The 10 Most Aggravatingly Memorable Cartoon Theme Songs Ever Made

wuzzles.jpgBy Todd Ciolek

Say what you will about the cartoons you hate, but they clearly know that first impressions are important. That?s why every animated series of the past two decades, no matter how poorly conceived or inanely written, opened with some attempt at a great theme song. Once kids were drawn in by a mix of squealing voices, clich?d beats, forced rhyming and the show?s highest-budgeted animation, they were pretty much sold for the next half-hour. They were also fated to remember those songs for the rest of their bleak little lives.

In that spirit, we?ve gathered the ten cartoon themes catchy enough to haunt us well into adulthood, no matter how hard we?ve tried to forget them. Be warned, though: we?re not to blame if you can?t get lyrics about dinosaurs and space rabbits and terrifying entire neighborhoods out of your head.

10) Beverly Hills Teen

The Show: Beverly Hills Teens is perhaps a step above many face-value cartoons of the ?80s, since its tales of stereotyped high-school kids and SoCal opulence were partly a parody of that particular decade?s excess, garishness and vapidity. Look at the guitarist girl?s hair and try to tell us that it?s not Altman-level irony. That said, parody only goes so far, and most of the show is straight out of the Archie Comics playbook, including the unspoken assertion that dark-haired women are conniving, self-centered bitches intent on destroying their nicer, blonder, and largely oblivious rivals. No wonder so many girls of the ?80s went bottle blond once they came of age.

The Theme Song: A perky, Jem-ish bubblegum pop confection that?s an ?80s parody in itself, and only slightly less saccharine that what was actually on the radio at this point in history. Even lyrics about dancing through the night while being dressed up out of sight would be at home in a chart-topper by the Bangles, Bananarama, the Go-Gos or about a million other one-gimmick wonders.

9) Kidd Video

The Show: One overenthusiastic band frontman, one eye-candy girl, one 37-year-old accountant and one androgynous nerd get dragged off to another dimension called the Flipside, where, in testament to cartoon writers? undying frustration with the entertainment industry, they?re captured by a music producer. And there?s a legwarmer-wearing fairy. And a gaggle of evil cat-people henchmen. And lots of actual radio-hit pop songs, nearly all of which were removed due to licensing problems when the series came out on VHS.

The Theme Song: But hey, we still have that that opening, which manages to blend youthful garage-band embarrassment with slick manufactured ?80s embarrassment and what sounds like the title-screen strains from a Sega Master System game. Then the characters ruin the moment by talking. Don?t tell us, cartoons, show us. Especially when you can show us what allegedly cool kids were doing circa 1984.

8) Vytor: The Starfire Champion

The Show: Vytor holds the dubious honor of being the only ?80s cartoon sold almost entirely on its kitsch factor. A clich?d series about a noble tribal youth named Vytor (who is, as you might guess, the Starfire Champion) and a ditzy princess fighting some throne-bound villain, it was swiftly forgotten in its own time. Realizing that there can be no nostalgia for something no one actually saw, World Events Productions hatched a cunning plot: they deliberately played off the highly mockable retro-cheese element of the show. See their Vytor uploads on YouTube for examples of the company extolling the pure camp of Vytor, its blooper reels, and its ??80s-riffic!? theme song.

The Theme Song: The hell of it is, they have a point…at least about the theme song. It starts as an airy, standard-issue tribute to Vytor (the Starfire Champion), but it quickly jumps into high-caliber camp when the villain (who, as WEP ingratiatingly tells us, is voiced by Peter ?Optimus Prime? Cullen) starts growling about knowing what the ring is for, upon which the chorus continues to proclaim the gospel of Vytor (the STARFIRE CHAMPION!). Yes, WEP, it?s ironic and hilarious and cringe-inducing and all those things that today?s snarky brats like to laugh about. We just hate being manipulated into it.

7) The Wuzzles

The Show: One Saturday morning in 1985, Disney overlord Michael Eisner took on the world of TV animation with two new series: The Gummi Bears and The Wuzzles. The Gummi Bears lasted six seasons and inspired ten years of similar Disney syndicated cartoons. The Wuzzles ended after 13 episodes. Perhaps killed prematurely, The Wuzzles had a marketable premise of animal portmanteaus (a Bumblelion?s part lion and part bumblebee, for example) and applied it to an entire world, overplaying the joke just a little in the process.

The Theme Song: The Wuzzles opener is a pleasant little celebration of paintbrush-aided animal unions making grotesque mockeries of nature?s laws. It also shows the show?s fattest character repeatedly sit on several other characters, which is either cruel commentary on the societal degradation of obese women (obese bunny-hippo women, anyway) or the intrusion of some animator?s odd fetish.

6) The Chipmunks Go to the Movies

The Show: If you were horrified by the recent Alvin and the Chipmunks movie, take comfort that it?s nothing new. For decades, the squeaking varmints have been revamped and remade, with each new form more annoying and commercial than the last. Consider the short-lived The Chipmunks Go to the Movies, a one-season attempt in 1990 to make an entire show out of every hack comedy writer?s standby: film parodies. Each episode was devoted to recreating some popular flick with the Chipmunks and the Chipettes taking on the lead roles, though their Robocop send-up didn?t involve cyborg Alvin shooting a rapist in the crotch.

