Top Ten Nineties Cartoons
The Nineties were truly a Golden Age for cartoons. Other decades produced some great shows (the Eighties gave us Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and The Simpsons), but it was during this decade that a steady stream of much-loved animated shows were spun out. We truly loved them. They’re like old friends we like to reminisce about. Maybe it was because most homes only had one TV and moments spent watching cartoons were precious. Maybe it was because we didn’t have a whole lot of choice and we became loyal to these shows in the same way we obsessed over our music albums. Maybe we’re just a sad, nostalgic bunch. Or maybe it was because it was a beautiful time when studios had money and the attitude of mass production for the sake of mass production hadn’t set in, so that each cartoon was made by tender loving hands. Maybe they were just plain awesome. Whatever the reasons, The Nineties produced some of the best cartoons of all time and here are the fourteen Top Ten Cartoons of the Nineties.
14. Gravedale High
It’s not one of the best known nineties cartoons, but those of us too poor to afford satellite channels will remember that Gravedale High – along with Gigantor – was one of the few programmes TCC was able to afford during its final months of life. It was a grossly under-appreciated cartoon that only ran for 13 episodes, which seems an apt number for a show based on teenage ghouls and monsters attending school. It was quirky and fun, fulfilled all typical high school stereotypes and oh yeah, they had Rick frickin’ Moranis as their teacher!
13. Tiny Toon Adventures
The first of many cartoons on this list with a damn fine theme tune to its name, fuelling my theory that composing a catchy song is all you really need to make a TV programme successful. The show was a Spielberg baby that made Warner Brother’s cartoons relevant to a whole new generation. It centred around Acme Looniversity where cute characters such as Buster and Babs Bunny, Hamton J. Pig and Sweetie Bird (and terrifying ones like Elmyra) could learn crucial cartoon skills like dropping an anvil on a person’s head. With classic Looney Toons characters like Bugs and Daffy regularly popping up as members of Acme’s teaching staff, the show was a firm favourite.
‘Down in Taz-Maaaania, Come to Taz-Maaaania!’ I’ll be honest, I can’t remember a damn thing that happened in this show and my memory of secondary characters is a little hazy, but Taz just being Taz is enough to get this show on the list.
11. Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventures
This was a spin-off from the 1989 movie Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (note the singular). The characters had a time machine, they said things like ‘most triumphant’, they played air guitar and oh yeah, it was EDUCATIONAL! Boom! Among other things, this show taught me about Babe Ruth (in an episode where there was a risk of bowling being made illegal in the future) and ‘Antique China’. Excellent!
10. Batman: The Animated Series
There will be people who think this should be higher on the list, but really, this show was a little like Marmite – people either loved it or hated it. It won Emmys and received critical acclaim, but when it came to the general public, it was mainly those who like their superheroes who really appreciated it. It was dark and seemed to angle more towards adults than children as it attempted to remain loyal to the original Batman story. A personal favourite, but not for everyone.
9. The Ren and Stimpy Show
Even as a child, I was confused by the fact that this cartoon aired regularly on Nickelodeon. How this was ever deemed to be fit for children is a mystery to me. The show was packed with violence and In Your Endos and the majority of storylines were reminiscent of a bad trip, while Ren seemed to be one psychotic break away from a killing spree. The show did secure itself a cult following and can be seen as laying the foundations for darker, adult cartoons such as South Park, but the fact that it should never really have been marketed to children puts it in the latter half of this list.
(I’m humming the theme tune in my head right now) There was a risk of this suffering a similar fate to Batman and becoming a niche show, but X-Men appealed to a broader audience than just comic book lovers. With a variety of interesting characters (and some less interesting ones – I’m looking at you, Jean Grey), every kid could pick their favourite and then recreate episodes with their friends out on the street. But even though the characters were badass, it was the fact the show had heart that really cemented its popularity. It wasn’t another generic cartoon – the characters were developed and there some genuinely touching scenes (pick anything with Rogue and Gambit). It’s one of those shows that would make you consider investing in its box set even now.
Tommy, Chuckie, Phil, Lil and Angelica. I always felt bad for those kids because they had the most amazing adventures as babies that they were never going to be able remember when they got older – what a waste. The show was cute, imaginative and funny and its characters were loveable. It was also popular enough to earn a successful spin-off movie as well as another series – All Grown Up (which had a much better theme tune than its predecessor).
Why did the characters have strange skin colours? Why did their cars look like that? Was it set in the future? So many questions, so few answers. Doug was an unexceptional, but loveable ‘everyman’ with a crazy best friend and a serious crush on the prettiest girl in school. The love story was a hook and viewers spent episode after episode wondering ‘will they, won’t they’. Other characters worth mentioning are Doug’s theatrical sister Judy, their eccentric neighbour Mr Dink and of course, Porkchop. There was nothing obviously spectacular about the show, but it had a certain something that really made love it. It was the Mammy’s Sunday Dinner of cartoons – nice, familiar and comforting. Oh and does anyone else remember the lyrics to Killer Tofu?
5. James Bond Jr
You see, James is a teenage boy who happens to be a spy. He learned the game from his Uncle James and now he’s heir to the name – James Bond, James Bond Jr. No one can stop him, but SCUM (a handy acronym for Saboteurs and Criminals United in Mayhem) always tries. However, young Bond cuts through each web of spies. Seriously, a catchy theme tune is key.
4. Earthworm Jim
Jim was an earthworm who accidentally acquired an awesome suit that turned him into a superhero. His sideckick was a mild mannered puppy who hulks out whenever he’s hurt or scared. His love interest was called Princess What’s-Her-Name. His enemies included Queen Slug-for-a-Butt and Professpr Monkey-For-A-Head. Why the hell did this show only get two seasons?!
Sidenote: This was also where I learned about haggis – the heart, lungs and liver of a sheep boiled in its own stomach.
3. Hey Arnold
The sign of a really great cartoon is that it’s timeless. Hey Arnold is one of those shows that kids will always love because it’s about real kids and their problems and adults will always love it because they can remember what it’s like to be a kid. It’s socially relevent and has spawned pop culture references that people will still understand (if I called you a Helga, you’d know what I meant). It was funny, it’s characters were so appealling and some of them were surprisingly well-rounded and it’s difficult to pick out just one favourite episode because so many of them really stand out. Hey Arnold was a really great show…it just a pity about the movie.
2: Captain Planet
He was an almost-naked alien who hung around with children. But it’s ok, because preached about the environment and global warming and the children were tree huggers who he called his Planeteers. They also had magic rings that controlled different elements, although the rainforest kid was absolutely shafted. Heart? Not an element and I’m still not sure what he actually did. But even that was just another crazy factor that made the show brilliant. It also has a legendary theme tune and oh yeah, they brought peace to Northern Ireland. So there.
If there had been no script, dialogue or storylines at all in this show, it still would have been number one for the sheer fact that it had multiple kickass theme tunes (Animaniacs, Pinky and the Brain, etc) . However it did have storylines – great storylines in fact – and brilliant characters (Pinky and the Brain, Mafia pigeons, etc), hilarious sketches (Good Idea, Bad Idea, Wheel of Morality, Nations of the World) and catch phrases (‘Helllllooooo Nurse!’, ‘Same thing we do every night, Pinky…’). It was a bunch of great cartoons in one mindblowing package. And it had Bernadette Peters voicing a character. Animaniacs wins all the things!