The art of a great cartoon intro is hard. Managing to produce a 60-second segment that’s bold, attention grabbing and comes with a catchy, memorable theme tune is a fine balance that not everyone can capture. Not only does it have to make the audience want to keep watching the show, it’s also got to keep people coming back for more. The hardest part of an intro, however, is capturing the essence of the show itself, whether that be telling you explicitly what the show is, or giving you more of an abstract idea of what the next 15-20 minutes of your life will be like.
Take Batman: The Animated Series for example. Arguably the greatest cartoon intro in history, it perfectly explains Batman’s whole deal, as well as having memorable music, thrilling action and an aesthetic that is carried through the whole series. It does all that without ever mentioning the name of the show. Go ahead and check: there’s no title at all, apart from that of the episode, that’s how good that intro is. Some shows, however, stray so far down the rabbit hole that the end result is an intro that defies belief. Here are some of the craziest, most buck wild cartoon intros!
15. ADVENTURES OF SONIC THE HEDGEHOG
First of all, the concept of Sonic and Tails sleeping in two hammocks stacked on top of each other between the same two trees is something we are very ok with (of course Sonic has the top bunk). From there we’re treated to an almost day in the life of the fastest blue hedgehog in the world, as he races around finding more and more Looney Tunes-esque ways to defeat Robotnik and his goons while also spelling out his own name.
Taking the opposite approach of Batman: TAS, this intro decides to throw Sonic’s name out there as often as it can, just in case children mistake this dude for any of the other speedy blue hedgehogs out there. There’s also a game of Whack-a-Mole that Sonic plays with a Robot Chicken and a huge stick of dynamite with Sonic’s name on it (naturally) that he lands on Robotnik. Bonkers.
14. COW AND CHICKEN
The very idea of Cow and Chicken is buck wild, so in fairness, the opening credits are only working with what they have. Plus, it’s a perfect example of the “elevator pitch,” where an idea can be put across in as few a words as possible. “Mama had a chicken. Mama had a cow. Dad was proud, he didn’t care how.” That’s literally the show, right there. A cow and chicken are brother and sister, born from human parents. Oh, and their frequent antagonist is the literal devil that likes to show off his rosy red butt cheeks.
After that, the intro speeds along with a suitably manic theme tune, stopping every so often to remind you that the show is about a cow, a chicken, and that the show is called Cow and Chicken. Plus, the Devil shows up to chase them, which again, pretty much sums up exactly what you’re getting.
13. THE SUPER MARIO BROTHERS SUPER SHOW
It starts with an unusually gruff-voiced Mario calling everyone Paisano’s, and it only gets weirder from there. Enter two real life dudes dressed as Mario and Luigi, dancing along to a rap about the Nintendo heroes. Their dancing looks like they made it up two minutes before they started filming, and in what can only be a low point for Hip Hop, the rap that accompanies this spectacle doesn’t even make sense.
“We’re the Mario Brothers, and plumbing’s our game; we’re not like the others who get all the fame.” You have an entire franchise built around you! You’re on a show named after you! How much more famous are these other plumbers if they get more than this?! Despite the rhymes being spit over the top of the familiar Super Mario theme, little else is like the games. That makes sense, of course, because the show itself is very little like the games.
12. ROCKO’S MODERN LIFE
This intro is one of those rare cases that both captures the spirit of the show while also providing a prologue to the series, in that it abstractly navigates its way throughout Rocko’s entire life, up to the beginning of the episode you’re about to watch.
Starting with his birth, Rocko is pushed around by physical manifestations of time, has knowledge literally shoved into his brain, and is flicked by a pair of giant hands into a neon sign that says “Real World.” It ends with him being chased down a street lined with people and objects significant to him before entering a building shaped like a TV set, with the show’s logo on the screen. It’s completely crazy and can easily wash over you as just a zany set piece until you realize it’s all a metaphor for his life up until this moment.
11. ROAD ROVERS
Some cartoon theme tunes attempt the near impossible: to bring new viewers completely up to speed with the show. If you’ve never watched a second of Road Rovers before, the intro has you covered, spending over a minute describing their whole deal and introducing you one-by-one to each of the cast.
