By the end of the 1970s and 1980s, many of the original creators from the Golden Age of television animation had passed away or retired from the industry. This means it was time for a new generation of talent to usher in a new era of children’s cartoons. All this new talent felt a need to put their own stamp on their programs and bring the genre of children’s cartoons to new levels. This brought in a number of very unique shows that appealed to both adults and children. There was also a big surge in animated programming aimed directly at adults and older teens.
In addition to the new generation taking over, a new emphasis on education was put on children’s programming in the ’90s. Networks had to offer a balance between irreverent shows designed to sell toys (a staple of the ’80s) and educational programming. This led to a lot of educational animated programs that you didn’t see with such abundance in earlier decades.
Along with a new generation of talent and a new focus on education, another factor led to a lot of different programming in the 1990s. That would be a huge boom in the comic book industry. Comic books were hotter than ever and a myriad of series were developed based on comic books. This was not limited to superheroes. Even obscure titles from independent publishers were seeing their material transferred from the page to the small-screen in a kid friendly manner.
Because there were so many different things to choose from, a lot of things flew completely under the radar and were forgotten. They could only be remembered by children of the ’90s. Keep reading to see if your memory has held on to any of these forgotten gems.
20. Widget the World Watcher
There was a major effort to teach children about the dangers of pollution in the ’90s through cartoons. The most popular show of this nature was easily Captain Planet and the Planeteers. A somewhat lesser known but still rather popular (thanks to the toy line) series known as The Toxic Crusaders also explored themes centered around environmentalism. The “edutaining” environmental show that has largely gone forgotten is Widget the World Watcher.
Despite running for three seasons, one of which was aired in a 5-episode a week format, not many people still remember the adventures of a shape-shifting pink alien that came to our planet to stop those that would exploit our planets resources.
Widget, accompanied by a floating head named Mega Brain, befriends three earth children and recruits them to help him stop villains like Flim Flam McSham and Widget’s own evil twin – Ratchet the World Trasher!
19. Gravedale High
One odd trend in children’s cartoons through the ’80s and ’90s was giving an animated series to a real-life comedian where they provided the voice for the main character. Camp Candy was a series about the late John Candy running a summer camp. Rosanne Barr had Little Rosie, Martin Short had The Completely Mental Misadventures of Ed Grimley.
Rick Moranis was given Gravedale High. In this series Rick Moranis provided the voice of Max Schneider, a human teacher tasked with taking on a classroom of classic movie monsters because no monster teacher had been able to handle the unruly children of Gravedale High.
18. Bucky O’Hare and the Toad Wars
In a time where the animated Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was one of the biggest and most profitable children’s properties around, a lot of shows featuring anthropomorphic characters began hitting the airwaves. The video game Battletoads was probably the most obvious attempt to cash in on the craze, as were other animated shows like The Toxic Crusaders, Street Sharks, and Biker Mice From Mars.
Bucky O’Hare is probably the least remembered of all the TMNT “clones,” but it was probably the furthest removed from the basic premise and had a uniqueness to it that other similar shows didn’t have. It can also boast that the comic book source material came out around the same time as TMNT.
The series had an excellent line of action figures and the tie-in video game for the NES might be one of the best games in the original Nintendo library. A pity that it never truly caught on.
17. Wish Kid
Thanks to the film Home Alone, there was no child actor more popular than Macaulay Culkin. Adults and children alike were taken aback by the young actor’s portrayal of Kevin McCallister. An animated series starring Macaulay Culkin as the voice of the main character seemed like a no-brainer.
Culkin ended up providing the voice for Nick McClary, a kid whose baseball glove was hit by a shooting star. Now, whenever Nick punches his glove and repeats a demand three times, his wish comes true – but only once a week. The wishes always wore off at the most inopportune time.
16. Wild West C.O.W. Boys of Moo Mesa
Anthropomorphic turtles that knew the way of the ninja was a hit, so it only stood to reason that a series of anthropomorphic cows learned in the ways of the Old West would do just as well.
The show takes place in a world where the earth is struck by a meteor that irradiated the planet and turned many into mutant cow people. The cows, inspired by cowboys (get it!?), created a civilization that mimicked the American Old West. The C.O.W. stood for “Code Of the West.
15. Dog City
Jim Henson’s Dog City was a gem of a show and it’s a shame that it didn’t perform better than it did. While the show has a bit of a cult following thanks to hardcore Jim Henson enthusiasts, the series is anything but widely remembered.
The series featured both animated and live-action portions using puppets. The animated segments of the show focused on a canine detective named Ace solving crimes in Dog City, a city appropriately named as it was populated by dogs. The puppet segments involved a puppet that bore a striking resemblance to Ace named Eliot Shag. Shag was Ace’s “animator” and the “creator” of Dog City. Ace would often break the fourth wall to discuss the episode’s plot with Eliot. On at least one occasion, Eliot has entered the animated world to help Ace solve a case.
