There are certain fictional characters in pop culture media that are, for a lack of better words, reliable. Whether we’re seeing a design version of Mickey Mouse from the 1920s or seeing him kick some tush next to Sora in Kingdom Hearts, we’re aware that it’s the same mouse. But not every character is subject to the same treatment. Some have their traits stripped and rebuilt so often, you wonder if this is even the same entity on screen, such as…
6) Tom Servo
Before Mystery Science Theater 3000 became a Comedy Channel staple, it had humble beginnings on a public channel in Minnesota called KTMA. It starred Joel Hodgson as a young man cruelly shot into space by his bosses only to be tortured by cheesy movies. In order to keep his sanity, Joel takes the spare ship parts and builds robot friends. And the very first pilot episode of the show displays Joel with robot friends Crow…
Loyal to his name, Beeper wasn’t able to riff properly. He, well, beeped. After the initial pilot, Beeper was scrapped and a new silver robot friend took his place.
That robot was named Servo. But it wasn’t until the true first season of MST3K that the familiar red design for our erratic little friend (now officially named Tom Servo) was solidified. Unfortunately, even with his look in place, the character continued to go through major changes.
Servo has gone through more puppeteers and voice actors at this point than even his counterpart, Gypsy who is teetering on three. Tom Servo is somewhat unpredictable. When he was voiced by J. Elvis Weinstein he was artistically interpreted one way. Once Kevin Murphy pulled the strings, the Tom Servo character was perfected and out of Kevin we got an erratic, mentally unstable little turtle-singing, creepy-girl worshiping, impromptu ranting little dude. For the season 11 return, Tom Servo was voiced by Baron Vaughn and produced a completely new (if not unrecognizable) take on Tom Servo. And lastly, for the recent MTS3K Live Tour, he was voiced by staff writer Tim Ryder.
As for season 12, we will see what surprises unfold.
5) Elmer Fudd
Many of the Loony Tunes characters had physically wonky beginnings. Many fans love to discuss the original bald/naked/pink Tweety Bird, or the more traditional hare design for Bugs Bunny. Sylvester may have been bulkier or the Grandma character was originally a prostitute- we can’t be certain. (That last statement may not have any evidence to back it up, sorry.) But it’s fair to say that none of the original Warner Bros. characters have been messed with as much as Elmer Fudd.
He was created by the legendary cartoon-daddy Tex Avery in the 1937 short Egghead Rides Again. Over the next couple of years, Egghead would morph into who we know as Elmer Fudd. But you can see by the pictures that the initial foundation was clear and present.
Which is why it’s so confusing that during the 1941-1942 series of Loony Tunes shorts, Elmer Fudd’s design was completely scraped and he came back as a bumbling fat guy.
I specifically remember the upsetting vibe surrounding these early-40s cartoons. My mom found a cassette tape of them in a Pic N Save bin and I eagerly stuffed it into the VCR. Big mistake- it was uncanny valley levels of disturbing and the tape ended with the “so racist, you could cry and throw up in your mouth” cartoon that is “All This and Rabbit Stew”.
But among one of the cartoons that stood out to me was fat Elmer searching for gold and in the end getting his gold tooth knocked out. This Elmer, along with Bugs Bunny, sang about how we were “In to Win” World War II. Fortunately, when life started being less fucked around the world, the character returned to his “closer to Tex Avery” roots with the Chuck Jones design, and the character (for the most part) has remained untouched since. (Except for that whole “trying to shoot a rabbit or a duck on TV” thing.
4) Chuck E. Cheese
I’ve never seen a dude in pop culture pander so hard to make people think he’s cool. Chuck E. Cheese is the ever-evolving epitome of “Please love me, I’m super cool, I swear!”. Going back to the Mickey Mouse analogy, or even using Mario as an example—if you have a character that’s strong, they don’t have to change for the times. But Chuck E. Cheese is an example of a character that is not only constantly changing but takes it upon himself to smuggle through a wormhole and murder his former incarnation.
Back in the 70s, the character was one of many (known as “The Big C”) in the Pizza Time Players. He was one of many teeth-clacking, slow-blinking, nightmare inducing animatronic characters on stage. I’m not sure why society didn’t realize that video games and pizza were cool enough without a lame rat wandering around freaking kids out, but apparently it was a simpler time and people just bought into it.
Eventually, the rough talking cigar and sleaze persona was dropped and the 80s happened, rendering a gentler faced, but still equally uncool Chuck E. Cheese.
Because everything in the 90s was so “radical”, Cheese experienced another new design. This time, he was clad in skater gear, which made you know he was down to drink Dew and make fun of your sister with you. But when the company took out the ball pits (rendering Chuck E. Cheese restaurants useless) and sales began to plummet, the company knew they had to take action. In 2012, they redesigned the mouse again, and by golly, he has more attitude than Sonic the Hedgehog and the Power Rangers combined.
Finally, the rat-mouse-man was small, the size of an actual rodent, and wielded an electric guitar. Because remember than Guitar Hero game all the kids were crazy about ten years ago? Yeah—we have that now at the Chuck E. Cheese!
From total doofus to sexy dad (and back again), no original Disney character has a cooler (or more constant) evolution than Goofy. Along with Mickey Mouse and later joined by Donald Duck, Goofy was one of the original black and white players in the OG Disney Minstrel. Clad in a tall hat and patched pants (yeah, vaudeville…) Goofy was one of those characters who just couldn’t get anything right.
And while he had his place in early works, he was constantly upstaged by the heroism that is Mickey and the hilarious insanity that is Donald.
