Thanks to shows like “Spider-Man,” “The Incredible Hulk” and “X-Men: The Animated Series,” cartoons based on Marvel’s stable of characters were a dominant force in animation during the ’80s and ’90s. That being said, it should come as no shock that animation was a big part of Marvel’s business during that period.
However, it may surprise some readers to learn that the vast majority of Marvel’s most popular cartoons weren’t actually based on the company’s superheroes. In fact, of the 30 original shows Marvel helped produce from 1981-1996, only five were adapted from the company’s IP. It may also surprise you to know that many of these “Marvel Productions” shows were some of the most popular and iconic cartoons of their time. Today, we’re looking back at 15 shows you didn’t know Marvel produced.
Unless you’re living under a rock, you know “The Transformers” tells the story of two warring factions of giant robots capable of transforming into other objects (primarily vehicles or weapons): the heroic Autobots, led by Optimus Prime, and the evil Decepticons, led by Megatron. Though “The Transformers” has since become one of the highest-grossing media franchises of all time, its incredible popularity all began with the success of the original animated series.
This one might not come as a major shock, considering Marvel also published the highly influential comic book of the same name from 1984 until 1991, but “The Transformers” was the first in a long line of shows co-produced by Marvel Productions and frequent collaborators Sunbow Entertainment. After the success of their partnership with Marvel and Sunbow on a “G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero” comic book tie-in and animated mini-series, “Transformers” cemented the two production company’s long relationship with toy giant Hasbro.
14. ROBOCOP: THE ANIMATED SERIES
Co-produced with Orion Pictures, “RoboCop: The Animated Series,” debuted in 1988 as part of the “Marvel Action Universe” programming block. Based on the original movie, the show followed Alex Murphy aka Robocop, and his friend/partner, Officer Anne Lewis, in their fight to clean up the streets of Old Detroit. The show ran for 12 episodes and despite adapting many aspects of the original, “RoboCop: The Animated Series” took many creative liberties with the story and its characters to make it work for a younger audience.
These changes included replacing bullets with laser weapons, making Old Detroit far more futuristic and giving RoboCop a stylish red light in the center of his visor. Additionally, Dr. Tyler (who appears in the original film) is the creator of the RoboCop Program and, along with Dr. Roosevelt, serves as RoboCop’s support system. Another notable change is that the men responsible for Alex’s death prior to him becoming RoboCop died in the film, while in the show they survive and battle RoboCop again.
Another pull from the “Marvel Action Universe” programming block, “Dino-Riders” was (in true ’80s fashion) co-produced by Marvel Productions and Tyco Toys as a promotional show to launch a new line of toys bearing the same name. The series’ 12 episodes dealt with a war between two factions of dino-riding, time-traveling aliens trapped on prehistoric Earth. The Valorians were a peaceful race of superhumans living on their home planet of Valoria until they were attacked by the evil Rulons.
While attempting to escape, using their “Space Time Energy Projector,” the groups were sent back in time to the age where dinosaurs ruled the Earth. After arriving on Earth, the Valorians used their telepathic abilities to communicate with the dinosaurs they encountered, eventually befriending them (and arming them to the teeth with all sorts of future tech). The Rulons, on the other hand, used brainwashing devices called “brain-boxes” to enslave and control the dinosaurs.
12. DEFENDERS OF THE EARTH
Created as a collaboration between Marvel Productions and King Features Syndicate, “Defenders of the Earth” brought three of King’s most popular characters together as a superhero team. When Flash Gordon’s nemesis, Ming the Merciless, exhausts the resources on his home planet Mongo, he turns his sights on Earth. After Flash Gordon’s wife, Dale Arden, is killed fighting Ming, Flash organizes the titular Defenders along with The Pantom, Mandrake the Magician and his assistant Lothar, to fight Ming and save the year 2015 (which seemed like a long time in the future back in 1985).
The team was also regularly supported by the four main characters’ children: Flash’s son Rick Gordon, Phantom’s daughter Jedda Walker, Lothar’s son L.J, and the adopted son of Mandrake, Kshin. The team was also assisted by their supercomputer, Dynak X, which contained the consciousness of Flash’s wife Dale. Running for a total of 65 episodes, the show proved popular enough to spawn a series of comics published by Marvel’s Star Comics imprint, a series of action figures and even a video game starring the team.
11. BIKER MICE FROM MARS
The last cartoon produced under the “Marvel Productions” banner, “Biker Mice From Mars” followed the adventures of three humanoid, mouse-like aliens named Throttle, Modo and Vinnie. When Mars was overtaken by an evil alien race known as the Plutarkians, the trio of biker mice escaped their war-torn home planet and crash landed on Earth, specifically in the city of Chicago. The mice decide to make Earth their new home and defend it from the same fate, vowing to one day return and liberate Mars.