14. The Bots Master
“It’s laser time, boys!”
Those wonderful words were music to a The Bots Master fan’s ears. Like many animated series, Bots Master had a toy line to accompany the show. The action figures came packaged with a pair of 3-D glasses. When a character in the series yelled, “It’s laser time!” that was the cue to put on your 3-D glasses, kick back, and enjoy an intense battle sequence. The 3-D segments utilized a method called the Pulfrich Effect, which made the segments watchable without the glasses if you hadn’t purchased an action figure.
The series centered on Ziv Zulander, the leader of a group of underground freedom fighters composed primarily of AI robots that he designed. Each robot had a specialty skill that would be utilized during battle, including Ziv’s group of sports themed robots. Ziv’s team also included his ten year old sister Blitzy. While the team were undeniably heroes and fighting for good, the villains of the show (having a high degree of world power) often painted Ziv’s team as enemy terrorists to the general public.
13. Cadillacs and Dinosaurs
Cadillacs and Dinosaurs was another example of an environmentalist television show from the 1990s. Once again, this series was not as memorable as, nor did it run as long as, Captain Planet and the Planeteers. Only a child of the ’90s might be able to recall this gem.
Cadillacs and Dinosaurs was based on a comic book called Xenozoic Tales which also eventually took on the name Cadillacs and Dinosaurs. It took place in a post-apocalyptic world where humans with some degree of technology and prehistoric creatures co-exist. You might remember a video game based on the show but it was actually the video game that pushed the development of the animated series.
ReBoot was one of the earliest animated series to utilize CGI. It was the first half-hour series to be entirely computer animated. At the time there was nothing like it on the air.
The series takes place inside a computer in a city called Mainframe. The computer/Mainframe is protected against viruses by a warrior named Bob. Oftentimes, “The User” will play a game. When The User inserts the game into his computer it drops right into the middle of the city. Any citizen of Mainframe that happens to be in the way of the game when it drops in become participants in the game. On some occasions, Bob and his companions Enzo and Dot would enter the games on purpose in pursuit of a villain.
The series ran for four seasons but had a rocky run as it changed networks and saw some gaps between seasons. Despite this, the show maintains a cult following to this day.
11. The Tick
You’ve probably seen boxed DVD or Blu-Ray sets of the live-action The Tick series that starred Patrick Warburton in the titular role. You may have caught the pilot episode of the new live-action Tick reboot coming to Amazon’s Prime streaming service. Both shows are based on the comic book of the same name. What you may not remember is the animated The Tick series that aired on FOX during the ’90s.
The character is a rather obvious parody of superheroes and the superhero genre, including a group of characters that keep coming up – the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Ben Edlund was approached to market his character and comic in a similar fashion. While TMNT was a huge hit with children that still captivates young audiences to this day, Tick had an appeal that captivated adult audiences as well. It’s reruns on Cartoon Network during prime time hours helped this transition to a more adult audience, which might explain why they’ve tried to keep the character alive in live-action rather than animation.
As the list has progressed, you may have noticed a number of the shows boast a comic book series as their source material, as was the case with The Tick and Cadillacs and Dinosaurs. This is also the case with Ultraforce.
Ultraforce was the Avengers or Justice League of the shared Malibu comic book universe – a publisher that would later be bought out by Marvel. The team was comprised of the bigger superhero names in Malibu comics at the time, the most popular being Prime.
The show and its obligatory action figure line were actually quite good. Unfortunately the comic book industry, for lack of a better term, ate itself in the 1990s which caused a lot of publishers to close up shop. As stated earlier, Marvel acquired Malibu and more or less let the characters fall into obscurity save for some early attempts at continuation and occasional guest appearances.
9. The Savage Dragon
The Savage Dragon was one of the better comic book inspired series to come out of the 1990s, not that any of them were actually bad. It was also one of the major flagship books to come out of the then brand new, creator-owned publisher known as Image Comics.
The show focused on the Dragon, an amnesiac Chicago cop that can’t explain his appearance or his super-strength and healing abilities. Of course, the Dragon isn’t the only individual running around with strange powers. It’s up to him and his fellow police officers to protect their city.
One of the cool things about this series was that it aired on the USA Network as part of a four show block of action heavy animated programs. All these series had a major cross-over event. While Savage Dragon was originally a comic book, the other three were based on video games: Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter, and Wing Commander.
Kablam! was one of the best things about Nickelodeon’s Saturday evening block of programming known as Snick. Who are we kidding? Every thing that ever aired on Snick was solid television gold. It would be impossible to determine which was the best.
The thing that made Kablam! stand-out was that it aired several animated shorts within it’s allotted half-hour. Some of these shorts would even go on to become standalone half-hour programs. Unfortunately, none of these shows lasted very long and none of them were Snizz and Fondu.
