Mighty Max is an animated action/sci-fi/horror television series which aired from 1993 to 1994 to promote the British Mighty Max toys, an offshoot of the Polly Pocket line, created by Bluebird Toys in 1992. It ran for two seasons, with a total of 40 episodes airing during the show's run. It starred the voice talents of Rob Paulsen as Max, Richard Moll as Norman, Tony Jay as Virgil, and Tim Curry as Skullmaster.
The series follows Max, an adventurous preteen boy who receives a package in the mail. The package contains a small statue of a fowl, inscribed with Egyptian hieroglyphs. The translation reveals a message which reads: "You have been chosen to be the cap-bearer. Go to the mini-mart and wait for a sign, Mighty Max." Shocked by the message, Max drops the statue, shattering it and revealing a red baseball cap emblazoned with a yellow "M" which he puts on.
Upon arriving at the mini-mart, he is chased by a lava-monster sent by Skullmaster, a megalomaniacal demon who lives within the earth and has the power to create evil minions. As Max races away, the cap activates a vortex which transports him instantly from his current location (which is assumed to be somewhere in the United States), to the Mongolian desert, where Max is met by Virgil, a nearly omniscient Lemurian, whose appearance is that of an anthropomorphic "fowl" (a running gag in the series is that Max refers to Virgil as a "chicken" to which the Lemurian replies "Fowl, actually."). Virgil explains that Max's reception of the cap was prophesied circa 3,000 BC. Max, Virgil, and Norman, his Viking bodyguard (he is three times larger than Max), travel together around the world, defending Earth against the minions of Skullmaster, who is responsible for the downfall of both the Lemurians and the people of Atlantis. Norman is supposedly immortal and has improvised being various legends, including Sir Lancelot, Thor, Samson, and Hercules, as first talked about in episode 5, "Let Sleeping Dragons Lie." Norman finds Thor's hammer and helm and uses them throughout the episode. When Max first sees him he asks, "You were Thor!?" and Virgil explains that to maintain the Cosmic Balance they had to call in outside help.
Most plot-driving episodes involve Skullmaster or one of his demons, but in many episodes, Max is required to intervene to stop an independent villain. While all episodes involve travel across Earth, one involves time travel, and the portal can even extend into the astral plane as seen in the episode "Souls of Talon".
While generally lighthearted and comical, the show's violence and descriptions of violent acts were considered graphic by some viewers. Many episodes began with a prologue of a person being killed by the episode's menace; while nothing graphic is shown, it was more grown up than most shows aimed at children.
The show's dark series finale featured Max, Norman, and Virgil pitted against Skullmaster and their previously defeated foes. Both Norman and Virgil are killed, leaving Max as the only one to defeat Skullmaster, who is about to gain ultimate power. In the final struggle, Max is unable to defeat Skullmaster, and instead of allowing him to conquer the world uses the cap to send time backwards to the events of the first episode, creating a time paradox. At first, he doesn't remember anything and experiences déjà vu, but after he reads Virgil's modified letter, he recalls everything.
Some fans have criticized the final episode's conclusion for "looping" the end of the series to the beginning. This was most likely the only way the creators could have been allowed to give the series anything resembling a conclusion, however, as cartoon producers of the time were very insistent on the "return to normalcy" storytelling format. Regardless, fans of the show to this day are vocal in their requests for the entire series to be released on DVD.
Virgil (voiced by Tony Jay) — The last living Lemurian, the next step in human evolution, as revealed in one episode. The Lemurians either created or discovered the portals, and later created the key in order to access them. Having a bird-like appearance, the Lemurians valued knowledge above all else and compiled the most extensive library the world has ever known. They were destroyed by Skullmaster in his quest for the key. Virgil is over ten thousand years old, and is very knowledgeable about both the past and future. However, the majority of his trust rests on his ancient texts, and he seems to lack compulsion. Virgil is always serious, and quite often frustrated by Max's carefree ways. What's more, although he looks like a talking chicken and is often referred to as such, he keeps insisting that he is actually a fowl. It should also be noted that Virgil was Skullmaster's teacher, and he is often reminded of this fact.
Norman (voiced by Richard Moll) — Max's bodyguard. In the time of the early Vikings, a young Norman watched his father die at the hands of Spike, a deranged and bloodthirsty warrior. Because of his size at the time, Norman couldn't help when he had the chance (he was unable to lift his father's war-axe), and thus blamed himself for the tragedy; at his father's grave, he vowed to become the greatest warrior that ever lived (cf. "Norman's Conquest"). After a lifetime of battle, Norman was approached by Virgil to become the guardian. He earned his immortality by defeating the Conqueror, an undefeated champion, and swore to defend the Mighty One with his life if necessary (cf. "Dawn of the Conqueror"). As the Mighty One's bodyguard, Norman is usually serious but unlike Virgil, he seems to enjoy Max's carefree ways. Norman's exploits through the ages were the basis of numerous legends, including Thor, Hercules, Samson, and Little John, presumably among others. Norman is shown throughout the series to be practically impervious to fear, though he is not above disgust. The only creatures which give him pause for terror are spiders. In the show he meets several of tremendous size and strength. It is in hinted in the final episode he may have finally met his match in combat and died at the eight hands of an enormous spider. His common catch phrase is, "I eat ____ for breakfast", usually following the introduction or emergence of the group's latest foe, such as, "I eat zombies for breakfast." Another is the wry statement made upon meeting one of the many monsters they encounter, "That is a big ____."
