In the world of television, everything old is new again. From The X Files to Twin Peaks to Charmed, favorites from decades past keep coming back to our TV screens. In animation, it's no different; revivals and reboots are all the rage. Certain perennial favorites (your Transformers, your Scooby Doos, your Ninja Turtles) never really go away for long, appearing in new incarnations every few years. Other revivals are more surprising, and likely to trigger older fans' nostalgia. In the best case scenarios, this means an incredible final season of Samurai Jack and a better Voltron than ever before. In the worst case, you get the Powerpuff Girls twerking.
Many upcoming cartoon revivals have been officially announced, including Animaniacs, Invader ZIM and FLCL among others. But which shows should be revived, and which ones shouldn't? The question isn't necessarily about the quality of the old shows. Some great ones should not be remade, while some mediocre shows might have potential to become something great with the right sort of revival. This list goes through eight recommendations for the animation studios to consider bringing back and seven they should avoid at all costs. Agree? Disagree? Let us know in the comments!
15 REVIVE: FREAKAZOID
Animaniacs is already set to come back with new episodes in 2020 on Hulu. Should it prove successful, perhaps Warner Bros. should back one of Steven Spielberg and Tom Ruegger's other creations, Freakazoid. Airing for two seasons on Kids WB from 1995 to 1997, Freakazoid wasn't a hit on the level of Animaniacs, but it's a show which might do better today than it did in the '90s.
In many ways, it was ahead of its time in regards to how popular culture and internet culture in particular would evolve.
The big difference between Animaniacs and Freakazoid was that where Animaniacs worked to appeal to all audiences young and old, Freakazoid was aimed pretty squarely at tech-savvy nerds with a well of obscure references and absurdist senses of humor. This was a niche market in 1995, but in 2018, that's a much bigger crowd. Memes, Wikipedia and Adult Swim have prepped the masses to accept Freakazoid. Of course, while Freakazoid predicted the silliness of internet culture, it didn't predict its more toxic side. Obviously there's only so much you can do in a kid-friendly show, but if a new Freakazoid could find ways to mock that darker side of the web while still celebrating the fun stuff, that could very well be the revival we don't just want, but need.
14 DON'T REVIVE: REN AND STIMPY
For a while, there were rumors that John Kricfalusi was preparing a new Ren and Stimpy short film to premiere before the third SpongeBob SquarePants movie in 2019. That project is definitely not happening now, nor should it! The last time John K. returned to Ren and Stimpy with the Adult Party Cartoon was reason enough to be skeptical of any future revivals, even if working within Nickelodeon's restrictions would guarantee this new short wouldn't sink that low. Recent revelations that John K. used his Ren and Stimpy fame to groom underage girls, however, make this not just an artistic issue, but a moral one.
The complicating factor in this is that Bob Camp, the series' co-creator who ran it after John K. was fired from Nickelodeon, is by all accounts a wonderful human being. He was responsible for much of what made the old Ren and Stimpy cartoons good in the first place, and he's mentioned having ideas for new Ren and Stimpy cartoons which could be entertaining. The property as a whole, though, is just tainted by too much ugliness, and unless there's a way to guarantee John K. doesn't see a cent from it, it's not worth the trouble of bringing back.
13 REVIVE: THUNDARR THE BARBARIAN
Many of the best remakes come from great ideas which weren't executed so well the first time around. Thundarr the Barbarian is an excellent example of such an idea. This post-apocalyptic action show made an impression on '80s kids with its imagination. Comic book geniuses such as Steve Gerber, Alex Toth and even Jack Kirby worked on it! Still, it was a kids' cartoon in the '80s, and the show itself hasn't aged as well as people's childhood memories of it.
This makes Thundarr an ideal candidate for a new version, which is as awesome as people's memory of the original.
In fact, multiple animators have attempted just that, but without success thus far. Tad Stones, the creator of Darkwing Duck and director of the animated Hellboy movies, put together a comedic reboot pitch for Cartoon Network, but it got rejected because Bruce Timm was already developing his own version as a movie series! Timm's plan was to go in the opposite direction with full on Conan the Barbarian-style brutality. Alas, there's been no news of his version coming even close to a greenlight either. Maybe someday in the future everything will finally work out for a great Thundarr reboot.
