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Madballs were a series of toy rubber balls created by AmToy, a subsidiary company of American Greetings in the mid-1980s. The toys incorporated gross-out humor in the vein of Wacky Packages and Garbage Pail Kids. Each ball had a character synopsis and an odd name.
The toys were tennis ball-sized rubber or foam collectible bouncing balls with horrendous faces and designs which had a fascination particularly on the part of boys; however, the toys only sold well as a passing fad. There were two series of the original round Madballs collectible toys, each series consisting of eight balls each as well as a collection of Super Madballs, a larger version of the original Madballs shaped like other sports balls, such as the American-football-shaped "Touchdown Terror", the soccer ball named "Goal Eater", and the basketball named "Foul Shot".
There were a total of three super Madballs in the larger series. In addition, four of the first series of 8 Madballs were each made available as water-squirting and miniature wind-up variants during the 1980s. There was also a short series of Head-Popping Madballs, where bodies were attached. Each of the heads on the Head-Popping Madballs were interchangeable and were capable of being ejected from the body, creating more possibilities for enjoyment. There was also a vehicle made for the Madballs. It was called the "Madballs Rollercycle". There were countless other licensed Madballs items, such as stickers (non trading), shampoos, Valentine's cards, tablecloths, silly string, party favours, and more along those lines.
- Screamin Meemie: A baseball with a frightening face and large tongue
- Slobulus: A drooling creature with one eye hanging out
- Aargh: A one-eyed, blue Frankenstein's monster
- Horn Head: A horned cyclops
- Dust Brain: A mummy
- Oculus Orbus: An eyeball
- Skull Face: A skull
- Crack Head: A head with an exposed brain. This Madball was later renamed Bash Brain, due to the unpleasant connotations of crack head as a slang term for a drug user.
Second series Madballs
- Snake Bait: A gorgon
- Freaky Fullback: A mutant football player
- Splitting Headache: A monster with the skin on half of his face peeled off.
- Bruise Brother: An ugly biker
- Wolf Breath: A werewolf
- Fist Face: A severed hand clutching an eyeball
- Swine Sucker: An ugly boar
- Lock Lips: A creature with its jaw locked shut with a padlock and one eye covered by a riveted plate
- Touchdown Terror: An American football with a manic grin and missile-like fins and tip
- Goal Eater: A soccer ball with very large pointed teeth
- Foul Shot: A basketball bursting open to reveal a face with worms crawling out of one eye socket
Soon after the toys' launch in the mid-eighties complaints began to roll in from parents of children who had been injured by being struck with the semi-hard rubber balls from series 1. Madballs were subsequently manufactured using a softer foam material, and series 2 Madballs were manufactured using foam from their introduction. The distinction is important to collectors of the toys.
Comprised a poseable figure plus ejectable/swappable head and were:
- Dust Brain, Screamin' Meemie, Oculus Orbus, Horn Head and Slobulus from Series 1
- Bruise Brother, Wolf Breath and Lock Lips from Series 2
Due to the popularity of the Madballs, there were many similar toys, such as:
- "Blurp Balls" by ERTL – Boney Tossteeth, T-Retch, Count Heave-A-Heart, Spittooey Sooey, Biff Barfball, Sharkey Skullsquert, Retch-A-Rat Tomcat, and Croakey Bugchuck. These toys were designed by artist James Groman with character names and editorial by Rick Reising.
- "Weird Balls" by Mel Apple – Sewer Face, Worm Skull, Wart Hog, Spit Ball, Shrunk Head, and Snot Nose
- "Odd Balls/Ugly Balls/Sadballs" by Bonkers – Dirty Devil, Blood Bulge, Lace Face, Evil Knievel, and Ugly Ball
- "Spit Balls" by Lanard Toys – Sharky, 20/20, Ba-Boom, and Crybaby
These items never became as popular as their Madball counterparts.
Unlike most toys in the 1980s, the Madballs never had an actual television series. They did however have two direct to home videos. The first one was a 22-minute episode in 1986 called "Escape from Orb", which featured a female, cartoon-exclusive Madball named "Freakella", modeled after the Bride of Frankenstein.
