Many animated cartoons take beloved characters from the printed page to the small screen, bringing them to life in new and imaginative ways. Other shows offer characters created expressly for the medium, all for the enjoyment of devoted fans. In any event, all such shows have their moment in the sun, however long or however brief. And for the longest time, people had only memories of their childhood favorites to keep them going.
But one of the wonderful aspects of beloved cartoons is that they lend themselves to different visions and different approaches. Live action shows can be reinvented in animated form. Grim and gritty sagas can be turned into lighthearted capers. Earnest shows featuring stolid leaders, in other hands, can instead be parodies filled with ironic humor. Changing times can mean updates in style as well as improvements in animation techniques. The advent of computer-generated imaging allows animators to give their stories a futuristic sheen. Best of all, a new version of an old favorite means more new stories, keeping the characters alive even longer in our minds and hearts. Here are 16 cartoon upgrades and reboots better than the originals.
16. BATMAN BEYOND
The venerable Batman franchise took a leap into the future with Batman Beyond, the 1999-2001 series on the Kids WB network. The series opens 20 years in the future, when an aging Bruce Wayne is estranged from his friends and allies. He carries on with a high-tech Batsuit, but retires after he has a heart attack while on a rescue mission and threatens to use a gun to end an attack.
Fast forward another 20 years, and Neo-Gotham is overrun by villains and crime gangs — foremost among them, the Jokerz. Sixteen-year-old Terry McGinnis gets chased by the Jokerz onto Wayne Manor’s grounds. Wayne helps McGinnis fight them off, but aggravates his heart condition. Exploring the property, McGinnis finds the Batcave. Later, McGinnis’s father is murdered by the Jokerz to silence him, and McGinnis and Wayne form an alliance; McGinnis will be the new Batman with Wayne as his mentor.
15. SPACE GHOST COAST TO COAST
The Cartoon Network took a bold direction in 1994 when it launched Space Ghost Coast to Coast. Before then, the Cartoon Network was just a repository for old cartoons from the MGM, Hanna-Barbera and Fleischer Studios libraries. Space Ghost Coast to Coast was the first original animated series on the Cartoon Network, and spawned the Adult Swim lineup of shows.
Programmer Mike Lazzo repurposed footage from 1966’s Space Ghost and Dino Boy into a bizarre talk show. Interviews with B- and C-list celebrities were recorded, and recut with offbeat questions from the earnest but clueless host. Former adversaries Moltar and Zorak served as the director and bandleader, respectively, although they didn’t drop their animosity toward Space Ghost. The show lasted in various formats up to 2008, for 110 episodes.
14. TEEN TITANS
The Teen Titans first appeared in animation as part of the 1967 Filmation series Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure, featuring a lineup of Speedy, Aqualad, Wonder Girl and Kid Flash. Flash forward to 2003, and an all-new, all-different Teen Titans show takes to the airwaves. This version is based on the revamped New Teen Titans comics series of the 1980s by Marv Wolfman and George Pérez.
This version was definitely different, with a sprightly guitar-driven theme song (“Teen Titans Go!”) by Japanese pop-rock band Puffy AmiYumi. It was rendered in an anime-flavored style, and features a lineup of Robin — notably absent from the 1967 version — Starfire, Raven, Beast Boy and Cyborg. This quartet hung out in Jump City and bickered with each other and bonded as they handled supervillains and met other DC characters.
13. BATMAN: THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD
Batman: The Brave and the Bold, which ran from 2008 to 2011, shied away from The Dark Knight Returns-style grim and grittiness, instead embracing the live-action Batman TV show’s silliness. Like the comics title The Brave and the Bold, each TV episode featured Batman in a team-up with one or more DC heroes. The show pulled its stories and influences from the Silver Age and Bronze Age, and tended to choose a lot of second- and third-string heroes and villains like the Phantom Stranger, the Blue Beetle, the Gentleman Ghost and Doctor Double-X.
Each episode also began with a stand-alone teaser, including one that faithfully duplicated a Batman spoof from 1953’s MAD #8. Even though the tone was lighter, B&B still handled death respectfully, such as in the episode that covered the Doom Patrol’s sacrifice.
12. BEWARE THE BATMAN
In 2013, the Cartoon Network tried another spin on the Batman legend, one more dark and adult after the lighthearted The Brave and the Bold ended its run. Beware the Batman looked at his early days as a crimefighter, aided by a gun-toting Alfred and a sword-wielding partner, Katana.