Shortly after their arrival, the Biker Mice learn that Chicago’s leading industrialist, Lawrence Limburger, is actually a Plutarkian in disguise, plotting to bleed the Earth of its resources to support his people’s dying home planet Plutark. From then on, the Biker Mice positioned themselves as vigilantes fighting against Limburger and his army of henchmen, monsters and supervillains. The show proved popular, running for a total of 65 episodes and spawning a Marvel comic series, a handful of video games and a sequel series in 2006.
10. BUCKY O’HARE AND THE TOAD WARS
Based on writer Larry Hama and artist Michael Golden’s cult-classic “Bucky O’Hare” comic series, “Bucky O’Hare and the Toad Wars” was co-created by Marvel Productions along with Sunbow Productions, Abrams/Gentile Entertainment, Continuity Comics and IDDH. The show followed the titular Bucky and the crew of his ship, The Righteous Indignation. Bucky’s team are members of S.P.A.C.E., or Sentient Protoplasm Against Colonial Encroachment, a team tasked with fighting KOMPLEX, the evil computer pulling the strings of the Toad Empire, on behalf of the United Animals Federation.
Though the show only ran for 13 episodes, “Bucky O’Hare and the Toad Wars” touched on a majority of the original comic’s story beats, while taking a few significant creative liberties. The show introduced a number of new characters, reimagined members of the original cast and followed a more linear arc involving Bucky’s home planet Warren being captured by the Toads before being freed in the show’s finale.
Another of the collaborations between Marvel Productions, Sunbow Entertainment and Hasbro, “Inhumanoids” was one of the many ’80s cartoons created to assist the launch of a new series of action figures. The show followed the adventures of a group of scientists known as Earth Corps, who along with the help of three different races of ancient elemental beings collectively known as the Mutores, battled a trio of subterranean monsters called the Inhumanoids.
Though “Inhumanoids” proved popular enough to receive its own 13 episode season, the series actually debuted in six minute shorts as a part of the “Super Sunday” programming block alongside a slate of other Marvel/Sunbow produced cartoons including “Bigfoot and the Muscle Machines,” “Robotix” and a show we’ll be discussing later, ” Jem and the Holograms.” Like many of the other Marvel Productions cartoons, “Inhumanoids” also received its own short-lived comic series published by Marvel’s imprint Star Comics.
8. RUDE DOG AND THE DWEEBS
“Rude Dog and the Dweebs” was produced by Marvel Productions in association with Sun Sportswear in an effort to popularize the company’s mascot, Rude Dog. The character’s name and design were inspired by the “Rude boy” ska subculture popular in California at the time and as well as contemporary skateboarding and surfing brands.
In an effort to widen the character’s appeal, “Rude Dog and the Dweebs” was developed and portrayed the character as the head of an auto shop run by his misfit gang of mutts, the Dweebs. When they weren’t working in the shop, Rude Dog and co. were dealing with a predictable set of villains: a nasty cat named Seymour, a dog catcher named Herman and his dopey rottweiler assistant Rot. Despite the 13 episode series being little more than an advertising push for Rude Dog, the series boasted a surprisingly stacked voice cast, featuring the talents of industry veterans like Rob Paulsen, Dave Coulier, Peter Cullen, Jim Cummings and Frank Welker.
7. LITTLE WIZARDS
The 1987 show “Little Wizards” was one of the few original properties Marvel Productions helped develop during their animation boom. The show followed Dexter, a young prince whose father, the former King, is dead. When the evil Wizard Renvick stole the throne and proclaimed himself King, Dexter fled to the woods and met his future teacher, the wizard Phineas. In addition to Phineas’ dragon Lulu, the team was rounded out by three magical monsters Dexter accidentally created named Winkle, Gump and Boo.
The show was created by the accomplished team of Len Janson and Check Menville, who had made a name for themselves for their series of short films that made use of stop-motion pixilation, most notably the Academy Award-nominated, “Stop Look and Listen.” By the time the team developed “Little Wizards” with Marvel they had already worked on a number of notable Saturday morning cartoons including “Star Trek: The Animated Series,” “The Smurfs,” and “The Real Ghostbusters.”
6. ATTACK OF THE KILLER TOMATOES
Based on the 1978 movie of the same name and its sequel “Return of the Killer Tomatoes,” the animated version of “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes” was co-produced by Marvel and Fox Children’s Productions to air on Fox Kids. Picking up five years after the events of The Great Tomato War seen in the original film, tomatoes have been outlawed, but that hasn’t stopped the mad scientist Dr. Putrid T. Gangreen from conducting his research.
His most successful creation, Tara Boumdeay, a tomato turned human, escapes with her “brother,” the failed experiment Fuzzy Tomato (aka F.T.), and the pair befriend Chad Finletter, the nephew of the original film’s character Wilbur Finletter. The show’s first season saw Chad get Tara a job in Wilbur’s pizza parlor and the trio trying to thwart Gangreen’s attempts at taking over the world. The second season saw Gangreen succeed in his quest for world domination, only to be overthrown by another of his creations, Zoltan, and his faction of twice-mutated tomatoes. The remainder of the far more linear second season saw Gangreen team up with the Chad, Tara, Wilbur and other veterans of the Great Tomato War to reclaim the Earth.
