Having previously surveyed some of the more insane Saturday morning cartoon shows from the 1990s, focusing on twelve 90’s cartoons adapted from movies, let’s plumb the depths of the cartoon bounty that the decade provided and look at 37(!) Saturday morning cartoon shows from the era.
I got so excited at the beginning of every new TV season because it was the only time my folks would buy TV Guide because they would preview all the new shows coming up, including new cartoon shows. I would pour over these editions, reading every synopsis and looking at the stills to see if the show was anything I would enjoy. And then I made sure to get up extra-early the first Saturday these shows would come on to watch the first episodes. Yes, I was a nerd even as a kid.
Believe it or not, this extensive list doesn’t even cover every show that aired on Saturday morning. Heck, the cartoons adapted from movies list had 12 shows on it and this one has another 6 adapted from movies. It’s kind of insane to think that four major networks could produce this many cartoons from so many sources. And I actually took a few out of this list–mostly the cartoons adapted from video games category–because this article turned out to be 9 pages long as is. So let’s take a long, not necessarily definitive but rather thorough, list at Saturday Morning Cartoons From The 90’s!
How did these original concepts get off the ground in the first place? With cartoons based on movies, at least there was source material to draw from; same goes for ones based on comic books and comic strips. Heck, even ones based on video games had at least characters and general settings and recognizable concepts for the audience to grasp onto.
But it’s nice that there was an attempt to actually create original content for kids to watch. It’s a lot of heavy lifting to set up an entire world for the audience to recognize and understand, and moreso to come up with original characters. Regardless, some of these are pretty nuts. Maybe they were hoping to sell a lot of merchandise if some of these became popular.
Although not specifically based on a celebrity, there’s little reason Wish Kid would have existed without Macaulay Caulkin being the star and having the main character be based on him. The premise: a boy named Nick McClary has a baseball glove that was struck by a shooting star and this somehow imbues the glove with the unfathomable specific ability to grant him a wish once a week after he punches it three times, and the wish doesn’t last very long, which is convenient for a weekly cartoon show structure.
So this formulaic show goes: Nick has a problem that he tries to solve by making a wish with his magic glove, the wish works but then wears off at the worst possible moment, and then he has to spend the rest of the episode trying to get out of the jam the wish got him into.
With a live-action intro by Caulkin every episode and very little tread on its premise, Wish Kid only lasted for one season and 13 episodes. While kudos for not specifically making the protagonist explicitly the celebrity voicing it, Wish Kid is still a relatively unmemorable cartoon show that was looking to cash in on a passing fad–in this case, the human boy known as Macaulay Caulkin.
Wild West C.O.W.-Boys of Moo Mesa
OK, here’s a tortured premise: a comet crashes into a high-altitude mesa in the 19th century Wild West that makes everything cow-like (what?) and a society develops in this isolated area inspired by the stories of the Old West they call Moo Mesa.
So…this cow-mmunity (See what I did there? That happens constantly throughout the show) has sheriffs and outlaws, including our protagonists, the C.O.W.-boys: Marshal Moo Montana, The Dakota Dude, and the Cowlorado Kid. And even though cows have become anthropomorphic, they still ride horses. And the cows wear clothes and live like people. And…I don’t know. As a kid, my brain could absorb this kind of concept better than as an adult since now it just clashes with any sense of logic and coherence that my mind now demands from its entertainment. It only ran for 2 seasons and 26 episodes but has found a weird cult following, especially online. Why do they wear clothes?
Ahh, ReBoot. Taking place in Mainframe, it follows Max, the Guardian of this system who battles against viruses looking to take over the city. Along with his friends Enzo and Dot Matrix, Max also battles against the constantly scheming villain Megabite, a malevolent citizen of Mainframe constantly trying to take over the city.
It was the first all-CGI TV show and it was surprisingly good and cool-looking. As a kid, I was really into computers so it was neat to see a whole TV show that takes place inside of a computer. With fluid animation, crazy villains (including nightmarish creations like Hexidecimal and goofy comedic relief like Hack & Slash) and a pretty neat formula that involves having Max have to face off against games loaded by the user in battle spaces known as “gamespaces” that are cut off from the rest of the system. If the user wins, the part of Mainframe the gamespace was encompassing goes gray and becomes “nullified.” I always thought that was a cool idea, and the show did a great job visualizing this inner computer world.
