I know it’s a “back in the day” or “walked up a hill both ways” thing to say, but I think kids today are being robbed of a magical experience. With everything now available 24-hours by cable or streaming, the specialness of cartoons is completely gone. I wish my nieces and nephews were able to wake up early on Saturdays (not because they had to, but because they wanted to) — with their Pound Puppy in one hand and a bowl of Boo-Berry in the other — and fight with their brother and sister about who got to pick the shows that morning … one of the most important decisions a kid could make. After all, with only 4 channels airing cartoons for only a few hours a week (and long before DVRs and, actually, VCRs), you could miss a new episode of your favorite show. And never know when you would actually see it.
So as these young whippersnappers prepare for the long summer, I thought it would be fun for us old-timers to look back and fondly remember a simpler time. So here are my picks for the greatest Saturday morning cartoons of all time (in no particular order).
Of course, my list skews toward shows mostly from my childhood, so let me know what I missed.
Muppet Babies (1984-1991)
One of the greatest travesties is that The Muppet Babies is not available on DVD — well, legally — because it is possibly (one of) the greatest kids shows of all time. Blending The Muppets, classic film, a headless Nanny, and even The $25,000 Pyramid, it is pure bliss. “Go bye bye!”
Scooby Doo, Where Are You! (1969-1971, 1976-1978)
Characters never seemed to be able to just start running; they usually had to run in place for a few seconds. There were always like three suspects, so the great reveal was usually anticlimactic. Scooby and Shaggy obviously had a major pot problem. Yes, all true. But what other show had the Harlem Globetrotters and Phyllis Diller on as guest stars? There’s a reason, after 40 years, that the Scooby gang is still one of the best group Halloween costumes.
Garfield and Friends (1988-1994)
I loved Garfield, but to be honest, I loved the Orson’s Farm stuff a little bit more.
The Smurfs (1981-1989)
It was the smurfingest smurf of all smurf.
Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids (1972-1985)
Fat Albert is my friend Julie’s favorite because she “loved the characters, the music, and the lessons like ‘Don’t be scared… of the hospital… you’ll get ICE CREAM!’ And the insults: ‘You’re like school in summer. No class!’” Or, as another friend of mine said more succinctly: “They dealt with the issues man!”
Batman: The Animated Series (1992-1995)
Initially run through syndication on weekdays, a second season was ordered and showed on Saturdays. It is one of the most beautiful (and dark) cartoons to have ever been created. The opening music still gives me chills.
Slimer! and The Real Ghostbusters (1986-1991)
It’s probably because I watched the original film almost every day on VHS, but this was one of my all-time favorites. (The box set of the series is still sitting on my Amazon wish list.) I also love how the animators were able to take a very ‘80s movie and make it into an even more ‘80s cartoon.
Super Friends (1973-1974, 1977-1986)
The classic series did not have a great beginning in 1973. Sure it had Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, and Aquaman. But it also had two random teenagers, Wendy and Marvin, and their talking dog, Wonder Dog. Thankfully, in the next iteration, they would be replaced by the Wonder Twins (Zan and Jayna) and their space monkey, Gleek. Yes they had a space monkey. Named Gleek.
Pee-Wee’s Playhouse (1986-1990)
Okay, totally cheating here. Though the classic kids’ show wasn’t animated (though it often felt like it), it did feature many, great animated shorts like Penny.
What, on the surface, seemed to be a superficial cartoon about 4th graders on recess, was actually very smart, astute and funny.
Disney’s Adventures of the Gummi Bears (1985-1991)
Gummi Bears live in Gummi Glen where they harvest Gummiberries to make Gummiberry Juice, which gives them the short-term ability to bounce around… here and there and everywhere. (Be warned: You will be singing the theme song for days.)
The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Hour (1960-2000)
The ultimate classic.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1988-1993)
Thanks to He-Man and Transformers, toy companies were on the constant lookout for the next mega-selling action figures. Playmate Toys hit the jackpot with 4 mutant turtles, named after artists, who are trained to be ninjas by a giant rat. Cowabunga.
The Tick (1994-1996)
How can you not love a show featuring characters like American Maid, Man-Eating Cow, or Chairface Chippendale? The smartest, most meta cartoon of all times.
The Snorks (1984-1989), Jem and the Holograms (1985-1988), ThunderCats (1985-1989), Bobby’s World (1990-1998), Godzilla (1978-1981), The Jetsons (1962-1963,1985-1987)