With new series like “Voltron: Legendary Defender” wowing fans — in this case, for a second consecutive season — it’s apparent that the world is ready to fully embrace the wonder years of classic cartoons once more. This particular series reignited the nostalgia of loyalists from the ’80s and the ’90s with its critical acclaim continuing to spread like wildfire.
The animation style and storytelling, yet again, set a precedent in its approach on how to refashion a vintage property for modern fans. That’s not an easy feat to accomplish, given that quite a few of these properties may have gone through various iterations via mediums, including comics. Nonetheless, Netflix got the formula right, with Voltron potentially paving the way for even more revivals. Here’s a list of 15 oldies but goodies that CBR believes deserve the Netflix treatment.
“Gargoyles” ran from 1995 to 1997 and proved to be one of the darkest yet most successful cartoon franchises of all time. Under the direction of of “Young Justice’s” Greg Weisman, it packed a lot of mature themes, adult drama and Shakespearean flair into 78 episodes. It followed the story of a cursed group of monsters from medieval times as they reemerged from the shadows to protect Manhattan from the threat of Xanatos (played by “Star Trek’s” Jonathan Frakes), as well as several other villains, including robotic dopplegangers, and genetically enhanced hunters for sport, aka The Pack.
The voice casting was another staple that took things to the next level, with Keith David most notably commanding as clan leader, Goliath. The series prided itself on complex yet well-executed storytelling with its mysticism and depth running much further than the average Disney show. It touched various cornerstones of literature and folklore from Europe to Asia, making it a truly enriching watch. It’s time to break the spell again, Netflix!
14. CAPTAIN PLANET AND THE PLANETEERS
If Leonardo DiCaprio had his way, this movie would be hitting Hollywood already! Until then, fans are hoping that Netflix decides to act on “Captain Planet” because it’s a property that’s just begging for an update. Despite being cheesy, this concept, which takes five teenagers from various walks of life and imbues them with the powers of Earth, Wind, Fire, Water and Heart to bring forth Earth’s greatest protector, was done remarkably well back in the day and became extremely popular.
It was a big anti-pollution PSA with the teens using powered rings to summon their hero, under the watchful eye of Gaia (a symbol of Mother Earth). What really stood out wasn’t how preachy or campy the episodes were, but how much fun it was watching Cap clean up the planet, literally as well as morally. The environmental messages may not have been the biggest draw here, but there was a lot of appealing action, which saw the franchise even pull Sony in with interest at one point.
13. SWAT KATS
This was one of the more action-packed gems from the ’90s, focusing on two fighter pilots, T-Bone and Razor, unfairly discharged from military duty and forced to work in a salvage yard to repay the state for collateral damage. What resulted was them masquerading as mechanics by day, and crimefighters by night. The duo secretly began whipping up a string of assault vehicles and weapons to continue their march for justice in Megakat City.
It ran for just two seasons but if you remember the epic guitars in the intro and seeing the Turbokat flying through the sky, launching missiles at all evil-doers, then you’ll get why this makes our list. The Kats had quite a dynamic rogues gallery as well, with the slithery Dr. Viper and the undead sorcerer, Pastmaster, mixing science and magic to quite a nefarious effect. Creators, the Tremblays, successfully kickstarted a revival, but in ensuing pitches to Warner Bros. things failed to take flight. Still, we’re hoping this ends up being one itch that gets scratched again soon.
12. THE ADVENTURES OF THE GALAXY RANGERS
In just 65 episodes, we were shown a near-perfect example of how to do a space western cartoon with the “Galaxy Rangers.” There was something about this series that felt ahead of its time, as its run in 1986 brought twisty plots, crazy sci-fi elements, top-notch character development, and an overall mature sense of storytelling that could appeal across the spectrum from “Star Trek” to “X-Men” fans alike.
It revolved around aliens sharing hypderdrive technology with Earth in exchange for an army that policed space, especially those who were victims of the invading Crown Empire. The year 1986 wasn’t a time you’d expect cartoons to be harping on about intergalactic enslavement, but with the Rangers, let’s just say smart writing ensured the heroes — Zachary Foxx, Shane Gooseman, Niko and Doc Hartford — didn’t come off too heavy-handed or grim. In protecting the freedom of the galaxy, they truly taught us the meaning of “No Guts. No Glory,” using a vast array of weapons, spaceships and superhuman power-ups to conquer the cosmic colonialism spreading through space.
Rankin/Bass Productions had a major hit in the ’80s with “ThunderCats.” They were hoping to repeat the popularity of this show and the studio decided to recruit the same cast and recycle a similar premise, giving birth to the adventures of the “SilverHawks.” This series was basically a space equivalent, dealing with cyborg cops and cowboys a la the wild, wild west, but in outer space. The animation style was also highly similar to “ThunderCats,” as the show followed the tales of Commander Stargazer and his crew aboard their ship, the Miraj.