In fact, I was surprised the show ran until 2001: it started in 1994 so when I was 12 and first saw it, I was really into it. Then as the 90’s wore on, I stopped watching Saturday morning cartoons (and now 20 years later am writing lengthy articles about them because life’s funny but not ha-ha funny) and just figured it went off the air. But nope! It was still running when I was 19. It was still on the air after 9/11! They even made 2 TV movies! Wild. This is one of those shows I don’t want to re-watch as an adult because I’d rather it remain really awesome in my 90’s memory instead of being kind of lame in 21st century reality.
Speaking of another completely awesome show from the 90’s, here’s Freakazoid! Now, this show does hold up, mostly because I still watch episodes from time to time as an adult. Whatever smartass came up with this show, I need to write them a letter of thanks. In fact, I did look up who created it and was not surprised to find it was Paul Dini and Bruce Timm. both of whom either created or worked on many notable cartoon shows in the 80’s and 90’s.
Freakazoid! follows a pretty standard setup: geeky teen Dexter Douglas gets his powers through a computer bug he discovers after his cat accidentally types the secret code into his computer. He transfers into Freakazoid, who gains all the knowledge of the internet and super speed and endurance but also becomes a hyper lunatic who lives in a world of his own. Able to transform into Freakazoid by saying “Freak out!” and “Freak in!” Dexter is his regular average self when human but the loony Freakazoid when in superhero mode.
But more than that, Freakaoid! was the first show I ever saw (maybe outside of The Tick) that was a parody of super heroes. Freakazoid was a “hero” but mostly seemed to fight crime as an amusing distraction; being a character that knew he was just an animated superhero drove a lot of the wacky humor the show dropped on a frequent basis, and much like its main character, many of the side characters are also transparent parodies or just comedic fodder.
I could write a much longer, more detailed article about this show alone but since there are so many cartoon shows to write about in this article, I’m going to have to stop it here. But Freakazoid! was one of best cartoon shows made in the 1990’s and heck, it’s still a really funny show even today.
Eek! The Cat
Well, here’s a cartoon show I was never a big fan of. Maybe it was because this was supposed to be some sort of warped parody of Garfield or that the comedy derived from the main character getting pulverized on a regular basis because he’s just too darn good natured not to want to help people. What this is supposed to teach kids, or why kids would like a protagonist like this, has always been lost on me.
Did I watch it? Sure, of course. I watched everything. But you know how you watched a lot of stuff on TV when you were a kid that you didn’t particularly enjoy? This was Eek! The Cat for me. In fact, I found the characters around Eek much funnier than him. Elmo the Elk and The Squishy Bearz were more amusing to me than the pushover cat that would invariably be involved in some awful misfortune. Meh. Pass.
Similar to Eek! The Cat, you know what was great about Taz-Mania? Everything around Taz. His family, in particular, were much more interesting and funny characters than the one-dimensional Taz. For instance: his Bing Crosby-esque father Hugh, which juxtaposed against the incomprehensible, manic Taz is actually pretty funny.
The rest outside of his parents is kind of hazy in my memory: it was one of those shows I only paid attention to when stuff was on-screen that I liked and was background noise otherwise. But I can say one thing: it certainly was a cartoon show that was on television in the 1990’s.
Pirates of Dark Water
Pirates of Dark Water was one of those bizarre, original cartoon shows that was actually something original and interesting that hadn’t been seen on television before. Taking place on a planet called Mer, which is being consumed by a substance called Dark Water, a young prince must find the lost Thirteen Treasures of Rule to stop it. With a crew of misfits, he takes to the monster-filled sea to find it. But the evil pirate lord Bloth is also seeking the treasure and tries to stop the prince at every turn.
So this unique, exciting show ran for a whole 2 seasons and 21 episodes before being shuffled off to most likely wildly confused syndicated audiences. Which is a shame, since it was actually something different in a Saturday morning landscape filled with carbon copy cutesy kid’s shows and standard, familiar superhero fare.
Bobby’s World is one of those shows that feels like it’s been on forever–mostly because it ran for 8 seasons, spanning most of the 1990s, to the point that its original audience outgrew it, and then a secondary audience outgrew it. I was 8 when this show started to air and 16 when it ended while Bobby aged from 4 to 8 in those years. And it was….OK?
