mooted for redesign.
Classic Series 2
Six more Madballs forming Classic Series 2 were released in the U.S. in 2008 (Freaky Fullback, Wolf Breath and Swine Sucker from the original Series 2, plus Dust Brain and Oculus Orbus from the original Series 1 and new Madball Blech Beard, a puntastically named ghastly pirate). The rebooted Madballs line was noted for its vastly more detailed sculpts; this was especially noticeable in the redesigned original characters.
Sick Series 1, Sick Series 2, Classic Series 3 and Classic Series 4
In addition to the standard Madballs Classic Series, there is an entirely new Madballs variant in stores called Madballs Sick Series. Each of the (so far released) two series in this line features three re-designed Madballs characters from the Classic Series (Bash Brain, Slobulus and Skull Face compose Series 1 and Freaky Fullback, Dust Brain and Blech Beard compose Series 2) which can be squeezed to reveal their innards. For example, Bash Brain has brains that bubble, Slobulus contains eyeballs that pop out and Skull Face conceals spiders that squirm out.
International modern revival
In 2009 European territories, including Italy and the U.K., began receiving a series of 10 officially licensed miniature water-squirting Giraprendi Madballs. The Italian Madballs are slightly larger (golf ball-sized) and more rubbery than their U.K. counterparts. In the U.K. they are dispensed, sealed in small hemi-transparent plastic spheres, from vending machines which also distribute, e.g., Nintendo and Disney branded toys. Some of the toys are based on the planned Classic Series 3 and Classic Series 4 Madballs, some simply with name changes; others are entirely new creations. They are as follows:
- Scum Chum (a mutant anglerfish)
- Brain Rot (a zombie scientist)
- Creep Frog (a horrid frog with a mouthful of minibeasts)
- Flea Bag (a hideous cat/dog hybrid)
- Spews Ooze (a psychotic dragon impaled with weapons and armour)
- Deck Head (a skater speared with a skateboard)
- Eye Sore (an abomination with mouths for eyes and eyes for a mouth)
- Spit Bull (a rabid, branded bull)
- Racket Attack (a mauled tennis player)
- Fang Thang (a saber-toothed cat eating a caveman)
A video game based on the toy franchise, simply titled Madballs, was published in 1988 by Ocean Software for a variety of then-popular 8-bit home computers. It was a top-down view action game and received poor to average reviews from the gaming media.
As part of the E3 videogame show, it was announced on May 31, 2009 that Canadian game developer PlayBrains was releasing a video game sequel to BaboViolent 2, including Madballs characters called Madballs in Babo: Invasion. It was released for Xbox Live Arcade on July 15, 2009. The gameplay involves rolling around expansive terrain maps carrying large weaponry (machine guns, etc.) and causing mass destruction. It also includes four player co-op, team v. team and free-for-all modes over Xbox Live, in addition to a unique multiplayer mode where two teams of players build their side of the map, then attack a base on the other team's side. There is also a multiplayer mode where people can play as the head of their Xbox Live avatars. Of the characters in the game, only two are Madballs: Oculus Orbus and Horn Head. An iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad game based on the Madballs characters titled Babo Crash HD was also released.
2017 animated shorts
In addition to the new product line, AGE and Just Play joined together with Oddbot Studios to produce new animated Madballs shorts. Released on the Madballs YouTube channel on March 1, 2017 , the cartoon features the six core characters – Skullface, Horn Head, Screamin' Meemie, Oculus Orbus, Dust Brain and Slobulus.
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