If you grew up in the 1980s, you know about all the cool stuff now. Every decade looks back on the decades past and forgets all the bad. They remember the good stuff, call it retro, and re-market it. If you think this is a practice exclusive to the 2000s and 2010s, you’d be dead wrong. The past is always romanticized once it’s already gone by. Remember when bell-bottoms came back in the ’90s?
There was something that was very unique about the ’80s. That something is bat-sh** crazy children’s cartoons. It took the surreal-ness of the children’s programming carrying over from the 1970s and mixed it with the newfound ability to reach and market to children without any kind of regulation (Thanks, Obam—I mean Reagan). Many shows removed the emphasis of education and a moral all together. Cartoons turned into vehicles to sell toys, sometimes even serving as a launchpad to create and market new toys. What you ended up with was a lot of cartoons based on an existing toy, or a cartoon that had a toy-line ready to hit the shelves on day one.
Because there was just so much of this stuff, some of it never lasted and went by largely forgotten by normal people. Unfortunately, some of us aren’t normal and we’re burdened with remembering all the pop culture our childhoods had to offer. For every Ghostbusters, for every Transformers, for every My Little Pony, there are forgotten oddities like these.
Like many cartoons in the ’80s, you might look at BraveStarr and think it was made solely to sell action figures to young boys. The truth is quite the contrary. BraveStarr‘s origins are actually based in Filmation’s Ghostbusters animated series, or the “Fake Ghostbusters” as you may remember calling them. More on them later.
BraveStarr started with the design of the titular character’s main adversary, Tex Hex. Tex was originally planned to be used in Ghostbusters but a whole other show spawned from the design and BraveStarr was born.
BraveStarr is a [seemingly] Native American intergalactic “space cowboy” who calls on the power of animal totems to give him super-human abilities. It’s a concept a network probably wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole here in 2017.
14. The Completely Mental Misadventures of Ed Grimley
Ed Grimley is a character that has appeared in several shows over the course of decades. It’s a little surprising many folks don’t remember the character let alone his foray into children’s animated television. He was rather similar to Pee-Wee Herman in that he was a quirky man-child. Ed was a bit more erratic than Pee-Wee, he had an obsession with Wheel of Fortune, and he played the triangle.
Ed was a character created by Martin Short that first appeared on the sketch comedy series SCTV in 1982. Martin Short would leave SCTV for the more renowned sketch series Saturday Night Live. When Martin made the move to SNL, he brought his character with him. Eventually, and probably because of the success of Pee-Wee Herman in the realm of children’s television, Ed was given an animated series on Saturday mornings.
The series didn’t last long but Ed Grimley would make a return to Martin Short’s own sketch comedy series, The Martin Short Show, and the character would appear in Martin Short’s Broadway outing, Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me.
SNL and Short most recently resurrected the character to parody Drake’s music video Hotline Bling in 2015 – as Grimley’s erratic style of movement is hilariously similar to Drake’s oft-mocked dance moves in the music video.
13. Count Duckula
Count Duckula was a spin-off of the much more popular Danger Mouse – a show that ran considerably longer in both its original run and in reruns. Danger Mouse even saw a revival in 2015. There’s no telling why Duckula didn’t get the same revival. Perhaps he just didn’t resonate with major audiences despite the show’s cult following.
Duckula was an odd show about a vampire duck that is resurrected through the ages. Each resurrection had no knowledge of their doings in their previous life and were free to make their way in the world as they saw fit. The one thing that remained was they were all powerful and deadly vampire ducks.
12. It’s Punky Brewster
There’s a good chance you know who Punky Brewster is. Her live-action series appeared in reruns for quite some time after the cancellation of its four season run. What you probably didn’t know is there was another Punky Brewster series that ran around the same time. This series was animated and outside of having the same characters and much of the same voice talent, it was very different.
The show followed in the footsteps of animated shows like The Jackson 5ive (Yes. It was actually spelled as “5ive”) and The Brady Kids. These shows placed popular characters from live media and put them in surreal magical adventures , often giving the characters “wacky” anthropomorphic pets.
11. The Gary Coleman Show
You probably know Gary Coleman best through his stint as Arnold on the live-action series Diff’rent Strokes. If that’s beyond your time, you probably recognize him as a small-stature ex-celebrity – often mocked by the celebrity gossip media.
