Ah, summer vacation. No school, no homework, the possibilities are endless for kids. And if you happened to be a kid of the 90s, summer was marked by sugary treats like Dunkaroos and Freeze Pops, dial-up internet, fighting with your siblings over the family Gameboy, visiting the local Blockbusters and renting a VHS or two, and cooling off in the blow-up pool in the backyard with a Capri-Sun. Summer vacation would not be complete without Saturday Morning Cartoons, a block of new and rerun cartoons made for kids! Starting up our line-up of Summer Saturday Morning Cartoons is one of the more iconic animation/production studios of the 90s- DIC Entertainment!

Reach for the Stars…?

DIC (Diffusion Information Communications) Entertainment started in France, by Jean Chalopin in 1971, as a part of the already well-established Radio Television Luxembourg Group. Their early shows from this ten-year period were primarily made for a French audience in mind, with majority of the eight projects being made in collaboration with a variety of animation studios to offset in-studio costs, all produced within France. This would lead to their first international contract with Japanese animation studio Tokyo Movie Shinsha (TMS) in 1981, producing Ulysses 31 (1981-1982) and a failed pilot for Lupin VIII (1982). Ulysses 31 would be the studio’s first quasi-hit, with an English dubbed version released on television in 1985; as the name implies, the anime is a take on Homer’s Odyssey and other classical Greek mythos, set in a science-fiction future in space.

Lupin VIII would be DIC’s first attempt at a detective show, based on the popular Lupin III anime and manga by Kazuhiko Katō, but in space. It was doomed from the beginning to fail- the show had to be heavily censored, it had to appeal to a younger audience (in oppose to Lupin III‘s young adult demographic), and DIC changed the main theme, characters, and settings to mirror that of George Lucas’ Star Wars series, which was gaining popularity internationally. Essentially, DIC and TMS took a pre-existing, edgy, popular, unique and appealing character and franchise, and attempted to make it… none of those things. There was also issues with international copyrights and who actually owned the rights to the Lupin concept and name; Japanese mangaka Kazuhiko Katō, who wrote the manga from 1967-1971, or French writer Maurice Leblanc, who wrote a serialized series about a detective named Arsène Lupin, from 1905-1923.When it became clear that Lupin VIII was not going into production, DiC Entertainment and TMS went their separate ways.

Go-Go-Gadget: Animate!

With one hit and one failed pilot under their belt, DIC Entertainment needed to make up for their losses. The next step for the company was to create a division in the USA, with the main goal of adapting pre-existing French and Japanese DIC productions into English and for producing cheap and appealing cartoons for American audiences. Headed by Andy Heyward, Bruno Bianchi and Bernard Deyriès, the newly formed DIC Enterprises division would find their first big hit in the States with Inspector Gadget (1983-1985), co-created by Andy Heyward, Jean Chalopin, and Bruno Bianchi, with animation out-sourced to numerous studios in Japan. Many of the DIC Entertainment shows going forward, although based on American franchises, would have a pseudo-Japanese anime style. The 1980s proved to be a decade of international contracts, various animation productions and adaptions, and many iconic DIC Enterprises cartoons hitting the airwaves- The Littles (1983-1985), Rainbow Brite (1984-1986), Care Bears (1985), Healthcliff and the Catallic Cats (1984-1985), and The Super Mario Super Show! (1989), to name a few.

DIC Entertainment would continue to sign on big-name contracts for numerous franchises, with mixed reviews, throughout the mid-90s. None would surpass the popularity of their first wave of cartoons, although some series became cult classics decades after their initial airing.

It was commonplace for DIC Entertainment to adapt video game characters and greeting card characters into animated properties, live action works were just a tad bit harder. Starting with the oddly specific, ALF (1986-1990) would start off as a self-parodying sitcom about a stranded cat-eating alien taken in by a middle class, nuclear family living in the USA. The original show was live action, with ALF being part costume, part puppet, performed by Paul Fusco, as he fumbles through the daily lives and challenges of living in the late 80s. It might be one of the cheesiest live action sitcoms I’ve ever watched, but ALF was popular enough in its time to somehow garner not one, but two different animated shows, animated by DIC Entertainment. ALF: The Animated Series, which focused on brand new adventures of ALF and his girlfriend Rhonda on their home planet of Melmac, bookended by live-action segments of ALF commenting on the animated portion of the episode. Like the original ALF series, ALF: The Animated Series was broadcast on NBC, lasting from 1987-1988, acting as a quasi-spinoff from the original live action series. Next, DIC Entertainment would produce ALF Tales, which created additional content along the second season of ALF: The Animated Series, taking ALF and his friends and putting them into traditional fairy tale stories and roles.

The 1980s were also a time of timeless science fiction and supernatural films, like 1984’s Ghostbusters, which DIC Entertainment was also tasked with adapting into an animated series. Well, sort of. When the original movie was about to hit theaters, Filmation, who had made a life action ghost hunting series called The GhostBusters in 1975, threatened to sue Columbia Pictures for using the Ghostbusters name. Eventually, Universal Studios, who had ownership of the 1975 The GhostBusters copyright, settled to sell the title alone to Columbia Pictures for $500,000 plus 1% of the film’s profits; Columbia Pictures has not paid a cent to Universal Pictures due to a film industry loophole. Now that the movie had proved to be profitable, and the characters marketable with toys, the next step was to enter into the world of animation. Hiring DIC Entertainment, Columbia Pictures knew they’d have more legal issues if the animated series also went by Ghostbusters, so to make it more differentiated from Filmation’s original series, Columbia Pictures re-named the animated series The Real Ghostbusters. Airing from 1986 through 1991, The Real Ghostbusters follows Ghostbuster‘s main cast of characters, with different voice actors, and a much more silly approach to the whole “ghost busting business”. And to make things even more confusing, in 1986, Filmation also relaunched their version of Ghostbusters, which was an animated sequel series to the 1975 life action series. The Real Ghostbusters would last a full five years longer than Filmation’s animated Ghostbusters series, further cementing which series had the most staying power.

