Top-10 Forgotten Cartoons
The cartoon business is rough. If you’re a success, people will talk about you for years to come and you become the standard to which cartoons in the future are compared to. But with the highly frivolous nature of children’s television, many cartoons fade in to obscurity even when they seemed to have had the potential to succeed.
These are, in my view, the ten cartoons that would deserve a better rep than they have and which have been unjustly left hung out to dry by the studios, the networks paying for them or by the audiences who didn’t appreciate them.
Mind you that this is just my list and there are several dozens of shows I could have put up here. Just as an honourable mention, I mention The Adventures of the Gummi Bears which actually started the Disney TV cartoon craze of the 80s, but whose spotlight was later stolen by the far more succesful Ducktales.
For obvious reasons a lot of the picks on this list are 80s and 90s cartoons, but I’ve tried to dig up a few entries from other decades as well. Feel free to share your favourite forgotten and obscure cartoon shows in the comments.
Let’s get on with the list…
Hanna-Barbera is a company who is an easy target for cartoon criticism. It’s true that after the success of Scooby-Doo in the 1960s, every other show the company produced in the next decade and a half was some variant on the “adventurous teenagers and their talking pet” format. Therefore, the fact that there was anything original in Hanna-Barbera’s catalogue around this time is a dubious notion in the very least.
However, Hong Kong Phooey was a show that I found really endearing. The show starred a crime-fighting dog janitor who masquerades as the heroic martial artist Hong Kong Phooey. The joke of the show is that Phooey is actually super incompetent, despite claiming to be the “number-1 super guy” and the bad guys more frequently fall foul to bad luck when facing him. The gag seems painfully easy, but I always found Phooey very lovable due to the scratchy voice-performance of Scatman Crothers (best known for his appearance in The Shining).
Admittedly, Hong Kong Phooey is just a show based on a funny title and the 1970s American youths’ obsession with all things martial arts (in the aftermath of Bruce Lee), but the goofy energy of the show never failed to bring a smile to my face. However, Phooey’s position on this list is admittedly a weak one. It’s a gimmick show, but one that I liked a lot.
Speaking of Asian influence, Samurai Jack definitely has a strong cult following if nothing else. This experimental show from Hanna-Barbera (now Cartoon Network Studios) from the early 2000s, combined atmospheric art-style with action and a distinctly different mood than we were used from the goofy cartoon maestros. Jack is a Samurai sent to the future by an evil demon, Aku, and seeking a way back to his own time.
The show found an interesting blend of pop culture references as well as martial arts, Asian film influences and sci-fi. Despite the show’s serious premise, the episodes mostly featured silly storylines with occasional more sober ones with a lot of action, but also a lot of thematic depth (again, very rare from H-B). Jack also ran into stranger characters and some story-lines even ended on rather sad notes, making it really unusual for its time.
Jack was sadly cancelled despite good ratings and we never got another show quite like it. If you’ve missed out on this strangely cool yet quirky show, do yourself a favour and watch a few segments.
I was about to put The Mask: The Animated Series on here, but despite my love for the goofy Jim Carrey movie tie-in (and in my view the only good cartoon based on Carrey’s movies), it instead reminded me of a somewhat similar show that got buried under the popularity of other cartoons. In the 1990s, Steven Spielberg collaborated with Warner Bros. to bring some classic cartoons to TV screens. The more famous shows to have been spawned from this relationship were Tiny Toon Adventures, Animaniacs and its popular spin-off Pinky & The Brain.
Freakazoid was the final cartoon in this line-up and rather unfortunately and ironically, it fell by the wayside popularity-wise. I say ironically since the intro of the show even joked how the animators would be unemployed if no-one watched the cartoon. Freakazoid started as a (maybe) semi-serious super-hero cartoon where a nerd named Dexter Douglas gets transformed into a blue-skinned, cartoon super powered hero who fights ridiculous foes like the Lobe (a man whose head is a brain). Eventually, the show deteriorated into a frivolous skit-format making fun of lip-syncing, other cartoons and even Warner Bros. themselves. Freakazoid was a really fun character and the off-beat comedy really hit home with me.