The second home video released the following year was a series of jokes and skits in Monty Python animation style, called "Madballs-Gross Jokes"
Characters included in the animated series
- Screamin' Meemie: A baseball with an eerie grin. He is apparently the Madballs' leader as he often refers to his friends as "gang". He also seems to be a friend of Freakella because they are seen together near the end of the intro and is often seen speaking with her. He was voiced by Geoffrey Bowes
- Horn Head: A cyclops face with a horn. He is the strongest of the group and was voiced by Keith Hampshire
- Aargh: A blue Frankenstein's monster with one eye totally open & one totally shut. He is friends with Slobulus even though he often abuses him and argues with him a lot. He was voiced by John Stocker
- Skull Face: A skeleton face with a smile who is best friends with Horn Head and Dusty. He was voiced by John Stocker
- Dusty Dustbrain: A very intelligent mummy, voiced by Jeri Craden
- Freakella: A Bride of Frankenstein-esque Madball who hates being called Mophead, voiced by Cree Summer in the first episode and Taborah Johnson in the second.
- Sandy: Skip's sister, voiced by Alyson Court
- Slobulus: A drooling face with one eye hanging from the socket. He is friends with Aargh even though Aargh often abuses Slobulus and the two often argue, especially about who is the Madballs' biggest fan. He was voiced by Dan Hennessey
- Bruise Brother: Looks like a biker with a German helmet, eye patch and beard. Wolf Breath's right-hand man, voiced by Dan Hennessey
- Freaky Fullback: A purple monster wearing an orange football helmet, voiced by Dan Hennessey
- Oculus Orbus: A giant eyeball, voiced by Len Carlson.
- Bash Brain: A normal face with its scalp ripped off to expose its brain, voiced by Len Carlson. He made a cameo in Escape from Orb and his first full appearance was in Gross Jokes.
- Wolf Breath: The leader of the evil Badballs. He is a werewolf who has a habit of using breath spray frequently. Voiced by Don Francks
- Skip: The Madballs' manager on Earth, voiced by Christopher Ward.
Madballs: Escape from Orb
In 1986 Nelvana released "Escape from Orb". The episode was later released in VHS but has not been made available on DVD yet. As Nelvana does not have a mention of Madballs on their website, copies of this episode can only be found by used video resellers and auction sites.
Amazon sums up the episode as "The Madballs are a zany animated rock band who rock and roll their way across the galaxy. Music is illegal on their home planet so they make a break for it on Earth." The episode was directed by Laura Shepherd, and written by Heather MacGillvray and John de Klein.
The special begins with the Madballs being sentenced to hard labour on their home planet, Orb, by its dictator, the evil Commander Wolfbreath. Orb is a planet inhabited entirely by balls, where music and the bouncing & landing of balls are banned. Wolfbreath and his goons, the Badballs, have taken over the planet and sentence the Madballs to make a bust of himself. The Madballs are the only surviving rock and roll band on Orb, as all the other bands have been destroyed by the Badballs. The Badballs seek to destroy the Madballs in the hopes of ridding Orb of all music forever. At the same time, Slobulus and Aargh work on a spaceship in the hopes of leaving from Orb.
On Orb, the Madballs escape to perform a secret rock concert, but Commander Wolfbreath and the Badballs notice the sound of the rock music and place the Madballs under arrest. They manage to defeat Wolfbreath and his goons. A disgraced Commander Wolfbreath orders the other Badballs to go after the Madballs, which have escaped through a sewer. Almost cornered, the Madballs are saved from the sewer by the pair of Aargh and Slobulus. Aargh and Slobulus, despite arguing over who they believe to be the Madballs' biggest fan, offer to help the Madballs escape in their spaceship. Although Freakella is reluctant at first to escape (she says she wants to keep her feet on the ground) with the Madballs, Aargh, and Slobulus, she joins the Madballs anyway. When the escape happens, Wolfbreath vows his revenge on the Madballs "if it's the last thing I do".
