“Kids wanna see McTwirls, and Kickflurries, the Big Frontwayossies, the Big Varial Sewee-Back Switch… Extreme Sports is where it’s at, Mr. Grimley.”
In “Lost Cels”, we take an in-depth look at the animated films and TV shows that failed or have been somewhat forgotten by time in order to see if they deserve their less-than-stellar reputations.
05] Tony Hawk in Boom Boom Sabotage
Director: Johnny Darrell
US Release Date: 12th September 2006
If you are of a certain age, like I am, then your childhood was likely dominated to some degree by Tony Hawk. You may not have skateboarded personally, you may not have been within 10,000 miles of an X-Games event, and you may not fully understand why there is a skateboard trick called the “Impossible” that is in fact quite possible to perform, but you at least knew who Tony Hawk was. Tony Hawk was more than just a professional skateboarder – quite honestly, the number of people who have actively sought out footage of the man doing his day job is most likely very low compared to the amount of people who know what he does – although he is a very good skateboarder. Tony Hawk was a brand. He was the figurehead of an underground subculture’s mainstream transition who happened to be in the right place at the right time to capitalise on that.
In August 1999, Activision released Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. Two months earlier, Tony had landed the first recorded instance of The 900. Activision had signed Tony’s likeness over to a videogame long before The 900 was successfully pulled off, back at the start of ‘99 to be precise, but the first Pro Skater ended up arriving at precisely the right moment in time to take advantage of The Birdman’s rising fame. The 900 was the big flashy crossover moment that propels otherwise niche sports into semi-mainstream attention; think American Soccer whenever the National Men’s and Women’s teams compete in their respective World Cups. Tony had a showstopper highlight of physical skill to wow non-devoted audiences with, backed up by nearly 2 decades worth of competition accomplishments, and now he had a videogame to his name so that everybody not checked in could discover skateboard culture from the comfort of their own home.
One year later, MTV would premiere Jackass, the television transition of the CKY crew and Johnny Knoxville & Jeff Tremaine which had its roots in skateboard culture, albeit with little actual skateboarding featuring in it. In essence, what you had in Jackass and the Tony Hawk videogames were the culture and appeal of skateboarding distilled down to their purest forms, being given mainstream outlets whilst, crucially, carrying an air of authenticity. Upon reflection, people like to bash the late-90s as a time of “EXTREME!!” where all corporations and marketers and such were trying to court that teenage boy demographic in as blatantly pandering and condescending manner as one could manage, and they’re not exactly wrong. The 90s would create Kirby commercials like this, was the decade that made Hackers and Swordfish, and would have members of the Pop Punk breakthrough sharing the airwaves with Smash Mouth.
What works like Jackass and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater would provide is a representation crafted by people who actually lived it, given an unmeddled platform by the kinds of execs that can grant national exposure to something with the realisation that you can’t cynically manufacture this stuff. You get a tangible love and passion in both Jackass and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater that connects with those in their target audience for that simple pure reason. There is, after all, a reason why Punk is so connected to both of those properties: that focus and prioritisation of authenticity above all else.
That, however, means that those existing in this culture have an unspoken shelf-life. Stick around for too long and you become a Brand, the very thing skateboarding culture, with its roots firmly implanted in Punk, rebels against. By the time the 2000s were just 3 years old, corporations were already cynically exploiting the natural counter-culturalism of skateboarding culture and its associated imagery for their own gain. Even the Tony Hawk’s videogame brand was being sold downriver with spin-offs being applied to any “Extreme Sport;” soon hitting a nadir with Disney’s Extreme Skate Adventure, a cynical-as-shit holiday tie-in that genuinely features Reel Big Fish’s “Sell Out” on the soundtrack, presumably as a cry for help on the part of the developers. The Tony Hawk’s videogame series would peak commercially with 2003’s Underground – creatively, depending on your preference, with either 01’s Pro Skater 3, 04’s Underground 2, or maybe 06’s Project 8 if you’re the kind of mad bastard that believes such a thing – before slowly petering out into irrelevance, chasing trends and gimmicks in a desperate attempt to remain in the spotlight.
