Thursday, February 18, 2010

Cartoons Which Made Me Who I Am

Now and then someone will come along and offer what *THEY* think were the best cartoons of the 80s. You know, that precocious period of time which nurtured most Gen X'ers into the slackers we would later become. In college, we would wax nostalgic over dinner about our fave cartoons. Sometimes too loudly, and much to the chagrin of the foreign students sitting behind us who hadn't the foggiest clue WTF we were yapping about.

But this is not that list. No. Far be it for me to proclaim with authority what were the best or favorite cartoons of that era. No, this is just a simple rundown of the Top 10 cartoons that had an impact on one single person in the 80s and early 90s. That person being me, of course.

So, these are the cartoons that might not have aged well over time, or for that matter may not have even been all that endearing to kids watching at the time of their airing. But those which, for one reason or another, had a hand in shaping me into the grownup I am today. Yes, these cartoons were the ones I watched the most, and which to this day I wished I owned on DVD in their entirety. These cartoons made an impact on me that all others did not. That's not to say any cartoons that do not appear on this list were terrible, but that they were not the most impactive on my development. Some on the list aren't even all that educational or special, but just happened to be on at the right place and at the right time to make me feel all fuzzy and right with the world.

The only exception is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. This late 80s gem is not on this list, but should be. I had to drop it because apparently Lionsgate, who owns the rights to the TMNT cartoon franchise, are being douches and disallowing all copies of the original opening theme and montage to be viewed by anyone on YouTube but themselves I guess. To you Lionsgate, I and 80s kids everywhere say:

Now, all that being said (and without further ado), I present thee with my selections, followed by a brief description as to why the cartoon rocked my childhood world. Click on the video clip after each title to watch the introductory sequences to each cartoon, too. Whoa, blast from the past!


This one is no mystery to scores of boys and girls who became tv literate in the early 80s. If you had a pulse, and if you were under the age of 13 at the time, then you WERE watching this show. No question about it. For me, however, Transformers was the single cartoon that kicked it all off for me. I don't even remember if there was anything worth watching before Transformers. What, besides Looney Tunes and The Flintstones? But when it did come out, there was certainly nothing else like it. A cartoon about giant robots from space, interlocking and shapeshifting into inanimate objects like cement mixers and bazookas? Who came up with THAT idea? But it worked. And though it would open up the floodgates of American television to a slew of similar-themed cartoons in years to follow (Go-Bots, anyone?), Transformers was and always will be the big king daddy of them all. Now, go and click on that vid above and tell me that the theme song doesn't bring back warm, snuggly memories of a bygone innocent age!


Yes, leaving aside the ridiculous redundancy of the main character's name, this show owned like no other cartoon at the time! I could be wrong, but I think He-Man action figure sales surpassed even G.I. Joe and The Transformers for the same time period. At least, it did in my household. Thanks to a wonderfully generous grandma and aunt, my brother and I had pretty much every piece of toy tie-in merchandising associated with this cartoon that the folks over at Mattel could churn out of the factories. We were sickly ADDICTED, I tell you! Of course, looking at the introduction now, it does seem rather silly, doesn't it? I mean, how did the voice actors not shit themselves pale laughing at that ludicrous dialog? But still, I thank them from the bottom of my child-geek heart. He-Man kept us good company even when things at home in the mid-80s were not so rosy. Without this cartoon, we might have been left to roam the streets of the Bronx starting up gangs, or breakdancing for toy money, or something. Thank you, awesomely-cool-yet strangely-homo-erotic-cartoon-makers! Looks like shite now to my jaded eyes, but clearly you knew the secret formula to young kids' imaginations back then.


Ah, see what I mean? This is what the wild success of the Transformers led to. The importing of even more obscure Japanese robot anime into the boob-tubes of unsuspecting American households everywhere. But, let's not deny it--Voltron was something special COOL at the time. It would grow to supplant Transformers in satisfying that giant robot fix that every male child who was not Ru Paul was fixing for in the mid 80s. And, yes, let's not get it twisted: I'm talking about the Go-Lion force! Not that shitty and vastly inferior vehicle-branded Voltron spinoff that was just a lame ripoff of Transformers. Or was it the other way around? It's hard to tell which came first with these Japanese giant robot cartoons. For me however, Voltron was the penultimate of this craze. By the time Robotech would see wider import to the NYC public airways later on, I was burnt out on my giant interlocking robot cartoons. For shame.