The Madballs are on a bumpy ride on their ship through space. On the on-board television, the Madballs are delighted by what they see to be rock and roll music on Earth, with a band called The Cartoons about to perform, being introduced by their manager, Skip. The Madballs then decide to go on to Earth. Meanwhile, on Earth, Skip is desperate because the Cartoons have not yet been able to make it to their concert. His sister, Sandy, receives a phone call in which she is informed that the Cartoons are in Alaska and are not returning. Back in space, the Madballs are looking forward to heading to Earth, until they realize that Wolfbreath and the Badballs have left in a spaceship of their own and are going after the Madballs, and he threatens the Madballs with a broadcast warning. Wolfbreath orders the firing of lasers to go after the Madballs' comparatively rickety spaceship as they go through an asteroid belt. The Madballs survive the belt and eventually land on Earth at the site of the concert. They sing a cover of "Great Balls of Fire" by Jerry Lee Lewis to an enthusiastic crowd. However, Wolfbreath's spaceship lands on Earth, and after the Madballs give their performance, he and his Badballs order the Madballs to return to Orb. An angry Freakella, offended by being called "Mophead", leads an attack on the Badballs, forcing them back into their spaceship and sending them back to Orb. The crowd cheers yet again. The special ends with Skip agreeing to be the Madballs' manager.
Madballs: Gross Jokes
In 1987, a second Madballs video, "Madballs: Gross Jokes", was released. The 22 minute video featured the Madballs performing skits similar to Monty Python.
Marvel Comics, under their subsidiary children's comics division, Star Comics, created a comic book series based on the Madballs property. It began as a 3 issue mini-series in 1986 and continued at issue #4 as a bi-monthly comic book in 1987. The book was cancelled at issue #10. The main villains of the comic were Dr. Frankenbeans, who was in many ways similar to Victor Frankenstein, and his bumbling assistant Schnivelitch, who was similar to Igor.
Additionally, in 1988, there was the release of a one-off Madballs annual. Produced by Marvel in hardback format, it contains the comicbook story of the creation of the Madballs by Dr. Frankenbeans and the ensuing chaos as he wrestles to control the rogue roundlings, as well as games and activities.
In early 2006, toy company Art Asylum announced that it had partnered with original rights holder American Greetings to revive the Madballs toys, with both classic characters and new designs. Toy company Basic Fun Inc. took up the task of producing/selling the New Madballs designed by artist James Groman, who worked on the original line. As of November 2007, the toys began appearing in toy stores in the US.
Classic series 1
Madballs Classic Series 1 consists of five re-designed Madballs characters from the original Series 1 (Screamin' Meemie, Skull Face, Bash Brain, Slobulus and Horn Head) and also the first new Madballs character since the toyline's demise in the mid-late 1980s: Repvile', an angry, blue, scabrous reptilian. Newly designed sculpts for two other Madballs, Dust Brain and Freaky Fullback, as well as Super Madball Touchdown Terror, were also shown at Toy Fair and Comic-Con 2006, but the latter has yet to appear in stores. American Greetings also hinted at the creation of a "Goalrilla" Super Madball which would mimic the design of a soccer ball (possibly a redesign of the original "Goal Eater" Madball). Aargh from the original Series 1 is the only standard size toy that has not been redesigned or mooted for redesign.
Classic series 2
Six more Madballs forming Classic Series 2 were released in the US in 2008 (Freaky Fullback, Wolf Breath and Swine Sucker from the original Series 2, plus Dust Brain and Oculus Orbus from original Series 1, and new Madball Blech Beard', a puntastically named ghastly pirate). The rebooted Madballs line was noted for its vastly more detailed sculpts; this was especially noticeable in the redesigned original characters.
