After a few recent conversations with friends, I thought what better idea for a Ten On Tuesdays then to pick my 10 favorite cartoons of the decade in which I grew up. I don't use the word "cartoon" very lightly. For some reason, cartoons imply something targeted towards children, which is exactly what I'm going for. I'm not dealing with any of the adult-oriented, more distinguished sounding "animated series" for this list. That means no Simpsons, no South Park, no Beavis and Butthead, no King Of The Hill. None of the stuff that aired in prime time initially. I based this list on how much I enjoyed a show as a kid and how well it has stood the test of time.
1. The Tick (FOX, 1994-1997)
Oh, oddball humor. You are sorely missed on Saturday mornings. Filled with absurd plots and nonsensical monologues (courtesy of the title character), The Tick was required viewing every Saturday. Based on Ben Edlund's comic book of the same name, the show centered around a dim but noble superhero and his nebbish sidekick, Arthur, who wore a moth suit that was often confused for a bunny. The villains, who were even weirder, included the Midnight Bomber, who talked to himself all the time, Thrakkorzog, the alien who lived across the hall from The Tick and Arthur's apartment, and Chairface Chippendale, a man, who well, had a chair for a face. I look back at some of the old episodes and I'm sometimes astonished as to how The Tick made it on to children's programming considering how zany it was. This show is probably to blame a little bit for my warped sense of humor.
2. Batman: The Animated Series (FOX, 1992-1995)
Before Batman: The Animated Series, action cartoons were just simply flashy and fast-paced. This showed the turned the half hour cartoon format on its head with its dark, mature tone and cinematic style. Everytime this show came on, I had to turn off the lights to give the room a theatrical feel because each episode felt just like a mini-movie. To this day, I feel that it still stands as the definitive representation of Batman outside of comic books, perfectly capturing the gritty tone of the books, even more so than the current Christopher Nolan films.
3. Animaniacs (FOX/WB, 1992-1998)
If a cartoon show was exec produced by Steven Spielberg in the 1990's, you could surely bet there would be as many jokes for adults as there were for kids. Along with the expected slapstick comedy, Animaniacs delivered parodies and insider jokes that rivaled anything else that was on the air at the time, live-action or animated. The show centered on the Warner brothers—and sister, Wakko, Yakko and Dot, cartoon characters who had been locked away in a vault for decades for being too wacky and are finally let loose on the Warner Bros. studio lot. The list of characters and sketches are much too many to list, but the most memorable and plain laugh out loud hilarious ones for me were Chicken Boo, The Wheel of Morality and Pinky and The Brain, just to name a few.
4. X-Men (FOX, 1992-1997)
With such strong souce material, how could this show have been anything but great? By loosely staying true to the continuity in the comic book just enough to satisfy fans and newcomers alike, X-Men culled the best bits of the original and offered a new spin that was just as entertaining. I found the show addictive not only because of the great animation and spot-on voice acting, but I came to really care for the characters, just as I did in the books. It's not too often that you look at a cartoon and find yourself involved with the life or death consequences that play out. Marvel has always been about complex characterization and this show was no different. To say that myself and everyone of my friends were glued to the TV every Saturday morning doesn't even begin to scratch the surface of how popular this show was.
5. Pinky & The Brain (The WB, 1995-1998)
Pinky & The Brain did the near impossible and took the satire and parodies often displayed on Animaniacs one step further, making it even harder to distinguish whether this was children's programming or a show for adults. The show hit its peak during my high school years, a time when you're supposed to abandon cartoons, but with shows as smart and funny as this, it made it hard to view cartoons as unappealing, even one about two lab mice trying to take over the world.
6. Tiny Toon Adventures (FOX, 1990-1992)
The mother to the witty and crazed Spielberg-produced shows of the 90's, Tiny Toon Adventures started it all and set a template of whimsy and rapid slapstick comedy whose influence can be see in the Warner Bros. cartoons that followed and in such shows as Fairly Oddparents and Spongebob Squarepants. The show itself was sort of an update on many of the classic Looney Tunes characters contemporarized for a younger generation but with original characters for kids to call their own. This was one of the few cartoons that my mother and I watched together and I'm pretty sure it was her favorite of the bunch.
7. The Ren & Stimpy Show (Nickelodeon, 1991-1995)
This was one of the first cartoons that I encountered growing up that caused such polarizing feelings. People either embraced its weirdness and found it hilarious or were turned off by it and just couldn't catch on. There was something very dangerous and cool about the way my parents walked in on me laughing hysterically at the legendary "Happy Happy Joy Joy" music number and just turning their faces up in disgust, wondering what I could see in such nonsense. What I saw was a show that was so uniquely strange and silly that I couldn't help but to laugh at it. It was gross. It had an unusual fascination with round posteriors. And it was insane. How did this show ever make it on to Nickelodeon in the first place?
8. Recess (ABC, 1997-2001)
Even while in high school, I still found a reason to wake up on Saturday morning instead of sleep in. Recess was my reason. I loved the way that Recess comically explored the exaggerated world of the playground, where every thing was a big deal and could possibly mean the end of the world if it wasn't handled properly. The show centered around six best friends in grade school and their various adventures. While the main core had plenty of personality and heart, the joy was in watching the vast world of colorful, humorous characters on the playground, most notably, the kindergarten class who were slyly sent-up as wild savages that wore face paint and were feared by everyone. It's often underrated due to it being around at a time of Pokemon and Spongebob, so make sure to catch this one in reruns.
9. The Powerpuff Girls (Cartoon Network, 1998-2004)
Boasting some of the most dazzling animation of the decade, The Powerpuff Girls was a beauty to look at it. The style was part old school anime, part classic American animation, making the show a true original for its time. It maintained a pace reminscent of old Hanna-Barbera cartoons for some of its quieter moments but with a late 90's savvy, which has become almost the requisite since audiences have become more sophisticated. The show revolved around three scientifically created, superpowered girls who fought crime and protected the city of Townsville, all while still in kindergarten. Beyond the action, the show was fun overall and had a spirit that always kept me smiling.
10. Freakazoid! (The WB, 1995-1997)
As wild and out there as the previous Spielberg-produced shows were, Freakazoid! may have been the craziest. Like Animaniacs, it focused on one central character—this time a teenager turned superhero, and had various running sketches, but the insane factor kicked in with the constant breaking of the fourth wall, often several times throughout an episode and usually at key moments. Freakazoid! paid no attention to the rulebook for conventional cartoons and the reckless madcap abandon of the writers can be seen in each episode. It's also one of the funniest shows you'll ever see.