7. Project G.ee.K.e.R
This may be perhaps the most least remembered and most obscure series on the list. The show had a lot of familiar elements from other ’90s programs like Cadillacs and Dinosaurs and Earthworm Jim, the latter making sense as it was from the same creator, Douglas TenNapel. It was also developed by the same developer as the Earthworm Jim animated series. It’s also one of the few shows on our list that had no previous source material.
The show focused on GeeKeR, a shape-shifting experiment gone horribly wrong. GeeKeR was intended to be used as a powerful and devastating weapon, but he was stolen by the cyborg Lady Macbeth and her dinosaur accomplice Noah. In this version of the future, humans live alongside intelligent genetically engineered dinosaurs. Macbeth and Noah fight to keep GeeKeR out of the hands of his original creators in order to keep them from finishing their research.
6. The Adventures of Sam & Max: Freelance Police
Once again we see a show that was based on a comic book. This isn’t an obsession with comic books on our part. A lot of comic book publishers and comic books popped up in the 1990s and a lot of those comics were optioned into other media. Comics were hot in the 1990s but that’s another article all together.
Sam and Max followed the adventures of two “freelance police” named, obviously, Sam and Max. Sam being the dog and Max being what he calls a “hyper-kinetic rabbity thing.” The two would receive calls from “The Commissioner” to go on special cases such as delivering an artificial heart or solving a case on Mount Olympus.
5. Cow & Chicken
Cow and Chicken was one of the first three cartoons that helped transform the then young Cartoon Network into an original animation powerhouse, forcing it to send its retro programming to a new network called Boomerang.
Cow and Chicken followed the adventures of a chicken named Chicken and his biological sibling, a cow named Cow. The unlikely siblings were born to human siblings. The show had a surreal quality to it and often used gross-out humor. It could easily be compared to Nickelodeon’s Ren & Stimpy.
4. Pinky, Elmyra, and the Brain
Many of us are probably aware of Pinky and the Brain, the show that spun-off from the Warner Bros. animated series Animaniacs. What only a ’90s kid will know is that yet another series spun-off from the spin-off that was also spun-off out of another show that Animaniacs owes its roots to. Sound confusing? It is.
In the series Tiny Toon Adventures, a character named Elmyra absolutely loved keeping animals as pets. Though Elmyra meant well, her love would often cause physical harm to her pets and in the end they would escape. They combined this concept with Pinky and the Brain, creating a show where Pinky and Brain tried to conquer the world as pets in Elmyra’s home.
3. The Silver Surfer
We’re going to finish off the list with a triple threat of comic book inspired shows. As we said earlier, you couldn’t throw a stone in the 1990s without hitting a cartoon based on a comic book property. Silver Surfer probably marks the end of an era in regards to this trend.
The Silver Surfer followed the struggles of Norrin Radd, a man from a distant planet that was going to be consumed by Galactus: Devourer of Worlds. Norrin gives his own life to spare his planet, becoming the Silver Surfer – the Herald of Galactus. As Herald, the Surfer must travel to new planets, reluctantly warning and preparing them for consumption by Galactus.
The show was highly regarded at the time but only lasted for a single season. A number of factors caused the comic book industry to crash and Marvel filed for bankruptcy. Officially, a creative dispute between Marvel and Saban led to the cancellation of the series. That being said, many believe the real reason was that FOX was weary of making another series with a bankrupt company.
2. Batman Beyond
Batman Beyond might be the most widely remembered series on the list, but folks outside of the 1990s might not be aware of the adventures of the Terry McGinnis Batman.
In the future, Bruce Wayne decides to hang up the cowl and retire as Batman. This doesn’t mean he was going to retire the persona. Bruce recruits Terry McGinnis to take-up The Mantle of the Bat. The series was rather popular and even spawned an animated movie focusing on the return of the Joker.
The series only lasted three seasons, but the future of Batman Beyond was revisited in the animated Justice League series on Cartoon Network. Terry McGinnis has also seen himself make it into the comics, much like Harley Quinn.
1. Spider-Man Unlimited
Another series you might not recall unless you’re a child of the ’90s is Spider-Man Unlimited. The show aired shortly after the highly regarded animated Spider-Man series that aired on FOX for three seasons in 1994.
The show was originally to be a series based on the first issues of The Amazing Spider-Man. However, there were some agreements with Marvel and Sony (gearing up to bring Raimi’s Spider-Man films to theaters) that disallowed Saban from adapting the original Amazing Spider-Man comics or even using Spider-Man’s actual costume. This prompted Saban to make a show that takes place in an entirely different universe.
The show was over-shadowed by the rising phenomenon of Pokemon and was dropped after only a few episodes. A year later the rest of the episodes were aired, bringing the series total to thirteen and ending on a cliffhanger.
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