I asked five of my friends to tell me about their awful taste in childhood cartoons. What they sent me back…, well, you’ll just have to see for yourself. Suffice to say, I’m not friends with any of them anymore, and my eyes bleed each year, on the anniversary of a day that I’d like to call The Bobbying.
Mark Hill is a columnist and editor at Cracked.com.
When Daniel first asked me to contribute to this, I scoffed at the idea that I had bad taste. Then I thought about it for more than 10 seconds and realised that I totally did. Here are some dumb cartoons I used to like!
The Berenstain Bears
The Berenstain Bears books were for kids who were too dumb to pick up on valuable preschool lessons like sharing is good, eating crayons is bad and sharing crayons you’ve tried to eat is neutral, and The Berenstain Bears cartoon was for kids too dumb to grasp the complex morality of the books. Every episode starts with a hoedown, proceeds with a dozen reminders that staying organised is important, and ends with the disappointment of not seeing the bears do anything remotely bearlike. In-between is a crisis with fewer stakes than Dracula’s castle and feelings you’ll recognise years later as the suspicion that you’re in remedial childhood.
Miscellaneous Scooby-Doo Bullshit
To understand the depths of my love for Scooby-Doo, you need to understand that I unironically enjoyed the first live action movie to the extent that when my ex-girlfriend forgot her DVD at my place I didn’t even make a token effort at trying to return it. But for every legitimately rad Scooby-Doo series there are several where they team up with the Globetrotters or treat Scrappy-Doo like an equal, and I watched them all. The names of the tertiary characters in The Scooby & Scrappy-Doo Puppy Hour and Scooby’s All-Star Laff-A-Lympics are burned into my brain in a place that should have been used for math. It may take me 15 minutes to calculate a tip, but I can regale the waitress with tales of Yabba-Doo and Deputy Dusty while she waits.
“Bullshit, Inspector Gadget was awesome!” I hear you protest. That’s what I thought too, until I watched a re-run on TV recently. The animation quality is somewhere between “bad” and “slideshow,” there are more awkward pauses in the dialogue than on my first dates and it’s more formulaic than chemistry class. In retrospect I’m pretty sure I only watched it because Penny introduced me to the concept of a crush. Anyway, my point is that there needs to be more and better Penny cosplay. Or… wait, what?
Yeah, that’s right, I liked the Care Bears. They taught me to get in touch with my emotions and love myself for who I am. Who are you to judge me, No Heart? Back the fuck off.
No show has ever given less of a shit than The Herculoids. In most cartoons, the stakes are raised by making the heroes overcome obstacles or their own shortcomings. The Herculoids spend one minute being mildly inconvenienced by space pirates and 10 minutes beating the shit out of them. The animators aspired to one day work in a Korean sweatshop. If you worked on any other cartoon, were asked to design a heroic character kids would love and presented a white blob with eyes, you would be an insurance salesman by the next week. If you worked on The Herculoids the notes would be “This is great, but can you add a second, even shittier looking one? By the way, we’re making the monkey invincible to literally everything.”
Blake Ervin is the writer for the online web series The Chronicles of Marla.
Howie Mandel thought kids wanted nothing more than to see him flail about in front of a green screen while a cartoon version of himself did the same. Somehow this worked from 1990 to, horrifyingly, 1998. That’s almost a decade of Howie Mandel ruining his vocal chords so that children can stare blankly at their televisions. With a quasi-goth sister and a rat-tail wielding brother, Bobby truly was the voice of a nation.
It’s a good thing that producers saw the mistake in giving a stand-up comedian his own cartoon and vowed never to let that happen again.
Remember Beetlejuice? No, not the award winning film. No, not the star, that’s Betelgeuse. No, not any of the other things you’re thinking, either. We’re talking about Beetlejuice the animated series. Instead of murdering people for the hell of it and trying to marry Winona Ryder, Beetlejuice settles on producing a fart once every three minutes. There’s also a French skeleton. I was originally going to write about the Addams Family, but my hand slipped and I ended up typing ‘Beetlejuice.’ Now we’re all stuck with this. Oh, right, and there was a tap-dancing spider because of course there was. Still, I watched all 94 episodes, so I deserve this.