12 DON'T REVIVE: THE BRUCE TIMM DCAU
"But why," you ask, "would you not want more of the Bruce Timm DCAU?" It's a fair question. There hasn't been a run of superhero cartoons as impressive as Bruce Timm's run from Batman: The Animated Series to Justice League Unlimited. It was sad when JLU ended, and theoretically that series in particular could have lasted forever, given all the odd corners of the DC universe it had the freedom to explore. Why wouldn't you want more of a good thing?
Mainly because Bruce Timm's last attempt to give us more of that good thing was so embarrassingly bad it was retroactively declared non-canonical. The movie Batman and Harley Quinn was his first writing credit on a DC cartoon since JLU and it was disappointing to say the least. The classic New Batman Adventures designs were back, but none of the storytelling skill was. What went wrong? This is conjecture, but it does seem as if Bruce Timm is less interested in still doing DC cartoons and might be better served working on new projects. He stepped down from overseeing the DC animated movies in 2013, presumably in hopes of finding work on other projects, but without any such luck, he got drawn back in. A chance to do Thundarr or any number of other projects might do wonders for his creativity.
11 REVIVE: COURAGE THE COWARDLY DOG
Courage the Cowardly Dog was like if Scooby Doo were actually scary. Like, when we say scary, we mean this cartoon about a semi-verbal pink dog could be genuinely messed up Lynchian nightmare fuel even for adults. In many ways, John R. Dilworth's cartoon could be seen as a precursor to the likes of Adventure Time and Gravity Falls, shows which also push the limits of weirdness and horror in children's television while appropriately handling mature themes. It had a solid run for four seasons and had a great final episode (the bizarre yet poignant "Perfect").
Sixteen years since its conclusion, wouldn't it be great to see more?
Dilworth and some producers at Cartoon Network clearly thought so. In 2014 they produced the short "The Fog of Courage," which aired internationally and played at film festivals, but never aired on the American Cartoon Network. This short film was entirely CGI, but the transition worked well given the original series experimented with various animation styles. Nothing's been heard on whether this short will lead to a revival of the TV series, but anything is possible. Also, the fact that Dilworth's studio Stretch Films co-owns the rights means the original team would have approval over any such revival.
10 DON'T REVIVE: JOHNNY BRAVO
Johnny Bravo was fun. Saying that, there is also no way it could ever get made today. It's not as if the show was super politically incorrect or anything; you might even be able to say it had feminist messages given how Johnny always got his just desserts for his obnoxious behavior around women. The issue is more the question of who is such a show even for? A cartoon about an idiotic Elvis-wannabe womanizer isn't really one that makes sense as a kids' show. If you pushed a remake in more "adult" directions, however, it's very possible that cruder content would make Johnny so obnoxious that the whole show would become unpleasant to watch.
Johnny Bravo could only really exist in that odd timeframe when Cartoon Network was aware a third of its viewers were adults, but before its executives made the dedicated Adult Swim block. Johnny Bravo was silly enough to appeal to kids and subtle enough with its innuendoes that parents couldn't cause too much of a fuss, but it wasn't really for them. The better episodes (mostly from creator Van Partible's first season) still hold up as hilarious today, but there's just too many landmines to navigate today for a revival to be worth pursuing.
9 REVIVE: STAR TREK: THE ANIMATED SERIES
There's a lot of new Star Trek these days, but how much of it really feels like Star Trek? The new movies are constricted to the big explodey summer blockbuster mold. Star Trek Beyond was closer to a classic TOS adventure than the previous two J.J. Abrams movies, which felt more like wannabe Star Wars movies (guess what Abrams did next), but still of a more summer blockbuster-y type. Star Trek: Discovery, meanwhile, tries to fit Star Trek into a different mold: the grim-and-gritty super-serialized prestige TV series.
Is there any room today for an old-fashioned optimistic adventure series that deals in serious political subject matter but still has room to have fun?
There should be, and there just might be a way for Star Trek to return to this style. In an era where seemingly every live-action drama is designed for binge-watching, animated shows today still allow the freedom for episodic experimentation while also being able to carry more long-term development than they used to. There already was an Emmy-winning Star Trek animated series in 1973. In the age of Voltron: Legendary Defender and Steven Universe, it would be exciting to see them do another one.
8 DON'T REVIVE: FUTURAMA
Futurama's initial four season run on FOX from 1999 to 2003 was amazing and all too short. The success of those episodes in reruns and on DVD led to a "fifth season" comprised of four direct-to-DVD movies released in 2008 and 2009. The movies were OK but somewhat disappointing, with the first one, Bender's Big Score, easily being the best. Those movies were successful enough that Comedy Central ordered two more production seasons of the TV show, divided into halves for four broadcast seasons, which aired from 2010 to 2013. The Comedy Central seasons were actually quite good with a handful of all-time great episodes, but overall didn't reach the heights of the initial run.
