Cartoon Intro Cavalcade: "G.I. Joe: The Movie" (1987)
I’ve expressed my love for the 1980’s G.I. Joe opening sequences multiple times (especially the one that ran starting with the “The Pyramid of Darkness” mini-series and the TV show proper), but the opening credits for the feature-length G.I. Joe: The Movie deserves a closer look on its own.
Like the opening credits to the TV show, the opening sequence to G.I. Joe: The Movie encapsulates the G.I. Joe vs. Cobra conflict in microcosm, but the movie version expands to three minutes from just one and clearly had a much larger animation budget to work with. The opening kicks off in grand fashion right from the start as seemingly endless Cobra forces assault the Statue of Liberty — an exceptionally provocative sequence that visually summarizes what Cobra is all about, from the hordes of troopers sowing terror to the Crimson Guardsman sharply curtailing freedom of the press. The scene is also mated to highly evocative theme music that borrows from Cobra musical cues from the series without explicitly echoing any of them. It’s a nice bonus for longtime fans of the series, but won’t lose anyone new to the franchise.
Probably my single favorite moment of the opening sequence comes when the musical cue, the lyrics, and the visual of Major Bludd’s C.L.A.W. exploding all combine to answer the song’s question, “Who can turn the tide?” It’s an incredibly potent triple punch to kick off the G.I. Joe theme song and a vigorous counterattack (led by a battle cry seemingly recycled from the show’s opening sequences). From there, all hell breaks loose in a frenzied action sequence that seems to use every single Joe and Cobra ever seen in the TV show. We also get a G.I. Joe teamwork moment when Snake Eyes commandeers a Cobra Trouble Bubble while Alpine takes down a Cobra Firebat using his mountaineering equipment. The two moments combine unexpectedly when Snake Eyes gives Alpine an impromptu airlift to escape the crashing Firebat, providing a visible demonstration of how the Joes work as a team and that teamwork is the best force multiplier you could ask for. The story culminates in a ticking-clock scenario as Cobra Commander sets a bomb at the Statue of Liberty’s base, but Duke scoops it up and attaches it to Cobra’s vaguely biomorphic air carrier just in time to hoist them on their own petard. He then scoops up Old Glory and jets it up to fly proudly at the top of Liberty’s crown with the rest of the team as the sequence comes to a close.
This opening sequence is incredibly ambitious, with more characters on screen and detail than even the biggest episodes of the show ever managed. The budget also shows in the quality of the animation. I don’t think you’ll be able to catch it all in our video player, but there are lots of sequences worth stepping through on DVD or Blu-ray: Shipwreck’s hat getting shot off; Spirit, Quick Kick, Cover Girl, and Bazooka playing their parts in the fight; Beach-Head and Iceberg shooting back-to-back; and General Hawk lighting up the enemy (even if there’s an impossibly long stream of non-sensical shell casings getting ejected from a laser rifle). There’s a lot more in-betweens in all those little flashes of film than are strictly necessary. I think it’s all that extra work in the animation that lets the scene can communicate chaos without being too chaotic to follow.
This opening sequence is so rousing and well assembled that it almost covers up the fact that it doesn’t make a damn bit of sense, even with the looser standards normally in force with G.I. Joe. This stands in sharp contrast to all the other opening credits sequences, which all tell reasonably coherent, action-packed stories in about a minute. What is Cobra attempting to accomplish by assaulting the Statue of Liberty at all? Why would the Joes allow Cobra to land their ground forces and endanger civilians when they’re clearly all waiting in Lady Liberty’s crown to launch their counter-attack? Why is Cobra Commander, who would never do his own dirty work in the show, setting his own bomb? I know Duke is super-tough, but can he really belt Cobra Commander’s metal battle mask without hurting himself more than the Commander? How does a bomb that small blow up such a massive carrier (which, to be fair, is also a question raised in the earlier TV series opening), and wouldn’t the falling debris from that carrier cause as much or more damage than the bomb itself? And don’t even get me started on that bomb timer and the numerous impossibilities it incurs. In the commentary track to the movie, Buzz Dixon conveys some of the same disappointment in this sequence, noting that the regular Sunbow crew would have gladly written something just as rousing but more sensible if Hasbro had only asked them to.
And yet, in their own way, all those logical impossibilities also encapsulate the G.I. Joe/Cobra conflict and the general insanity of the show. No, it doesn’t make sense on an intellectual level, but it smashes emotional hot buttons hard enough and accurately enough that you really don’t care much while you’re watching. I’d also still say that this opening sequence is more effective than the movie that follows, and as such is probably a more fitting sendoff to the Sunbow era of G.I. Joe.