10 Forgotten Cartoons from my Childhood
Being young for the years spanning 1985 to 1992 was awesome for one specific reason: the cartoons. This was a golden age for children’s entertainment. Before they all started trying to emulate Pokemon and rely of cheap CGI we had a barrage of great shows both before and after school to deaden our brains with. Both America and Japan (and sometimes France) were delivering new material week to week. Some have managed to maintain their popularity over the years through merchandising, nostalgia, reboots and cinema adaptations (all four in the case of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) whilst others have slipped into the realm of obscurity.
Thanks to Youtube and a wider DVD market, many of these are now available again…we just need to be reminded about them
Dungeons & Dragons
Let’s start with one that some people may remember pretty well, ease our way into these. Dungeons & Dragons was quick to cash in on the growing success of the table-top game of the same name, although plot-wise it showed very little resemblance to the source material. The story involved a group of teenagers who ride a roller coaster at the fair only to be transported into a realm called, um, the Realm where they fulfill various fantasy archetypes – wizard, thief, barbarian, ranger, cavalier and for some reason an acrobat – and equipped with a special item. While guided by the Dungeon Master they try to find their way home, encountering the evil Venger and the dragon Tiamat (who themselves are rivals).
The animation was slick, the characters were diverse and the bad guys were unusually awesome (seriously, check this bastards out). Unusually for the time, while the individual episodes featured their own stand alone stories there were a couple of running narratives that build up to some story twists. Although the show did come under fire for the higher level of violence than normal (including one episode where the young heroes debate whether or not to take the chance to murder their enemy) it remained consistently popular for a two year run.
Pirates of Dark Water
The Pirates of Dark Water was technically set on an alien world, but this was just an excuse to blend fantasy with a swashbuckling pirate adventure. A more complex and involved series for Hanna-Barbara it concerned a young prince named Ren who needed to collect Thirteen Treasures of Rule that would allow him to combat the Dark Water, a deadly substance that was devouring the world. Along with Ren is the ecomancer Tula, a monkey bird called Niddler and Loz, a treasue hungry pirate.
Even with talent like Roddy McDowell, Peter Cullen and Tim Curry providing the voices, an imaginative setting, and an engaging on-going story line the show never got the audience it needed to maintain production. It was sadly cancelled after 21 episodes leaving the story unfinished. Unlike most cartoons of the era it challenged the young viewers with its physics defying world and long running character unexpectedly dying.
The Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers
In the year 2086 two aliens arrived on Earth seeking allies against the expanding Crown Empire. In exchange they provided the human race with advanced technology and interstellar space travel. The Rangers were tasked with maintaining peace in the new colonies springing up on terraformed planets and defending them against enemies. Each of the four main characters were equipped with cybernetic implants that were activated by pressing their badges. Capt. Zachary Foxx had his entire left side replaced with cybernetics giving him massive strength and the ability to fire laser blasts from his arm. Niko has her psychic and telekinetic abilities enhanced and knows awesome kung-fu while wielding a massive gun. Walter ‘Doc’ Hartford was a swashbuckler who carried a pistol and sword, but also is a master computer hacker who can visualize his thoughts in holographic form. Most awesome was Shane Gooseman, part of a genetic experiment to create mutant super-soldiers (who he is now tasked with hunting down). Wielding duel pistols his mutation allowed him to heal rapidly and his body would automatically adapt to suit any environmental condition.
The show was years ahead of its time and still carries a small cult following. The producers of the show put the focus on the story and characters instead of creating gimmicks that could be merchandised. Each character was well drawn and detailed and developed as the show went on. It had a more mature sense of humour than other shows of the era and it’s influence can still be felt.
Also, Gooseman kicks all the ass.
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
Although there was an animated version of Wizard of Oz that coincided with with the anniversary of the feature film the superior version was this batshit crazy Japanese production. Unlike most adaptation so of the story the 52 episodes extents past that original story and into other parts of the series, including tales from after Dorothy left Oz. The series was compiled from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, The Marvelous Land of Oz, Ozma of Oz, The Emerald City of Oz providing plenty of material for viewers only familiar with the films. HBO bought the rights to the series and dubbed it into English with Canadian band Parachute Club providing the tunes.
Fans of the demented Return to Oz would’ve been happy to see characters like Jack Pumpkinhead, Tic-Toc, Billina, The Gump and the Nome King joining with The Scarecrow, Tin-Man and The Cowardly Lion in adventures, and characters who never made it to the screen such as the Good Witch of the North and The Sawhorse get included. For fans of the Oz stories this is well worth checking out
Known primarily to the young Funk as the show with the awesome red spaceship that split into three smaller, equally awesome spaceships. In reality it is Ulysses 31, a French-Japanese anime series based on Homer’s classic from Ancient Greece ‘The Odyssey’. When Ulysses, Commander of the spaceship Odyssey kills the giant Cyclops to save a group of slave children the Gods of the Galaxy are angered and condemns him to traveling the universe with his crew suspended in a deep sleep until he finds the realm of Hades. Along the way Ulysses, his son, a young a blue skinned alien girl and the robot Nono encounter creatures and events from Greek mythology re-interpreted in science-fiction.