It was a good show for kids–and pretty much only for kids. Unlike a fair amount of the cartoons on this long list that were either enjoyable at the time or at least gained an ironic enjoyability over the years due to their relatively insane concepts, Bobby’s World stays strictly for the 8-and-below crowd so that as an adult, the show comes across as tedious. It is what it’s meant to be, and hell, at least it’s better than Caillou.
Cartoons Based on Comic Strips
Comic strips: it just makes sense that they were adapted to Saturday morning cartoons. Featuring characters whose style and design was already locked in and familiar to audiences and with storylines and well-defined character traits that would easily transfer over to a 22-minute cartoon, it’s surprising that they didn’t adapt more comic strips. Of course, the one cartoon series I always wanted as a kid, Calvin & Hobbes, never came to fruition due to Bill Watterson’s complete rejection of the commercial machine. But the ones that were adapted in the 90s actually did a decent enough job.
Garfield and Friends
One of the more memorable cartoons from the 1990s was Garfield and Friends. A big hit with audiences, even kids that didn’t read the strip liked the cartoon series, while the “and Friends” introduced audiences to Jim Davis’s other cartoon strip, U.S. Acres, which ceased production by 1989.
Honestly, I enjoyed the “and Friends” portion of the show than the “Garfield” part. Sure, Lorenzo Music was the perfect voice for Garfield, but much like in the comic strip, I always found Garfield to be a relatively negative and hateful character. Instead, with the U.S. Acres gang, there was a small farm community with characters whose dynamics led to actual interesting stories, as opposed to Garfield being a dick about something for 15 minutes at a time.
Mother Goose and Grimm
Out of all of the cartoon strips to adapt, why Mother Goose and Grimm? The comic strip was OK enough but nothing that screamed “This must be made into a cartoon show for kids!” Besides that, Grimm was just a dog version of Garfield–maybe a little more high-strung but there it is.
In fact, I remember very little about this show other than the theme song, mostly because it only ran for 16 episodes over two seasons. But this is show is notable for featuring early animation work by Stephen Hillenburg, who would go on to work on the stellar Rocko’s Modern Life and create SpongeBob Squarepants. So, thanks for providing this guy a gig, show I barely remember!
Now, I do remember the Addams Family cartoon because it was actually pretty decent. Even though it’s not as dark and nuts as the comic strips or movies (the first movie’s success in 1991 is what pushed this cartoon into production), it’s still an affecting cartoon that captures the look and spirit of Charles Addams’ original creation. Heck, John Astin–TV’s Gomez Addams–reprises his role in this show! Fester enjoys blowing himself up, and the show in general is a toned-down, slightly less insane version of the source material. Alas, it only ran for 2 seasons and 21 episodes, but it’s a solid adaptation from already fertile material.
New Dennis the Menace
And here’s Dennis the Menace, the littlest bastard in comic strip history. I’ve never been a fan of the “ain’t I a stinker?” archetype of mischievous little boys who like to fuck everything up for everyone around them because they’re bored. And even characters that do have some traits of this have other redeeming qualities: Bart Simpson’s a hellraiser but he also has soul and truly does feel sorry when things go too far, and Calvin from Calvin & Hobbes is often unaware of the havoc he’s causing.
But Dennis the Menace knows exactly what he’s doing and he wears a shit-eating grin while doing it. Whoever they got to voice Dennis doesn’t do the character any favors, either: that kid must have been a brat in real-life because his voice has that needling little edge to it, an insouciance that gives every utterance a mocking tone. Ugh. Throw this show in the garbage along with that blonde freckled monster. Nothing to redeem here.
Cartoons Based on Comic Books
Of course it makes sense that they would adapt cartoon shows from comic books. They’ve been making cartoon adaptations from comic books decades before the 90s, but they actually started getting it kind of right by then.
It’s weird to think that the animated adaptation of X-Men actually did better justice to the comic book better than the multiple major motion picture films they’ve made about the X-Men. Want to see a great adaptation of The Phoenix Saga? Watch how they did it on this show.
