The Teen Titans hit the big screen recently and it came as a reminder to us that we really haven’t written anything relating to animation (outside of Christmas specials) and it’s long overdue. For us, growing up in the 70’s and 80’s, we got to experience everything that came before us in the form of daily reruns and all the newest toons on Saturday morning. We miss the Saturday morning concept, it was appointment viewing for kids including the fall preview show of new cartoons premiering in September. So let’s take a look at some of our favorite toons.
I watched so much TV and so many cartoons. There are plenty of good modern ones I enjoy too, SpongeBob Squarepants, Teen Titans, Fairly Odd Parents, Phineas & Ferb to name just a few. I preferred to go back to my childhood for this though since it was so rich with options. I also didn’t include more adult-like cartoons such as Family Guy and The Simpsons. Summertime felt like I watched everything that was on, Casper, Tom & Jerry, Yogi Bear, The Jetsons, The Flintstones, Mighty Mouse, Scooby Doo, Josie and the Pussycats, Top Cat and yes even Jabber Jaw. Saturdays were golden too, there were Bugs Bunny and The Smurfs, and it seemed like every 70’s and 80’s TV show had a cartoon, Laverne and Shirley, Happy Days, Mr. T and even the video games Pac Man, Donkey Kong, Qbert and Dragon’s Lair.
Super Friends (1973-1986)
I love telling people “When I was a kid Superheroes were in comic books and cartoons only”. Of course, there were some minor exceptions, TV’s Wonder Woman, Incredible Hulk, Spiderman and then Superman the Movie. Presently, the CW and Netflix have a ton of the more minor heroes (and more to come) and every two months either Marvel or DC has something in the theaters. There has also been a boatload of animated films and TV series as well. For me, as a kid, I had the Super Friends. Hanna-Barbara Productions secured the rights to the DC universe which before my time was owned by Filmation. The Super Friends show took my favorite DC superheroes Superman and Batman along with Robin, Wonder Woman, and Aquaman and portray them on my TV every Saturday morning. The show over the years changed names and formats several times and outlasted my childhood. Its first version kept it simple the five main heroes and a “detective” teen couple (Marvin and Wendy) and their dog, Wonder Dog fought crime from non-supervillain criminals. The last few versions went a bit crazy jamming all the supervillains from the comics, adding heroes left and right. My favorite version was the one in the middle. This one had more heroes, Green Lantern, The Flash, Hawkman and added some supervillains. It had some great safety tips at the end, like “don’t talk to strangers” and “turn out the lights when you leave a room”. I can’t mention this show without two issues. The first was its inclusion of The Wonder Twins (Zan and Jayna) and their monkey Gleek. They basically replaced the teen detectives and Wonder Dog and they had powers. When they touched fists Zan could take any form of water and Jayna any animal. I didn’t mind them overall but as “new” TV created heroes some people didn’t. The other issue is more problematic but as a kid, I had no clue. To appreciate diversity they created the heroes – Black Vulcan, Samurai, Apache Chief, and later El Dorado. Made with good intentions, today they often look stereotypical and just a little bit racist. This show would just not hold up today.
Bonus: Ted Knight and Casey Kasem did prominent voice work in the series, Kasem voiced Robin.
MG: Superfriends was in my top 3 for Saturday morning cartoons. I actually liked The Wonder Twins, nonsensical as the concept was, although I was not big on Gleek. My memory is that Gleek was usually not around, but I could be wrong. The Legion of Doom was awesome. I loved when some of the lesser known heroes, like Apache Chief, were included in the shows. I love the DC universe, and I’m hoping the upcoming DC films will ditch some of the Zack Snyder darkness and instead tap into some of the fun and wonder of a show like Superfriends.
Tom and Jerry (1940-present)
To me, the only “chase” cartoon that holds a candle to Looney Tunes is Tom and Jerry. When I say a “chase” cartoon I mean rabbit vs. hunter, duck vs. hunter, bird vs coyote, bird vs. cat, etc… In this case, it’s cat vs. mouse. Tom and Jerry were created in 1940 by Hanna-Barbara who at the time were working for MGM Studios. The basic plots are Tom (the cat) is chasing Jerry (the mouse). When I saw these toons, they were long past their original air dates, which were shorts before theatrical films in the 40’s and 50’s. In my era, they were packaged into a 30 or 60-minute show. Often in between Tom and Jerry shorts, there would be some other MGM or Tex Avery toon, often a Droopy Dog short which I also loved. Tom and Jerry have never really stopped being produced in some way but I only really liked the original Hanna-Barbara incarnation. Maybe its the violence, maybe it’s the animation style. I didn’t care for the Gene Deitch version or the Chuck Jones one despite my love of Jones’ work with Looney Tunes. The modern ones are tough to watch, sometimes making the two characters friends. The premise was mostly Tom going after Jerry to eat or to kill. Sometimes, Spike, the dog would make an appearance, who also doubled in the Droopy cartoons. Ironically one of my favorites is one where the roles are somewhat reversed, the 1955 short Pecos Pest. Jerry’s uncle, Uncle Pecos comes to visit and every time he plays his guitar and breaks a string he goes looking for Tom for one of his whiskers to replace the missing string. Tom, who, for a change is minding his business has to try to run from Pecos. It still makes me laugh when I see it.
