If you were born in the ’80s, it means you were lucky enough to be experience the magic of Tim Burton’s Batman and the original Guns N’ Roses lineup as they came to fruition. Plus, you were extremely fortunate to live a happy childhood free from Justin Bieber and those pesky Kardashians. That alone makes this period one of the best that humanity has ever known. Moreover, the cartoons from this era were truly something special and out of this world. From Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, this was the golden age of animation and geekdom.
At the risk of sounding like those old men who scream “get off my lawn” at the neighborhood kids, they really don’t make toons like they used to. That said, there are also a lot of forgotten properties from this era. Many of them didn’t receive the almighty reboot and faded away into obscurity, only to be remembered by the children (and adults) who watched the shows back then. We hope to change this and inspire you to check out some of these incredible gems from yesteryear. You better get those tissues ready because the nostalgia is about to hit you right in the feels.
Pac-Man was a smash-hit video game when it was released in 1980 – and it went on to earn over $2.5 billion in quarters by the 1990s. So, it should come as no surprise that a few smart people thought it best to capitalize on the game’s popularity by branching out. In 1982, Hanna-Barbera produced an animated TV series that aired for 44 episodes.
Pac-Man had the distinction of being the first cartoon based on a video game, even if it was a pretty bonkers concept when you think about it.
The show followed Pac-Man, his wife Pepper Pac-Man, child Pac-Baby, their dog Chomp-Chomp, and cat Sour Puss in their adventures in Pac-Land. As expected, Blinky, Pinky, and Inky made appearances, too, in this inventive and fun reimagining of the popular game, which never had a story to begin with.
Before the euphoria of Jurassic Park, DIC Entertainment saw the future and brought the dinosaur mania to 1987 in the form of Dinosaucers – a show about two factions of outer-space warrior dinosaurs that crash-land on Earth. Honestly, this was the pinnacle of human creativity, as we witnessed the good Dinosaucers duke it out with the evil Tyrannos. It was like a child’s dream brought to life over 65 episodes.
Unfortunately, Dinosaucers had to compete with numerous shows at the time, and it couldn’t quite pull in the numbers it needed. It also didn’t help that the action figure line failed to launch at the same time as the TV show. Prototype figures were made, but the line was quickly cancelled as soon as the show was canned.
Eyes of the hawk. Ears of the wolf. Strength of the bear. Speed of the puma! That unforgettable verse is likely what most people remember about Filmation’s BraveStarr and its unforgettable intro. While it only aired for 65 episodes across two years, this space western was way ahead of its time as it featured a Native American lead and engaging plots.
As expected, a toyline arrived before the animated series aired and it proved to be relatively popular among children. The figures were quite large at nearly 8″ tall and packaged with unique features that differentiated them from other toys on the market. Unfortunately, despite the show and toyline’s success, Filmation was already in trouble at the time and BraveStarr ended up being the last animated show produced by the production giant.
While you might think Filmation’s Ghostbusters was a cash-grab at the success of the Ghostbusters film from 1984, it’s a little more complicated than that. You see, Filmation had already produced a live-action comedy series under The Ghost Busters moniker in 1975, so Columbia Pictures was forced to pay licensing rights for the film. Things got murkier when Columba didn’t want to give Filmation the rights to produce an animated series of the film, hence it naming its own series The Real Ghostbusters.
So, Filmation’s Ghostbusters became the animated interpretation of The Ghost Busters; however, this version featured the offspring of Kong and Spencer along with Tracy the Gorilla. It largely worked as its own vehicle and a Scooby-Doo-esque show; however, its demise was a direct result of the more popular Ghostbusters property.
12. BIONIC SIX
If you were a fan of the Fantastic Four, it’s highly likely that you would’ve gone nuts over Bionic Six. The series followed a family of bionic-enhanced humans with their own distinct powers. Together, they formed a team called the Bionic Six and battled bad guys in a futuristic world. The show aired for 65 episodes from 1987 to 1989.