Besides that, this was my introduction to the X-Men. I didn’t read comic books as a kid (no, I saved that joy for my late teens, twenties, and today!) so when I first saw this show it knocked me out. The opening theme is so damn radical, the animation’s much more sophisticated than a lot of kids’ shows at the time, and it was surprisingly dark and edgy. While there are gripes about how potentially cheesy or off-model some characters and dialogue is, it’s still a pretty darn righteous adaptation of a seminal comic book. Hey, I’ll take three episodes of this show over X-Men: Apocalypse any day.
Much like Freakazoid! I could write a lengthy, rather insanely in-depth article about The Tick. Adapted from Ben Edlund’s equally comedic comic book about an 8-foot muscle-bound nigh invincible knucklehead superhero known as The Tick, who protects The City with his nebbish sidekick Arthur from ridiculous nemeses and villains, The Tick is literally one of my favorite shows of all time. I own the DVDs and still watch it to this day.
Why? Again, like Freakazoid! it was a sharp, silly parody of super heroes. The Fantastic Four get parodied as The Civic-Minded Five, Batman becomes a sleazy coward called Die Fledermous, and Wonder Woman is Miss Liberty. The villains are all wackos who come up with unbelievably stupid, mostly egocentric plans, such as Chairface Chippendale (literally a guy with a chair for a head) who wants to use a laser to engrave his name onto the moon. As a funny running gag, every time the moon is seen in the show from here on out, it still has CHA engraved onto it.
But that’s just the tip of a well-drawn universe filled with eccentrics playing out their own superhero and villain dreams, even if they’re ridiculous. And The Tick himself is one of the best superheroes ever created: he’s dense and silly, but also incredibly positive and good-hearted. His loopy speeches are delivered with conviction and passion, even if they’re completely off the rails bonkers. It’s a fun, well-made cartoon show that was funny without talking down to its audience and action-packed without being graphic or too violent. It’s just the best. SPOON!
At one point in our pop culture history, people were almost saying, “Stop trying to make Spider-Man happen! It’s not going to happen.” And for good reason: there were so many false starts with this property over the decades to make it a live-action TV series and cartoon series that people were wildly skeptical when the live-action movie finally came out in 2002 and actually worked.
Since Fox owned the property, they were going to get their money’s worth well before the film was made and produced an animated series in the 1990s. The results were pretty decent: there would be long story arcs across multiple episodes that little boy nerds could appreciate, tons of characters from the original books were present, and in general it was an earnest attempt to reproduce the comic books to the small screen.
Actually, it’s kind of great how it stayed pretty close to the book, especially for all the signature villains that appear: Kingpin, Green Goblin, Rhino, Doctor Octopus, and Venom all show up. Besides that, a number of other well-known Marvel characters also appear in various episodes, including Daredevil, Blade, Doctor Strange, and Punisher. Yes, Punisher showed up in a kid’s cartoon.
So, good for this show: it ran for 4 seasons and 65 episodes and did the job it set out to do, which is be a Spider-Man cartoon that wasn’t garbage. Thanks, friendly neighborhood Spider-Man!
Batman: The Animated Series
While Spider-Man did a fine job with its adaptation, Batman: The Animated Series blew the bloody doors off, adapting the series with the noirish look and feel of the original comic book from the 1940’s and setting it in that time period. This provided the show with a lot of gravitas and also made it far more interesting than if it was set in the Radical 90’s™.
The dark atmosphere, dramatic writing, stylized art, and mature themes this show approached was very different from most kid’s superhero shows at the time, which made it stand out and actually garner the appreciation of new young fans and older fans alike. Of course, all of the classic villains are present, including The Penguin, Mr. Freeze, and of course The Joker, and the voiceover work throughout is A+. Never afraid of plunging into pathos or giving even the villains truly sympathetic backstories, Batman: The Animated Series also took the character more seriously than the films of the time, particularly dreck like Batman & Robin, which is far more cartoonish than the actual cartoon that was on at the same time. Running for 4 seasons and producing 85 episodes, Batman: The Animated Series is a prime example of a comic book adapted to a cartoon done the right way.
Superman: The Animated Series
Similar to Batman: The Animated Series, Superman: The Animated Series did a better job by making it a straightforward and sincere adaptation of its source material rather than making it too up-to-date. In fact, many of the people who created the Batman animated series moved on over to produce this one, taking their reverence and understanding of the original material with them.
Of course, it being Superman, it’s much brighter and Metropolis is in general a less grim setting than Gotham City, but the well-defined stylized animation is still there, and the action sequences involving Superman are done very well.
