A recent discussion in the Christ and Pop Culture members group about your favorite cartoons from your youth has put me in a nostalgic mood. I’ve been an animation fan for years; as I recently wrote, because animators have to consider every detail that goes into each individual frame, there’s an immediacy and creativity on display in good animation that’s unlike anything else.
Of course, I’m under no illusions that any of my favorite childhood cartoons are good, much less great; many of the series that I enjoyed as a youngster have not aged well in terms of quality, style, or concept. (Turbo Teen, anyone?) However, I still owe them a debt of gratitude for firing my young imagination.
So here’s a list (in no particular order) of some of my favorite cartoons from my youth. Again, these cartoons may not be — and probably aren’t — anywhere as good as my inner twelve-year-old remembers. But it’s still fun to reminisce every now and then about how exciting Saturday mornings and weekday afternoons used to be, and how my friends and I bonded over this episode or that character.
Everyone loves and remembers Thundercats (it even got a modern reboot back in 2011). But I was always more of a Silverhawks fan. You’ve got cybernetic heroes traveling to another galaxy to fight bad guys — including their giant space squid-riding boss — with metallic wingsuits and shoulder lasers. Did I mention they also have their own cybernetic hawks and a spaceship piloted by a genuine space cowboy? Or that every episode ended with an astronomy lesson?
I never watched Voltron as a kid, but I did watch plenty of Mighty Orbots. A joint American/Japanese production, Mighty Orbots also featured a group of robots hidden in secret bases around the galaxy that came together in times of emergency to form a giant robotic warrior — the titular Mighty Orbots.
Even as a kid, I was bothered by the individual robots’ design, and how they magically switched from looking exaggerated and cartoon‑y to being more mechanical-looking when they joined together. Still, there are certain aspects seared into my memory, like Mighty Orbots battling a giant space creature in the episode “The Cosmic Circus,” some of the spaceship designs (like Drennan’s ship in “Operation Eclipse”), or the design of the main villain, a monstrous, planet-sized artificial intelligence named Umbra.
The Real Ghostbusters
I was pretty obsessed with The Real Ghostbusters for much of grade and middle school — I drew many a proton pack in my Trapper Keeper — even though I had yet to see the original movie. In hindsight, I’m pretty impressed with how “meta” the series got, with references to the likes of Lewis Carroll and H.P. Lovecraft. (I chalk this up to J. Michael Straczynski’s role as the series’ story editor.) Also, for a kid’s show, some of the episodes were pretty creepy, such as when Peter Venkman found himself trapped in a magical closet, or when the team battled a ghost-eating entity or appeared on a gameshow in Hell.
Later seasons got sillier and too Slimer-centric, but truth be told, I’m as likely to think of The Real Ghostbusters whenever I hear the classic theme song as I am Ivan Reitman’s classic film.
What more can be said about Robotech? Although it was a heavily edited and bastardized version of three separate Japanese anime titles — The Super Dimension Fortress Macross, Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross, and Genesis Climber MOSPEADA — few other series did as much to introduce anime to American audiences.
Truth be told, I never actually saw any Robotech as a kid, but I heard about it from friends and drooled over the toys at Kmart. It became nigh-legendary in my young mind but it wasn’t until high school that I finally saw some episodes on VHS — and it didn’t disappoint. I was also a big fan of the Jack McKinney novels (which took many liberties with the storyline) and the sourcebooks for Palladium Books’ Robotech RPG (which were full of great info and mecha illustrations).
(There have been rumblings about a live-action Hollywood Robotech movie for years now. If it could be done right — and that’s a big “if” — that would be awesome.)
Batman: The Animated Series
Batman: The Animated Series is the greatest on-screen incarnation of the Caped Crusader, period. And yes, that even includes Christopher Nolan’s trilogy. It’s currently streaming on Amazon Prime, so you can see for yourself what I’m talking about. From the gorgeous art deco design to the noir-ish atmosphere, from great versions of classic Bat-villains (including a particularly affecting take on Mr. Freeze) to Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill’s voice acting, Batman: The Animated Series has everything you could want from a Batman series, and then some.
(Conroy and Hamill will be reprising their roles as Batman and Joker, respectively, in the upcoming animated adaption of Batman: The Killing Joke, long considered one of the greatest Batman stories.)
I never got to watch Kidd Video very often because it aired near the end of Saturday mornings, and by that time, my parents were sick and tired of my brother and I staring at the TV. Still, the brief bits that I did see burrowed their way deep into my subconscious. The premise: a group of teenaged rock n’ rollers are kidnapped and transported to a cartoon world called the “Flipside” where they’ll be forced to write hits for the evil Master Blaster. Of course, they escape and traverse the Flipside to fight against Master Blaster’s minions and machinations.
The cartoon was clearly developed with the MTV generation in mind: music videos by Lionel Richie, Yes, Duran Duran, and others played during episodes. There were also music videos for Kidd Video songs like “Time,” “A Little TLC,” and my favorite, “We Should Be Together.” Re-watching them now, I realize just how quintessential those videos and their aesthetic — and Kidd Video’s wardrobe — are to my memories of what constitutes “the ’80s.”
Last year, I discovered that DuckTales was streaming on Amazon Prime, and all became right in the world. My kids loved the adventures of Huey, Dewey, Louie, and Uncle Scrooge, and as an added bonus, I found it as enjoyable as I did in middle school. I still remembered all the lyrics to the ultra-catchy theme song (woo-oo!), still found the animation engaging, and could even anticipate the story beats in each episode with a fair amount of accuracy.
And then, within a few days, DuckTales was gone and there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth in our household. Apparently, hell hath no fury like that of a child who can’t understand why a video streaming service is no longer streaming their new favorite series. Alas, the damage was done — and making matters worse, folks in Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden can stream it on Netflix.
(Disney is planning to remake the series, but the original DuckTales was so good, and such a part of childhood, that I have difficulty not being curmudgeonly about a remake.)
Dash Swordslash and the Defenders of Everything
As awesome as it sounds, Dash Swordslash and the Defenders of Everything wasn’t a real cartoon. But this mash-up of ‘80s cartoon intros does such a good job of distilling the over-the-top ridiculousness of ‘80s cartoons down to its purest essence that I couldn’t not include it here.