So Futurama has been cancelled three times now and has a total of four "series finales." "The Devil's Hands are Idle Playthings" ended the FOX run, Into the Wild Green Yonder provided closure for the movies, "Overclockwise" was written without certainty of a renewal from Comedy Central, and "Meanwhile" is now the official series finale. Perhaps out of habit, there are still Futurama fans asking for another revival. At this point, though, the series has had a good run. Previous revivals already showed something of a decline, and nobody wants Futurama to become a zombie like The Simpsons. Let the show rest as a classic and get hyped for Matt Groening's upcoming fantasy Netflix series, Disenchantment!
7 REVIVE: THE BOONDOCKS
On February 28, 2018, fans of The Boondocks got hyped. For the first time since the show's cancelation in 2014, Aaron McGruder updated the official Boondocks Facebook page with new drawings of Huey and Riley. Was this promotion for a comeback? Turns out, it sort of was, but not of the kind people were hoping for. On March 8th, McGruder confirmed that The Boondocks was coming back... as a mobile game.
Now McGruder actually has some sympathetic reasoning for not wanting to bring The Boondocks back to TV at the moment.
"It’s hard to miss The Boondocks when life has become The Boondocks," he writes. "Uncle Ruckus is President. We’re all living a bizarre political satire that is largely about race, and inappropriate for children." But isn't that also just why we need The Boondocks now? If directly commenting on current events is too difficult or unpleasant, still getting some stories with these characters more generally addressing the culture, in a medium that isn't reliant on in-app purchases, could still be worthwhile. Other shows like Atlanta have taken influence from The Boondocks and even surpassed it; but still, if McGruder ever feels like bringing the Freeman family back to television, we'd be very curious to see what he has in store.
6 DON'T REVIVE: CAPTAIN PLANET
It is actually possible to imagine a scenario in which a reboot of Captain Planet is not only better the original, but genuinely good. The idea behind Captain Planet, a superhero show meant to teach kids to protect the environment, was a noble one, it was merely the execution that was ridiculous and messed up. As life on Earth is in more peril than ever, and real life anti-environmentalists seem increasingly like absurd cartoon supervillains, a bigger, better Captain Planet sounds like a good idea.
What isn't possible to imagine is such a Captain Planet series actually making much if any positive impact on the world. The old series actively turned many people off with its cheesy preachiness. The brand is tainted enough that just the name Captain Planet will cause people to dismiss what it has to say. The recent crossover episode between Captain Planet and OK K.O.: Let's Be Heroes was fun, but OK K.O. works because it's a wacky comedy where messages are secondary, whereas a full-on Captain Planet reboot would have to be extremely focused on messaging. The best way to get such messages out would probably be to make a brand new show altogether and not burden your positive statements with a dismissible joke of a brand.
5 REVIVE: POPEYE
If you want to enjoy a minute of pure animated bliss followed by endless seething frustration with Sony Pictures Animation, watch the test animation for Genndy Tartakovsky's aborted Popeye movie. That minute of animation alone is enough to convince you Genndy was making something special, perfectly adapting the Fleischer Brothers' slapstick to computer animation. Then, just months after the test footage hit the internet to much praise, Sony fired Genndy Tartakovsky and put Popeye on the backburner.
The fact that shortly after cancelling Popeye, Sony quickly greenlit The Emoji Movie says a lot about the studio's priorities.
From the sound of things, the studio's vision for Popeye was a lot less timelessly appealing than Genndy's. In an interview with Uproxx, Genndy said "they wanted to use the name “Popeye,” but at the end they wanted sunglasses with a backwards baseball cap." The fact that shortly after cancelling Popeye, Sony quickly greenlit The Emoji Movie says a lot about the studio's priorities. Genndy did sneak a little Popeye cameo into the final season of Samurai Jack, which begs the question: if the movie is dead, might Genndy have the chance to do Popeye cartoons for other outlets? If Cartoon Network and Boomerang still own the broadcast rights to the old cartoons, might there be a chance he could utilize his ties with CN to make a new Popeye series true to his vision?