They policed the galaxy, fighting intergalactic mobsters, led by Mon-Star, a crime lord with the ability to turn into an armor-clad super-being. “SilverHawks” couldn’t replicate the success of its predecessor, however, due to its redundant plots, but its toy-line enjoyed moderate success. It’s regarded as a cult favorite to this day and fans got their hopes of a reboot up when we saw a Mon-Star cameo in Cartoon Network’s 2011 “ThunderCats” reboot, only for it to last just one season.
10. BUCKY O’HARE
Marvel Productions wanted to counter the merchandise sales and animation success of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” so they focused on “Bucky O’Hare.” Created by legendary “G.I. Joe” writer, Larry Hama, and artist Michael Golden, it lasted just 13 episodes but spawned a massive cult following. It had a “Star Wars” vibe to it as it focused on Bucky’s ragtag space crew combating the Toad Empire and a diabolical artificial intelligence called KOMPLEX.
The heroes fought on behalf of S.P.A.C.E (Sentient Protoplasm Against Colonial Encroachment) with comic writers such as Doug Moench and Neal Adams also taking a crack at some episodes. It was a chaotic ride that never took itself too seriously, and as outlandish as it was, its entertainment factor to this day remains undeniable, with the affiliated comics and video-game still spoken of in reverence within geek dens. As long as Hasbro plays ball, a revamped series would be a win-win, because who wouldn’t want more Deadeye Duck toys on the shelves?
9. DEFENDERS OF THE EARTH
“Defenders of the Earth” united classic comic strip characters such as Flash Gordon, The Phantom, Mandrake the Magician, and his bodyguard Lothar, to battle Ming the Merciless. This old-school villain had now turned his gaze from Mongo, after exhausting its resources, to Earth. Marvel Productions got a 65 episode run out of the show, a comic series, a toy-line and a theme song composed by Stan Lee himself!
However, it didn’t have lasting power and failed to connect long-term with the 1985 audience at the time, as its legacy story (focusing on these heroes and their kids or apprentices) was outmatched by other contemporary shows like “ThunderCats” and “He-Man.” However, a modern reinterpretation has legs this time around, because the writers can delve into the backstory of each character and their families, handling the nostalgia part of things but also crafting fresh spins to update for newer audiences. This could be done similar to the Avengers or Justice League, because Ming recruited all the heroes’ antagonists to form his own terrorist gang.
“M.A.S.K.” debuted in 1985 to push a line of toys (as was the norm back then), while tapping into fans of highly popular franchises like “Transformers” and “G.I. Joe.” The acronym stood for Mobile Armored Strike Kommand and the story was centered around a team that used a variety of transforming and augmented vehicles to battle a crime syndicate called V.E.N.O.M. The latter was also a similarly-powered group of mercenaries with special vehicles and powered masks wreaking global havoc.
It ran for two seasons, lasting 75 episodes in syndication, but it still managed to become a cult phenomenon which endures even today. A revamped comic is currently being published by IDW, with the talented Brandon Easton writing. This gritty take shows just why it can appeal to current audiences as an anti-terrorism plot. There was even talk that the property was close to appearing in the next “G.I. Joe” movie, hinting at a crossover between the two teams and “Transformers,” although word on that has gone cold these days.
“Dino-Riders” debuted in 1988 and it was the brainchild of Marvel Productions and the toy giant, Tyco, as they looked to tap into the fan-base of properties such as “He-Man,” “ThunderCats,” “Transformers,” and “G.I. Joe.” Its plot revolved around two warring factions, who were transported 65 million years into the past in a fight gone awry. The benevolent Valorians ended up befriending the dinosaurs, while the sinister Rulons enslaved, brainwashed and weaponized the creatures aggressively.
The feud was relentless, with both sides fitting their dinosaurs with technology from the future, capitalizing on a sudden societal obsession with the creatures in the ’80s. It ran for only 14 episodes and gained a comic miniseries before getting the axe. The show boasted the presence of veteran voice actors such as Peter Cullen (Optimus Prime), but it still couldn’t catch on with viewers. Its place in pop culture to this day hasn’t gone extinct, though, with the franchise making cameos on shows like “South Park” and “Robot Chicken.”
6. SAMURAI PIZZA CATS
“Samurai Pizza Cats” was a 1990 cartoon, adapted from an anime to air in Canada. Its 52 episodes aired in America six years later via Saban. The series was based in Little Tokyo, a mechanical city that fused feudal Japanese culture with a modern one, populated by cybernetic anthropomorphic animals. Emperor Fred oversaw the city with the sinister rat, Seymour “The Big” Cheese, constantly plotting to overthrow it using thugs such as Jerry Atric and Bad Bird, the leader of the ninja crows.
The Palace Guard commander, “Big Al” Dente (a dog), learned of this treachery but could never prosecute Cheese for treason because of the plausible deniability he maintained. Dente decided to use Speedy Cerviche, Polly Esther, and Guido Anchovy (three cyborg samurai cats who work in the city’s pizzeria) with their operator Francine. They made up the Samurai Pizza Cats, in a heartwarming blend of humor and action. The comical plots were simple: save the Emperor and thwart the thugs, but a reboot could be made even better with a grittier update.