I couldn’t write an article about DIC Entertainment without mentioning two Sonic the Hedgehog series, and the impact that had not only on the Sonic video games they were based (loosely) on, but also into modern day with the Sonic the Hedgehog live action films and television shows. DIC Entertainment had previously made Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog (1993), an energetic, frantic, and zany take on the characters and stories from the popular Sega games. Adventures would also be the original source of Sonic’s infamous love for chili dogs, a trait he’s carried through modern iterations of the franchise. DIC Entertainment’s Sonic the Hedgehog (which I’ll refer to as Sonic SatAM) was the opposite of Adventures, with a much darker, mature undertone and more complex and overarching plotlines. Sonic SatAM would introduce the audience to the more evil side of Dr. Robotnik (the main antagonist of the franchise) during his dictatorship reign over Mobius (the main setting); one of Sonic’s few romantic interests, Sally Acorn, who would be retconned1 in future adaptions of the story; and would be adapted into comic book form by Archie Comics, spanning twenty-four years and numerous volumes. Sonic SatAM was adored by fans because it wasn’t afraid to tackle tough issues, like death caused by war or complex relationships between Sonic and Sally; something that fans have not really seen in the same capacity in the franchise again. It was also one of the few DIC Entertainment shows based on a pre-existing franchise to have an over-arching storyline, while most of their catalogue leaned more into episodic cartoons that could be produced quickly. Sonic SatAM had to have extra time and effort put into the pre-production to provide the storytelling necessary to connect all the episodes together, creating a show that could span multiple seasons. Sonic SatAM accomplished just that goal, but was cut short when ABC was bought by Disney, cancelling the third season and ending the series on a perpetual cliffhanger.

DIC Entertainment’s logo was impossible to escape from on the silver screen, and with their big-name clients like Nintendo, American Greetings, Hallmark Cards and Hasbro, DIC was making a name for itself behind the camera, too. DIC Entertainment, unfortunately, became synonymous with “Do It Cheap”, a play on the DIC acronym. Their strategy was simple enough- underbid rival animation firms to get work, underpay overseas studios (paying per program, rather than hour worked), and get it out fast, cutting corners wherever and however necessary. While this certainly meant that DIC Entertainment’s work through the 1990s was steady, it wasn’t the most legal, or moral. And so, starts the next chapter of DIC Entertainment’s story…

The Many Lawsuits and Acquisitions of DIC

The 90s would be stained with numerous lawsuits and acquisitions, selling DIC Enterprises to numerous corporations and firms, buying it back when their finances steadied, selling assets over and over again, numerous rebrands with buyers, losing financially viable contracts, signing off on bigger contracts, losing contracts, and eventually being lumped into Cookie Jar Group in 2008 and being shut down officially later that year, ultimately making researching DIC Entertainment a huge headache (trust me, I tried). If you are interested in hearing about the numerous lawsuits and acquisitions that ultimately led to DIC Entertainment’s downfall in the turn of the century, I recommend watching Stagehands Inn’s video, “How DIC Entertainment Died“.

Lasting Impressions

DIC Entertainment is one of those production companies that seems simple at first glance; and while they had plenty of projects occurring simultaneously, one could assume that just one animation studio was hired by DIC Entertainment. Where DIC Entertainment, and other sub-contracting production companies like it, struggled, was with the hiring and work practices of numerous overseas animators and production crews. DIC Entertainment simply bit off too much for it to chew, and choked to death as a result. As we move further away from the 1990s, DIC Entertainment’s relevancy in children’s entertainment has dissipated, replaced by modern remakes and adaptions of the beloved characters from the 80s and 90s. There’s no doubt that the pseudo-anime style introduced by the Japanese animation studios hired by DIC Entertainment inspired a generation of artists and fans.

Join us in June in the next segment of Summer Saturday Morning Cartoon Studios: FILMATION!

DIC Entertainment Materials at WPPL

The Littles (SearchOhio)

Care Bears (SearchOhio)

Inspector Gadget – The Gadget Files

The Super Mario Super Show! – Box Office Mario, The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3

ALF: the Animated Series (SearchOhio)

The Real Ghostbusters – Volume 1, Volume 2, Volume 3, Volume 4, Volume 5, Volume 6, Volume 7, Volume 8, Volume 9, Volume 10 (SearchOhio)

Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog (SearchOhio)

Sonic the Hedgehog (SearchOhio)

Other Referenced Materials at WPPL

ALF – Season 1, Season 2, Season 3, Season 4 (SearchOhio)

Ghostbusters, Ghostbusters II

Archie Comics Sonic the Hedgehog (SearchOhio)

Sources

https://www.bcdb.com/cartoons/Other_Studios/D/DiC_Entertainment

https://ejunkieblog.com/2021/09/23/the-history-of-dic

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DIC_Entertainment

Footnotes

  1. “Retcon” is nerd lingo for “returning to the canon (state).” In many Western cartoons and comic books, characters and settings reset at the end of each story, never truly learning the lesson from the last episode, no lasting physical ailments, and never aging. In the case of Sally Acorn, the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise erased side characters to return back to the original, canon state of the original video games, never appearing again in future adaptions, with the exception of the Archie Comics series. ↩︎

Cat B.

Cat has been a part of the WPPL team since 2022, and writes the "Cat's Picks" and "Nostalgic Showcase Presents" series; she enjoys researching defunct and not-so-defunct studios and reading graphic novels in her spare time.