The Theme Song: Though it?s yet another Chipmunk-shrieked barrage through the senses, there?s a weirdly compelling rhythm starting off The Chipmunks Go to the Movies. The lyrics are best left un-deciphered, as the song?s less about the stale parodies we see and more about the art of making movies; the special effects and directing and such. Perhaps there?s an extended version with lines about set painters, gaffers, key grips and caterers.


5) M.A.S.K.

The Show: There?s no point in denying that M.A.S.K. stole some things from G.I. Joe; M.A.S.K.?s major villainous organization is called V.E.N.O.M., after all. Yet that wasn?t the problem. The problem was that M.A.S.K. didn?t steal enough from G.I. Joe. Instead of emphasizing the conflict between outlandish grown-up heroes and weird enemies, M.A.S.K. focused far too much on a kid and his talking robot motorcycle. It didn?t help that the prime villain looked like an angry version of Mr. Belvedere, or that M.A.S.K. overused that cartoon clich? of ending an episode with all of the characters laughing hysterically at something not remotely funny.

The Theme Song: It first sounds like some financial newscast?s theme music, but the M.A.S.K. introduction is a tuneful exploration of masked crusaders and secret raiders, with the lyrics rendered gloriously incomprehensible by the end. Come see the laser rays fire away? Come cede and raise your ace of the way? Come sieve a razor age of the world? None of those would be out of place in a show where the K in M.A.S.K. actually refers to ?Kommand.?

4) Denver, the Last Dinosaur

The Show: Four largely interchangeable teenage boys discover a dinosaur who apparently survived his race?s demise by sleeping in a cocoon of preserved tar. Once revived, the dino receives the name of Denver, squawks out a limited vocabulary, and gets kidnapped by a media tycoon who wants to use the world?s only living dinosaur for music promotions. Despite the fact that Denver didn?t resemble any particular species of Mesozoic creature, the cartoon earned the approval of the National Education Association of the late ?80s. Today, they?d likely shun Denver for contradicting creationist doctrine.

The Theme Song: Between the cavemen rockers and the kid busting radical air on his bike, Denver?s intro was embarrassing even back in 1988. But there?s no denying that the song is a marvel of pop shallowness, sure to invade the minds of younger viewers and even make the older crowd chuckle over the implications of just what ?a whole lot more? referred to.

3) Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors

The Show: The Wheeled Warriors toy line was one of the blankest slates around: it had some monstrous evil-vegetable cars, some heroic high-tech cars, and a bunch of faceless human heroes. To fill those empty spaces, the cartoon spin-off introduced Jayce, a kid with a magic ring and a skunklike hairstyle, and sent him around the galaxy in search of his father, who created the Monster Minds in his little vehicular garden. Fans like to point out that J. Michael ?Babylon 5? Straczynski wrote for the show, though a script?s range for thoughtful science fiction is limited when it features a whiny robot squire, a really obvious Han Solo analogue named Herc Stormsailor, and the catchphrase ?Ring of Light, magic might!? Yell that on the playground, kids.

The Theme Song: An amazing hair-pop half-ballad that could?ve been the starting ground for an actual one-week radio hit, though it betrays its toy-line origins whenever its overexcited vocalist squalls about Wheeeeeeeeeeled Warriooooooorrrrrrs.

2) Bucky O?Hare

The Show: Like Conan the Adventurer and My Little Pony Tales, Bucky was an early-?90s attempt by Sunbow Productions to recreate their golden age of G.I. Joe, Transformers and other marketing wonders from the previous decade. Unfortunately for Sunbow, kids had moved on to the upbeat self-mockery of Ninja Turtles and Tiny Toons, and Bucky?s green rabbit face played it too straight. Said rabbit and his animal-based crew (plus a completely unnecessary human kid) are on the front lines of an intergalactic war against sniveling toads, larcenous alligators, and other cold-blooded racial inferiors. Based on a comic by Larry Hama and Neal Adams, the show?s a strange mix of freakish character designs, forced background humor (the toad soldiers read ?Warts Illustrated?! Get it? GET IT?!) and scenes where cat-women and four-armed ducks say ?Let?s croak us some toads!? with all the grimness of Allied soldiers facing the beaches of Normandy.

The Theme Song: Quite possibly the most aggressive, balls-out anthem ever given to a toy-promoting cartoon, Bucky?s opener is a mess of rapid exhortations about a funky-fresh rabbit who goes where no ordinary rabbit would so dare. Somehow, this macho ode to mammal-reptile warfare failed to sell Bucky O?Hare toys, videogames, or even more TV episodes, since the series collapsed after one season. But that song does stay with you.

1) Heathcliff

The Show: It?s no surprise that Heathcliff?s first cartoon series paired him with Marmaduke, as they?re both C-list icons from tepidly rehashed one-panel comics. The second Heathcliff show wisely ditched Marmaduke and piggybacked on some original characters called The Catillac Cats, though Heathcliff still got top billing, along with a voice provided by Mel Blanc in his last major role. While the Catillac Cats typically schemed to impress cat-women and make whatever cats use as money, Heathcliff?s stories consisted of him ruining the lives of countless undeserving humans and animals, all the while cackling with near-demonic malice.

The Theme Song: Heathcliff may be an emissary from some nine-tiered feline Hell, but that damn opening song is quite possibly the most hook-filled cartoon intro ever: a short, bouncing bit of cats-?ber-alles propaganda that culminates in a towering crescendo of whoa-ohs. It?s silly, it?s infectious, and it?s the best of whatever strange little world we?ve explored here.