5. THE PIRATES OF DARK WATER
This was a Hanna-Barbera production from 1991 that lasted for 21 episodes. It focused on Ren, a young prince who didn’t know his heritage, on an alien world called Mer, which was being devoured by an evil substance known as Dark Water. Ren was tasked with stopping this by finding the lost 13 Treasures of Rule, with a loyal crew of misfits such as Tula (who could control the elements and biological life within an ecosystem), Ioz (a pirate who wanted treasure as a reward for his help), and Niddler (a monkey-bird who was trying to redeem himself).
They were racing against the rogue pirate, Bloth, who wanted the treasures for himself, and consistently opposed Ren’s journey. The series was never completed, ending abruptly after 21 episodes with only eight of the 13 treasures collected. This could provide Netflix with a chance to continue the Sinbad-esque story on how Ren sought the other five out, or redo everything from scratch; or, more importantly, they could restart and do it right from the get-go!
“TigerSharks” was another Rankin/Bass property that had a huge underground following. It debuted in 1987 and ran for 26 episodes, dealing with an expedition of human explorers who had to use a device called the Fish Tank to transform into their powered-up marine forms on the fictional world, Water-O. They had to re-enter the tank once more to revert into their human forms, as they navigated the perils of this water world, which was constantly under threat from fishy villains like T-Ray and Captain Bizzarly.
Rankin/Bass once more recycled their “ThunderCats” and “Silverhawks” cast, with the team dealing with the fish-men, the Waterians, occupying the planet. The show had a pretty nice theme of discovery to it as the team was a scientific research unit whose mission quickly transitioned from exploration into preserving the planet. The animation was just as slick as its affiliated properties, and we even got a Mako (the team’s shark leader) cameo in 2011’s “ThunderCats” reboot, only for hope to fizzle when the latter got canned.
3. THE CENTURIONS
“Centurions” would be perfect for the modern digital age we live in. It debuted in 1986 and ran for 65 episodes, telling the story of a group of heroes who used specially created exo-frames that allowed them to fuse with mechanical assault systems, creating the perfect man-meets-machine weapon. The team featured Max (sea assault), Jake (land) and Ace (air) fighting Doc Terror, who wanted to replace humans with cyborg slaves.
Apart from bases on Earth, they were usually transported down from space via the Sky Vault, and later on, expanded the roster to include Rex (an energy expert) and John (an Apache infiltration expert). It was a combat-heavy cartoon, filled with action, and surprisingly mature plots that resonated with sci-fi lovers. Apart from technology, it had a few episodes dealing with magic, but most of the series revolved around how humans and machines were evolving with each other. This could be revamped into digital terrorism or android-esque stories, similar to what Marvel or DC puts out.
2. DARKWING DUCK
It’s been over 20 years and this show never gets stale. What started off as Drake Mallard being a parody of “Batman” and “The Shadow” quickly grew into a cult favorite as the hero balanced crimefighting with being a single father in the day. Corny? A bit. But heaps of fun! Not to mention, “Darkwing Duck” had to deal with that infamous sidekick that all Disney fans love in Launchpad McQuack.
Such was the affinity for this series that it raked in Emmy nominations, comic book runs and commercial tie-ins, emphasizing how much it resonated with audiences, who were looking to add to their fix of “DuckTales.” We can already hear Darkwing’s new slate of puns and goofy one-liners quacking us up, but if it’s one reason we’d like to see this show pop up again, it’s to explain how the heck it’s set in a separate universe from “DuckTales.” It could be a crisis in the DuckVerse, but with “Ducktales” already rebooted by Disney XD, the time has never been better to strike.
1. THE LEGEND OF ZELDA
“The Legend of Zelda” is a pop culture phenomenon, as seen with its presence in video games, comics, music and board games. This 1989 cartoon ran for 13 episodes, heavily adapting the first Nintendo game storyline from 1986, with bits of the 1987 sequel (“The Adventure of Link”) stitched in. It told the story of Link and Princess Zelda as they defended the kingdom of Hyrule from an evil wizard named Ganon.
It was more humor than action, as seen with Link constantly trying to win the Princess’ affection, but the overall balance of both was pretty decent. Most episodes consisted of Ganon either attempting to capture the Triforce of Wisdom from Zelda, or protecting his Triforce of Power from the heroes to prevent the unification of both. The villain also kept trying to kidnap Zelda, or otherwise conquer Hyrule. This would be an automatic hit for Netflix, just based on it being one of the world’s most popular video games, and also because it hasn’t been comprehensively done in movies or animation to date. This is the ideal property for Netflix because it’s begging to be retold to a new audience.
Thoughts on our picks? Let us know in the comments which classic cartoons you’d like to see get a Netflix revamp!
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