Tom and Jerry won 7 Oscars for their shorts and nominated for many more. Some of the older ones do have some issues with some racist depictions. Outside of those they still hold up today.
Bonus: Tom and Jerry were supposed to be in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? but due to legal issues did not.
MG: I was a devout Looney Tunes fan, so even though I tried to watch Tom and Jerry a few times over friends’ houses, it just never clicked for me. If I remember correctly, this aired on either channel 56 or 38, which I couldn’t get to come in clear on my TV living out in amongst the trees blocking reception.
Schoolhouse Rock! (1973-1985)
The only time I ever waited to watch commercials outside of the Super Bowl was when Schoolhouse Rock was airing on Saturday mornings. These 2 to 3-minute videos were cartoon educational music videos and they were amazing. Sometime after their initial run and after I stopped watching cartoons I had wondered just like the Star Wars Holiday Special if it had really been a thing. With no Internet, it was hard to track down but in the early 90’s like the Star Wars Holiday special I bought a bootleg VHS tape at a collectibles show. Despite a poor copy, it didn’t disappoint. These toons came to be when ad executive David McCall’s son was having trouble remembering math but yet knew all the lyrics to current songs. McCall thought why not put multiplication tables into catchy songs. So, Bob Dorough created the first batch – Multiplication Rock. They played on ABC in-between cartoons on Saturday mornings. The songs were catchy and the videos funny and to be honest especially with the multiplication ones, kids were learning. Subsequently, they produced Grammar Rock (“Conjunction, Junction” probably being the most famous), America Rocks, and Science Rock. “I’m Just a Bill” is still extremely popular today, explaining how a bill becomes a law. I even had a T-shirt with “Bill” on it. Some of the America Rocks ones although fun were let’s say not the best at explaining America’s complicated history, but the Grammar and Science ones did the trick. In the early 90’s they received a revival. An album of covers by 90’s band such as Blind Melon and Better Than Ezra was produced (I had it). They started being shown on TV again and new ones were made including the not as cool Money Rocks and Earth Rocks. In 1996 a CD box set came out(I had that too) and a stage adaptation called Schoolhouse Rock Live! was produced and is still performed today. Some schools use the videos as well. Seeing these as a kid I never imagined they would end up being so iconic.
Bonus: A 1979 video “The Greatest Show on Earth (The Weather Show)” was pulled after it’s initial airing due to Barnum and Bailey Circus suing ABC over its title.
MG: I used to get so pumped when a Schoolhouse Rock segment came on, because they were random and you never predict when they would pop-up (kids now will never get what this was like in the pre-internet/YouTube world). I don’t know why I can’t recall the Science Rock ones, but the Grammar Rock and America Rocks still live large in my memory. I learned the preamble to the Constitution from this show, and can still recall the jingle clearly.
Saturday morning cartoons was a bonafide ritual for me for many years. I’d grab a bowl of Fruity Pebbles or some other suitable sugary cereal and plop down in front of the boob tube from 8-12. Sometimes if I got up earlier I’d even check out the show that would teach you how to draw (although I could never get my drawings to come out right). As I mentioned earlier, I couldn’t get the UHF channels (look that one up kids) to come in over the antennae, so I wasn’t able to partake of the afternoon cartoons unless I was at a friends’ house. I actually watched a lot of soap operas in the afternoon at an early age. The Ice Princess on General Hospital anyone? But I digress. Here are my top ‘toons:
DJ: I have to just interupt here. Captain Bob was the drawing show and that guy was awesome, like a seafaring Bob Ross. The Ice Princess arc and the Cassadine clan was appointment TV.