Producers apologized for early promotional art showing Alfred firing automatic pistols, claiming their intent was to merely illustrate the show’s more action-oriented direction. It also was rendered in CGI, much like sister show Green Lantern: The Animated Series. Instead of Batman’s classic rogues’ gallery, Beware the Batman presented other villains, some new to television such as the ecoterrorist Professor Pyg and his partner Mister Toad, Humpty Dumpty, Lady Shiva and Magpie. Another new-to-TV villain, Anarky, was the main recurring antagonist.
11. SEALAB 2021
One of the spinoffs from Space Ghost Coast to Coast on the Adult Swim programming block was Sealab 2021. Much like Coast to Coast, Sealab 2021 repurposed footage from old episodes of a Hanna-Barbera animated series. Sealab 2020 had a single 13-episode season in 1972, and focused on an research facility almost 50 years in the future from then, dedicated to the study of undersea life.
Sealab 2021 took the episodes and remixed them with bits of new animation and new, absurdist dialogue broadly spoofing the conventions of Saturday morning cartoons. Characters bickered with each other, and fought, died and returned without explanation in succeeding episodes; several ended with the entire base being destroyed, to return intact the next time out. Sealab 2021 lasted for 52 episodes.
10. THE MAGIC SCHOOL BUS RIDES AGAIN
The 1994-97 PBS Kids show The Magic School Bus brought fun to science education. Based on the children’s book series by Joanna Cole and Bruce Degen, The Magic School Bus covered the adventures of a diverse class of middle-schoolers as they explore space, archaeology, meteorology, time, space, the human body and more. Over 52 episodes, the class was led by Miss Valerie Frizzle, whose motto is “Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!”
The Netflix revival updates the show in many ways, with modern-style animation. Hamilton mastermind Lin-Manuel Miranda does the theme song, replacing the original by rock ‘n’ roll legend Little Richard. The new episodes star Saturday Night Live’s Kate McKinnon as Fiona Felicity Frizzle, the original Miss Frizzle’s younger sister, who retires and hands over the keys to the bus.
9. LOONATICS UNLEASHED
In Loonatics Unleashed, the descendants of the classic Looney Toons characters get a futuristic makeover in this 2005-2007 animated series. In 2772, the planet Acmetropolis gets hit by a meteor that knocks it off its axis. The collision mysteriously unleashes cosmic energies that wash over the planet. Some of the inhabitants who get hit by this wave of energy become superheroes.
Six of them — descendants of Bugs Bunny, Lola Bunny, Wile E. Coyote, the Road Runner, the Tazmanian Devil and Daffy Duck — band together under the direction of a mysterious woman named Zandavia to form the Loonatics to defend the planet. The show had an anime flavor, and in its first season, leaned heavily on action-adventure. In its second season, it veered more toward comedy, and introduced more reworked versions of the original Looney Tunes.
8. IRON MAN: ARMORED ADVENTURES
Marvel de-aged Tony Stark to a teenager in “The Crossing” storyline, which went across Avengers, Iron Man, War Machine and Force Works in 1995-1996. That plot wasn’t very well received at the time and was retconned away by 2001. But no idea goes un-recycled. In the wake of the successful 2008 Iron Man movie, Nicktoons presented Iron Man: Armored Adventures, which lasted for 52 episodes.
In this series, 16-year-old Tony Stark is a super-genius inventor who has made the flying suit of armor, and a laser system that his father’s business partner, Obadiah Stane, wants to use as a weapon. Stane engineers an airplane explosion that kills Howard Stark and injures Tony. With the armor, Tony investigates Stane’s role in his father’s death while tying to continue as a high-school student with BFFs Jim Rhodes and Pepper Potts.
7. SHERLOCK HOLMES IN THE 22ND CENTURY
Sherlock Holmes is the greatest detective in literature and the world’s greatest detective of the Victorian era. But the 1991-2001 series Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century put him in a whole new arena. Produced by DiC and Scottish Television, Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century appeared on Fox Kids. It featured Inspector Lestrade’s descendant, Beth Lestrade, who is after the criminal genius Martin Fenwick and his partner, a clone of Holmes’ classic antagonist Professor James Moriarty.
Beth Lestrade gets scientist Sir Evan Hargreaves to reanimate Holmes’s body; which had been kept in New Scotland Yard, in the basement, preserved in honey in a glass coffin. With Dr. John Watson’s journals, Lestrade programs a compudroid to emulate his personality. Holmes, the Watson compudroid and Lestrade team to fight crime, and the new Moriarty, in New London.