Sick series and Classic series 3 + 4
In addition to the standard Classic Series Madballs there is an entirely new Madballs variant in stores: 'Madballs Sick Series'. Each of the (so far released) two series features three re-designed Madballs characters from the Classic lines (Bash Brain, Slobulus & Skull Face compose Series 1, Freaky Fullback, Dust Brain and Blech Beard Series 2) which can be squeezed to reveal their innards. For example, Bash Brain has brains that bubble, Slobulus contains eyeballs that pop out, and Skull Face conceals spiders that squirm forth.
In Fall 2009 there were plans to release third, and later fourth, series of both Classic and Sick Series Madballs:
- Series 3: Snake Bait, Fist Face, Lock Lips, Puck Teeth, Nail Biter, Mosh Pitts
- Series 4: Bruise Brother, Splitting Headache, Bottom Feeder, Eye-Sore, Klang Fang and Shrunk Punk
Sick Series variants were planned to be Fist Face, Mosh Pitts and Lock Lips for Series 3, followed by Bottom Feeder, Splitting Headache and Klang Fang for Series 4. Ultimately, these toys were never released.
In 2009 European territories including Italy and the UK began receiving a series of 10 officially licensed mini water-squirting Giraprendi Madballs. The Italian Madballs are slightly larger (golf ball sized) and more rubbery than their UK counterparts. In the UK they are dispensed, sealed in small hemi-transparent plastic spheres, from vending machines which also distribute e.g. Nintendo and Disney branded toys. Some of the toys are based on the planned Classic Series 3 and 4 Madballs, some simply with name changes; others are entirely new creations. They are as follows:
- Scum Chum (a mutant anglerfish)
- Brain Rot (a zombie scientist)
- Creep Frog (a horrid frog with a mouthful of minibeasts)
- Flea Bag (a hideous cat/dog hybrid)
- Spews Ooze (a psychotic dragon impaled with weapons and armour)
- Deck Head (a skater speared with a skateboard)
- Eye Sore (an abomination with mouths for eyes and eyes for a mouth)
- Spit Bull (a rabid, branded bull)
- Racket Attack (A mauled tennis player)
- Fang Thang (A sabretooth cat eating a caveman)
A video game based on the toy franchise, simply titled Madballs, was published in 1988 by Ocean Software for a variety of then-popular 8-bit home computers. It was a top-down view action game and received poor to average reviews from the gaming media.
As part of the E3 videogame show, it was announced on May 31, 2009 that Canadian game developer PlayBrains was releasing a video game sequel to BaboViolent 2, including Madballs characters called Madballs in ... Babo: Invasion. It was released for Xbox Live Arcade on July 15, 2009. The gameplay involves rolling around expansive terrain maps carrying large weaponry (machine guns, etc.) and causing mass destruction. It also includes 4 player co-op, team v. team and free-for-all modes over Xbox Live, in addition to a unique multiplayer mode where two teams of players build their side of the map, then attack a base on the other team's side. There is also a multiplayer mode where people can play as the head of their Xbox Live avatars. Of the characters in the game, only two are Madballs: Oculus Orbus and Horn Head. An iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad game based on the Madballs characters titled Babo Crash HD was also released.
- Major Stone
- "Sinclair Infoseek − Madballs". World of Spectrum. Retrieved 2007-09-10.
- "Madballs by Ocean Software". Cpczone. Retrieved 2007-09-10.
- "Madballs". Lemon64. Retrieved 2007-09-10.
- Whitall, Susan (March 8, 1986). "The ugliest toys ever—Madballs!". Newsday. The Detroit News. p. 2 (Part II). Retrieved August 21, 2010. (registration required (. ))
- http://madballscentral.blogspot.com/2008/02/anyone-rememberblurp-balls.html; http://blarghhhspot.blogspot.com/2010/05/gross-out-legend.html
- Official Madballs site
- Madballs Revival Article @ I-Mockery
- Madballs Article @ X-Entertainment
- Madballs Episode @ X-Entertainment
- Madballs @ Big Cartoon Database
- A Listing of Madballs Toys
- Madballs Toy & Toon Archive!
- Madballs: Escape from Orb! at the Internet Movie Database
- Madballs: Gross Jokes at the Internet Movie Database
- Official site for the Madballs video game