Superman’s rogues gallery shows up to cause trouble, and the character designs of his villains are as faithful and fluid as Superman himself. Widely hailed as one of the best adaptations of the character (which I agree, to the point that I think it’s the only good adaptation of the Superman character in any format [sorry, Superman film fans: so far I’ve found them all severely lacking, both past and present]), Superman: The Animated Series ran for 3 seasons and produced 54 highly watchable episodes.
The Fantastic Four: The Animated Series
Now for an adaptation that didn’t work of a property that apparently can’t exist outside of the realm of comic books: The Fantastic Four: The Animated Series. Mind you, this is the third animated adaptation of the series up to this point, and even this one didn’t last more than 2 seasons and 26 episodes.
What is it about these characters and their world that just don’t work in cartoons or live-action films? Are they so 2-dimensional that they come off as paper-thin outside of comic books? Do their powers look silly when they’re not just still drawings?
Whatever it is, this was not a good adaptation of the comic book: it was cheap-looking, cheesy, and its faithful retelling of the early Fantastic Four storylines, while a nice attempt, were also boring for anyone that was familiar with them–which would be nearly anyone that would be interested in this show. Maybe one day they’ll actually make a decent Fantastic Four adaptation, but they sure didn’t in the 1990’s.
Cadillacs and Dinosaurs
The insane, nonsensical nature of Cadillacs and Dinosaurs appeals to me even today. I had no idea this was adapted from a comic book until I was researching this article. In some insane 26th century world where dinosaurs roam the planet and ecological warriors fight against the encroaching forces trying to reclaim the land. Oh, and there are Cadillacs and dinosaurs.
Honestly, this show was everything my 11-year-old brain could have ever wanted: people and dinosaurs living together, badass dudes driving cars around and getting into fights, mass hysteria!
Somehow, this show only lasted one season of 13 episodes but ended up being so memorable that I seriously thought it was on for years. Maybe it was played a lot in syndication or maybe it was just further adventures based on the premise that I made up in my dreams, but Cadillacs and Dinosaurs was a fantastically cool, original action cartoon that thrilled at least one little boy in the early 90s.
Cartoons Based on Celebrities
Hoo boy, where to begin here? Honestly, I drummed up seven titles for this list and every single one of them is outright terrible television. What crass, awful network executives thought little kids would be interested in a cartoon show about Roseanne Barr as a little kid? Or Kid ‘n’ Play in general? I mean, what the f….I’m sorry, trying to keep the cursing down to a minimum in this article. But we’ll see if I can tamp down the crassness when writing about these, possibly the most crass and hollow cartoons in this article.
Ugh. Little Rosie. Why? Just, why? Revolving around an 8-year-old Roseanne Barr, her sister, and her best friend, the show details how these kids use their imaginations to work through their problems with pluck and imagination and who could care less?
It aired on ABC Saturday mornings in 1990, which was the same network that her hit television show Roseanne aired on, so this might have just been part of an overall development deal she had with the network, but unlike her sitcom–in which her persona makes sense–the idea of having to watch a kid version of Roseanne is unbelievably unappealing to a kid. And the rest of the US agreed since it only lasted one 13-episode season. But oh sweet merciful God, why in the first place?
Kid ‘n’ Play
Speaking of “Oh God, Why?” here’s Kid ‘n’ Play. What’s even more bizarre is that the actual Kid ‘n’ Play didn’t even voice the characters that were based on them (what could they have possibly been doing otherwise?), this completely unnecessary show also aired in 1990 for one 13-episode season. Following the rap group as they teach the kids watching that doing the right thing and staying out of trouble is way cool, this was another example of who could care? For a cartoon show aimed at the 5-to-10 year olds of the country–who, as far as I could recall, didn’t listen to a lot of hip-hop in 1990–the actual Kid ‘n’ Play showed up at the beginning and end in live-action interstitials to hammer home the point that drinking your milk, doing your homework, and being nice is cooler than ten Super Bowls combined! Wretched.
You’d think I ordered this section so I could get more disgusted with every show as it continues, but this was honestly just the arbitrary order I put it in. Hammerman was a cartoon show based on the eternally popular and successful MC Hammer. Only this time he’s a youth center worker who owns a pair of magical talking shoes. Wait, what? That’s the stupidest thing ever. Anyway, when he wears the shoes he turns into the superhero Hammerman.