4 DON'T REVIVE: ROCKET POWER
Nickelodeon's going all in on '90s kid nostalgia. Hey Arnold: The Jungle Movie finally got made, and new installments of Rocko's Modern Life, Rugrats and Invader ZIM are all on their way. On the merchandising front, Nick's digging even deeper into the nostalgia well. A recent press release for new Nicktoon video game releases included such forgotten obscurities as Catscratch and Back to the Barnyard among others. Those seem like long shots in terms of actual animated revivals, but one series which does have enough nostalgic popularity to at least be discussed for a revival is Rocket Power.
Hopefully, such discussions end with the Nickelodeon executives deciding, "No, Rocket Power sucks!" Sorry to anyone who grew up loving it, but Rocket Power wasn't even good in the '90s and it certainly hasn't held up now. The animation was terrible. The characters were all obnoxious variations on Poochie the Dog from The Simpsons. The jokes weren't funny, and it's not like there was an interesting plot to pay attention to if you weren't laughing. If it retains any interest today, it's as a time capsule of "X-treme" late '90s/early '00s culture. There's no reason today's children would have any interest in it.
3 REVIVE: MEGAS XLR
In all likelihood, MEGAS XLR would have been revived by now if the legal logistics were remotely feasible. It's the exact sort of cult show that would normally come back in some form or another due to the fervor of the fans. Movement towards a revival seemed possible in 2012, with Adult Swim bringing back Cartoon Network's old Toonami action/anime block. With its adult slacker protagonists and extensive array of nerdy anime and video game parodies, MEGAS XLR was more popular with older viewers than younger ones, and as such seemed like the type of show which might be better suited to Adult Swim than daytime Cartoon Network.
Chicks might dig giant robots, but it seems Turner's accountants decidedly do not.
Alas, at some point, Cartoon Network used the show as a tax write-off, which means the network can get in legal trouble if it tried to profit off it in the United States. Chicks might dig giant robots, but it seems Turner's accountants decidedly do not. Director Chris Pryonski attempted to purchase the rights for his own animation studio Titmouse but nobody's sure who you'd even be paying. It's a shame the revival never worked out. MEGAS XLR's winning blend of comedy and giant robot action easily could have sustained more than two seasons.
2 DON'T REVIVE: RUROUNI KENSHIN
Remember Rurouni Kenshin, that awesome anime series that aired in the United States on Toonami from 2003 to 2005? It had everything: action, comedy, romance, Japanese history lessons and a powerful message about redemption. And now, in case you haven't followed the news regarding its creator, it's time to ruin some Millennial weeaboos' childhoods! In November 2017, police found illegal materials in the house of Nobuhiro Watsuki, the manga artist who created Kenshin. Now you understand why the Kenshin anime should never, ever come back.
Frustratingly, Watsuki's gotten off with the most minimal possible consequences. He faced no jail time, paid a fine equal to less than $2000 and after a five month hiatus, he's now back to writing his new Kenshin manga in Shonen Jump. It's downright unconscionable that he's been so easily welcomed back by the manga publishing industry. We can only hope that the anime industry is more reasonable and refuses to adapt the new Kenshin manga, no matter how tempting those nostalgia bucks might be. There are plenty of manga NOT written by utter creeps they could be adapting instead.
1 REVIVE: THE FLINTSTONES
There was almost a primetime revival of The Flintstones earlier this decade on FOX. Seth MacFarlane was announced as a showrunner in 2011, but a year later the series was already rejected. According to MacFarlane, he had trouble making Fred Flintstone distinct from Peter Griffin. The last thing anyone wants is a Flintstones reboot that's just a clone of Family Guy. However, bringing back the modern Stone Age family to primetime television is a worthy goal.
Luckily, there's already a perfect blueprint for how to make this work.
DC's The Flintstones comic miniseries, written by Mark Russell and illustrated by Steve Pugh, is a masterpiece. Rather than just repeating formulas from the old show, it turns everything on its head as a dark but ultimately humanist satire looking at just what the point of a civilization even is from the perspective of people who've just invented it. The success of Bojack Horseman proves this sort of mixture of depression and puns can develop a devoted audience. Rumors abound that Warner Bros. Animation wants to bring back The Flintstones in some form or another. Voice actor Jeff Bergman claims they're developing a Dino-centric series, while Steve Hulett, former head of The Animation Guild, says they're thinking of a reboot with an African-American centric cast. Hopefully they're not ignoring the comic's high acclaim and can pull off a cartoon of a similar caliber.