5. DUNGEONS & DRAGONS
One of the more beloved entries on this list, “Dungeons & Dragons” was co-produced by Marvel Productions along with the original company behind D&D, TSR, Inc. The show followed a group of six friends ranging in age from 8 – 15 who find themselves transported into the world of Dungeons & Dragons after taking a ride on a magic roller coaster. After arriving in the magical realm, the kids meet the benevolent and mysterious Dungeon Master who grants each of them a magical item to help them on their quest to find a way home.
The group also regularly took detours to help people in need, and were frequently forced to tangle with the villain Venger, a powerful wizard who believed stealing the children’s weapons would give him the power needed to take control the realm. The series’ other primary antagonist was the fearsome, five-headed dragon goddess Tiamat, the only other entity more powerful than Venger.
4. JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS
After Hasbro found success partnering with Marvel Productions and Sunbow Entertainment for cartoons based on their toys, the companies teamed up again to create a new series, “Jem” (also known as “Jem and the Holograms”), to help promote the launch of a line of fashion dolls bearing the same name. The show followed Jerrica Benton, the owner and manager of Starlight Music, and her alter-ego Jem, the mysterious lead singer of the rock band Jem and The Holograms.
As we mentioned above, “Jem and the Holograms” made its debut as part of the Marvel Productions/Sunbow Entertainment programming block “Super Sunday” alongside “Bigfoot and the Muscle Machines,” “Robotix” and “Inhumanoids.” Though “Jem” and “Inhumanoids” both proved popular enough to be developed into their own series, it was “Jem and the Holograms” that proved to be a breakout success. The show would go on to air a total of 65 episodes over three seasons, and the franchise has retained a fan base to this day, warranting a currently ongoing comic book series published by IDW since 2015 and a critically panned film released that same year.
3. MY LITTLE PONY ‘N FRIENDS
Coming hot off the theatrical release of the 1986 movie, “My Little Pony: The Movie,” Marvel Productions and Sunbow Entertainment partnered again to create a successor to the film in “My Little Pony n’ Friends.” The first half of every episode featured a “My Little Pony” segment backed up by another segment based on other Hasbro franchises, including “The Glo Friends,” “MoonDreamers” and the “Potato Head Kids.”
The first 10 “My Little Pony” segments which aired served as a direct sequel to the original film titled, “The End of Flutter Valley.” The series followed the titular Little Pony’s adventures in the magical realm of Ponyland. Though the Ponies have a peaceful homestead in Paradise Estate, the show regularly saw the Ponies doing battle with malevolent magical creatures that sought to destroy or enslave the Ponies. The Ponies were regularly assisted by three human siblings, Megan, Danny and Molly, who would visit by flying across a Rainbow to Paradise Estate, as well as Moochick, a wise and magical gnome who lived nearby the Pony’s home.
2. G.I. JOE: A REAL AMERICAN HERO
Though Marvel Productions’ relationship with Sunbow Entertainment and Hasbro began with the two animated “G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero” miniseries and the accompanying comic series in 1983 and 1984, “G.I. Joe” wouldn’t become its own full-fledged series until 1985 after the three companies had again partnered for “The Transformers.” The show took some inspiration from the Marvel comic series, but given the restrictions put on the show none of the characters were allowed to be shown using actual guns and characters were never killed on screen.
Considering the show’s primary purpose was to sell action figures, “G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero” featured a staggering number of characters, with the focus shifting to whatever characters had action figures being sold at the time. As a result, the roster changed quite a bit over the course of the show and often without explanation. The show proved to be a breakout success, and a total of 95 episodes were produced in addition to “G.I. Joe: The Movie,” which followed the events of season two. Though a third season was in development for the show, Marvel lost the license to their competitors at DiC during pre-production.
1. JIM HENSON’S MUPPET BABIES
The incredibly successful “Jim Henson’s Muppet Babies” was co-produced by Marvel Productions and The Jim Henson Company. The show followed the adventures of childhood versions of the Muppets being raised by a human woman named Nanny who was only shown from the torso down. The show’s immense popularity is often credited for beginning the trend of the “babyfication” of well-established characters that was a staple of Saturday morning cartoons in the ’80s and early ’90s.
At the peak of its popularity, “Jim Henson’s Muppet Babies” was often being played in 90-minute blocks and remained in syndication for years after the series had ended. The seven-time Emmy award-winning show ran for a staggering eight seasons with 107 episodes being produced in total, and spawned a monthly comic by Marvel’s imprint Star Comics from 1985 to 1989, multiple albums of original music and countless pieces of merchandise. Ironically, both The Muppets and Marvel have both since been separately acquired by The Walt Disney Company.
Which was your favorite Marvel Productions cartoon? Let us know in the comments below!
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