This may be the worst show on this list: not only is the entire setup hollow and an unbelievably cheap cash-in, but the animation is sub-basement quality. I’ve animated things accidentally better than this show that ostensibly hired professionals to do the animation. Every moment of every episode is chaotically edited, nonsensical, and overall trash. Thankfully, it only ran for 13 episodes until the network executive that greenlit it was executed behind the studio once his boss found out what he had done. Insipid garbage.
New Kids on the Block
(Sighs) Yes, New Kids on the Block–the prefab pop group that was popular for approximately 18 months in the late 80’s and early 90’s–were given a Saturday morning cartoon show. They appeared in live-action segments but didn’t voice their characters, and thankfully their Wikipedia page explained why and potentially also explains why Kid ‘n’ Play didn’t voice their own characters: licensing reasons. You see, their voices couldn’t appear on other outlets that weren’t owned or at least under license agreement with their record company. So hey! At least I learned something from a show. But I’m also confused because their music is played throughout the show. Anyway, watching about three minutes of it made me feel like my brains were leaking out of my ears.
The show itself is wildly banal, usually with the animation intercut with live action “off the cuff” interjections from the actual New Kids. They’re on tour, something wacky happens, very mild hijinks ensue, and only a 7 to 10 year old girl in 1990 could have watched more than a few minutes of this. It’s really, really bad. Fortunately, it only lasted for 13 episodes. And maybe someone will do something funny with the animation one day, like make the characters talk unbelievably profane or something. I don’t know, I’m just spitballing here and this show kind of stole a piece of my soul.
Hey! Do you love famous athletes? What with their energy, abilities, and stunning success, sports stars in the 90s were pretty charismatic popular figures. So a cartoon series featuring Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky, and Bo Jackson would be really exciting, especially in 1991! Only it’s one of the most low-energy things I’ve ever seen. The athletes show up for brief wrap-around live-action segments but the actual show itself is an odd mixture of formulaic action-adventure and confusing, unbelievable setups.
For example: these three athletes (of course they don’t voice their own characters on the show; why did they even do this show? Was it a tax dodge of some sort?) are also a group called the ProStars, who are a super-team of sorts that go on adventures to defeat villains and other things that aren’t the first thing you think of when you think of Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky, or Bo Jackson. It’s just bizarre.
Fortunately, like most of the other shows in this section, it only ran for one 13-episode season and then was forever banished to snarky lists like this where people decades into the future make fun of them on the internet.
Life With Louie
Was Louie Anderson so popular that he deserved a cartoon kid’s show of his own? Even his comedy wasn’t kid-friendly but mostly a series of observations about the frustrations and disappointments in his life. But I guess he could really sell a pitch in the room because we got Life With Louie, where Louie voices both a kid version of himself and his father as he shares stories of his childhood–his twisted, sad childhood.
His father is, to put it delicately, a complete fucking mental case that’s on the verge of having a heart attack in the middle of his constant raging while Louie the child sarcastically comments upon his father’s madness. It’s pretty damn depressing for a kid’s show.
So you must be thinking, this is another one of those one-season oddities, right? Nope! This ran for three seasons and 39 episodes. Why? Who was watching this? Whenever I caught an episode, I felt like killing myself at the end of it, and I was a pretty happy kid overall.
Super Dave: Daredevil for Hire
I’m still not sure what a Super Dave is. I get that it was some sort of parody of Evel Knieval, a stuntman from the 1970s, only this one never successfully completed his stunts. Get it? Neither did I, but this character was more for Gen Xer nostalgia or something. I’m still not completely sure.
It’s not like the show stuck around for that long: it was one season and 13 episodes between 1992 and 1993. Hey, did you know the guy who does Super Dave is acclaimed director and comedian Albert Brooks’ brother? Too bad they never gave Albert Brooks his own cartoon show: I’d still be watching that if they did.
(Yet More) Cartoons Adapted From Movies
I had just written an article about twelve 90’s cartoon shows adapted from movies, and can you believe I actually missed some? Unbelievably, here are six more. How? Why?