The Pirates of Dark Water
Pirates! Gems! Evil Oceans! Ships made of bones!
I’m not sure how, but somebody took all these things and decided that what we needed as an audience was a goddamn monkeybird that loves melons. Seriously, take a moment and think of anything about Pirates of Dark Water. I’ll wait. All you remember is a surly pirate shouting ‘Ay Jitata!’ while a monkeybird eats melons, right? That’s what I thought.
Not to mention, this show also set itself an unachievable goal by saying ‘once these thirteen treasures are combined, the plot’s over.’ And much like the Thirteen Ghosts of Scooby Doo before it and 100 Good Deeds for Eddie McDowd, it was cancelled before we had any sense of resolution. Who knows, maybe it ended with that shitty bird monkey eating the dark ocean. Ay jitata indeed.
Disney had absolutely no idea what it was doing in 1990. High on the success of Ducktales and the Russian cults dedicated to Chip ‘n Dale’s Rescue Rangers, they decided to continue throwing characters into awful costumes and worse situations. Nothing shouts fun like seeing the non-human cast of the Jungle Book loading cargo into planes and talking about taxes. This was the Star Wars Episode One of early 90s animation.
Sure, they completely redeemed themselves with Darkwing Duck. Sure, A Goofy Movie was great (and Goof Troop was okay). Sure, Disney would go and make Gargoyles. Sure, the lady bear in Talespin was really hot.
I forgot the point I was trying to make.
Life With Louie
In 1993, Louie Anderson captured the heart of America. In 1994, he unleashed hell itself upon us, for sins we didn’t know we had committed. Every Saturday morning, some eldric force compelled me to grab a bowl of Trix, turn on the TV, and spend twenty-two minutes watching a chubby boy speak with the voice of a 47 year old man. I never laughed. I don’t think I even smiled while watching Life with Louie. Most of what I can think of is Louie in his bizarre speedo talking about how he couldn’t wait to go to the pool.
Some people say hell is other people. I say hell is other people all speaking with Louie.
It’s as if in the year 1986, Hasbro was suddenly like, “You know G.I. Joe and Transformers are doing really good and all, but we’d really feel better about the upcoming fiscal year if instead of delighting American children with our action-packed toy propaganda programming, we instead were scaring the living shit out of every child whose home contained a working TV.”
The only other thing that could explain the creation and subsequent airing of Inhumanoids is that Hasbro had some deep pocket connections with the national children’s psychologist guild (they got a union, right?) and was banking on the long con of collecting on all that sweet, sweet nightmare and bedwetting money that their terrifying children’s program no doubt ensured was in store for viewers well into their late twenties.
Why is Inhuamanoids so scary? First up, one of the main reoccurring villains is a giant undead zombie dinosaur that liked to lock up people in its fully exposed ribcage so they’d be right next to its still-beating enormous heart and surrounding rib meat. Actually, that’s sort of sweet now that I think about it. This behemoth (try not hearing Steven Wright saying that word) was named D’Compose and was voiced by the same guy that did the voices for Cobra Commander and Starscream, you know the Michael Jordon of shrill voiced 80s cartoon bad guys that was Christopher Collins. Chris Latta, if you’re nasty.
And when D’ Compose wasn’t locking folks up inside his own rotting body, he was transforming them into giant Evil Dead-looking kaijus. These are just a couple of reasons why I remember being actually afraid of this show when it came out. The cartoons seemed evil, satanic, and wholly not safe.
I also loved it.
