Kids today don’t know how good they have it! Yeah yeah, I know that’s the common refrain from us old folks, but there’s a certain grain of truth in it. Right now, Monki and I are having discussions about going to the movies – actually going to a theatre to see a film. She wants to join me in seeing something and I explained that it was different than watching TV at home. There was no pausing, no stopping, no playing – once the film starts, you have to watch it all the way through. Thing is, she doesn’t understand this. It makes no sense to her that you can’t pause to go to the bathroom or rewind and watch a cool scene again. When she was watching something on broadcast television, the idea of a commercial really freaked her out.
All of which comes back to my own childhood and the cartoons I watched. Today, there are cartoon networks dedicated to new and old animated fare, there’s Netflix and Disney+ and, at the very least, you can buy DVDs or download whatever you want. It’s a buyer’s market for sure and I love it. But that wasn’t always the way.
When I was growing up, cartoons were for Saturday mornings. You got up early, dragged your blanket and pillow to the living room and sat too close to the set, then you flipped between the three networks from 8am until the folks, who worked all week, finally got up on the first of their weekend days. It was great! You waited all week for this. And how did you know what was on? Easy, in August, before the new seasons started every year, there were hour-long prime time specials introducing all the new shows, reminding you of the returning shows, and all of it dressed up in a special kind of cheesiness designed to make anyone under the age of 12 go bonkers.
And we did.
We couldn’t wait for the superheroes and talking animals and whatever else they might throw our way. Sure, animated programs might have started out as prime-time shows, but they really hit their stride, at least for me, with those Saturday morning 24-minute missives.
So, which were my favorites? There were a number of them, to be sure, including some which had been repackaged to fit into that Saturday morning format. I loved Looney Tunes, for example. Bugs Bunny especially, but I liked most of the Termite Terrace output. More so than the contemporaneous Disney shorts. The Flintstones were okay, but not in the top tier. Same with The Jetsons. Rocky and Bullwinkle have since become favorites, but when I was younger, I couldn’t really appreciate them the way I can now. And I’m not even going to get into the educational programming of things like Schoolhouse Rock!, which were absolutely crucial to developing a significant portion of my knowledge base, because I’m not sure that, even though they were animated, fit the implied scope of this question.
No, for me, I was a huge fan of the superheroes. I was a little young for a first run of the Spider-Man cartoon (it started in 1967, the year I was born) but the Super Friends? I was totally there for that*. And then Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, even though I was already 14 when that premiered. I was also a huge fan of the original Scooby-Doo . In fact, I really liked a lot of the Hanna-Barbera stuff, even though I was never enamored of Tom and Jerry , who were the duos original claim to fame. But Jabberjaw, Jonny Quest, and Speed Buggy, were all right and by the time I discovered Josie and the Pussycats, I was definitely ready to discover them.
For my money, though, I’d have to say my favorite at the time was Thundarr the Barbarian. Thundarr only ran for two seasons, starting in 1980 (when I was 13), and was a post-apocalyptic fantasy about a warrior with a kind of light saber who fought alongside a magician princess and Ookla the Mok, a Chewbacca style figure who provided the raw muscle for the team.
At 13, this show hit me in every sweet spot I had. It was both a science fiction and a fantasy in that it was a futuristic world, but one in which magic and monsters existed. It had a superhero vibe with Thundarr himself, there was the hot girl sorcerer, Princess Ariel, who was perfect for my 13-year-old self and then there were the already mentioned obvious Star Wars tie-ins.
Interestingly, it wasn’t until much later I realized how much this show was baked into my DNA since it was created by comic book writer Steve Gerber (Howard the Duck) and included the talents of other comic book luminaries like Roy Thomas, Mark Evanier, and, most notably, Jack Kirby. There really was no way I wasn’t going to like this show. To be fair, I have no idea if it really holds up today, but even if it doesn’t, it still fills a spot in my history pretty completely.
So there ya go, some favorite cartoons. I’m sure there were others I liked, others I can’t think of at the moment, from when I was still in that first decade of life, but these ones listed are the ones which stuck with me, that still resonate even now, in my 6th decade.
*Although it’s a toss-up for me whether I preferred Wendy and Marvin or Wonder Twins Zan and Jayna.