Ovation: GUEST POST! 10 Most Underrated Cartoons of All Time – By Taggart
Before cartoons developed into nonsensical vomits of imagination, they had contiguous plotlines and didactic agendas, even if that agenda was thinly veiled jingoism. The animated series of the past, circa 1985–1990, was never subtle and always tackled the world’s biggest issues with the delicacy of an ACME anvil.
This is the era of Voltron, The Remal Ghostbusters, GI Joe, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Transformers; but it’s also a time when their spinoffs and competitors, in many ways superior programs, were crushed by the massive popularity of Leonardo, Snake Eyes, and Optimus Prime. Like their more celebrated counterparts, these underrated or overlooked programs were awkwardly straightforward in a way that would make Mitt Romney cringe, but they were also some of the best cartoons ever.
Michael Jordan, Bo Jackson, and Wayne Gretzky were already role models for their feats in their respective arenas, but DIC transformed them into superheroes. This series only lasted three months, but they were the coolest three months for any child-fan of sports. Viewers were treated to a brief live-action introduction by one of their heroes, and then the ProStars would jump into action saving kids from all over the world. With shameless “Bo knows” advertising for Nike and delightfully cheesy villains, ProStars’ only flaw was that it was geared towards the type of kids that weren’t ever inside watching TV.
Which slogan is cooler, “Robots in disguise” or “Illusion is the Ultimate Weapon”? Exactly. How this GI Joe/Transformer hybrid ever died out is beyond me. It’s the best of both action-packed worlds. This acronym-obsessed show pitted M.A.S.K. (Mobile Armored Strike Kommand—they snuck in the Mortal Kombat “K” before Mortal Kombat!) members against the criminal organization V.E.N.O.M. (the Vicious Evil Network of Mayhem). M.A.S.K was supported by the P.N.A. (Peaceful Nations Alliance) while V.E.N.O.M. operated under Contraworld, an organization doomed to failure for its lack of a suitable acronym. The line between good and evil was clearly marked—somewhere between “Peaceful Nations” and “Vicious Evil”—but unfortunately neither side prevailed after November 28, 1986, when the show was cancelled.
Another one of Hasbro’s 80s offspring, C.O.P.S (let’s just leave the acronyms alone for a bit) had an ensemble cast of cybernetic crime-stoppers and quirky villains. Next to its innovative plots the biggest strength of the show was its catchy phrases, which both sides in the fight for Empire City overused each episode. Big Boss’ crew favored the witty, “Crime’s a-wasting” when pulling heists or heckling the C.O.P.S., whereas special agent Bulletproof’s honorable teammates preferred, “It’s crime fighting time!” The finest moment of the series came when Big Boss and Bulletproof joined forces to fight the evil drug lord Addictem, who was pushing Crystal Twists on the unsuspecting Empire City populace. Big Boss was old school, and didn’t favor the drug business, so for a limited time the two helped put Addictem away for good.
BraveStarr, the most underrated sci-fi cartoon of all time, was the animated precursor to Firefly, the most underrated sci-fi series of all time. But that doesn’t mean Marshall Bravestarr didn’t have his own ancestors. The cartoon was really just a reimagining of the Lone Ranger, only if Tonto had been the Lone Ranger and his horse, Silver, was actually a cybernetic, maniacal, bipedal alien named Thirty Thirty that toted a laser-bazooka named Sarah Jane. So pretty much EXACTLY the same. Add the old man’s monotone freestyle rap narration for intro music and it’s impossible to overrate just how cool Bravestarr was: Eyes of the Hawk! Ears of the Wolf! Strength of the Bear! Speed of the Pu-ma!
Here’s how the pitch meeting for Silverhawks went:
Pitchman: “It’s like Thundercats, but in space.”
Anything good you can say about Thundercats can be said for Silverhawks, except that there was only one woman in Silverhawks and she lacked the animated sex appeal of Cheetara (hey I’m just the messenger, some people care about that kind of thing). “Thundercats in Space” followed the heroics of bionic policeman Commander Stargazer and his team, who were “partly metal, partly real” as they fought Mon*Star, an alien mob boss, and his minions. Unable to determine why only part of their bodies was real, and not “partly metal partly flesh,” the Silverhawks suffered an existential crisis and disappeared after only three months on the air.
Heathcliffe is the anti-Garfield, or maybe it’s vice-versa, but either way, Heathcliffe was the realest cat in the neighborhood. He was marketed as a streetwise prankster, but the fact is that Heathcliffe was a straight-up thug. He had that gangsta lean when he walked, and he wouldn’t hesitate to throw down when he was disrespected. Though not a true member of the Catillac Cats, Heathliffe was respected and feared by them. It’s hard to know what DIC Entertainment was thinking when they created this series, but it’s possible that children watching Heathcliffe led to the gang wars of the nineties.
They’re like Doctor Who’s Cybermen (a human brain in a metal box) but acting as a force for good. The Gobots’ legacy is one of sorrow but also of hope. When a humanoid race of aliens known as Gobings faced destruction, the “Last Engineer” saved his people by placing their brains in robot bodies, leading to the creation of the GoBots. These GoBots split into two factions, the Gaurdians, and the Renegades. From this point their plot follows that of the Autobots and Decepticons, but with less human interaction.
Dennis the Menace (1986–1988)
Dennis the Menace is what results when Theodore Cleaver from Leave It to Beaver accidentally hits his head. The well-meaning but trouble-prone boy was a famous icon from the 50s, but became an animated hit for a couple of years during the mid-eighties as he taught children everywhere how to torture their neighbors and parents. Classic scenes always involve Dennis somehow destroying parts of Mr. George Wilson’s yard and sanity. I blame these half-hour episodes consisting of three seven minute shorts for my self-diagnosed case of ADHD.
Swamp Thing (1991)
Swamp Thing appeared during the environmental era of Captain Planet, Toxic Crusaders, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Swamp Thing, the plant-and-goo superhero of the series, was formerly a man who’d been transformed by the villain Anton Arcane. Together with his friends Tomahawk, a typecast Native American, and Bayou Jack, a Vietnam War vet, Swamp Thing battled Arcane and his Un-men for a whopping five episodes before getting cancelled. What Swamp Thing had that other environmentally friendly shows did not, was a spoofed version of Chip Taylor’s “Wild Thing” for a theme song. “Swamp Thing! …You are amazing!”
Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures (1987–1988)
The singing superhero originated as a 1942 parody of Superman. Initially known as Super Mouse, Mighty Mouse was born when his creator learned that some comic book publisher had already laid claim to the original name. Mighty Mouse disappeared for a time but was resurrected in the 1980s as an animated protagonist. The show was fairly risqué and most jokes were aimed above children’s heads, but that didn’t mean Mighty Mouse’s operatic “Here I come to save the day” wasn’t a universal hit among the under-10 crowd.
What is your favorite cartoon?
Taggart writes for CableTV.com, check them out for Comcast Cable Deals. In his free time he writes about his three main passions: business, technology, and entertainment.