I bring this specific evolution up not just so I can write a whole bunch of words on the Pro Skater games, but to make a larger point. Although they were and, given the mass disappointment that accompanied the complete bedshitting of the Pro Skater 5 revival in 2015, still are beloved by a whole generation of fans who matured with the series, the Tony Hawk’s games were a Brand and, at a certain point, they became yearly obligations designed to tick some boxes and make its publisher lots of Christmastime moolah. Tony Hawk may be a skater, but he too became a Brand over time, as the series became more and more of a cultural juggernaut. He was making cameos in Jackass movies, xXx, and even Drake & Josh television specials. He put his name on a travelling circus show, the Boom Boom HuckJam; one for extreme sports, yes, but a circus nonetheless. And every single year until 2008, without fail, there would be a brand-new Tony Hawk’s game on store shelves for people to buy. Eventually, the authenticity entirely dissipates and you’re left with the cynical bottom-of-the-barrel-scraping that Brands and Corporations indulge in at some point or another.
So, in 2006, the world was presented with Tony Hawk in Boom Boom Sabotage, the direct-to-DVD animated celebrity movie. The lineage of the celebrity cartoon is a long, very-infrequently-illustrious thing, and resultantly the most anti-punk thing that one can put their name to. These are products that, typically – not always, for there can be the occasional very-good exception – work as Brand Management first and Everything Else second. They’re selling the celebrity at its centre in rather the same way that many 80s cartoons were selling the merchandise they came with, not coincidentally the decade that most of these celeb-toons were created. This, however, creates a minor problem with Tony Hawk: the man himself is not really a massive personality. Yes, I know that I opened up this article with a large list of his accomplishments and repeatedly mentioning his videogame, but how much of that is related to the man himself as a person? The name carries cache, but even despite everything, Hawk himself at the time was mostly relatively unremarkable as a personality. This is important since the celeb-toon requires a larger-than-life personality at its centre, working best or most memorably with people, like André 3000 or Jackie Chan or Mr. T, who are pretty much already cartoon characters in real life.
To recap, then: Boom Boom Sabotage was a celeb-toon in the mid-2000s, just as the subgenre was on its last legs, starring a celebrity who was a household name but mostly an unknown in terms of personality – and the personality he did/does have, for anybody who searched out that stuff at the time, was very down-to-earth and reserved – plugging a culture that was being driven back underground as a result of years of corporatisation and would have sneered at the entire concept to begin with. And this is all before we get to those charged with fashioning something out of all that.
In September of 1994, the first-ever fully Computer-Animated television series debuted on ABC in America and YTV in its native Canada. That show was called ReBoot and its production company was Mainframe Entertainment, an animation studio also responsible for the original Beast Wars: Transformers series and Max Steel. But by the turn of the century, their television work had dried up, with all of their series having been cancelled, something almost definitely not helped by the implosion of Fox Kids, their main American network, at the time. Consequently, they turned into straight-to-DVD journeymen for much of the 2000s, pumping out Hot Wheels and (especially) Barbie films annually like clockwork. In a way, Mainframe were the perfect people to tackle the utterly thankless task of crafting Boom Boom Sabotage: they had plenty of experience pumping out this sort of purposefully low-budget disposable schlock, and their time working on Max Steel (a series they kept making direct-to-video movies for even after its televisual cancellation) meant that they had a certain knowledge about the extreme sports culture and where it stood in the 2000s. Hawk had even cameod on an episode of Max Steel in 2001.
(Before we continue: the following embed is the only video clip of the film that I could find on all of YouTube. Specifically, it’s the whole film, so feel free to view the madness for yourself before we continue here.)
