The 1990’s were an absolute juggernaut when it came to kid’s cartoons: while cartoons in the 80’s were either on Saturday morning or in syndication at random time slots throughout the day across different markets, the 90’s harnessed the power of children’s programming and created weekday afternoon blocks of cartoons, most notably the Disney Afternoon and Fox Kids. Add to this the widespread popularity of cable TV and the addition of a new nationwide broadcast channel known as FOX, and cartoons were being produced at a spectacular rate.
Taking the hint from the 1980’s, where movies like Teen Wolf were adapted into cartoon shows for kids, there were a lot of cartoons adapted from films that were produced in the 1990’s. Familiar properties, after all, already have a built-in audience, and from what we can see is happening in mainstream film today, where almost everything from the past is experiencing a reboot or adaptation, it seems this strategy works pretty well. But some of these came across as…weird choices for children’s cartoons, to say the least.
12. Back to the Future: The Animated Series
Talk about shooting fish in a barrel, but then missing the barrel completely and hitting your own foot instead. If there was ever a movie property tailor-made to be adapted into a kid’s cartoon, Back to the Future was it. Could you imagine the possibilities? Doc and Marty travelling through time in their flying Delorean, getting into all sorts of jams and creating paradoxes they have to race to fix? They could go to Ancient Egypt or Rome, or to the Jurassic period, or even to the distant future! The possibilities are literally endless!
But–instead of focusing on the two beloved, well-known characters from the BttF films, guess what this series focused on? Jules and Verne. You know, the two kids who appeared for less than 5 minutes in the last scene of the last movie and didn’t say a word? They were the stars of the cartoon. It’s almost unfathomable what a miscalculation this was on the producers’ part. They were petulant, whiny little brats who kept going back in time and screwing everything up, but more than that: who could care? It wasn’t Doc or Marty (although strangely enough, Christopher Lloyd did show up to do live-action segments as Doc Brown, but was voiced in the cartoon by Dan “Homer” Castellaneta).
To be fair, Marty did appear in episodes and go on some adventures with Doc–they even traveled back to prehistoric times–but the cartoon was still a let-down. A great example of how not to execute a sure-fire concept, Back to the Future: The Animated Series was cancelled after just two 13-episode seasons. But with all the reboots going on these days, it wouldn’t be a surprise if we don’t see a flying, time-traveling Delorean coming soon to a theater near you.
11. Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventures
Speaking of time travel adaptations: Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure was a fun, surprisingly clever comedy from 1989 that was a fun riff on the then-popular Back to the Future. The two dopey California rocker dudes (the titular Bill S. Preston, Esquire and Ted Theodore Logan) with a time-travelling telephone booth indeed had a most excellent adventure, so producers thought to themselves, why not more excellent adventures?
And so the animated series was born, and for a while it was good. Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter reprised their roles to voice the characters, as did George Carlin as Rufus, and this series actually did what Back to the Future didn’t: they actually delivered the kind of show the audience expected. Every episode, Bill & Ted are faced with a dilemma that they fix by using the time-traveling phone booth to go back in the past and remedy. Whether destroying something in the present and needing to fix it or just going back to learn something for school, it was the two main characters from the movie doing the thing that people liked in the first place: going into the past and being radical 20th-century dudes with ‘tudes.
But the second season of the show was completely different: different production company, different channel (switching from CBS to Fox Kids), and the main voice actors walked. Also, the show became much sillier, with new devices being introduced that could take them into books and TV shows, which is stupid. It was cancelled after the second season, being an example of how a good idea was initially adapted correctly into a cartoon show but then was completely wrecked by destroying all of the things that made it good in the first place. Bogus!
10. Ace Ventura: Pet Detective
Jim Carrey was such a mega-star in the 1990’s that not one but three movies he starred in were adapted into cartoon shows. Of course, he wouldn’t voice the characters or touch these properties with a 10-foot pole, but they were made anyway because TV producers like money.
First up is Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. A PG-13 movie that leaned heavily on the 13, Ace Ventura is both an obvious and strange choice to make into a kid’s show. The animated show replaced the more gross, sexual humor of the film with overblown slapstick and a more appropriate tone for kids but with less actual humor involved.
