John Byrne once observed that when people complain about changes made to comic book characters, they’re really only complaining about changes made to the characters after those people began reading the comic books involving them. In other words, larger changes made in the past were ignored by fans because they came before they started reading the books. This really boils down to the power that exists from the point in which you start watching/reading something. What you read/watched as a kid will always have a special meaning in your mind.
As a result, though, very often you will overlook just how bad some of the stuff that you read/watched as a kid was, because you had no real context on which to base your opinion. This seems particularly true about cartoons, because typically as a kid you just watched whatever was on TV. There weren’t a gazillion cable channels to choose from, so whatever the main networks aired, that’s what you watched and you liked it. Looking back, though, some of it was simply terrible. Here, we’ll list 15 cartoons from the 1980s and ’90s that some of you probably liked at the time despite the shows being awful.
15. ADVENTURES OF THE GUMMI BEARS
Disney’s Adventures of the Gummi Bears was the first show in Disney’s then-new Walt Disney Animation Television division. As a result, it has a major place in the history of animation, but the show itself showed a lot of the strain of being the first new addition of the group. Literally based on the candy of the same name (Disney CEO Michael Eisner thought it sounded like a cool name for a cartoon show), the characters on the show were all of the standard stereotypical characters that were present in most cartoons of the 1970s and 1980s.
The one thing that stood out was the theme song, a brilliant composition sung by Joseph Williams, then lead singer of the rock band, Toto. It was incredibly catchy and likely also helps people remember this show more fondly than it deserves.
14. BERENSTAIN BEARS
Stan and Jan Berenstain began their children’s book empire in 1962 with the very first Berenstain Bears book, The Big Honey Hunt, which was a massive success and led to literally hundreds of books ever since, all based on the very specific formula of “Brother and/or Sister Bear have a problem, turn to Papa Bear for help, he screws it up worse than it was to start and then Mama Bear fixes the problem.”
Said formula worked well enough for children’s books, but it was a flimsy hook to base a television series on and the show tried to adjust by adding a bunch of new characters to populate the world of the Bears. Unfortunately, none of the new characters were particularly inspiring, either. The saccharine nature of the show made it stand out, though, in an era of Transformers and G.I. Joe, so it lasted a few seasons.
13. CHIP AND DALE’S RESCUE RANGERS
After the smashing success of their first syndicated animated television series, DuckTales, in 1987, Disney naturally tried to replicate the success of that first show. The problem was that with DuckTales, they had the legendary comic book work of Carl Barks to base DuckTales on. In other words, there was a strong foundation already in place for stories about Uncle Scrooge and his three nephews going on adventures around the world.
Thus, when Disney took their chipmunk characters, Chip and Dale, and decided to give them personalities as private investigators and had them go out on adventures with two mice (Monterey Jack and Gadget) and a fly (Zipper), that same foundation wasn’t there. While the series wasn’t completely awful, nor did it come close to the heights of DuckTales. It had a great theme song, though. Disney really excelled at making great theme songs in the 1980s.
One of the more amusing naming coincidences came when the animated series C.O.P.S. launched in 1988, just a year before the much more famous reality TV series, Cops, debuted. Despite C.O.P.S. coming out first, they were the ones who had to change their name due to the popularity of the reality TV show (in the 1990s, the show was called CyberC.O.P.S.). C.O.P.S. stood for Central Organization of Police Specialists and the tagline for the show was the rather catchy “Fighting crime in a future time.”
However, while the show occasionally had clever moments (like a bit about how political graft led to budget cuts that undermined the C.O.P.S.), it was still one of the more naked examples of a cartoon advertising a line of toys. The C.O.P.S. had their high-tech weapons pitted against the high-tech weapons of the bad guys and the whole thing was nearly devoid of any characterization.
11. DENVER THE LAST DINOSAUR
When it comes to the ratio of theme song quality compared to actual show quality, one of the most dramatically out of whack ratios came with Denver the Last Dinosaur, which debuted in 1988 with one of the catchiest theme songs of the era. The show itself, though, was a real snooze.