I first saw Boom Boom Sabotage by complete accident on a random Sunday afternoon on Boomerang in (what I want to say was) 2008. This was the only time it aired in the UK in any form, to my knowledge, and I never saw or heard of it again afterwards, but my brother and I both sat and watched the thing in complete bafflement, almost like we were both using the other as some kind of test to prove that what we were watching was real. Years after, I would occasionally find a reference to it online somewhere, but ultimately fail to find any substantial clip to bring the memories flooding back. It would take until early 2014, when I saw Escape from Planet Earth, for me to find tangible evidence that it existed, but in a way I honestly wish I never had found my way back to it. Boom Boom Sabotage is weird, both as an initial watch and then on the deeper nuts-and-bolts level upon further viewings, in a way that feels less like a celeb-toon and more like those low-budget 50s barely-B-Movies that local TV networks would play at the dead of night to pure confusion by those who stumbled upon them. If Mystery Science Theater 3000 covered animation, this is exactly the kind of film that fits neatly into their wheelhouse: that kind of cheap, hokey, amateur, yet altogether strange film that doesn’t so much inspire revulsion as legitimate morbid curiosity.
Admittedly, though, revulsion is an understandable reaction to have when watching Boom Boom Sabotage since this is one deeply, deeply ugly film. In my Despicable Me 3 review, I mentioned that Silas Ramsbottom is one of the ugliest character designs I have ever seen in a major studio animated feature, and I used the qualifier of “major studio” in order to provide suitable exception for the cast of Boom Boom Sabotage. In a way, you can see what they were going for: the antagonists are all circus freaks, it stands to reason that they should all look suitably freakish, and this is a film that aims to be indebted to skate culture, so it stands to reason that there should be at least some amount of toes in the art style of a few ‘zines. But “seeing what somebody was going for” is not an excuse for “actually going through with it” and the results are almost across-the-board abominations, regardless of whether the characters are intentionally supposed to be offputtingly ugly or not.
So you get skater designs that wouldn’t have passed muster as a default custom skater in Downhill Jam, complete with facial expressions that have been carved out of stone, necessitating lots and lots of head bobs and gangly arms to create the illusion of life going on behind these wedding cake toppers passing themselves off as protagonists. These are topped by the Birdman himself, who looks less like Tony Hawk and more like a giraffe badly wearing the skin of the real Tony Hawk. And as for the circus freaks, the team at Mainframe arguably did way too good of a job, with legitimately horrifying designs that bail headfirst into the Uncanny Valley at maximum speed – Grimley the ringleader’s thousand-yard stare and extended forehead, the strange sickly-green skin tone of his cowboy-pirate dwarf number two, a gang of Hip Hop clowns that aren’t so much “scary” as just “confounding,” and, the piece-de-resistance, evil snarling killer winged-monkeys that are sincerely better suited to being the stars of an animated Leprechaun-style Horror movie than this thing.
Boom Boom Sabotage has a major visual problem, is what I am getting at. It’s not just in the designs themselves, though, even if they are still uniquely ugly in a way that push things over the top. Producing quality 3D CGI animation on a tightened budget, whether that be TV or direct-to-DVD levels, is really hard, and it’s something that Mainframe had clearly struggled with throughout their existence up to that point, although they’d found ways to try and mitigate those issues somewhat in ReBoot (it’s set in the world of a videogame so of course it looks stiff and blocky and filled with lots of empty space) and their Barbie movies (they’re toy adaptations so there’s a sort of sense in every stage effectively being a large empty canvas with a skybox wrapped around it). Sabotage, however, fails to find a (semi-)logical mental leap to justify just how lifeless and empty its entire world feels – the result, at best, occasionally feeling like it’s taking place in your most-creatively bankrupt younger brother’s tossed-together Create-a-Park map from the Tony Hawk games.
This is not helped by the constantly-moving camera, which bobs and weaves and tracks like the director was so enamoured by that option in Driver’s Film Director mode that he just refused to ever turn it off, and ultimately left me feeling more than a little queasy at points. Rather than invest any of the limited funds into trying to make the base visual designs look less-awful through lighting effects or better textures, Boom Boom Sabotage instead invests that money in extensive motion capture of its skateboarding. Skateboarding that, for the record, is barely featured in the film itself, what with the plot being based around the prior-mentioned HuckJam and a kidnapping plot instigated by circus freaks, and most chase sequences (including the finale) involving vehicles or even goddamn Penny-farthings. Instead, outside of the opening credits, the only other prominent instance of skateboarding comes right in the film’s middle, during the frantic time-sensitive search for Tony, whereupon the film stops dead for a full 5 minutes (I counted) so that our kid crew can bust some mad tricks, dude, in a drainage-basin and a random power-station they found in the middle of the desert.