To me, the OG of cartoons will always be Loony Tunes, especially the shorts with Bugs Bunny. I’ve watched a bunch recently with my kids and they still hold up and are enjoyable to watch. The origin of Looney Tunes was in the movie theaters, in 1930, developed as shorts to show before films to compete with Disney’s Mickey Mouse shorts. It eventually transitioned to a full-length show on TV during the 1960s, although the show was always a compilation of short segments, even when they did a few holiday specials. The wiseass sarcasm of Bugs was my favorite, and likely influenced my own sense of comedic delivery. Yet as much as I loved Bugs, my all-time favorite was “One Froggy Evening” featuring a singing frog (later dubbed “Michigan J. Frog” by director Chuck Jones. The frog gained popularity in the 90’s when Warner Bros. used it as the mascot for the WB network, but before then this short was pretty obscure. Once again, in the days before YouTube, it was a special moment for me when this rarely-played short would appear on the show (my sister loved this one too). Some of my other favorite shorts were the one where Bugs is in Dracula’s castle and tossing off accidental magic spells, and the spoof of Jekyll & Hyde where Tweety keeps changing into a monster-sized bird while Sylvester is chasing him. The shorts with Marvin The Martian were also some of my favorites. On the other hand, even back then, the Coyote/Road Runner segments got tiresome and were definitely a weak part of the show. All the other characters: Foghorn Leghorn, Porky Pig, Elmer Fudd, Yosemite Sam, Speedy Gonzales, Tasmanian Devil, were all gold (and mostly voiced by the master – Mel Blanc). The show has had many iterations over the years and has basically never left TV since it first aired on television in 1960.
Bonus: In 1949 and 1958 a cartoon each featuring Bugs Bunny won the Academy Award for Best Short Subject (Cartoon). The show received a total of 12 nominations over the years.
DJ: This is without a doubt the best ever. Bugs and Slyvester were the best. My favorite is also “One Froggy Evening”. “The Three Little Bops” is magical as well. I bought a Carl Stallings CD of Looney Tunes music because I was so into these cartoons. They are the king.
Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! (1969-1979)
In 2013, TV Guide ranked Scooby-Doo as the fifth greatest TV Cartoon of all time, but I’d rank it a solid two on my list. The mystery storylines along with the comedy of Shaggy and Scooby was a perfect match for me when I was a kid, even if the format was a bit too rigidly formulaic. But there were enough different locales and villains/monsters to keep it interesting. Even though Daphne was more classically beautiful, it was Velma in her dark orange mini-skirt and blue glasses who I had a crush on. She was the smartest of the bunch too, especially compared to ditsy Daphne and lughead Fred. Kasey Kasem created an indelible character in Shaggy and set the bar on voicing animated characters. Ironically, Kasem was initially wary of portraying a “hippie” character and lobbied for Fred’s voice instead, but he would go on to voice Shaggy for 28 years. It’s hard to imagine anyone else voicing Shaggy. There were a lot of iconic elements of this show that still live on in our pop culture – from the great show theme/opener, the “meddling kids” line, Scooby Snacks, and the 70’s Mystery Van. I definitely started to check out when they introduced Scooby-Doo’s cousin, Scooby-Dum, and then his annoying nephew Scrappy-Doo in the late 70’s. The spinoff show Laff-A-Lympics, which was a play on the Olympics and featured characters from Scooby-Doo, Yogi Bear and other Hanna-Barbera shows, was fun at the time, but I have a feeling would not hold up if I watched it today.
Bonus: The original name for Scooby was “Too Much”, but one of the show’s creators was inspired during a flight by the ending of Frank Sinatra’s “Strangers in the Night” which featured a scat of “doo-be-doo-be-doo”, and the rest is history.
DJ: I loved Scooby-Doo too but I find them slow today. The original episodes are still the best. You would be right the Laff-A-Lympics is not good but like you I loved mashing all the characters together.
Time For Timer (1970s)
Speaking of Schoolhouse Rock, a lesser known PSA segment on ABC during Saturday Morning Cartoons was Time For Timer. The character “Timer” was basically a yellow round blob with skinny legs & arms, a tall top hat, a cane and an oversized bow-tie. He would occasionally whip out a stopwatch from an unknown place on his body. The most famous of these one-minute segments (which were not titled) was the “I hanker for a hunk ‘a cheese!” one. Timer always did a jazzy little song-and-dance number filled with obvious rhymes. How many kids made ice-tray popsicles on toothpicks based on the segment “Sunshine on a stick”? (I know I did). Most of the segments were around food, but some were about personal hygiene such as one that focused on flossing and brushing teeth. I have to admit that these little segments did resonate with me as a kid and encouraged me to try and eat healthily and brush my teeth. Timer also appeared in two hour-long Afterschool Specials in 1973 and 1974 called “The Incredible, Indelible, Magical, Physical, Mystery Trip” and “The Magical Mystery Trip Through Little Red’s Head”. They were trippy indeed. The first one started out as a blend of animation and live action and featured a poor man’s Caroll O’Connor as Uncle Carl. Check it out here (if you have 45 minutes to waste – or just skim through it):
You could say it was ahead of its time because it had a strong anti-smoking message along with promoting exercise and healthy eating. Timer has about 20 songs in this one.
Bonus: The other PSA segment during cartoons was The Bod Squad, which famously featured “Yuk Mouth” encouraging teeth brushing.
DJ: A giant fan of Yuk Mouth, still sing it today. Same with Time for Timer, I loved that little yellow bastard. I will say never heard of those long form specials, complete news to me. I may have to check them out.