Coleman was huge for a moment in his childhood years and he starred in his own movie called The Kid With the Broken Halo. The film was about an angel named Andy sent down to earth to help children so he could earn his wings. The show was given an animated spin-off and for whatever reason was renamed, “The Gary Coleman Show”. The series didn’t last very long. If you blinked even once in the ’80s you probably missed it.
10. Rubik the Amazing Cube
Many ’80s cartoons were ploys to market toys to children. They were essentially 22 minute toy commercials interspersed with sugary cereal commercials (and more toy commercials) over the course of a half hour. If the show wasn’t made for the explicit reason to create toys to sell, it was based on toys that already existed. The strangest toy to get its own animated series would easily be the Rubik’s cube.
How do you create a series around a stationary cube, you ask? That’s a fantastic question and developers went for what clearly made the most sense:
If you solve a Rubik’s cube it transforms into a creepy, little, space goblin with magical powers and no arms.
If you remember this one you probably spent a lot of your childhood in front of Nick Jr. The Noozles were one of two koala-centric series on Nickelodeon around the same time. We can only guess as to why koalas.
Noozles was a pretty high-concept series for a children’s show in the ’80s. This may be because it came over from Japan and wasn’t made with the explicit purpose of selling toys. At its core, the series was about a girl named Sandy who gives her stuffed koala (Blinky) a “Noozle”, also known as an “Eskimo kiss”, that would bring it to life. It’s revealed that Blinky is actually from a parallel dimension filled with anthropomorphic Australian animals. As the series progresses, you find out that Blinky is tied to Sandy’s grandfather, an archaeologist that disappeared at Ayers Rock many years ago. Sandy’s father, also an archaeologist, goes to Ayers Rock and finds the cryptic message, “The little koala will know where I’ll be.” Spooky!
8. Adventures of the Little Koala
The Adventures of the Little Koala was the second half of Nick Jr.’s hour block of koala themed programming. This series was also pretty good as it too didn’t seem to be made with the intent of selling toys and it was also a Japanese import.
The Adventures of the Little Koala was pretty harmless fun. A decent frame of reference for the content would be The Berenstein Bears or Arthur. Instead of a family of bears and aardvarks respectively, you have a family of koalas. There’s a bit more to the mythos behind the land they live in, but it’s more or less a copy of the world we know.
7. Challenge of the Gobots
We’re not going to spend a lot of time here as this show was a big pile of hot garbage and a pretty blatant rip-off of Transformers.
You know how we’ve mentioned a lot of shows in the ’80s were made to sell toys? The Challenge of the Gobots is the crowned king of that kind of jack-assery. It wasn’t even made to sell good toys. It was shilling out Tonka’s crummy rip-off of Transformers.
The animation was sloppy and they didn’t even try to hide what they were doing. The show featured robots that turned into Earth vehicles. The robots weren’t really robots – they’re actually aliens in a war against another group of alien robots that also turn into vehicles found on Earth. They come from the planet Gobotron. This is literally Transformers. The only difference is the Transformers came from the planet Cybertron. Different…but not really.
They also made a crappy Gobots movie and rushed it out four months before the highly anticipated Transformer‘s animated movie.
6. The World of David the Gnome
We all know what a gnome looks like. We see illustrated books about their fictional history and you’ll probably find at least one yard in every neighborhood with a gnome statue gracing the front lawn. What you may not know is there was a fantastic series about these little creatures known as The World of David the Gnome.
This was a great series for young fantasy buffs as it would feature episodes that explored the gnome genealogy and history, seeking only to inform. Of course, most episodes followed David, a doctor for other gnomes and the creatures of the forest, and his many adventures. Along the way we met fairies, ogres, wizards, and other staples of the fantasy genre.
The show is infamous for its final episode which covered ground that most children’s cartoons didn’t touch. We find out that gnomes have a finite lifespan of 400 years. David and his wife are preparing for their deaths. We follow them as they ascend a mountain and say their final goodbyes to their animal friends.
5. The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo
Of course we all know Scooby-Doo. Scooby, Fred, Shaggy, Velma, Daphne, and later Scrappy, travel around in a brightly painted van, solving mysteries that always involved a ghost or monster that always turned out to be a human looking to make some money. Every week was the same and this is what we all remember, even in Scooby’s most modern iterations (excluding the current DC comic book Scooby Apocalypse).