This show had plenty of rad going for it. Ulysses sported a laser gun that doubled as a laser sword whose blade emerged from the top of the gun and doubled the awesome in every battle he faced. The sci-fi theme applied to the classics of Greek mythology were always creative and imaginative, with the design being top notch across the board (see above re: red space ship). It wasn’t afraid to make things serious, with the image of the suspended crew being quite haunting. Best of all was the kick-ass theme music, which was one of the many things that George Lucas tried to sue during the 80s claiming it stole from the Star Wars theme.
The Mysterious Cities of Gold
Emerging from another French-Japanese collaboration, this adventure filled series was set in the year 1952 follows the adventures of Estaban, a young Spanish boy who travels to the new world in search of the titular Mysterious Cities of Gold. As the opening narration read:
It is the 16th century. From all over Europe, great ships sail west to conquer the New World, the Americas. The men eager to seek their fortune, to find new adventures in new lands. They long to cross uncharted seas and discover unknown countries, to find secret gold on a mountain trail high in the Andes. They dream of following the path of the setting sun that leads to El Dorado and the Mysterious Cities of Gold.
Esteban is joined by an Incan girl named Zia and the last surviving member of ancient sunken city named Tao. Mysterious Cities of Gold had a very unique style, combining South American history and archeology with science fiction. Not only is the Incan art style a prominent feature but the mythology of Atlantis and and Mu are tied into the story. Combining the search for the Lost City with Estaban trying to find his missing father the ongoing serial style kept things interesting episode to episode. With a new three seasons confirmed to be in production it’s a good time to catch up.
Oh, hell yes. During the 80s and 90s Disney were on something of a roll with many old characters bring re-purposed into new concepts. Ducktales is the most memorable but Chip and Dale Rescue Rangers and Muppet Babies also had a lasting impact. If there’s one that deserves to be revisited and celebrated it’s the one that provided an alternate universe in which Donald Duck is a Batman-esque character known as Darkwing Duck, the vigilante otherwise known as Drake Mallard. Teaming up with Ducktales regular Launchpad McQuack and his adopted daughter Gosalyn (sharing a voice, strangely enough, with Chuckie from Rugrats). Alongside an expanded universe of characters including Gizmoduck, Comet Guy and undercover agency S.H.U.S.H., they had some damn good villains.
Negaduck is an evil Darkwing from a parallel universe, Dr. Bushroot is a Dr. Moreau type character, The Liquidator is a corrupt businessman who develops water powers, Megavolt (voiced by Dan Castellaneta) is a rat who controls electricity, Quackerjack is a toy maker whose takes on a Joker type role. Then there’s F.O.W.L., and evil organization with multiple interchangeable members. In addition there were new villains being introduced almost every second episode, keeping the action flowing. Just remember: when in trouble, call D.W.
While many of the shows on this list were created with a degree of artistic drive and a story to tell, the 80s and 90s were the defining era for cartoons that were created for the singular purpose of selling toys. Transformers, My Little Pony and He-Man have remained household names, but many have fallen by the wayside. First up: Dino Riders. The concept for the toy line is cool in its own right, but the story they cobbled together wasn’t half bad. Two races of aliens – the more humanoid ones naturally being the good ones – are stuck into some intergalactic warfare when they all get sucked through time and stranded on prehistoric Earth.
Seeing the benefit of recruiting the local wildlife in their conflict the bad guys using brain controlling technology to put helmets on the dinosaurs and arm them up with awesome sci-gear. The good guys, not wanting to get left behind in the dinosaur arms-race, use their technology to psychically connect with the dinosaurs and recruit them to their side. And gear them up with awesome sci-fi weapons. The on-going story was pretty bog standard, but the armored and armed dinosaurs going at each other is downright fantastic.
Part two of the entries that celebrate the cartoons that were created to sell a toy line, M.A.S.K. was all about two conflicting factions. The heroes of the series is M.A.S.K. (Mobile Armored Strike Kommand) and the villains are, unsurprisingly, V.E.N.O.M. (Vicious Evil Network of Mayhem) – which is apparently something that people will join. Everyone who is a member of the two organisations has a super-powered mask, that they get somehow. Basically it comes down to V.E.N.O.M. doing something illegal (no real pattern to it) and M.A.S.K. steps in to stop them.
At this point it sounds pretty generic, and it was in terms of story, but the draw card was the vehicles. Every member of either team has an awesome plane or boat or car that turns into another awesome vehicle that does cool things. It’s like they took the notion of Bond’s Lotus that turned into a submarine and made an entire toy line and cartoon series on it. And that was pretty damn cool.
Cadillacs and Dinosaurs
Ok, I never saw much of this one – just caught the odd couple of episodes. But my god, doesn’t it sound freaking brilliant. Just say it out loud: Cadillacs and Dinosaurs. Based on a DC comic series (originally called Xenozoic Tales), it sadly latest only 13 episodes but developed a strong following during that time. Like many other shows of the early 90s is carried a strong environmental message. The story concerns one Jack Tenrec as he battles the Man on behalf of the environment…and he drives a Cadillac and there’s dinosaurs. Hell yes.