Sadly, I think Freakazoid’s main problem was that it was a little too similar to other super-hero parody shows like The Mask and The Tick – and with the show following the more meta-humour style, it also became perhaps a smidge too similar to Animaniacs, Tiny Toons and Pinky & The Brain (Wakko and Brain actually got full-blown guest appearances on one episode). I always saw Freakazoid as a natural continuation of these types of shows and saddens me that this show didn’t take off. If you loved the other Spielberg-WB productions, then you should probably like Freakazoid as well.
There’s a lot in the realm of video-game cartoons I could have put on this list, but instead I’ll direct you to both my top-10 and bottom-10 VG cartoon lists and instead highlight one truly excellent forgotten video-game cartoon. Dragon’s Lair was a popular laser disc arcade game from 1985. It blew gamers away with its crisp animation work from Don Bluth, best known for his work on Secret of NIMH, An American Tail and Land Before Time.
Again, it was Ruby-Spears who took up the challenge of adapting Dragon’s Lair to TV screens. They stuck closely to the original designs of the monsters and characters from the game (though Princess Daphne’s clothing wasn’t nearly as revealing as in the game) and what came out was a very entertaining action-adventure cartoon.
Now it probably wont surprise anyone, why a generic fantasy cartoon probably didn’t succeed in the mid-80s, but there is something to be said about the production crew’s devotion to the material. Every half-way commercial break for the show would end on a cliffhanger with the hero, Dirk the Daring, in some kind of danger. Upon returning from the break, the audience would see Dirk fail, usually resulting in a premature death, but were then immediately treated to Dirk’s success.
This unorthodox approach, in my view, retained a critical element of the game, which was Dirk’s many, humorous deaths. .
Tenchi Muyo is an anime series that has definitely been milked dry by numerous spin-offs. Heck, there are even some that are probably airing right now on Japanese TV stations. But how many of you remember the real Tenchi Muyo? The original? I doubt many of you do.
Tenchi Muyo actually was a show created specifically with an intent to keep reinventing its mythos into different formats. This resulted in a TV anime, a silly Magical Girl spin-off and two terrible feature-length movies among other things. However, the original OVA series was spread out across three six-to-seven episode runs in the mid-90s and early 2000s. I always loved Tenchi Muyo because the story in these original OVA series moved at a brisk pace and the story got quite intense at times (especially towards the end of the third series).
So I recommend digging up these old animes and giving them another watch. For all their perverted humour, I felt the cast was memorable and lovable. Just beware of the terrible Geneon English dub for the first two series (even if those song covers were actually pretty good).
The 1980s was really an era of great throw-away shows and Bionic Six shines as one of the most unfortunately under-appreciated of them all. It was supposed to be a promotional show for a line of action-figures, which never sold very well and as a result, disappointingly, led to the cancellation of this action-packed, humorous and heart-warming show about a family with super powers.
I loved the fact that the family in Bionic Six had such a diverse set of personalities and powers. The villains, Scarab and company, were also very memorable goofballs and the show wasn’t afraid to be fairly daring with its stories (in one, the younger version of Scarab nearly shoots his elder counterpart). The show also had incredibly high animation quality and I always felt extremely entertained by the sci-fi feel of the show.
Plus, it had probably one of the most addicting theme songs I’ve ever heard. This is truly a forgotten classic of 80s television, so go give a few episodes a watch and get that theme song stuck in your head.
We once again return to Hanna-Barbera. The company’s 60s efforts are probably familiar to everyone, but there’s always been one show that for some reason doesn’t get much recognition in my view. Now of course, Flintstones was unquestionably the studios best product by and far, so don’t think that I’m going to say something crazy such as that the show is over-rated. Hell, I even like Scooby-Doo even though the format has been milked the fuck dry. But for all the fandom that Yogi Bear and Huckleberry Hound get, I’m surprised cat-lovers rarely bring up the most effectual Top Cat.
Top Cat was a show about a rag-tag team of street urchins trying to make it big and move out of the alley where they lived at. Though T.C. the leader of the gang, could make a lot of cynical jabs at his fellow cats, there was an interesting and lovable atmosphere to the group’s adventures and antics. And who can forget that goofball Officer Dibble, always trying to catch Top Cat doing something illegal and trying (and usually failing) to act as a moral compass to the T.C. and the gang.