Said completely-random interlude is also the most dedicated screen time that our supposed protagonists get throughout the entirety of this 66 mins + credits extravaganza, for the record. In a way, this is not a surprise, as the kids are never the true focus of the celeb-toon. Though they may get some screen time and the thinnest sketch of a character – here involving The Cool Kid, The Film Nerd, The Younger Kid, The Girl, and, for reasons that genuinely escape me, The White Rap Kid Who Speaks With A Borderline-Offensive Blackcent – these kids are intentionally nothing more than empty vessels for the target audience to project themselves onto. These kids are meant to effectively be little more than stand-ins for the viewer, allowing them to vicariously experience being best buds with the featured celeb in question: watching them do their respective things, being complimented by them, maybe even rescuing them with some bold ingenuity in the climax.
Tony, however, spends a very large majority of the film off-screen, captured and board-less, forced to dress up in a chicken costume and humiliate himself by riding (gasp) a scooter! Also, to be perfectly honest, he’s not exactly a fountain of charisma and wit in the times he is featured on screen. Which is fine outside of the film, since he is just an ordinary man who’s damn good at skateboarding, but brings me back to that initial problem of Tony and his persona not really being conducive to the celeb-toon in the first place. So, instead, we spend most of Boom Boom Sabotage in the presence of our villains: Grimley and his merry band of Circus Freaks, who have fallen on hard times due to there not being much of a demand for circuses anymore and because Grimley’s cousin, the Mayor of the town of Lincolnville, is spitefully trying to force Grimley out of existence as he’s looking to exploit the popularity of Extreme Sports with the youth of the town, even declaring that his own cousin is “dead to [him].” For those of you wondering, Grimley is supposed to be the undeniable bad guy out of these two because he’s “weird looking” and, direct quote from the Mayor, “you’re the one who chose a career in Circus-try!”
I’m not about to go into a giant thing where I deliberately read the alignments of our heroes and villains as the opposite of their intentions, but it is curious just how unashamedly corporate and cynical Boom Boom Sabotage is about the very subculture it’s supposed to be selling to the kids, especially one that places such a premium on authenticity. Hell, the entire existence of The White Rap Kid alone is enough to tip things over into contemptuousness even before I tell you that he is also almost never seen without a videogame system in hand, declaring things to be not as good as Pro Skater 2. Any counterculture is all about positioning itself in opposition to what’s old, stale, and passé or uncool, but when that counterculture is now itself the mainstream, then said rebellion comes off as either incredibly mean-spirited – especially since it’s not that hard to read the cast-off circus folk as metaphors for a forgotten working class being left-behind by a gentrifying, upscale, future-focussed upper-class culture, of which the HuckJam has been co-opted by – or blindingly un-self-aware, hence why every Shrek sequel is just embarrassing to sit through now.
Again: the HuckJam is itself a circus. Admittedly, not one based largely around the outdated concept of a freak show, but the pomp and pageantry and outlandish feats of skill of a traditional circus can be found in the HuckJam on both the concept and actualisation levels (both in-film and in real life). The finale of the film, in which a freed Tony and The Cool Kid crash Grimley’s hostile takeover of the HuckJam to rescue the other captured kids and performers, itself plays out like one of those daredevil slapstick interludes from an actual “crummy” circus, and yet the film still plays out this conflict in pure black and white, completely incognisant of the similarities of the two sides of this divide. Grimley’s Circus is old and crummy and therefore must go to make way for Tony’s new and cool HuckJam that, despite effectively being a circus but with extreme sports iconography, is in no way like that stinky old circus. Honestly, if it weren’t for a brief moment of Grimley trying to murder the captured kids with the terrifying winged monkeys live on stage, I’d be wondering why exactly we’re supposed to cheer for his eventual arrest. His awful cousin, the Mayor, gets away scot-free and joins in on the brief “yay, closure!” ending despite being way more of a villain than Grimley ever was, and representing the very insincere corporate establishment this culture is supposed to be in opposition to in the first place.