The Little Mermaid
In an adaptation that for once makes sense, The Little Mermaid was a Saturday morning cartoon show that aired on CBS, before Disney just took over the 90’s TV cartoon world with the syndicated Disney Afternoon. Notable for being the first TV adaptation of an animated Disney movie, the series takes place before the events of the film, with Ariel flippin’ her fins but not getting too far. The side characters are all there, including Sebastian and Flounder, and expands on her world and her relationships with her friends, sisters, and father. Of course, evil villains are always scheming to take over the underworld kingdom, so Ariel and company need to figure out how to defeat them.
It’s pretty standard Disney animated TV show material, but it was actually a pretty decent adaptation of an existing property. Disney must have seen how well they did with this and how easy and profitable it was and then purchased ABC to take over their Saturday morning until finally the gargantuan machine just said to hell with it and brought their show on the syndication road. It ran for 3 seasons and 31 episodes and kudos to Disney for making something worth half a damn for the Saturday morning audience.
Hey, remember Jumanji? I don’t because I’ve never watched that movie. But apparently kids at the time did and enjoyed it enough that some greedy network executives tallied how much it would cost to pump out a few seasons of a cartoon show against how much money they could make from the advertising and then sent a rush order to the twelfth circle of Hell (where wicked animators must grind out cheap, shitty animation for all of eternity) to produce it
So there was Jumanji the animated series. I don’t know, I guess they keep getting sucked into the game trying to save the poor bastard that’s been stuck in there for decades. Who cares? It ran for 3 seasons and an unbelievable 40 episodes at a cost that was probably more than my entire life is worth. It’s stuff like this that drives me to drink.
There was also an animated show based on the feel-good movie Free Willy, which doesn’t make sense because–much like Jumanji–it seems that once the problem’s resolved there’s nowhere else to go. Does that stupid whale keep getting captured?
Well, the solution to this plot wall is even crazier: the kid from the movie, Jesse, finds out he can talk to animals. And so now Willy–and all of the animals Jesse encounters–also talk. And the main villain is a Captain Ahab-esque nutbar that lost some limbs to Willy because Willy is a killer whale that will eventually, you know, try to kill you.
I really don’t know. If I saw this show, I don’t remember it and wouldn’t have watched it anyway. It ran for one season and 21 episodes and I can’t even bring myself to watching any clips because that magical talking animal bullshit in cartoons kind of drives me up the wall.
Attack of the Killer Tomatoes
I couldn’t believe I forgot this show in my original list. I loved this show when I was a kid. Not surprisingly, it was in the same snarky parody vein as The Tick and Freakazoid! But the story behind how this weird late-70’s parody of monster films turned into a Saturday morning cartoon in the 1990s is somehow even better, and it starts with Muppet Babies.
So, in one episode of Muppet Babies in 1987, a segment called “The Weirdo Zone” (a parody of The Twilight Zone) was called “Attack of the Silly Tomatoes” which used clips from the movie. The producers of Muppet Babies found that the episode pulled very high ratings and approached the production company that made the original movie to make a sequel. Initially they declined but then the Jim Henson Company drove up to their house with a dump truck full of money, and Return of the Killer Tomatoes was made. It was a big hit, so a few years later the same production company was approached about making a cartoon show based on the property and–after taking a bath in gold dubloons, I’d imagine–said yes.
The animated series is as snarky and meta as possible, making clever pop culture and genre references, along with poking fun at itself and the ridiculous nature of both the show and the characters. It was smart and silly and like very little else on Saturday morning. It’s one of those shows I’m scared of watching as an adult so my memories aren’t tarnished, but I just might have to take the plunge. It ran for 2 seasons and 21 episodes, so hopefully it’s still just as funny as I remember so I have hours of nostalgic entertainment ahead of me.
Fievel’s American Tails
This is one of those adaptations that I understand on a logical level why they would make a cartoon series out of it but on an emotional level wonder why the hell they would bother. If Life With Louie didn’t deliver enough nihilistic darkness that permeated your soul, was Fievel’s American Tails’ blubbering sentimentality supposed to finish the job?
Anyway, the series takes placed after Fievel Goes West and it’s insipid. Then again, I found the character and the movies insipid even as a child, so there was no way I was going to spend a half hour every week to watch that whiney little mouse get into scrapes and get sad and whatever else happened in this series. It lasted one season and 13 episodes. I hope it made somebody happy somewhere out there.