But then in the 1950s, something changed.
I don’t know who in the studios looked at Goofy and said “This guy just needs to get laid,” but whoever did, you’re a fucking genius. Because once Goofy got married, laid, and became a father, he shifted into the over-worked every-man that represented every working-class person just trying to catch a break in life.
He was tired. He ate and drank too much. He was bogged down with chores because he’s a good man and helps his wife. Hell, he was even an amazing/actively involved father!
During a time in American history where “Father Knew Best™”, seeing Goofy raising his son was a breath of fresh air, and his misery was something we could relate to.
Unfortunately, that best incarnation of sexy-daddy Goofy is locked away, smoking his Chesterfields in the 50s. I’m unsure if he’ll ever be allowed to see the light of day again. The crazy version was reeled in, and instead, a calmer version of “Goofy the Dad” emerged for the Goofy Movie and Goof Troop franchises. Goofy is also a staple in the Kingdom Hearts video game franchise, where he plays a tightened up/more sophisticated version of his original “tall hat and patched pants” persona.
2) April O’Neil
Typically saved for “Sexiest Cartoons that Gave Me a Boner” countdowns, no character evolution article would be complete without the help of Ms. April O’Neil. A plucky reporter in New York City, April is a clever woman, proving herself a loyal friend to a group of ooze-poisoned Mutant Turtles who are also teenaged…ninjas.
And really, if you ask me, that’s sort of where the character traits end with her.
I often wonder if there was some sort of board meeting where the show-runners (or the film staff, who cares) sat around and hashed out April O’Neil. What kind of person is going to hang around these turtles without prejudice? A person that will protect them again and again without question? A person who is strong and precocious to remember that their career comes first, that they need to get the inside scoop and be the first on that eyewitness scene?
I think we can all agree that if we had to physically describe April in a generic sense, we’d say “yellow”. But come on, even The Man in the Yellow Hat has more distinct physical features than that. If you did a police lineup of all April O’Neil(s), there’s absolutely no way you could recognize them as the same character. There is nothing physically (or mentally, I’d argue, but that’s another article) that defines this character other than “female”, “stands next to turtles” and “yellow, at our convenience”.
As you can see, she even breaks that mold when convenient for her. Movies. 2003 show. Megan Fox in a school girl costume. I’m no comic book expert here, but I feel like Spider Man’s Mary Jane would be easier to identify in a police line-up than April. Now, I’m not pointing out that April’s constant redesign is a good or bad thing. I’m so neutral here it borders on apathy.
But if you’re anything like me, a casual viewer, this was your relationship with April O’Neil over the years:
Original 80s cartoon premiered. Enter girl in the yellow jumpsuit. Thus, April.
Original 1990s film: Enter some broad. You’re confused. They call her April. Therefore, you understand her as April.
Second 90s movie comes out. Another lady is shown on screen who seems relatively comfortable with the turtles. Who’s this chick? Oh, it’s April. They just called her April.
Early 2000s cartoon rehash. Oh what, they hired Kim Possible? Oh, jk, it’s April. They called her April.
New TNMT cartoon on Nickelodeon. Enter high school jailbait flirting with Donatello. Who is this kid? What’s going on with her here? Ohhh, that’s April? Huh…I…well…okay. April.
New Michael Bay produced Ninja Turtles movies. Oh, what luck…it’s bombshell lust-eyed sex pot Megan Fox. Huh, that’s a cool yellow jacket she’s wearing in that one shot. I wonder what her involvement in this movie is, oh sweet mother of science, she’s April O’Neil.
At least her “turtle boy interest of the week” changes with her iteration. Equal opportunity bestiality, right?
Don’t answer that.
1) The Character of a Thousand Faces
This last segment is reserved not for a singular character, but more for a character type: The “It’s Always A Different X” character. Most specifically, starting with our favorite Hyrulian magic-elf-boy, Link. The Legend of Zelda, in a nutshell, is a reincarnation story. It takes place in the same land, Hyrule, with the same three characters (Link, Zelda, and Ganon), but they are always a different version of the same “self”.
Because this is a conscious and very intentional trait of the story, it’s not the same as our characters in the above entries. However, it’s worth pointing out aesthetically because some versions of Link vary so drastically from the others that it almost looks like “random elf” is cosplaying Link.
But it got me thinking about Robin from the DC Universe. Like, all five hundred versions of him. When I found out that Teen Titans Go! Robin (my favorite in the entire world of ever) isn’t the same Robin as let’s say “Boy Wonder”, I was really surprised. Then to learn that Knight Wing Robin was a thing that existed on some time line? It was all a big surprise. Now, again, I’m not well versed in comics. I don’t pretend to be because there are some legit masters in that realm and I’m just going to look like a dingle.
But I will say this: If Bruce Wayne is Batman, all the time, why does he keep calling his sidekick Robin? I get it, the various Robins are probably only hired as apprentices for a few years before they either die or graduate. And the Batman timeline takes place all the way up until the bat is old (like in Batman Beyond). But to the untrained eye, dressing up all of your students in little green undies and calling them Robin is a little too “dress your mistress in your dead wife’s clothes” for me.
Last but not least, it wouldn’t be an article about characters changing drastically without mentioning that little blue speedball Sonic the Hedgehog. I never questioned twice as a kid that Sonic in the cartoons was clearly the same dude from the first two Genesis games. But when Dreamcast came out and he suddenly had long legs, piercing green eyes, and was kissing human girls?
It made a lot more sense why suddenly “Rule 34 Sonic” starring big ol’ Mr. Knish starting taking over the internet.