I admit, all of this is almost definitely reading far too much into what is a super-cheap direct-to-DVD celeb-toon for kids, but it is emblematic of the generally-confused nature of Boom Boom Sabotage on the whole. Thematically, the whole film is a total mess, one that ultimately ends up inadvertently throwing the entire subculture that it’s supposed to be selling as cool and awesome to the kids watching it under the nearest and biggest bus. Narratively, we spend more time with the villains of the piece than we do with our supposed Big-Name Star or even the kids that we’re supposed to project ourselves onto, and there’s a complete lack of self-awareness over the actual hero/villain dynamics at play. Visually, it’s just ugly; nothing else, just ugly and empty in ways that I cannot excuse. It even splits its “gag” quota between failed attempts at John Kricfalusi-type gross-out humour and cheap recurring gags involving wigs, and extended homages to The Shining, Happy Days, and even references to A Few Good Men that kids sure as hell won’t get and adults would be insulted by if they had any reason to be watching this thing in the first place. Which they don’t, because, again, this is a super-cheap direct-to-DVD celeb-toon for kids.
Even more so than most celeb-toons, Boom Boom Sabotage is a massive catastrophic failure on every single conceivable level with the only, and even then incredibly minor, sparks of interest or passion in its creation coming from the very occasional appearances of some motion-captured skateboarding; sequences existing in such a vacuum that they only have enough visual power to render one moving character on-screen at a time. And yet, I can’t help but be enamoured by the thing. I think part of that comes from it being my aforementioned White Whale for close to a decade, but it’s also just such a weird and misconceived thing from the ground up that I have nothing but respect for its existence. Most of the time when I watch something bad, I feel like I’ve had my time wasted because it’s bad in many obvious, easily-avoidable, completely generic ways that I’ve seen a dozen times before and therefore gained nothing from watching.
But works like Boom Boom Sabotage, whilst still being bad in many obviously generic ways – chief of which being just how late it missed the boat on the whole skateboarding subculture, leading to the desperately condescending movie equivalent of that Steve Buscemi 30 Rock joke – make me feel like I’ve gained something by watching them. It’s not bad in a boringly mediocre and worthless way, and it’s not bad in the ways that anger or insult me. Instead, it’s bad in the way that a fascinating head-scratching fiasco is bad, where watching the thing go further off the rails and attempting to decipher just how something like this came to exist in this way is perversely watchable. The kind of film that I created my Best Worst Film category for in my year-end awards, where the whole mess somehow loops back around to being amazing. Or, in far less needlessly wordy terms: I am a huge fan of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and the way that they are able to make you appreciate utterly inept disasterpieces, and Boom Boom Sabotage would fit right in on there.
Likely unsurprising most of you reading, Boom Boom Sabotage has not had any staying power and has largely been forgotten to the winds of time. Even after it was plucked out of obscurity for an episode of RebelTaxi’s YouTube show – an episode I haven’t seen as, due to being a lazy-arse of the highest order, I initially planned to do this piece back when I first started Lost Cels in 2015 and stayed away from it whilst writing in order to avoid any intended or unintended overlap with his thoughts and comments – you can Google search the film and find next-to-nothing about it outside of a brief article on its skateboarding mo-cap and a recent 700-word fan-fic in which Steven Universe characters watch the film for some reason. It was supposedly aired on Toonami once in November of 2006, and said Toonami Wiki also attempts to claim that this film won a “Best Production – Feature Length” award at something called “The Canadian Awards for the Electronic & Animated Arts” without any citations to back that up, but other than those, the thing is a total ghost.