Oh snap! Yes, I know some of you were thinking I might leave this off the list, but to that I say: NEGRO PLEASE! It may be hard to understand for some of you, but Thundercats was the be-all and end-all of children's television programming when I was in the 4th grade. Forget Reading Rainbow, this was the SHIT! It's scary looking back at it now, but this show started a massively crazy following among impressionable youth like nothing else seen since the invention of the stick-and-hoop. I can't quite explain the hold it had on me, but it was something fierce for sure. I remember wanting the toy Sword of Omens so BAD! But my grandma refused, saying that it was satanic or some such nonsense. Blah! Of all the cartoons on this list, Thundercats is actually my favorite to this day. It's not as good as some of the others in terms of content or acting, but damn! Some of those multi-episode story arcs were like soap operas for kids! If you were not catching this cartoon, you were too busy picking the shredded remnants of underwear out of the vicinity of your rectum to watch. Too bad for you, loser!


Now this one is probably more to everyone's liking. It takes a particularly inept and cold-hearted bastard to say that he did NOT enjoy the hell out of this Disney cartoon back in the day. I think even psycho stalker killers took time off of their busy schedule strangling old ladies and drowning kittens to sit down and catch them some Duck Tales, don't you? The winning formula of having the miserly and fabulously wealthy Scrooge McDuck look after Donald Duck's good-natured but troublesome children was the stuff of legend in the annals of afternoon cartoon history. It seems stupid on paper, but these episodes were surprising in the their ability to mix complex scripts (for a kids' show), stunning animation, and oodles of sheer FUN without hardly ever missing a beat. I mean, how the hell did they do that? Duck Tales is one of those shows that completely changed the face of after-school cartoons, ushering in an age of Disney properties that would rule the prime 2:30 to 4:30 time slot for many years to come. But unlike other kids, Duck Tales was the only one of these shows which I personally watched regularly. I could never get into Talespin, Chip n Dale's Rescue Rangers, Darkwing Duck, or Gummi Bears for some reason. I guess there was only ever room in my heart for one weekday Disney cartoon -- and this was it! Now tell me, is that theme song not catchy to this day or what? HELL YEAH!


Some of you are scratching your heads now, I'm sure. Batista, what unmentionable nether region did you pull this forsaken cartoon out from? If this is what you're saying, then you never had HBO growing up. Luckily for me, we did! Because this was one of my big time favorites. Wow! It's been so long since I've seen an episode, but that intro sequence brings it all back. I was a sucker for this cartoon! It was silly, yes, and the animation was a bit weird in that Japanese big-eyed-American sort of way . . . but the continuing story of the rambunctious Tom Sawyer getting into trouble along with his pal Huckleberry Finn endeared me in a huge way to classic American literature. I wish, wish, wish to GOD this would come out on DVD. I would bid a small fortune on a proper re-mastering of the entire series. That's how much this cartoon means to me. It's such a cherished part of my childhood, and in fact spurred me to go to the library and read every book by Mark Twain that I could get my grubby hands on. How's that for a media tie-in, huh?


Oh, DAYUM! Look, you just don't know . . . but this was my SHIT back in the early 90s. I was already a freshman in high school by the time this aired, and really a little too old to be hooked on cartoons still. But there was no denying it, this show had me line and sinker! It's no secret that I have vivid dreams about flying. Always have since about the age of 7. But for some reason, once the adolescent hormones started to kick in at the end of the 80s, these dreams intensified ten-fold! I could not go one night without having one of those marvelously lucid dreams where you really DO believe you are doing what is supposed to be impossible. The disappointment I would feel in the morning was downright heartbreaking. Waking up and realizing that--no, you most certainly can NOT touch the sky, young man--has got to be the most depressing thing I've experienced outside of my own mother dying. That's my way of showing that this was not a light matter for me. And, so, maybe now you can understand why this particular cartoon would have such a huge impact on my young adolescent life. At no other time did I feel like escaping to a magical fantasy world away from grownup responsibilities than at this stage in my maturity. Yes, I knew I was too old to join Peter and the Lost Boys on their fantastical flying adventures, but that bittersweet fact never kept me from tuning in each day after school to see what hijinks they would get into next. And to this day, I still think the opening theme is perhaps the finest symphonic movement ever set to a so-called "kiddie" cartoon. Don't you agree?


This was not a full-fledged cartoon, but rather a segment of the Super Mario Bros. Super Show which ran in 1989. And even then it only aired on Fridays. But if you were a kid in late 80s, and if you loved playing video games, perhaps no greater geek moment was the day you set eyes on this cartoon. I don't know why people feel the need to bash it today. Mostly young teens who were too young, or not even born yet, to fully understand the cultural watershed moment this was for us gamers. I mean, it didn't get any bigger than Zelda for video gamers unless you're talking about the Mario games. So to have not one but TWO game-based cartoons presented on the same show was simply mind-boggling unprecedented for the time. For me, though, the Zelda portion is what buttered my toast. Yes the voice acting is sooooo corny (especially the dude voicing Link), but the animation and music so perfectly captured all that made the games so much fun. Even to this day it gives me chills when I watch the episodes and hear the same exact sound effects and musical cues used from the first game. That was a big deal for kids, then. If they had not received the permission and full endorsement from Nintendo of America to use these portions, who knows what we might have ended up with. Oh sweet jeebus! I don't even want to think of the possibilities. *shudders*