What you probably don’t know about is an ’80s series called The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo. This series only ran for a single season and deviated far-beyond it’s usual formula.
First off, ghosts are real. Two of Scooby and Co.’s main adversaries are actual ghosts. On top of this, Scooby and the “gang” are tasked with finding thirteen actual ghosts and returning the ghosts to a chest they inadvertently released them from.
We used the term “gang” in quotations because this is not the gang you know. Fred and Daphne are inexplicably absent from the roster. The new crew consists of Shaggy (in a red shirt!?), Daphne, Scrappy, Scooby, and an orphan named Flim Flam. They are mentored in their task by a man that looks like a vampire named Vincent VanGhoul, voiced by Vincent Price.
Also, the iconic Mystery Machine is replaced with a simple red van.
4. The Wuzzles
If you were a kid in the ’80s, look back into your childhood. If you squint you just might be able to make out The Wuzzles.
The Wuzzles were a group of animal hybrids that live in the land of Wuzz. Bumblelion is the cross between a bee and a lion. Butterbear is a bear and butterfly, Moosel is a seal and a moose…you get the drill.
There was a line of pretty awesome plush characters, but as the show didn’t seem to have the timelessness of other cartoons with a stuffed animal tie-in, like Care Bears or Popples, the show and the toys more or less went forgotten and never saw any kind of revival.
3. My Pet Monster
Here we see another show based on a toy. The premise of the My Pet Monster series deviated greatly from what the toys seemed to convey. The toys offered two monsters that seemed rather angry and dangerous enough to require handcuffs. The big perk to the toy was the handcuffs on the monster had a break-away link in their chains and the monster could bust out of them like the bad-ass he is. The two monsters didn’t appear to dislike each other, they just seemed to be two different purchasing options.
The cartoon features the blue monster as a kind, gentle soul that hangs out with a young blonde boy that passes him off as a stuffed animal. The purple monster served as an adversary to the blue monster and his owner. In each episode, the blue monster would break from his chains, much like the selling point of the toy, and defeat the purple monster.
The toy also spawned a live-action series that never made it past the pilot but you could find it on VHS as a “movie”. In this series, a boy named Max turned into the blue beast after gazing at the statue of the monster at a museum. While in his monster form, his sister would explain him away as a weird breed of dog. Max and his sister would fight protagonists like neighborhood dog snatchers and a museum curator who is on to Max’s ability to transform.
2. Teen Wolf
If you’re a big fan of the MTV series Teen Wolf, you might have done some searching on the internet and discovered that it’s loosely based on an ’80s movie starring Michael J. Fox. The only real similarities between the show and its predecessor is they both featured teenagers named Scott turning into werewolves. MTV is simply capitalizing off the name. All the other mythical creatures you find in the MTV program did not have a place in the movie.
Because the movie did so well all those years ago, the powers-that-be decided to turn it into a Saturday morning cartoon – as was par for course in the ’80s.
The cartoon actually had a pretty cool premise. Scott’s family are all werewolves and the change is experienced in your teenage years. It follows the family as they travel around using their wolf abilities to save others and perform good deeds without being outed as monsters.
1. Funimation’s Ghostbusters
Ghostbusters is a household name. Everyone knows who Egon, Peter, Winston, and Ray are. They were the main characters of two successful films, a long running animated series, and a hugely popular line of toys. If you look back, you may remember their cartoon was called The Real Ghostbusters. Real? As opposed to what?
Well let’s journey back.
The name “Ghostbusters” had actually been used before Dan Aykroyd and the late Harold Ramis used it. It was the name of a pretty silly (and bad) old serial that featured two men that hunted down ghosts. They “busted” ghosts. The similarities between the two properties start and end at the name.
Once the Ghostbusters we know became wildly successful, Funimation, the studio that owned the rights to the old serial, decided they were going to capitalize on the shared name. In a pretty bold move, they started a whole other animated series called Ghostbusters. This prompted the creators behind the series based on the exploits of Winston, Ray, Peter, and Egon to call their show The Real Ghostbusters – making sure everyone knew that Funimation’s Ghostbusters was an impostor and a shameless cash grab.
Cash grab or not…the Funimation Ghostbusters had some great toys.
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