It’s surprising that there hasn’t been an attempted reboot for this series, since it ticks the success criteria for modern shows. Perhaps it was the futuristic element that put off the wider audience in the ’80s? Even so, there’s no denying that this was one program that brought something different to the table – and its distinct style, as overseen by Japanese animation director Osamu Dezaki, remains a sight for sore eyes even to this day.
11. BEVERLY HILLS TEENS
In a reaction to the action-focused shows of the ’80s, Beverly Hills Teens was created because obviously being a spoiled brat is better than being a violent child. When questioned about this, Access Syndicate, the company behind the show, defended it by saying at least the characters would have well-formed personalities. They weren’t lying, though.
The motley crew of characters showed off the era rather well and created an entertaining, over-the-top program.
Unfortunately, Beverly Hills Teens didn’t last past one season. Maybe it would’ve done better had it been targeted at teenagers rather than children, since it tended to deal with mature issues. In recent years, though, it has built up somewhat of a cult following as it embodied the ’80s culture and was the precursor to Beverly Hills, 90210.
10. POPEYE AND SON
Popeye is a staple part of popular culture – even if the sailorman has been rather quiet over the past few years. So, when a new animated series was imagined in 1987, it could’ve gone either way considering the popularity of the original cartoons. You see, Popeye and Olive Oyl had always had a tumultuous relationship, but in Popeye and Son, they were now married and had a boy named Popeye Junior.
Any fears that we had about the show were quickly cast aside as this new iteration of the Popeye legend proved to be an entertaining and fine addition to your TV watching schedule. The dynamic between Popeye and his boy was heartwarming and an interesting contrast to the one between Bluto and his son, Tank. Still, it was nice to see the whole gang in their latter years. Unfortunately, Popeye and Son only lasted 13 episodes.
9. THE KID SUPER POWER HOUR WITH SHAZAM!
Filmation was synonymous with DC Comics in the ’70s and ’80s. However, it wasn’t only the likes of Batman and Superman that got the animated treatment, but Captain Marvel, too. The Kid Super Power Hour with Shazam! aired between 1981 and 1982, delighting children who wanted a kid-friendly hero like Captain Marvel on their screen.
The show was split into two segments: Hero High and Shazam!. Characters from both shows would crossover at regular intervals, while the actors who voiced the Hero High characters would perform live-action songs and comedy sketches between programs. That said, the main drawing card for The Kid Super Power Hour with Shazam! was always the adventures of the Marvel Family as they battled the likes of Black Adam and other foes.
Do you ever think about what happens when you copy someone else’s homework? Well, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe knows the feeling quite well. If you look at that series and Blackstar (which came first, by the way), it’s not hard to see how Filmation took several shortcuts while making its infamous show. Unfortunately, some things just resonated better with the audience, and that was why He-Man and the Masters of the Universe made it bigger.
Blackstar followed John Blackstar, an astronaut who got pulled into a black hole and an ancient alien universe.
Stuck on the planet known as Sagar, Blackstar befriended the people and fought with them for their freedom. The main villain was called Overlord, and Blackstar wielded a Star Sword in his battles. So, tell us again how this wasn’t exactly like He-Man?
There’s a rumor going around that the dinosaurs in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom might be weaponized. If true, that’s so passé, because Dino-Riders did it first in 1988. While the show was primarily done as a marketing tool for the insanely awesome toyline, how can you not be excited about weaponized dinosaurs? It might’ve only aired for 14 episodes, but we shall cherish the memories forever.
The cartoon was a little complex since it took place in prehistoric times, but the Valorians and Rulons came from the future. Both races were sent back to the times when dinosaurs ruled the Earth, with the Valorians befriending the dinosaurs while the Rulons brainwashed them. The creators never adhered to whether it was the Cretaceous, Jurassic, or Triassic period and we received a smorgasbord of dinosaurs. No viewer minded, really.