Incredibly, this show lasted for three seasons and 39 episodes, switching from CBS to Nickelodeon for a 13-episode final season, ending just as the century turned and the 90’s faded into history. A completely unnecessary cartoon show with little entertainment value and no reason to ever watch, it certainly was something that existed at some point in time.
9. Dumb & Dumber: The Animated Series
Another rather adult Jim Carrey property adapted into a cartoon show for kids was Dumb & Dumber. Like Ace Ventura, it was rated PG-13 and had a lot of inappropriate content for children. But hey, kids still liked Jim Carrey a lot so here’s some more familiar crap for them!
And boy, was it crap: paired with a purple beaver(?), Harry and Lloyd continue on as the biggest idiots in the world, only now rendered in unbelievably cheap animation and woefully unfunny gags. You know how Cracked was like the crummy version of MAD Magazine? This cartoon is like the Cracked of every other cartoon show ever made. Thankfully, it only lasted for 1 season and 13 episodes before ABC banished all non-Disney cartoons from its Saturday morning lineup.
8. The Mask: Animated Series
The Jim Carrey juggernaut continues to roll as we get the animated adaptation of The Mask. It actually aired before Ace Ventura: Pet Detective in its time slot, which meant for one solid hour a week two cartoons adapted from Carrey movies aired. Arguably the most successful adaptation out of the 3 Carrey movies made into cartoons, this shouldn’t come as a surprise since the actual character of The Mask is a living cartoon.
Voiced by voice-over legend Rob Paulsen, whose actual talent was able to handle the numerous characters and wild voice modulation of the Mask character, it featured actual decent animation and an appropriately hyperkinetic style for such a manic premise.
It was also the longest-running Carrey movie-adapted cartoon, running for 3 seasons and 54 episodes. A classic 90’s cel animated show with actual storylines and an interesting main character, The Mask: Animated Series is one of the rare cartoons adapted from movies that actually succeeded at representing the original content.
7. & 6. The Wizard of Oz and The Oz Kids
Not one but two cartoon adaptations from The Wizard of Oz existed in the 1990’s. The first was cleverly titled The Wizard of Oz, airing in 1990 and following the canonical Oz that was developed in the 1939 film. In this, Dorothy returns to Oz by using the ruby slippers and meets back up with the scarecrow, the tin man, and the lion to save Oz from yet more danger. The animation was pretty decent but the concept of Oz ends up being pretty thin soup for multiple 22-minute episodes. Running out of gas quickly, it only ran for 1 season and 13 episodes.
The second Oz show was The Oz Kids that ran on ABC in 1996. This was like The Muppet Babies crossed with The Wizard of Oz. Here, all the familiar characters from the property are present but for some reason, they’re all kids–including a kid scarecrow and kid tin man, which doesn’t make any ontological sense. It was meant for a young audience, and it’s relatively mind-numbing. Somehow, it outlasted the first animated iteration, running for 1 season but for 26 episodes. Like the former, it ran out of steam quickly because how much is there to say about Oz, really?
5. Little Shop
So here’s something relatively insane: a kid’s cartoon adapted from the off-Broadway musical and movie Little Shop of Horrors. You know, that comedic musical that featured domestic abuse and a protagonist that murdered and fed people to the giant plant in his flower shop? Why not make it for kids, asked the then-nascent Fox network, and in 1991 the animated series Little Shop aired. And then it was canceled after 13 episodes because in no way was this a good idea.
The theme song was so radically early 90’s that it’s almost admirable, featuring a rapping Venus fly trap called Junior (not Audrey II, as it was named in the musical). In the show, Seymour is a nerdy kid that works in the flower shop after school, Junior can hypnotize people (like in the original 1960 movie), but doesn’t eat them–except for Seymour’s piano teacher. And the abusive dentist is replaced by a generic bully called Paine Driller. Also, Audrey is now flower shop owner Mr. Mushnick’s daughter. Anyway, Junior helps Seymour out in one way or another. Oh, and there are musical numbers, which were the highlight of the show, which isn’t saying much.