The theme tune itself is an entirely forgettable, textbook case of “let’s describe everything but make it into rhyming couplets,” and by the end, you feel like you don’t need to watch the show at all. It’s literally a bunch of dogs in human tech suits, do you really need a whole minute to describe that? They seem to be able to talk, drive tanks and shoot guns, but also drink from the toilet bowl and chase cars? The show looks awful, but the intro is at least entertainingly bonkers.
10. EARTHWORM JIM
An almost operatic theme tune accompanies one of the more mad-cap intros on the list and one that also attempts to describe the entire show in sixty seconds or less. Unlike other attempts, however, this one succeeds brilliantly.
Not only does it explain Earthworm Jim’s whole schtick, but it does it in a way that captures the entire ethos of the series. It speeds through the ludicrous nature of the show’s conceit in a way that almost screams “just go with it,” with a sense of buck wild humor that is echoed throughout both the cartoon and the games on which it’s based. It does its job so well that it can afford to take a five-second break in the middle, giving Jim enough time to nap on a hammock.
9. MIGHTY DUCKS
In one of the weirdest yet strangely logical movie tie-in moments, Disney decided to develop a cartoon spin off to the popular Mighty Ducks movie franchise. For the uninitiated, Mighty Ducks (along with its two sequels) was an all-ages comedy about an arrogant lawyer — played by Emilio Estevez — forced through community service to coach a peewee ice hockey team.
The cartoon series, however, decides to jump on the very literal interpretation of the movie’s title and make 26 episodes about a team of anthropomorphic ducks who play hockey on an ice planet called Puckworld. Imagine loving the movies so much that you’re excited for a cartoon, only to see these frantic credits with a glam rock theme warning of the dangers of quack attacks, and insisting that “Ducks Rock!” over and over. It sneakily avoids showing you the actual ducks until a good 20 seconds in, too.
8. STREET SHARKS
Creating entire television shows around a line of toys can provide mixed results. For every Transformers, there’s a dozen Street Sharks. With a concept as bonkers as “humanoid sharks that ride motorcycles and solve crimes maybe?” you’d need an intro that helpfully explains just what the hell you’re getting yourself into.
After watching the intro to Street Sharks it’s pretty clear that this is indeed a show about humanoid sharks that ride motorcycles, perhaps solving crimes. It shows four normal dudes being injected with what must be shark-tainted super-soldier serum, which transforms them into the more toy friendly shark-men, then cuts to an admittedly epic montage of them doing exactly what you’d expect four shark dudes who ride motorcycles with their still-weirdly-human legs to do. The action is accompanied by a testosterone-fuelled guitar solo and a dude wearing out his voice by shouting “Street Sharks!” fairly continuously.
7. DONKEY KONG COUNTRY
If there was ever a perfect example of the phrase “a man’s reach should exceed his grasp,” it’s ‘90s TV CGI. You may have a nostalgic fondness for shows like Reboot, and there’s no denying it was doing the best it could, but the graphics, especially compared to today’s standards, were not great. That could be forgiven in a show about computer sprites living in the mainframe, but not in a show about a bunch of gorillas living it up in a tropical jungle.
If the Donkey Kong Country cartoon was not computer animated, it wouldn’t feel as outright bonkers as it does. The theme tune, with its Caribbean flavor and catchy beat, is actually pretty great, but the visuals are bizarrely off-putting for a show based on a computer game. Look out for the gorilla with the evil mustache as he turns to the camera: it’s nightmare fuel.
Adopting the same kind of energy as most of the Warner Brothers cartoons of the ‘90s — looking at you, Animaniacs — Tazmania starts fast and only gets faster. The concept of the show was simple: take the Tazmanian Devil back to his roots and surround him with an implausibly large supporting cast. I say implausible purely because the intro proceeds to name and describe each and every one of the 19 characters, not including Taz.