6. ARCHIE’S WEIRD MYSTERIES
Before the live-action CW series Riverdale reinvented Archie Andrews’ hometown as a place full of sinister secrets and odd goings-on, there was Archie’s Weird Mysteries. The animated series, which ran for 40 episodes from 1999-2000, transformed Riverdale into an even stranger place, thanks to a foulup at Riverdale High School’s physics lab.
This makes the town a weirdness magnet, attracting vampires, mummies, giants, invisible creatures and other monsters, as well as phenomena such as time travel. Intrepid Archie, now a reporter for the school newspaper, investigates the shenanigans, with the help of friends Veronica, Betty, Reggie and Jughead. The show carried the “E/I” label, meaning it can help broadcast TV stations meet the Federal Communications Commission requirements to carry educational and informational programming.
5. SABRINA: SECRETS OF A TEENAGE WITCH
Sabrina the Teenage Witch was introduced to the Archie lineup in Archie’s Madhouse #22 (October 1962), originally in a one-shot story. She had the staying power to eventually become headliner of her own title, and led her own animated TV series, under differing titles, from 1969 to 1971. She of course also had a live-action sitcom starring Melissa Joan Hart on ABC from 1996-2003.
In 2013, a new take on the franchise appeared on the Hub Network. Sabrina: Secrets of a Teenage Witch used computer 3-D animation to tell Sabrina’s adventures juggling her roles as a high school student and her secret life as a half-human/half witch princess and sorcerer-in-training. High School Musical star Ashley Tisdale was the voice of Sabrina. This series ran for 26 episodes.
4. MUPPET BABIES
The venerable Muppets franchise took a turn from live-action puppetry to colorful animation with Jim Henson’s Muppet Babies, which appeared on CBS from 1984 to 1991. The kids’ show borrowed eight key characters from The Muppet Show — Rowlf the Dog, Gonzo, Fozzie Bear, Scooter, Animal, Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy, of course, and new character Skeeter — and others on an irregular basis.
They lived together in a nursery under the care of Nanny, whose face was never seen. Each story took the babies on flights of imagination, illustrated with clips from popular movies or stock photos. In 2016, Disney Junior announced that a revival of the series is in production, with CGI animation. The new version is slated for 2018. Disney acquired the rights to many of the Muppets properties in 2004.
3. TINY TOON ADVENTURES
In a similar vein as Muppet Babies was Steven Spielberg Presents Tiny Toon Adventures. It was syndicated from 1990 to 1992 before being added to the Fox Kids lineup, where it ran until 1995. The setting was Acme Acres, where a new generation of toons — funny animals and humanoid toons — attended Acme University, to learn how to fill the shoes of the classic Looney Tunes characters.
The new kid characters had similar traits as veterans Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, etc., who were professors at Acme U. The show was a collaboration with Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment and Warner Bros., which originally wanted to make a movie with the Looney Tunes. Along the way, it was decided a TV series would reach a larger audience.
2. THE NEW ADVENTURES OF SPEED RACER
The original Speed Racer, from 1967, was one of the earliest examples of anime to reach American audiences. It told of the life of Speed Racer, a globe-trotting race driver, and his family and support team. Speed had a tricked-out ride called the Mach 5, which was loaded with enough gadgets to make James Bond jealous, including a drone, armored tires, underwater breathing apparatus, and a trunk, which most race cars don’t have.
The trunk provided a handy hiding place for Speed’s kid brother, Spritle, and his pet chimpanzee Chim-Chim. A 1993 reboot, The New Adventures of Speed Racer, was rendered in a contemporary art style, and took more of a science fiction bent in some stories. The Mach 5 had a new look as well.
1. THE REAL ADVENTURES OF JONNY QUEST
The original Jonny Quest was a popular animated show from Hanna-Barbera, breaking the mold from its usual cartoon and funny animal fare to showcase a more realistic style. Jonny Quest ran in prime time on ABC from 1964 to 1966, and frequently in reruns thereafter. A 13-episode revival, The New Adventures of Jonny Quest, came along in 1985, as well as a couple of TV movies.
The series was rebooted in 1996 with The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest. This new version offered a blend of conventional and computer-generated animation. It also aged Jonny and his adopted brother Hadji slightly, and added Jessie Bannon, daughter of bodyguard Race Bannon, to the team, as well as Dr. Zin’s daughters as recurring antagonists. Their adventures sometimes took them into the cyberspace realm Quest World.
Which cartoon reboots did you love? Let us know in the comments!
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