But who cares? This was an incredibly cheap-looking show that needn’t exist but Fox must not have had a lot of properties at the time to adapt into shows. They were trying to edge into the Saturday morning money bonanza at the time but made a few missteps along the way–with Little Shop being a notorious example.
4. Problem Child
Speaking of wrong-headed notorious examples, there’s the animated adaptation of Problem Child. Adapted from the gross-out kids movie of the same name, Junior is a bratty adopted kid who ruins everyone’s lives on a constant basis because he’s the worst.
Weirdly, it was an original cartoon series that aired on USA on a block of programming called USA Cartoon Express. Although I have no memory of either this show or that programming block existing, the internet tells me it did so I’m inclined to believe it.
About the show: it’s terrible. Watching the show is like a slow death. It may be because the only episodes I could find to watch online were dubbed into Ukrainian, but even on a visual level the show is obvious garbage. It’s like, if you got the joke from the first movie (Adults are conniving jerks! And this kid’s a real jerk, too!), imagine watching a poorly animated version of that for 22 minutes at a time. Incredibly, Problem Child lasted 2 seasons and 26 episodes. I could barely get through one episode before wanting to track down the animation studio that produced it so I could burn it to the ground. Come to think of it, that may be why the show eventually stopped being made.
Speaking of one-joke movies: remember the Beethoven series of films? Where a fussy dad has to contend with his family’s big, slobbering, destructive Saint Bernard? Well, someone must have fallen out of their studio window, woke up with a concussion and saw a poster of the film on the side of a sound stage and thought, “Why the hell not?” and adapted it into a cartoon show.
Besides being at times stomach-churning due to the dog’s disgusting habits and actions, the goddamn dog talks. And so do all the other dogs! My brain would have been screaming at me if only the show provided one quiet moment when an annoying character wasn’t speaking, music wasn’t playing, or bonkers sound effects weren’t bouncing around on the soundtrack.
Running for one season on CBS from 1994-95, 26 insanely irritating episodes were produced. How many starving children that could have been fed with the money that went into producing this crap hopefully haunts the producer’s dreams to this day.
2. Godzilla: The Series
Fox kept trying to nudge its way into the Saturday morning game throughout the 90’s to varying degrees of success. In 1998, after the sub-par film Godzilla, they adapted elements of the movie into a cartoon show, titled Godzilla: The Series. In this, Godzilla’s actually a good guy or lizard or whatever, who teams up with an organization called the Humanitarian Environmental Analysis Team, or H.E.A.T. for short. Godzilla’s function here is to battle giant monsters, who now attack New York City with alarming frequency.
And the show actually wasn’t half-bad. The animation was good, the concept was solid, and the voice talent behind the show–including Frank Welker, Ian Ziering, Tom Kenney, and Paget Brewster(!)–was impressive. But it was sunk since Pokemon, Digimon, and all the other -mon crazes swallowed up the Fox Kids block.
After 2 seasons and 40 episodes, it was cancelled–which is just as well, since after 9/11 the opening credit sequence–which depicts shots of the Twin Towers, Godzilla climbing the Empire State Building, missiles being fired by the military in downtown NYC, and horrifically a monster that has managed to destroy the Twin Towers–would have guaranteed its cancellation anyway. Still, Godzilla: The Series was a surprisingly solid adaptation from a live-action movie that was better-received than its origin material.
Nope, nothing wrong with this imagery post-9/11.
1.Men in Black: The Series
Speaking of actually good movie-to-cartoon adaptations, there’s Men in Black: The Series. Following the continuing adventures of J and K as they hunt down alien outlaws on the planet Earth, MiB: The Series was part of the WB Kids’ programming block from October 1997 to June 2001. Producing 53 episodes over 4 seasons, it is both the longest-running and most successful adapted cartoon series on this list.
Not much else to say about this series other than it took a great idea for a cartoon adaptation and actually adapted it into a show that was enjoyable, well-animated, and understood both its source material and what made it worth adapting. Moreover, it showed that live-action movies can be adapted to cartoons made for kids–as long as the source material actually lends itself to animation and being appropriate for kids. Unfortunately, as this list has shown, this line of thinking was not adhered to in many of the 90’s cartoons adapted from movies.