People got melted, were eaten, disfigured; there were strange elder gods living in the molten center of the Earth which always seemed one common sense label maker away from just being straight up called Hell. This show seemed like it was made by the devil and that by watching it I was inviting him into my soul. But it was also kind of fun and in one episode, one of the main monsters animates the Stature of Liberty and sort of marries her and they live together at the center of the earth. She’s kind of a drag and demands that he changes his whole deal, that he tidies up his lair and that he get into shape for her, you know, lose his monster paunch and start doing sit ups and stuff. But hey, he seems into her and the abuse, so I guess I was happy for them?
This show was made by the people that made Danger Mouse.
It was not as good.
But, to be honest, I don’t remember much about it except for the theme song, which I flat-out adore. It might be one of the most severe musical assaults ever unleashed on the ears of the kids of the 80s. Which is saying something.
Not to get hung up on theme songs but the lyrics to this cartoon based on the DC Comics plant man/monster are sung to the tune of the garage rock classic “Wild Thing” by The Troggs and go accordingly: “Swamp Thing/ You are amazing/ You fight everything……nasty/ Swamp Thing.”
So in other words: Not only is this the most faithful adaptation of Alan Moore’s comic work, it is also easily the writer’s favorite.
Denver the Last Dinosaur
This is the only one on the list I’m actually embarrassed about, mostly for the reason that Denver is just so saccharine and neon pink sunglass-wearingly 80s that it makes me hate my nine year old self that much more. Remembering liking Inhumanoids makes me think I was some sort of badass little kid, remembering that I liked Denver the Last Dinosaur reminds me that I was not, nor will I ever be a badass.
Fuck you, Denver.
I should be talking about Captain N here, a cartoon which was a commercial for various games of the NES and cast Levi Stubbs as the voice of the Metroid villain Mother Brain (yeah he was the dude who voiced Audrey II from Little Shop of Horrors and he was also in a little group called the Four-Fucking-Tops!) but I’m not going to talk anymore about Captain N; cause I’m bringing it back to Inhumanoids.
Yes, I know this is already frontloaded way too much with Inhumanoids stuff but the show is just that whacked out and unbelievable that it demands more wordage. Seriously, do yourself a favor look up “D’Compose Sandra Shore Dance,” or look up Nightcrawler, the monster that looks like if British comic book character and 90s testosterone causality, Death’s Head II was reimagined by H.P. Lovecraft then turned into an action figure that would only make children piss themselves.
…This show should not have been made.
But I’m so, so glad it was.
In conclusion, when I was a kid I was an idiot, everything I liked was garbage; I should have played outside more.
Thanks for reading.
Jon Stewart is a comedian, filmmaker, actor, and occasionally writes articles here.
I know what you are thinking. C.O.P.S. isn’t a cartoon, it’s a television show that my Uncle Murray and his meth lab beauties are on every week and get residuals from. This show was a police version of G.I. Joe basically, with more stereotypes and hammy codenames than you could shake a billy club at. The one really awesome thing about this show was it was really the first cartoon that showed a main good guy, Bulletproof, as a non-white guy. Aside from that, you had hammy bad guys like Ms. Demeanor, who I blame solely for my love of puns.
Speaking of awesome non-traditional lead roles in cartoons, we move onto Filmation’s Bravestarr, a wild west space opera, with magic, technology, and western cliches galore. Sure, He-Man had his magical sword, but Bravestarr had shamanistic powers and a freaking blaster! Whereas my parents questioned why their heteronormative son was watching He-Man, a man running around with less dignity than anyone in the eighties, they felt far more at ease with him watching a western…with a walking talking horse named Thirty-Thirty and a magical villain named Tex Hex with a white fu man chu mustache. Parents are weird.
Thundarr The Barbarian
Continuing a trend of pure arr, this show had everything you could want in the post-apocalypse. It took place in the year 1994, when a wild planet hurdled between the earth and the moon. Oh, how I counted down the days for this to happen as a child of eleven because I really thought I’d get a sunsword, be best buds with a semi-wookie, get an awesome sorceress girlfriend, and probably take over my hometown to rule as a barbarian king. Twenty one years later…I still await this day.
