In the far flung regions of human colonized space, children who are born and raised amongst the stars sit around camp-fires on barely habitable chunks of rock and tell each other stories of vampires and aliens that burst out of your chest. You will also hear stories of Operation: Aliens, a would-have-been 90’s Saturday morning kids cartoon based around Kenner’s Alien figures.
The story goes that in the early 1990’s, 20th Century Fox was looking into producing an animated Alien series aimed at children that would have aired during the 11:30am slot on Saturday mornings. It would have aired while Kenner’s popular Alien figures were in stores and interest in the Alien franchise was being bolstered by Alien 3’s theatrical release.
The legend continues that an unnamed Korean studio had produced a pilot episode for the series and stills had been obtained from their website and circulated online. Ultimately, it would be cancelled due to the poor performance of Alien 3. Or so the myth would have us believe.
The truth of the matter is somewhat different, though. There simply was no Operation: Aliens series in development and there was no long lost pilot episode.
So what is the truth then? Back in May of 2017, Jimbo X of The Internet Is In America did most of the heavy lifting and spoke to former Fox Kids executive Margaret Loesch. She explained that Fox Kids never ordered a pilot episode, nor did the idea of an animated kids show even originate from the studio.
Instead, Kenner approached Fox with the idea of doing the series to coincide with their action figure releases but there were concerns over broadcasting standards.
“My recollection is that Kenner Toys designed some prototypes and showed them to us at Fox. Kenner was a remarkably creative company and they had great designers. They did the same with ‘Planet of the Apes’ – [the] toy prototypes they designed were remarkable but ultimately we decided not to go forward with an animation series for either property because of the broadcast standards issues we would face with both concepts.”
Loesch further elaborated that 20th Century Fox itself would also be a hurdle in getting the series made. Despite the higher-ups in Fox Kids actually being interested in the prospect, there was concern over adapting Alien into a more child friendly format and “the Fox theatrical division did not want it turned into a ‘children’s property’ at that point in its life.” And so that is where it all stopped on the Fox side of things.
“But what about those screen grabs?!” I hear you all screaming. They are legitimate Alien animation artwork but they were not from a lost pilot episode of Operation: Aliens. They were actually the work of Will Meugniot, who recently discovered the Operation: Aliens series legend and went to work setting the record straight.
“The topic of ‘Operation Aliens’ a non-existent animated Aliens pilot came up in a thread on my Aliens commercial storyboard post. The sites reporting it use frame grabs I published on my old website, and they are from the unaired commercial animation I produced. There was NEVER an Operation Aliens pilot film at least not with this animation.”
In 1992 Will worked on a series of three animated Alien commercials that would have been used to promote Kenner’s Aliens toyline while he was at Graz Entertainment working as a producer for the animated Conan the Adventurer and X-Men series.
The animated commercials were created by AKOM Production, a South Korean animation studio, and utilised the same team that was working with Meugniot on the Conan series. At the same time AKOM was also working with Will Meugniot on X-Men.
All three of the ads featured the Kenner designed Colonial Marines fighting against the Aliens in a battle for control of an unnamed space station. Will stated that “much attention was paid to the “toyetic” elements of the marines’ vehicles and weapons.”
Will was selling some of his storyboards of his work on these commercials and I was fortunate enough to be able to purchase them. You can see some of the original storyboards for the above screengrabs and some previously unseen panels in the gallery below.
Ultimately the animated commercials wouldn’t be aired on television. Instead Kenner opted to go with live action trailer, showing kids playing with the figures. Speaking on the matter, Will Meugniot said:
“A new snorkel camera had come to the attention of the commercials’ live action producer, allowing him to film the toys with unprecedented clarity, so he decided to use this footage instead of the completed animation in the final cut of the commercials.”
And that’s the true story behind the mythical Operation: Aliens cartoon series. It’s possible that those three animated commercials are hidden away on a VHS in someone’s storage but no pilot episode was ever made.
The Operation: Aliens brand would continue on through an eclectic release of various merchandise. Following the child focused intent, stationary sets, jigsaw puzzles, plaster moulding sets all bearing the Operation: Aliens branding would hit the shelves. You can check out more of the Operation: Aliens branded merchandise over at Aliens Collection.
Ultimately the actual action figures would be released under the banner of Aliens, where the aesthetic and (presumably) spirit of any potential Operation: Aliens series would live on in Dark Horse’s short comics that were included with the various action figures. Operation: Aliens also lived on in a gorgeous looking Den Beauvais illustrated sub-set of the Aliens/Predator Universe trading card set released in 1994.
The concept of an animated Aliens series would be revisited in 2007 when Bluefields Creative pitched Aliens: War Games to Cartoon Network and 20th Century Fox. It would have been in the vein of the early 2000’s version of the Star Wars: Clone Wars animated series with short episodes.
According to Bluefields’ now offline website, Aliens: War Games would have had a plot that revolved around wet behind the ears Colonial Marines training against Aliens:
“Newbie is a rookie Colonial Marine in a future where the Alien threat is widespread and feared by all. Marine training now involves HOT “Bug Hunt” scenarios – HOT meaning this is not a simulation. Rookies are dropped into a semi-controlled environment with live ammunition and REAL aliens (though tethered with remote stun collars). Each episode of the animated series would start with a mini-episode of Newbie and his training exercises, which get more elaborate each week. “
“The animated piece at bluefieldscreative.com represents the first training exercise, pitting Newbie, with very limited ammo, in the middle of an abandoned terraforming station that is home to one single alien. A very dangerous game of one-on-one hide-and-seek. Of course, by the end of the first season, Newbie will be integrated into the main storyline and seeing his first taste of real action in the war against the bugs, but these mini-episodes will serve as a fun pre-credits adventure prologue to each episode.”
While Cartoon Network was interested in Aliens: War Games, 20th Century Fox wasn’t and the series would never go into production.
I’m sure some people might breath a sigh of relief knowing that the Alien series wasn’t juvenilzed too much but I know growing up in the 90s I would have been all over an Operation: Aliens cartoon series! I’m still slightly surprised Alien never got the Roughneck Chronicles treatment that Starship Troopers did in the early 2000s! And with that, we close the book on Operation: Aliens.