Skullmaster (voiced by Tim Curry) — The primary villain of the series and the arch-nemesis of the Mighty One, Skullmaster is an ancient warrior-sorcerer whose lust for power has driven him to destroy at least two civilizations, the Lemurians and the Atlanteans. He destroyed the Lemurians out of wrath when they would not give him the secrets of the key, and he used the souls of Atlantis to power his Crystal of Souls. At some point, Skullmaster was imprisoned deep within the earth, where he sealed the reigning king, Lava Lord, into solid rock and took control of his minions. During the second season, Skullmaster is free to roam the earth and proceeds to cause all kinds of trouble.
Warmonger (voiced by Frank Welker) — Skullmaster's right-hand man, so to speak. The dimwitted Warmonger usually finds himself doing Skullmaster's dirty work, but also enjoys the positions of relative power this gives him over other minions. Cruel and sadistic, he briefly showed ambition when he tried to kill Skullmaster in the episode "I, Warmonger". Believing himself successful, Warmonger then found himself at a loss as to what to do with his newfound power and position. The death of Skullmaster proved to be a ruse, however, and Skullmaster was proud of his pupil for showing such deviousness.
Max's Mother (voiced by Tress MacNeille) — An archaeologist who works for the local museum. She often travels all over the world, and usually leaves Max to his own devices. She tries to be a good mom, though, and tends to worry about Max since finding out that he is the Mighty One. More than once Max has had to rescue her, as her love for archaeology sometimes overrides her better judgment. Despite her initial shock at seeing a talking chicken (fowl actually), she and Virgil often have historical discussions, and she is one of the few people who can out-talk the Lemurian.
Bea (voiced by Kath Soucie) — One of Max's two best friends, Bea is an intelligent young girl who has assisted Max (and saved him) on more than one occasion. Level-headed and cool under pressure, she often balances Max's exuberance and impulsiveness with a more intellectual approach to problems. Bea has also expressed more than a passing romantic interest in the Mighty One (cf. "Snakes & Laddies"), which has yet to be reciprocated.
Felix (voiced by Corey Burton) — Max's other best friend, Felix usually cares more about eating and having fun than saving the world. He takes Max's role as the Mighty One in stride, never letting it overshadow the fact that Max was his friend before he was the Capbearer. Felix has assisted Max on numerous occasions, but usually gets left behind when the adventure starts. He is always been dependable, though, and Max knows he can rely on Felix for help whenever he needs it.
Thor — Max's pet green iguana and loyal companion, Thor has helped out Max on a couple of occasions. During Max's first encounter with Dr. Zygote, Thor was "de-evolved" into a dinosaur and ended up rescuing Max from Zygote's Tyrannosaurus rex-like "Mutosaurus" (cf. "Zygote's Rhythm"). After the good doctor's exit, Max evolved Thor back into his usual, pocket-sized self.
Lava Lord (voiced by Frank Welker) — The previous ruler of underworld, Lava Lord was dethroned and sealed in solid rock by the more powerful Skullmaster. At the beginning of season 2, Lava Lord was freed as a side effect of Skullmaster's crystal of souls being destroyed at the end of season one. His revival switched the alligence of the lava beasts to him as he is their natural master. He planned to destroy Skullmaster with a giant robot called Magus which he was very proud of and treated like a son. Though he is technically evil and has no love for humans, his hatred for Skullmaster has caused him to align with Max on more than one occasion.
Occasionally, Max is shown in another setting such as a library or museum, or is simply heard recorded on an answering machine (such as "Armageddon Outta Here", the series finale). However, these sequences were not broadcast in some regions, such as Britain.
Generally, the educational messages at the end of each shows were not the "remember to brush your teeth" type used in some action cartoons of the same time. Instead, the message was generally of scientific, historical, or cultural significance (for example, the mythology of another culture, new astronomical theories of that time, or the fact that Native Americans were first believed to be Indians by European explorers).
The merchandising was far more popular than the show itself. Mighty Max toys were sold as playsets of varying sizes with very small (usually non-articulated) figurines inside. Each playset contained a Mighty Max figure as well as one or more villains and sometimes Virgil, Norman, or both. There were a small series of larger, more expensive playsets with various mechanical and electronic features such as opening jaws (on an island playset shaped as a dragon's head) and lights. Almost all episodes of the TV series were based at least loosely on one of the Mighty Max playsets.
In 1995, due to the popularity of the playsets at the time, the McDonald's Happy Meal offered a toy playset featuring Mighty Max. Also, Mighty Max was turned into a video game for the SNES and Sega Genesis(which were packaged with a VHS copy of Day of the Cyclops and Let Sleeping Dragons Lie, respectively), and a handheld game for Tiger Electronics and Systema. The show generated other merchandise such as a comic book (10 issues), a sticker album, a board game, and several video games. In some countries, replicas of Max's cap were sold, although not all are necessarily officially licensed merchandise.