Mummies aren’t scary. In fact, they’re some of the least scary monsters around, thanks to becoming generic CG action flick villains in movies like The Mummy (1999) and The Mummy (2017). But the decline of the creatures in pop culture began earlier than that, thanks to a TV series titled Mummies Alive, one of the more ludicrous cartoons of the ‘90s.
Mummies Alive was about a group of mummies who return to life to protect a reincarnation of the Pharaoh — who happens to be a skateboarding tween in San Francisco — from an evil wizard named Scarab who needs to murder the kid to attain immortality. Every part of that sentence is extremely late ‘90s wack, but it gets wacker. While Mummies Alive is clearly inspired by the monsters-turned-heroes of Gargoyles, these mummies also have a transformation sequence a la He-Man or Sailor Moon, where they call upon the power of the Egyptian god Ra and get animal-themed armour.
Despite the fact that the female character is named Nefer-Tina and they drive a car called the Hot-Ra, if you watch the first episode, it’s clear Mummies Alive very, very much wants to be a dark, Gargoyles-style cartoon for a slightly older audience…at first. But it didn’t take long for the show to devolve into kiddie nonsense, I suspect because the show’s writers knew they would have either hooked kids into watching or failed to do after the first dozen episodes, at which point it didn’t matter if the cartoon was garbage. That, or the thrill of writing adventures for heroic mummies faded real quick.
As evidence, let me present “Kid Scarab,” the 23rd episode of the series, in which the mummies take a break from being undead warriors with powers and a mission divinely appointed to them and chaperone a goddamn school field trip to a goddamn bread factory. (No, I don’t mean a bakery. I mean a bread factory. It’s all automated.)
Presley, the aforementioned reincarnation of the Pharaoh, has the hots for Cynthia, the older sister of his best friend Walter. So when Presley hears Cynthia angrily complain to anyone within earshot that the adults who had promised to chaperone a field trip she planned have unanimously flaked out, cancelling the trip, the utterly smitten Presley says he knows four “adults” who will happily fill in. Cut to the mummies, wearing fedoras and open trenchcoats that leave their bandages and corpse-like, blue-grey skin clearly visible, hustling a bunch of kids into a couple of school buses.
The wizard Scarab, whose early plans to murder Presley included summoning actual Egyptian gods as well as a “living nightmare scorpion,” decides his best course of action is to transform himself into a small child — complete with a backward baseball hat — and secretly board the school bus, too, and come along on the educational adventure. Emphasis on the education; to my astonishment, the kids get a not-particularly short but very accurate tour of how modern bread is mass-produced given by a bored middle manager. It’s very much the decision of a TV writer trying to hit the minimum page count for a script they are either completely uninterested in and/or actively resent.
When Scarab discovers all this dough is technically alive, he has a ridiculous, embarrassing plan: He turns the dough into a dough monster which will distract the mummies while giving him and his backward cap time to find and kill Presley. It works, to a degree; Presley is left mostly unattended as the mummies discover slicing the dough monster only makes tiny monsters, but, since the dough is rising, they can be smooshed. To put the nail in the sarcophagus, they toss all the dough bits into the oven, where it reforms only to be baked to death.
This gives Scarab plenty of time to find Presley, inexplicably wrap himself around his leg, and bite him in one of the least menacing villain moments of all time. Even when Scarab turns into his armoured wizard form, the mummies aren’t required to defeat him; Presley himself flips the grown man into one of the dough vats. Other than Presley discovering that Cynthia doesn’t give a shit about the kids but coordinated the field trip solely so she could hang out with a hunky dude her own age — who didn’t come on the field trip, so I have no idea how that works — and the bulky mummy taking the baked dough monster to eat later, that’s all there is to the episode.
It may be hard to imagine Mummies Alive ever being good, so instead, imagine Gargoyles pulling something like this. No, it’s not the level of disgrace as G.I. Joe playing an intramural football game against wanted terrorists, but man, it’s bad. In a way, it’s almost worse, because the series started…well, not great, but with a modicum of dignity, much like Scarab. Then, like its main villain, Mummies Alive put its metaphorical baseball cap on backward and flushed itself down a dough vat.
- Mummies Alive had a really good-looking intro (above) and transformation sequence, but the animation of the show itself wasn’t nearly as good. This is called the “ThunderCats Gambit.” By me.
- I really would love to know if those four adults who all backed out of the field trip simultaneously all separately had things come up or discovered the only reason the field trip was happening was to allow Cynthia to hang with some boy and decided it was bullshit they shouldn’t waste their time on.
- Full disclosure, episode 29 is about monster trucks who turn into monsters, but I’m betting this is a much better episode in theory than in reality.
- The mummies often say “Tut” instead of “butt,” as in “Let’s go kick some Tut!” This show couldn’t care less about historical and mythical accuracy — sometimes they don’t even bother to get the Egyptian gods’ animal head right — but this still seems highly disrespectful.
- Oh, I should note that since Mummies Alive takes place in San Francisco this is a sourdough bakery, so we get treated to this line from the middle manager: “It’s fascinating to note that the culture used today is a living remnant of the first batch of sourdough prepared back in 1883.” Told you it was educational.