With the onset of the new year 2007, Mainframe Entertainment, after undergoing a merger, rebranded itself as Rainmaker Entertainment and proceeded to spend the rest of the decade pumping out direct–to–video Barbie films, which they still do to this day. That said, whilst the Mattel Barbie license has undoubtedly been good to Rainmaker’s continued existence, the studio wasn’t just content to limit their ambition there. No, they had dreams of making proper theatrical animated features, and in 2013 they would realise their ambitions for the first time by partnering up with The Weinstein Company to produce and release… Escape from Planet Earth. Escape from Planet Earth is a REALLY BAD FILM in all the boring ways that Boom Boom Sabotage was not and, whilst still managing to scrape together a modest profit from its $40 mil budget, was mauled by critics, including yours truly way back when, before being summarily discarded to the bottom of the Netflix barrel where some unlucky bored family can unwittingly stumble across it and suffer through instantly-outdated Simon Cowell jokes and tired redneck stereotypes for themselves.
Far more noteworthy was what Rainmaker put out last year: the theatrical adaptation of Insomniac’s seminal action-platformer series Ratchet & Clank. Whilst still not a great or even particularly good film – it’s thoroughly average and largely unfunny, but, as a big fan of the games, I did get a kick out of seeing the worlds, characters, and weapons of Ratchet & Clank on the Big Screen – it was at least a step up from their prior efforts, particularly in the visual department, looking absolutely stunning despite only sporting a $20 million price tag. Unfortunately, not only did the film do worse on average critically than Escape from Planet Earth, it was absolutely dead on arrival at the box office; debuting domestically to just under $5 million from nearly 3,000 screens, dropping 70% in its second weekend, and failing to recoup even that miniscule budget worldwide when all was said and done. The sorry debacle cost Rainmaker a $10 million impairment charge and put their planned adaptation of another famous PlayStation platformer, Sucker Punch’s Sly Cooper series, on seemingly-permanent hold – criminally denying me the chance to get a PS4 remake tie-in for that like I did Ratchet, dammit.
Still, it’s not all bad news for Rainmaker. For one thing, again, they’re still pumping out those Barbie films, and they got to branch out slightly by working on the effects of Sony Pictures Animation and WWE Studios’ Surf’s Up 2: WaveMania (a film I still refuse to believe is a real thing that exists) earlier this year. More notably, however, is that Rainmaker relaunched the old Mainframe brand in 2013 as its rebooted television division. They’re the ones responsible for the new all-CG Bob the Builder, a change that the Bob the Builder fandom reacted to with grace and maturity, but it’s been running for the past 2 years and currently doesn’t seem to be coming to an end any time soon. As for their future: did you know that we’re getting an animated Spy Kids series on Netflix produced by them at some point? Because I sure as hell didn’t before I got to researching this part of the article – this whole thing is just a magnet for weirdness, I’m telling you. And finally, because of course, 2018 will also see a reboot of ReBoot, which despite that snark I’m honestly intrigued by. Whilst I highly doubt the studio will ever make that jump up to even the mid-leagues that they’ve attempted before and may try again, I get the feeling that Rainmaker are going to be ok doing their own thing. After all, lest we forget, they always have Barbie.
Tony Hawk, meanwhile, much like skate culture as a whole, soon receded from the mainstream. His videogame series would receive two more proper instalments – the last of which, 07’s Proving Ground, was saddled with this utterly bizarre advert that’s more memorable than the game itself – before Activision’s rampant milking of the cow finally caught up with them, leading to a long drawn-out and just plain painful-to-witness death over the following decade with failed reboot after failed reboot. But the Hawkman himself has made the transition to elder statesman surprisingly smoothly in the years since. This can arguably be primarily attributed to his wholehearted embrace of YouTube, with the RIDE Channel (which currently boasts 1.2 million subscribers), and social media, both of which were natural outlets for skateboarding culture to transition to, what with them merely being global extensions of the old tape-swapping market that skateboarding initially incubated within. Hell, I even saw a GQ profile about him and his son the other day! This is ultimately more befitting him than something like Boom Boom Sabotage, reframing him back as a lovably dorky ordinary guy who is a master on the board and ultimately cool for those very reasons.
One last thing. Coming with the caveat that I can only speak from personal experience as a White middle-ish-class guy living in the North of England in a mid-sized town in the arse-end of nowhere with little interactions with kids… whilst I still see a skateboard every now and again, the thing that most kids are riding everywhere, in streets and in parks, nowadays? Scooters.
Callum Petch has heard it, heard it, it sounds like the 90s.