Yes, again, if this one is leaving you searching your memory banks in vain . . . Babar was yet another one of those HBO cartoons I was talking about before. You know, HBO really does know how to spot good programming. I daresay these cartoons were better than 95% of the crap being peddled on the regular network channels for kids during the 80s. And no production was finer than this cartoon. I'm not even going to explain why . . . just watch that there intro and see for yourself. Do you see the richness of the colors, the warm and fuzzy sweetness of the animation? What about that score? Does it not convey the title of masterpiece which this cartoon so rightfully deserves? Just from looking at the sequence alone you knew you were in for something special. This show is a treasure that should be in the Smithsonian years from now. Except that it's French, so it probably won't ever be placed there. But it should! The themes could be downright mature at one point (Babar's mother being gunned down by a "Great White Hunter" during the first episode resonated so strongly!), and yet at the same time it was an enduring and lovely children's bedtime story with lots of style, fun, and surprises thrown in at every corner. Of all the cartoons listed in this entry, this is the one I would definitely want my kids watching today. It has not aged at all, but will forever be timeless in my estimation. Bravo, HBO, bravo!


I mean, seriously? Do I even need to bother? Who doesn't already know of the awesomeness of this show? Compared to the other cartoons on this list, it came out rather late in my childhood. In fact, I believe I was either 15 or 16 when it first aired -- no longer a little kid, not by a long shot! Then again, calling Batman: TAS a cartoon is, like, sacrilege! There was nothing cartoonish about this production. From the Oscar-quality voicing and scripts, to the wonderfully inspired art direction and haunting score, Batman showed that you did not have to become a caricature in order to entertain young people. Everyone at school watched this. It aired right after Duck Tales and Tiny Toons! It brought a timeless comic book hero to the masses in ways not even the Tim Burton movies could do. The subject matter was gritty, gripping, and so remarkably endearing to a young man's imagination. Batman: TAS made me want to go into crime-fighting become a writer more than anything else at the time, because for once I saw with my own two eyes how dynamic an excellent script could be when coupled with an award-worthy televised production. No one had better character development that old Bats, after all. And so, I felt, I was learning from the best. And, indeed, I did.


  1. Hi David!

    Nice cartoon list. I found that those times were were growing up watching the 80's cartoons, the creativity in the artwork, and the active imagination behind the story did shape me in some ways also. I try and watch current cartoons these day, but they are void of any action and adventure. They are pretty funny with some adult humor, but very soft, and don't play on creative strengths and weaknesses. I do like Spongebob from time to time. I find it pretty funny. I like your first five picks of cartoons on there, but the other five I really wasn't into much. Mighty Orbots, Silverhawks, Gummy Bears, Bionic Six, and Dungeons and Dragons I would have had as my last five, but there are many more also. Of course in the late 80's, early 90's, would have been Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and even later on the DragonBall Z. Many of these cartoons help mold my imagination.

    Just a heads up, you forgot the N in Thundercats in for the video header.


  2. I liked Silverhawks and Bionic Six, too! Not so much Gummy Bears. But I only had 10 slots on my list, and these were the most important to me. I would have switched out Tom Sawyer for TMNT, however, if I could have found an intro vid to post with it.

    And thanks for the correction. Don't know how I missed that, but it's fixed now.

  3. Wow, David. I think this list proves just how much younger than me you are. I was in junior high when Transformers started and saw very few of the others listed.

  4. I'm used to being younger than everyone, so doesn't surprise me. :)

    I think I was 6 or 7 when Transformers came out. Honestly, I don't remember much of kids tv before that. Even though I was born in the 70s, I didn't become aware of "pop" culture until somewhere around the time of Michael Jackson's "Thriller" album.

    This is why I consider myself a true 80s child. All my earliest memories are from that decade.

  5. Except for Tom Sawyer & Peter Pan (which I never saw) I'm with you on ALL of these programs! To replace the above mentioned cartoons, I would place Bionic Six, and The Mysterious Cities Of Gold.

    Watching those intros was a real trip down memory lane. I can't believe I still have the He-Man intro memorized. I do have to say though the best intro has to go to The ThunderCats. Action, 80's rock, and Lion-O calling for the 'Cats at the beginning... totally awesome!!

  6. What? I can't believe no one remembers Peter Pan & The Pirates! I could understand not watching it, perhaps--there WERE a lot of other cartoons to watch in those days--but to never have even heard of it?

    Wow, was I in an alternate dimiension when I watched this?


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