Despite all the ’90s elements forced into it, Mighty Max is an awesome show. I won’t lie, the concept on paper is inherently goofy and was created specifically to sell toys. A pre-teen named Max is told he is the next cap-bearer (as in baseball cap) and is now the Mighty One. Again, wacky, but Mighty Max combines all the best legends and mythologies of the world and turns them into a strong story. Plus there’s a viking named Norman.
Max, accompanied by a Lemurian Foul named Virgil and a viking bodyguard named Norman, combats evil around the world in various forms. Some are one-off villains like vampires, aliens, or giant octopuses, but most often the threats come from Skullmaster, the main antagonist of the series, or one of his minions. The cap Max wears looks like a typical baseball cap, but has been around for thousands of years. Most of the series deals with destiny, fate and the like, so it would make sense that the ancient Egyptians or whoever could have predicted late 20th century fashion. The cap has the power to automatically open portals when in proximity that lead to any location on the globe.
Before I go any further, I need to talk about the voice acting. The cast is a veritable who’s who of the animated world. I guarantee you’ve heard of nearly every actor on the show. Rob Paulsen (Animaniacs, TMNT) as Max, Tony Jay (Transformers, ReBoot) as Virgil, Richard Moll (Night Court, Batman: TAS) voicing Norman, and Tim Curry as Skullmaster. That right there is some powerhouse casting. That’s not even half of it: Tress MacNeille (Simpsons, Futurama), Jim Cummings (Darkwing Duck, Sonic the Hedgehog), Frank Welker (Transformers, D&D), Charlie Adler (Tiny Toons), and even Ron Perlman were on this show. I’ve said a few times how much I love/appreciate voice actors. This cast floors me.
What made this show great? The amazing stories and dearth of mythology it drew upon while pushing the boundaries of cartoons at the time. Characters died on this show, many of them. While it certainly wasn’t anything grotesque or really even shown, it was still often mentioned and discussed. One of the best examples was the Season One finale, “The Magnificent Seven.” Max and Co. recruit four heroes of legend — Hanuman the monkey King, Beowulf, Modjadji the African rain queen, and Jonayaiyin the Native American legendary shaman — to launch an assault on Skullmaster. Their task complete, the four warriors hold their ground to allow Max, Virgil, and Norman to escape. That is about 14 different kinds of awesome right there.
The series continued to deliver solid takes on well-known or popular stories like “John Carpenter’s the Thing” and “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.” Sadly, the show only lasted 40 episodes across two seasons. Unlike many, many other cartoons, this one actually delivered an ending. Everything came to a head in the two-part finale. Everything. I won’t spoil what happened, but it was one of the best I’ve seen, conceptually at least. My only problem was with the delivery. As an adult, I understand what they were saying in the short minute they used to tie everything up. As a child I didn’t realize that was it. Very solid on paper, though a little weak in execution.
I highly recommend Mighty Max for any nerd. While there is a bit of a hurdle with the initial concept (the ball cap and all), it’s easy to overlook if you don’t think about it too much. Plus, Norman’s awesome.
I miss Tony Jay.