I admit, the comedy in Top Cat may not be for everyone. It’s a clearly a show that was meant for an older demographic (a bit like the Flintstones) and it was probably a little too slow for younger kids which in turn made it not very popular. However, I’ve always liked the show and wish it could get the same kind of recognition as the other collar-wearing animals from Hanna-Barbera.
3. Heathcliff (and the Catillac Cats a.k.a. Cats & Company)
Before you ask “Who’s this discount Garfield?” it may behoove you to know that Heathcliff actually starred in strip comics a good five years before Jim Davis’ lasagna-chucking puss. However, unlike his fellow feline comic star, Heathcliff never took off into similar popularity despite the fact that Heathcliff also beat Garfield to the TV cartoon market. Of course, his first horrible endeavour came courtesy of Hanna-Barbera, but the show I’m referring to was made a few years down the like by DiC Entertainment.
The DiC Heathcliff was an action-packed, humorous and all-around entertaining cartoon where the trouble-making cat would cause mayhem around the neighbourhood, but also help fellow cats who were the victims of bullying dogs and such. In truth, Heathcliff’s main adventures (though well-animated and entertaining) were actually a little less interesting than his co-op act, the Catillac Cats who starred in their own segment. Apart the comic trio of Hector, Wordsworth and Mungo these segments starred the very Top Cat-ish Riff-Raff as the leader of the gang and his sassy on-again-off-again girlfriend Cleo.
It’s funny to me how a sarcastic, lazy and glutinous furball like Garfield actually won over a much larger audience than the energetic Heathcliff. At the same time, Heathcliff perhaps had too many similar competitors which explains why the show never took off despite its excellent entertainment factor. And as a result, yours truly never got to see a spin-off show about the Catillac Cats either.
I’ve talked about my love for Captain Planet before and I do think this is a show that gets a worse rep than it deserves. So the cartoon was about teaching kids to protect the environment. What’s wrong with that? Ted Turner was literally so fed up with American apathy towards environmental issues that he decided it was just best to state the point of the show as bluntly as possible.
Because of its eco-message, I think many people tend to forget that Captain Planet was also a pretty cool adventure show. The Planeteers would put themselves in serious danger every time. And despite those element-controlling power rings, eventually they’d need the help of Earth’s green-mulleted guardian. I really liked the repartee between Kwami, Wheeler, Linka, Gi and Mati. The show had a great atmosphere with a likable team of heroes. And before someone starts talking smack how they made the American the dumbass of the group, Wheeler was my favourite character (and had my favourite ring).
Also, the show just had a great villains galore, which was another reason I loved watching the show. If you’ve ignored it for its cheesy premise and annoyingly catchy theme song, I recommend giving it an honest watch. You may be surprised.
Yes, as much as I love this show to death, He-Man has definitely fallen to the wayside of obscurity. In the mid-1980s it was the biggest show and the biggest toy. Three years later it was getting upstaged by cat-people, Ghost Busters, transforming robot cars and Ninja Turtles. So why didn’t He-Man’s star last? Honestly, I couldn’t tell you.
What I always loved most about He-Man was the blend of fantasy and sci-fi. You had evil sorcerers, magical beasts and an epic fantasy setting for the strongest man in the universe to adventure in. Then were all the gadgets and vehicles, provided by the moustached maestro of weapons, Man-at-Arms. Plus, the great cast featuring the hot, ass-kicking Teela, the goofball Orko, that silly barrel of a man, Ram-Man, and the flying wonder known as Stratos (the most under-rated support character of the show). Also, there were the villains like Beastman, the witch Evil-Lyn, the cyborg Trap-jaw and the skull-headed, cackling master of Snake Mountain, Skeletor.
Apart from silly action-storylines, you also got some nice character building moments and the show is just endlessly entertaining with its great characters, comedy and peril. It’s unquestionably my favourite cartoon ever made and it saddens me that the show hasn’t managed to make a proper comeback the same way as some other 80s cartoons.
If you’re unconvinced, you can take a look at my many He-Man related videos on YouTube if you need a little more convincing about this show’s awesomeness.