6. STAR WARS: DROIDS
You have to admire Star Wars: Droids for securing the services of Anthony Daniels as the voice of C-3PO. Reportedly, Daniels isn’t renowned for being the friendliest or most cooperative person in the world, but we guess a dollar goes a long way to making a person more malleable. Even without Daniels, though, this 13-episode show was good fodder for Star Wars fans.
The main antagonist of the series was a space pirate named Kybo Ren.
It didn’t try to reinvent the lore or do anything outlandish, but it gave us more C-3PO and R2-D2 escapades, which is something that none of us will say no to. Additionally, the main antagonist of the series was a space pirate named Kybo Ren. Now, we reckon this is a complete coincidence because Kybo certainly didn’t look like one of the Knights of Ren.
5. DENVER, THE LAST DINOSAUR
“One, two, three, four. Denver, the last dinosaur. He’s my friend and a whole lot more.” If you recall this tune, your afternoons were significantly better than anyone who hasn’t heard it. It was catchy, pleasing on the ear, and got you bouncing because you knew the cutest dinosaur ever created was about to be on your TV screen. Unfortunately, the show only lasted for two seasons as the dinosaur boom lost its steam.
If you think about it, though, Encino Man lifted the plot from Denver, the Last Dinosaur. It’s also about Californian teenagers who find someone from another era and teach him to skateboard and do other regular things. Still, it goes without saying that Denver was far more adorable than Brendan Fraser’s Link.
4. CAPTAIN N: THE GAME MASTER
Forget about PlayStation and Xbox, because it was all about Nintendo in the ’80s. With such hype and appeal, it didn’t take the execs too long to figure out that animated series tie-ins would act as perfect marketing vehicles and further revenue streams. As such, we received Captain N: The Game Master, which featured a host of characters from Castlevania, Mega Man, Kid Icarus, and Metroid.
Interestingly enough, Captain N first appeared in Nintendo Power and was created by a staff member and magazine editor. The character was then pitched to Nintendo as a potential spokes-character and cartoon series. Nintendo loved the idea so much that the company took it, made the show, and decided not to credit or compensate the creators. Video game companies, eh?
3. CAMP CANDY
One of the saddest losses in Hollywood was the passing of comedian John Candy. He was supremely talented and carved out a niche for himself in both film and TV. One of his lesser-known gifts to us was Camp Candy, an animated series following a fictionalized version of himself who ran a summer camp for kids. It aired for three seasons, and even featured a theme song written by Hank Nilsson and sung by Candy.
The thing about Camp Candy is, it wasn’t a life-changing series or evolutionary progression in animation, but it possessed a genuinely good message and wholesome values. It taught us all to get along and to not be afraid of challenges. There aren’t many series like this around, and that’s what makes this one that more special.
2. THE CALIFORNIA RAISIN SHOW
Ah, the ’80s… The only time when an animated series could be made about characters in an advertisement. If you aren’t familiar with the California Raisins, they were a fictional R&B group used for merchandising and advertisements – and they were claymation raisins. Yes, raisins that sang “I Heard It Through the Grape Vine.” The popularity of the initial ad was so huge that more were commissioned and even featured caricatures of Michael Jackson and Ray Charles.
Giving people more of what they wanted, The California Raisins Show was created in 1989. Unfortunately, it didn’t feature the characters in their clay form, but it did focus on their music career and featured them singing at every opportunity. Oh, and in case you were wondering, their world was made up of fruits and vegetables (go figure). The show was entertaining, quirky, and didn’t outstay its welcome, ending after 13 episodes.
1. SABER RIDER AND THE STAR SHERIFFS
If you had a good idea in the ’80s, you could bet your last dollar that there would be a clone or two of it in no time. In the case of Saber Rider and the Star Sheriffs, it took more than a few notes from The Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers and other space westerns of the time. That said, the show never failed to entertain with its futuristic concept of heroes on robotic horses.
Diehard fans of the series still remember it fondly, and it’s become something of a cult classic over time. As recently as 2016, Lion Forge Comics released a four-issue miniseries based on the show (but with a modern twist), so don’t be surprised if you see this series being rebooted in the near future.
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