It was about a group of teens who discovered a giant egg that had a dinosaur in it. Denver, a friendly anthropomorphized dinosaur, hid in the shed of one of the teens and they got caught up in a lot of misadventures. Denver could also transport the teens back to prehistoric times with a piece of his shell. The show was actually recommended by the National Educational Association, who must have been really hard up for “educational” programming if this show qualified.
10. EXTREME GHOSTBUSTERS
In the late 1990s, with a third Ghostbusters movie rumored to be in the works, a new Ghostbusters cartoon series was announced. The show was designed to be a sequel of the original Real Ghostbusters cartoon series, only with new, edgier characters led by Egon and Janine (with Slimer along for the ride).
The major problem with the show is that it seemed to take the stance that the idea of a group of people fighting ghosts was the real hook of the Ghostbusters, when in reality, it was the Ghostbusters themselves that made the property work. Peter Venkman without the personality of Bill Murray is just a bland character that no one would care about. Still, the show does deserve credit for adding some diversity to the ranks of the Ghostbusters.
9. FONZ AND THE HAPPY DAYS GANG
If you were looking for a formula on how to make a cartoon based on a major live action property work, we would tell you to get as many of the main characters as you can and use the real life actors for their voices. Somehow, even while doing that, Fonz and the Happy Days Gang was a total trainwreck.
Henry Winkley, Ron Howard and Donny Most supplied the voices for their characters in this Happy Days spinoff series which saw Fonzie, Richie and Ralph stuck in a time machine with Cupcake, a woman from the future (played by Didi Conn, fresh off of Grease) and Mr. Cool, Fonzie’s anthropomorphized dog. The budget seemed to be spent entirely on getting the real life actors involved (it was even narrated by the great Wolfman Jack), as the animation was weak and the stories were even weaker.
8. G.I. JOE: A REAL AMERICAN HERO (DIC SERIES)
The original G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero TV series was one of the best animated television programs of the 1980s. Produced by Sunbow Productions and Marvel Studios, Hasbro paid for the production of the television series, which made sense as it was highly effective advertising for their action figures. However, a relatively new company, DIC, offered to do the show for a lot less money and Hasbro agreed to make the change.
The end result was a disaster. Not only was the animation much cheaper (and much worse), but the voice actors almost all left the show and, perhaps most importantly, the writing staff was lost. Guys like Buzz Dixon, Ron Friedman and the late, great Steve Gerber made the original G.I. Joe stand out in how clever the writing was. That was not the case with the DIC episodes.
7. MIGHTY DUCKS
It is hard to capture just how big the Mighty Ducks were as a media property in the mid-1990s. The live action film about a man forced to coach a youth hockey team, starring Emilio Estevez and a young Joshua Jackson, was a huge hit. Disney then went out and bought their own NHL expansion club, naming the team after their hit film. Mighty Ducks of Anaheim merchandise was huge, especially as hockey was experiencing a popularity boom period in the early 1990s.
So it was natural that Disney then tried to make a cartoon show off of the property, but instead of adapting the live action film, they instead invented new alien duck characters who are stuck on Earth and become a hockey team while also fighting against the evil alien that trapped them in this dimension. If that sounds awful, well, it was worse than it sounds.
6. NEW ADVENTURES OF HE-MAN
In the early 1980s, Masters of the Universe was one of a few different animated programs (like G.I. Joe and Transformers) that realized that, so long as you prominently displayed the characters that the toy line is based upon, no one really cared if you wanted to actually make your show a good show, so they had a lot of freedom to try interesting storytelling approaches.
However, when the He-Man line was revamped, the cartoon had to adapt as well, and the set-up was that He-Man was sent to the future planet, Primus, followed by Skeletor, to battle each other in space with a brand new group of good guys and bad guys. The new characters, and He-Man’s new look, were all exceptionally bland, although the animation was actually a step-up from the original series.