This frenetic list of supporting characters is narrated by a guy with a bad imitation of an Australian accent, and the theme speeds up and raises the key of the whole song with every new set of animals introduced, all while the jungle drum rhythm of “Come to Taz-mania” intersects the whole thing. For a character as wild as Taz, this intro couldn’t be any other way.
5. BEAST WARS
Beast Wars is another series that chose to utilize the relatively young (not to mention monetarily constrained) CGI at a time when it really wasn’t ready yet, meaning the end result is far more dated than it would have been had it used conventional animation techniques. Even if this intro (to season one of the show) didn’t look like it was made in about four minutes using shiny plasticine, it would still be absolutely bonkers.
They make sure to put the word “Transformers” under the title of the show to let you know what franchise this series belongs to, and that’s a wise choice, because the first 35 seconds of the theme is just a montage of space battles, robots and animals, all with seemingly no connection to each other. Even after there’s a shot of a transforming Tyrannosaur, the plot of the show is nowhere to be seen.
4. WHERE ON EARTH IS CARMEN SANDIEGO
If you think you remember the opening credits to Where on Earth is Carmen Sandiego, we’re here to inform you that the memory you have in your brain is nowhere near as buck wild as the actual thing. At one point, Carmen Sandiego falls backward off the Statue of Liberty, her coat turns into Falcon-style wings and a jetpack, and she flies off towards the New York skyline.
Based on the educational video game series that attempts to teach kids Geography, the show is choosing to knock the whole deal up a notch if these credits are anything to go by. You better be quick on the draw because those international monuments fly past in a blur as two generic kids chase notorious villain and master thief Carmen Sandiego around the globe. The theme is sort of catchy but definitely sounds like they gave the singers only the title of the show, and told them to literally make up the melody as they went along.
3. THE TERRIBLE THUNDER LIZARDS
If your opinion of the aging thrash-metal band Metallica is “yeah, I like them, but I wish they neutered their sound and sang purely about three cartoon dinosaurs and their attempts to kill a couple of cavemen,” then you’re going to LOVE this theme tune. The intro to The Terrible Thunder Lizards feels like it assumes you already know their whole deal, which would explain why it lazily tries to describe its premise.
All the while, it fails to answer the biggest questions, such as why the dinosaurs are all dressed like roadies for a Guns N’ Roses tribute act, and why are they trying to kill cavemen with rocket launchers and grenades and not their big dino strength and massive teeth. Plus, not to be “that guy,” but these look like herbivores to us, so why are they trying to kill humans anyway? This theme tune does not give us enough information. But it is bonkers!
2. THE BOTS MASTER
With a name like Ziv Zulander, it’s not surprising that the titular character of this show chose to call himself Bots Master instead. This cartoon intro chooses once again to drag the fine institution of Rap through the dirt, as it attempts to squeeze an unfeasibly large amount of information about the show, its premise and each and every one of its main cast into a minute and 21 seconds. It succeeds, but good luck making sense of any of the lyrics without looking them up.
It’s bizarre how an intro so focused on providing you with more information than your kid brain could handle on a Saturday morning, can manage to make so little sense. Perhaps it’s the ludicrous pacing or an overly complex concept, but by the end of these credits, you’re just left more confused than when you started, and probably more than a little tired.
1. BUCKY O’HARE
“Goes where no ordinary rabbit would dare!” Bucky O’Hare and the Toad Menace is one of those unique concepts that are both infinitely buck wild and perfectly captured in its title. Bucky O’Hare just has to be a rabbit with that name, and aside from the fact that he’s a green space rabbit fighting cosmic battles against an army of toads in a parallel universe, you basically know what you’re getting before the intro even starts.
“Get the funky fresh rabbit who can take care of it!” The theme tune is extremely catchy, and it’s joined by a fast and frantic montage of rabbits, toads and human children (?) engaged in what looks like the most colorfully epic, cosmic war that anthropomorphic animals have ever taken part in. It’s way more thrilling than any cartoon could ever live up to, but hey: it makes you want to watch the show!
What were your favorite intros from the halcyon days of ’90s cartoons? Let us know in the comments!
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