If the 90’s were about music, then the 80’s were definitely about cartoons, at least when viewed through the eyes of my elementary-school self. I used to love watching these cartoons, and in some cases, I still do. Here’s a bunch of them I remember fondly:
Alvin and the Chipmunks – My favorite was the cartoon movie, in which they got to travel around the world. My brother, sister, and I always watched that one when we were kids, possibly because it was recorded onto one of our favorite VHS tapes of all time, which also had our own copy of Star Wars.
Captain N: The Game Master – I loved this show, probably because it was pretty much an extended Nintendo commercial. If memory serves me (and it might not, given that I spent much of my childhood watching TV and playing video games) this was one of my favorite shows because the main character was magically transported into his TV where he was part of the video game. It doesn’t get cooler than that.
Care Bears – Say what you will, but this show was awesome, and so were its two 80’s cartoon movies. My mom sewed stuffed animals for us of nearly all of the characters (again, if memory serves, there must have been at least a hundred… or maybe just a couple of dozen…). My siblings and I used to get out all the Care Bears and line them all up to do their patented Care Bear Stare against Shredder or Cobra Commander or some other evil action figure, leaving the villain helpless.
C.O.P.S. – This show is about fighting crime in a future time. Although it was in some ways just another 30-minute toy commercial, this show had a great cast of good guys vs. bad guys. A year or so ago I bought a copy of the first season for my brother and I must say that I’m jealous. The shows were still interesting and funny (in a retro sort of way), and I remembered most of the important characters and even which minor characters that had been my favorites as a kid. I remember playing outside in the yard pretending that we were these characters, and I can definitely say that happened more than once.
DangerMouse – What I remember most about this show are the theme song (very awesome) and the sidekick that always said “Oh, Crumbs”. These two facts alone make this show worthy of being included in this list. Also it was British.
DuckTales – Another cartoon that produced another great movie. I’m not sure how many ways Uncle Scrooge could lose his money or how many times Launchpad McQuack could crash a plane without losing his job, but we always tuned in to find out.
Garfield and Friends – This show was great. I think I actually liked the U.S. Acres part of the show more, mostly because of Roy the rooster. That guy was crazy. Also, Binky the Clown was crazy (and had a voice surprisingly similar to Roy’s). This show generated the greatest birthday song of all time (as sung by Binky “Heeeeeey Caaat!!!!” the Clown):
“Happy birthday, happy birthday, whoop-dee-doo, whoop-dee-doo! May your day be pleasant, open up your present. Just for you! Just for you!
We watched this show religiously on Saturdays growing up, and we still quote it to this day. That’s staying power.
G.I. Joe – Although most of the characters went through months and months of training, none of them could shoot a laser weapon. OK, maybe it’s the lasers that were defective, but either way, there were never casualties in the world of G.I. Joe. That’s the world of 1980s children’s television: every show must have a moral and no one can die (with the notable exception of one Optimus Prime from Transformers). Even with all that, little kids don’t know the difference, and so my brother and I used to pretend we were Duke or Snake-Eyes all the time. I don’t remember pretending we were transforming robots very often (that’s what action figures are for).
Heathcliff – When you hear the name Heathcliff, do you think of a character from Wuthering Heights, a former All-Star pitcher in Major League Baseball, or a cat? I usually think of the cat, and it’s all thanks to his great song. Perhaps it should be added that I never think about the character from Wuthering Heights. Thanks a lot, Heathcliff. I’ll never get that song out of my head.
Inspector Gadget – What kid didn’t love Inspector Gadget? With the voice of Don Adams from Get Smart and powers that RoboCop would envy, Inspector Gadget was the best crime fighter ever. Except for Penny and Brain, of course. I think it’s also a requirement for these shows to have awesome theme songs. Inspector Gadget was no exception.
M.A.S.K. – This show rocked. If you haven’t seen it, you’re really missing out. Of all of these, it’s only second to Transformers, and that might just be because I was actually able to collect some of the Transformers toys when I was young. You see, my brother, our neighbor Tyler, and I were obsessed with this show and we wanted all of the action figures. We each had a favorite character, and each character on the show had his own helmet that gave him super powers. We watched reruns of this show on WGN, and by the time we were really into it the toys had come and gone from the stores. Every morning we searched through the classifieds for people selling these toys, but tragically, my brother and I never found them. Our only consolation is that now we have poor-quality recordings of the show… why, oh why don’t they release this on DVD?
Muppet Babies – A little-known fact about this show is that it actually launched the careers of Howie Mandel and Dave Coulier. Plus it was based on a scene from The Muppets take Manhattan. I do still have one question from when I watched the show originally, however. Where on earth were these childrens’ parents?
Snorks – These amazing creatures had snorkels on their heads, which must have been for breathing. Wait, no, that can’t be right, they were all the way underwater. Odd. I remember a few things about this show, mostly something about an octopus.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – I remember when my friend brought his new favorite toy to show and tell, a Ninja Turtle action figure. Everyone (at least all the boys in the class) were really excited to see this cool toy, but I wondered to myself why it took all of them so long to catch on, and why I hadn’t brought my Turtles into class before. I can still remember my excitement after walking out of the Wal-Mart with my new favorite toys. This show gave us the best arcade game of all time, and two-and-a-half great movies (TMNT was actually pretty good, and I try to forget the third movie because it didn’t have a cool rap from either Vanilla Ice or M.C. Hammer).
ThunderCats – I’ll always remember a trip we took to visit my relatives in Nebraska, but aside from a cool childrens’ museum we went to, the only thing I remember about this trip was that my cousins really liked ThunderCats. Tragically I never was able to watch them much as a kid, but I certainly remember Lion-O and Tygra fighting against the evil whats-their-names.
Transformers – This show is definitely back, thanks to its former popularity among the children of the 1980s. This was the king of 30-minute toy commercials, and if you didn’t have Transformer toys as a kid, you weren’t cool. My grandma used to go to garage sales a lot, and she had a knack for finding lots of these toys discarded by children whose parents didn’t recognize the coolness factor of having every Transformer ever, especially the ones that were part of larger robots made up of four or five Transformers. This was definitely my favorite 80’s cartoon, and I’m even the proud owner of all of the box sets that made up of the original series. That’s right, Hasbro. Your 30-minute toy commercials worked.
Voltron, Defender of the Universe – Although he was always the lesser of the transforming robots in my mind, Voltron was still a great show. In college a bunch of us found some old Voltron tapes and watched them, which made us the coolest people on our dorm floor. The plots are familiar and the endings were cheesy, but isn’t that what the 1980s cartoons were all about?