As famous as the Mighty Ducks were in the mid-1990s, Bo Jackson was a lot more famous in 1989-1990. Jackson played professional baseball for the Kansas City Royals and professional football for the Los Angeles Raiders. In 1989, Jackson made the All-Star Game in the MLB and the Pro-Bowl in the NFL. He also starred in a world famous commercial for Nike called “Bo Knows,” making fun of his success at the two sports by expanding his expertise to basketball (with Michael Jordan saying, “Bo knows basketball”) and hockey (with Wayne Gretzky refusing to say that Bo knows hockey).
The fame led to a short-lived TV series where Jackson, Jordan and Gretzky fought crime. Not only was the show terrible, but its timing was even worse, as it launched after Jackson suffered a hip injury that ruined his football career and eventually sunk his baseball career, as well.
4. QUACK PACK
Disney had success in the early 1990s by giving Goofy a son named Max and having them star in an animated sitcom called Goof Troop. The concept of that show was to have Max be an ordinary pre-teen and have Goofy be, well, you know, goofy and having Max have to deal with the embarrassment that his dad causes him regularly. Since that worked out, Disney then decided to use that same approach with Donald Duck and Huey, Dewey and Louie.
The show gave the characters more distinct personalities. Huey was the smooth-talker, Dewey was the brains of the group and Louie was the jock. Their overall personality trait, though, was that they were three little pains in the ass. The pitch of the show seemed to be, “Hey, remember how much you liked DuckTales? Well, what if Huey, Dewey and Louie were a-holes? Come watch Quack Pack!”
3. RAMBO: THE FORCE OF FREEDOM
If we have to give the insipid Rambo: The Force of Freedom any credit, at least the acronym that they came up for the bad guys, S.A.V.A.G.E. was so bonkers (Specialist-Administrators of Vengeance, Anarchy and Global Extortion) that we have to believe that even they knew how ridiculous their TV show was. Whether that is true or not, the end result was an awful riff on G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, with Rambo and his Force of Freedom being the Joes and S.A.V.A.G.E. being Cobra.
“Shockingly,” the various specialized heroes and villains all got their own action figures to tie in with the TV series. The hilarious part of the show was that it was a kid’s show based on a R-rated property, specifically a Vietnam War veteran who is dealing with severe Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Unsurprisingly, the show did not get into any of that.
2. SHIRT TALES
We have to admit that the stars of Shirt Tales are absolutely adorable. This makes sense, as they were actually invented by Hallmark for a series of greeting cards. Cute animals wearing shirts with cute slogans on them? That’s adorable. However, since it was the 1980s, Hallmark thought to themselves, “If action figures can be turned into cartoon shows, why not greeting card characters?”
The resulting show was a bizarre action series starring the talking animals who work out of a headquarters in a tree in the park. They go out on missions in their high-tech ship (that can turn into an airplane, submarine or whatever they need). One of the members, Bogey Orangutan, also talks like Humphrey Bogart because…well…why not? The show actually lasted two seasons and reruns continued for even longer. The greeting cards ceased soon after the show ended.
1. SUPER FRIENDS (SEASON 1)
Something that people often forget about Super Friends is that while the show ran for many seasons, it was actually canceled after its first! This is not so surprising when you watch the first season and note that it is pretty terrible. The Alex Toth designs of the characters were excellent, but the “action” on the show was almost non-existent and their teen sidekicks, Wendy, Marvin and Wonder Dog, were extremely out of place.
After a few years (during which the first season was still aired in reruns), the success of superhero-themed live action shows (like Wonder Woman and Six Million Dollar Man) led to the show’s return, only revamped to include better action and the Wonder Twins replacing Wendy and Marvin (and then the Wonder Twins were smartly de-emphasized after time, as well). The show is well remembered as the first attempt to have all of the Justice League together (all but Batman and Wonder Woman had appeared years earlier in the Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure), but it opened up very poorly.
What other shows did you love as a kid that are pretty bad when you think back on them? Let us know in the comments section!
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