Unlike teenagers, children have the sometimes-annoying habit of waking up at the buttcrack of dawn, full of energy. While their parents slumber in the last few moments of darkness before daybreak, their children are wide-eyed and running around the house without supervision.
However, it wasn’t mischief that these kids were after in the wee hours of the morning. Besides a giant bowl of Trix and a glass of pasteurized OJ, the only things that mattered were CARTOONS.
Saturday mornings, in particular, were filled with a lineup of unforgettable, wacky animated entertainment to rot brains and influence violent behavior. Any child who grew up in the 90s remembers creeping out of bed and sneaking downstairs to catch these shows, and I’m sure they could easily rattle off a few favorites of their own.
These were mine:
10. Eek! The Cat
While short-lived and somewhat forgettable, this was a cartoon I could never get enough of. It was about a skittish tomcat named Eek trying to form a beautiful relationship with an obese pink feline while her shark/dog hybrid companion did everything in his power to bite and growl and get in the way. As a bonus, the show also contained an equally-entertaining spin-off called The Thunder Lizards that told the tale of a group of sardonic caveman tormented by a gaggle of goofy dinosaurs.
9. The Real Ghostbusters
After the success of Harold Ramis’ unforgettable Ghostbusters movie, it wasn’t too surprising that they’d cash in on a cartoon show. Saturday morning was the perfect time for Slimer, Venkman, Egon, Ray, and Winston to capture rogue ghosts in New York City. The show was a huge hit and the merchandising campaign that followed produced some of the coolest, most sought after toys that I can remember from my childhood. The popularity of the show was infectious enough to goad me into convincing my parents into purchasing their disgusting cereal incarnation.
When I lived briefly in California, I used to think of these lovable bastards every time I drove past the Warner Brothers studios. Part of me always wondered if they did truly live in the water tower with bologna in their slacks. Yes, Yakko, Wakko, and Dot were a part of any 90s kid’s cartoon lineup. Whether you loved the Animaniacs themselves, the surly pigeons, or Pinky and the Brain, there were animated shorts for any taste. With the right blend of Looney Tunes-ish wackiness mixed with a dash of pop culture parody, it was the complete cartoon package.
7. Bobby’s World
Who knew a show about a child with a vivid imagination and a stuffed spider could be so endearing? Bobby’s adventures were always colorful and fun. Add an overbearing mother, white trash sister, bully brother, idiotic uncle, and Howie Mandel for a father into the mix and you have the makings of an animated classic. While fairly short-lived and sometimes-overlooked, Bobby’s World was a cult classic with a rabid following and it always held a special place in my heart.
6. Garfield and Friends
Everyone recognizes the titular character of Jim Davis’ Garfield comic strip and his popularity was very apparent well before the cartoon show ever aired. However, I feel that Garfield and Friends and Garfield’s Christmas special were better incarnations of the character. Fully fleshed out and voiced by the late Lorenzo Music, the show was the perfect encapsulation of the lasagna-loving, sarcastic, dog-hating orange cat. Also, the show featured segments based on Jim Davis’ lesser-known comic strip, US Acres. Personally, I equally loved the US Acres portion of the show and Sheldon was my favorite.
5. Muppet Babies
I don’t know who came up with the genius idea to make baby versions of internationally-known puppets, but it was a true stroke of genius. The show was about childhood versions of the already-lovable Muppets who lived together in a large nursery run by a pair of legs called Nanny. Nothing else is ever explained, oddly enough, but their misadventures were enough to distract anyone from whatever questions may arise. Much like Animaniacs and the original Muppet show, it drew heavily from pop culture parodies and slapstick. All of my favorite Muppets were accounted for and placing them in one room together only made them better. I loved this show.
Although there have been many, cornier versions of a Spiderman cartoon, this one took the cake as being seriously bad ass. This is the show that made the world fall in love with Venom, Carnage, and all of the symbiote’s victims. The origin story was intact and the assortment of notable bad guys made kids drool over every episode. From the Green Goblin to the clone saga, all the important parts of the Spiderman canon are accounted for. Although the plot lines were edited and changed slightly for the sake of the children, they were still damn entertaining.
3. Batman: The Animated Series
When a cartoon series wins four Emmy Awards and is nominated for six others, you know it’s something special. Batman: The Animated Series is still the most perfectly-executed screen translation of Batman’s source material. Kevin Conroy’s Batman and Mark Hamill’s Joker are still unmatched in terms of spot-on performances. Being that Batman has one of the most interesting group of villains of any comic book hero, it was quite a feat that all of them were voiced and developed skillfully and faithfully. This is tied with X-Men as the best comic book cartoon of all time and stands as one of the best animated series of all time. Yep, we were pretty fucking spoiled with this gem.
Up until watching X-Men, I had never seen a Saturday morning cartoon aimed at children that tackled such adult themes. Loss, death, unrequited love, corruption, racism, and an insatiable lust for power were just a sampling of some of the darker themes covered in this groundbreaking animated series. Kids were treated to fantastic action set pieces featuring their favorite mutants and it was the talk of every elementary schoolyard. It wasn’t just the action or the characters, but the masterfully-crafted sagas and story lines that captured the attention of kids and critics alike. It was one of the latest shows to air on Fox’s Saturday morning lineup, but viewers always stuck around until it was over.
1. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
There isn’t too much to say about the Ninja Turtles that I haven’t already said, but they were the definition of quality Saturday morning television. Action, suspense, comedy, and women in yellow leather were all part of the list of reasons to watch this amazing show. I don’t think I could find a single bad thing to say about the series except that getting rid of the Shredder and Krang and moving the show to CBS was a huge mistake. Other than that, the series was the definition of magnificent kids entertainment and it still reigns as a testament to the staying power of mutant animal/human hybrids.
The good news is that many of these wonderful shows are now available on Netflix streaming or DVD, and they’re well worth the investment. Take the time to watch some of your favorites again or queue them up for your own kids to enjoy. Who knows, maybe another generation could potentially become as cool and well-adjusted as us.
BONUS: One of my favorite video game cover bands, Powerglove, did an awesome album of cartoon theme songs and a few of them are relevant. For those of you interested, the album is called “Saturday Morning Apocalypse.” Take a listen.