101 Dalmatians: The Series
Like many of the shows on here, I wonder why some things were made into cartoon shows for Saturday morning. For example: 101 Dalmations. After all, the original movie’s a classic and the later animated movie has some good points, and the live-action movie kind of sucked, but isn’t there a point in time where we can just call it a day on some ideas? Apparently not. Kids at the time still enjoyed the 101 Dalmatians movies enough that Disney said, “wait a minute! We just purchased ABC! WE CAN DO WHATEVER WE WANT!” And then Michael Eisner and Mickey Mouse laughed and laughed long into the night.
You can imagine what this show was: following the adventures of various puppies from the giant brood as they get into all sorts of scrapes and shenanigans. This aired in 1998, way after I stopped watching Saturday morning cartoons, so I’m really griping about something that wasn’t made for me in the first place. But I’m a neurotic enough completest that I simply had to include it in the list of “Cartoon Shows Adapted From Movies” so my soul may one day find peace in the afterlife.
Weird Outliers Of Cartoons
Maybe the cartoons that fascinate me the most on this list are the ones in this category because I simply cannot fathom why they were ever made in the first place or who the audience in mind was.
In one of the more bizarre shows I’ve ever seen, Rick Moranis plays a middle-aged school teacher who works at a high school that monsters and ghouls attend. Why? What was the impetus for this show? Who was this show for and why did anybody put any money into making this show?
Then I looked up who the creator of the show was: David Kirschner. And his film credits as a producer are impressive enough: his work includes the American Tail movies, the Child’s Play franchise, Hocus Pocus, and Frailty. OK: so he likes animation and ghoulish stuff. Then I looked at his television producer credits and it all made sense: the cartoon adaptation of Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventures, The Pirates of Dark Water, Fievel’s American Tails, Capitol Critters, and Fish Police. In other words: he kind of liked making crappy animation for TV.
Well, I’ll give this show this: it’s certainly one for the WTF Files. It doesn’t make any sense and the appeal is non-existent. Again: who was this show for? Apparently nobody, since it only survived one 13-episode season.
Tales from the Cryptkeeper
Hey kids! Do you like rotting skeletons that make awful puns involving death and murder? Too bad! Here’s Tales from the Cryptkeeper. With the episodes taking place in fictional Gravenhurst, California, it followed the live-action series format of telling three separate scary stories in each episode. Toning down the gore and scarier elements so kids can watch it, it’s still a rather grip concept for children. Amazingly, it ran for 3 seasons and produced 39 episodes. Come to think of it, maybe I have to check this one out again.
What. The hell. Was this all about? Baby Huey is about, and I quote DIRECTLY from the incredibly brief Wikipedia page about the show, “A large, dimwitted baby duck wreaks havoc on those who he comes in contact with as his attempts to help and or play result in hilarious consequences.” I remember this show pretty well and it drove me up the goddamn wall. It must have aired before something I actually wanted to watch.
Why? Did adults just think that kids found annoying, stupid, unlikable characters inherently funny? Well we didn’t. And this show was awful because the main character came across like a disturbed giant baby. I mean, I’ll even take this kind of shit from Dennis the Menace because he’s at least human, but a giant idiot duck? No way.
Unfathomably, it ran for 2 seasons and 26 episodes. Oh sure, something objectively awesome like Cadillacs and Dinosaurs could only last for 1 season and 13 episodes, but let’s make sure the cartoon about the mentally challenged duck runs for twice as wrong. There is no justice in this 90’s world.
This show was funded by the Children’s Television Workshop and strove to include educational content about physics and mechanical engineering. How did it do that? By featuring a talking wooly mammoth named Phil that is thawed by a scientist in Antarctica. When the scientist comes across a physics problem he can’t figure out, the wooly mammoth recalls a situation from the distant past that reminds him of a solution, with the stories featuring his human friend Cro, the only fully evolved one in his town who is smarter than everyone else and hated for it. Cro usually comes up with the smart solution to the problem they’re facing and this helps the scientist in the present figure out his own problem.
And that’s all well and good, but what about Cro? He’s been dead for hundreds of thousands of years at this point, and that’s a downer. If you were smart enough to understand the lessons on physics they were trying to impart, you were smart enough to do the math and realize Cro’s been dead since the Ice Age. In fact, every character in the past is long dead, and that’s kind of a heavy trip to lay on a kid on a Saturday morning.