Back in 2003, rapper Murphy Lee of the St. Lunatics squeezed a Voltron reference into the No. 1 single, "Shake Ya Tailfeather." Later, he explained the robot's significance in a video entitled "Voltron 101." (His heavy eyelids in the clip suggest he was intoxicated by a bit more than just the magic of Voltron.)

Voltronic love has bled into pro sports, too. Last year, basketball star Kobe Bryant was asked about the Miami Heat's "South Beach Trio" of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. "They've basically formed Voltron," he said with a laugh.

Corray loves that his brand has become synonymous with unity. But in true geek fashion, he quips that the show's value lies elsewhere: a frequent plot formula involving an evil, deceptive witch.

Jennifer Silverberg
The original defender of the universe surveys his jurisdiction, circa 1984.
Courtesy World Events Productions
The original defender of the universe surveys his jurisdiction, circa 1984.

"I could sit here and [talk] about the teamwork and everybody coming together," he said in a DVD interview. "But frankly, I would have to say the life lesson learned from Voltron is don't trust a mysterious stranger who's claiming to be a relative.... It's probably just Witch Haggar in disguise."

Outside the Tivoli Theatre in the Delmar Loop, in the evening heat of August 18, the Voltron staff looks anxious. Cinema St. Louis is closing its local filmmakers showcase for the first time in its eleven-year history with an animated feature, the Voltron Force: New Defenders trilogy.

As a camera crew interviews Bob Koplar, Jeremy Corray deals with guest list issues and Tiffany Ilardi snaps photos. All three are sweating.

Granted, nobody's sweating like intern Wes Murrell, who's inside the eight-foot Voltron costume. (He's so wide that, later, to enter the lobby, he must clomp through the double doors sideways.) Murrell clowns for fans on the sidewalk as passersby aim cellphone cameras at him.

No large crowd forms. Inside the theater, many vacant seats remain, even though the Koplars sprung for enough tickets to let kids in free. Just as in 1984, a new Voltron project is a gamble.

World Events tried to infuse the Nicktoons series with enough new and old to create what marketers call a "co-viewing experience" (for kids and parents). After all, kids don't have credit cards. Adults do — the same ones who are buying the DVD reissues and classic XL T-shirts.

It's adult affection for the franchise that lured Hollywood. The live-action Voltron feature is being developed by Relativity Media — a powerhouse production company that openly avoids risk. And a Voltron movie, made by and for grownups, would not be risky. Like Smurfs and the upcoming Thundercats feature, Voltron is nostalgia. And nostalgia sells.

But here's the irony: Voltron is only a sure bet today because once upon a time, it wasn't, and Ted Koplar and Peter Keefe piled all their chips on it anyway. Yes, the Koplars and their staff want to cash in on nostalgia. But they're the ones who earned it in the first place. They're still hustling for the brand. On this steam bath of an evening, they're still sweating.

Back out on the sidewalk, a family of four approaches the eight-foot robot knight. The father tells his two young sons to sidle up to the robot for a photo. The boys balk.

"Get in the picture with Voltron or you're not going into the movie," the father says. "This is big for Daddy."

They won't budge.

"OK, fine, I'll get in the picture!" And he does. Crossing his arms like a tough guy, grinning like he did when he was eight.

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