Now we’re getting into shows that a lot of my friends definitely wanted to disassociate with me over. Ultraforce occurred after the success of the X-Men cartoon on Fox, which sent every network scrambling to get a superhero team show, regardless of whether it would be any good or not. Woe and behold, Malibu Comics’ Ultraforce, got adapted. Hell they even copied the intro to X-Men, and the psychic the leader of the team, Contrary, even had Professor X’s cool hoverchair. Everything that was great about nineties comics was here and in PG format. Your welcome, America. Love Ultraforce because Marvel loved it enough to buy it out. Hey Marvel! I’ll write the script for the live action movie for free!
Finally we get to the show that you should definitely watch for one reason alone: Jim Cummings voices the main character. That’s right. Winnie the Pooh is kicking ass and taking names as amnesiac “freak” Chicago cop, Savage Dragon, and he faces off with a who’s who of Erik Larsen-inspired bad guys. It’s a show that honestly I prefer to anything else done by Image Comics, period. If you loved eighties action buddy cop movies, superheroes, and cheesy cartoons, this was the show for you.
The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
Most people watched Winnie the Pooh with a childlike love for the iconic stuffed bear, whereas, for me, the show has a deeper significance. Rather than jump on the Pooh bandwagon, I was fascinated by Piglet. I identified with him. He’s the real tragic character in the story and was my first introduction to a character that lived in constant existential dread—in a continual crisis. One could make a case for Eeyore, but he was more stoic and resigned. Piglet was still terrified about the fleetingness of life. I’m surprised all of us who watched this show weren’t driven to nihilism by our fifth year.
The Pink Panther
I don’t know what it says about me that the second of my chosen cartoons features another pink character for whom nothing works out. I’m no psychoanalyst. But check out the basic plot of every Pink Panther episode: P.P. tries to do something; someone messes it up; P.P. seeks revenge on whatever antagonist has hindered his efforts; the revenge backfires; end credits. If Piglet has stared too long into Nietzsche’s abyss, Pink Panther is more of a Camus-type absurdist. Everything is meaningless, but you try anyway. Now go to school, little elementary-grade Mike. Have a radically free day!
Young Mike needed a break from all the angst, and Bobby’s World served that purpose. Bobby’s World is pure escapism. You know what makes reality better? Imagining you’re not really in reality. However, Bobby’s conflicts were almost universally caused by his overactive imagination. The very act of trying to escape from our problems causes more problems! It’s kind of a growing-up tale, but Bobby never really grows up. He keeps imagining, keeps getting into trouble, and repents by the end of the episode. Or maybe the problem was the odd Howie Mandel cameo. That could be it, too.
Life with Louie
If you watched Life with Louie as a kid, you know this was one of the more bizarre television concepts that didn’t feature crime-fighting sharks. It was the portrayal of comedian Louie Anderson’s childhood—and, like most comedians, Anderson’s life had not gone swimmingly. The strangest thing about it is that young cartoon-Louie goes through childhood struggles, but he does it cloaked in a kind of retrospective veneer. He comes off as an adult Louie, already embittered and emotionally withdrawn, who has been sent back to relive his most awkward days. Like I said: bizarre.
One of my favorite shows from childhood was about characters inside a computer game. Their city, Mainframe, had to be defended from baddies who threatened it with viruses and… blah blah blah, more ‘90s cybertalk. It gets the number one spot because not only was it ahead of its time by being completely CGI, the show also struck a nerve with me philosophically. What if we’re all just cogs in a machine, man? Dude, how can you know you’re not just a program? For young Mike, the answer was simple: try to come to grips with not being able to come to grips with anything. At first I wasn’t sure I’d picked the right shows for this article, but they make total sense. They explain me perfectly as a writer (escapist Bobby?) whose debut sci-fi novel was about free will (ReBoot-ish?) and finding meaning in a life that is seemingly absurd on the grand scale (Piglet? Louie? Pink Panther?). This list is like seeing how the sausage was made, except (hopefully) less gross.