It’s a cliche at this point that, at some point, your favorite
long-running franchise is going to get revitalized and aimed at a new
generation. Sometimes it works, like a Doctor Who a few years ago, or the Transformers‘ relaunch every 18 or so months.
In the 1980s, it took a particularly strange form in which a scene from
a single movie inspired a cartoon, which in turn inspired numerous
other franchises to re-invent themselves as “babies.” The advantages of
this are many — new young audience, parent-friendly adorable
characters, and of course a licensing bonanza. Sure, you may lose all
the charm of the original, but isn’t it worth it when you can have
something to show kids between cereal commercials on Saturday morning
5) A Pup Named Scooby-Doo
While most of these shows are pale copies of the original characters, A Pup Named Scooby-Doo
manages to both celebrate and lampoon the 1970s show while making
something younger kids could watch and get. It can be viewed as
extremely lazy, or a sort of quasi-genius project. Nearly every episode
you see Freddy blame some random crime on a kid named Red Herring,
there’s always some asinine dance number, and like so many other shows,
this was probably scripted every week using one basic outline. Oh, and
Shaggy still always has the munchies, meaning that a certain substance
was likely consistently available for the bulk of his life.
Running from 1988-91 on ABC, this show got the original’s camp and repetitiveness, and threw it
right back in its face. The characters are acutely aware of what’s
going on, and point out to you that someone did or said something
because it happens all the damn time so that naturally means you’ve
just stumbled on a major plot point. “Hey everyone, Velma said
‘Jinkies’! Take a drink!”
It’s either a postmodern work of genius created by tortured animators
or a lazy knock-off on an earlier, more popular animated property. The
show certainly didn’t take itself too seriously, but most important of
all, Fred was revealed to be the idiot we always knew him to be. If you
didn’t look up to him, take solace that at least Hank Venture did.
4) Tom & Jerry Kids
The duo of Tom and Jerry are legendary figures in children’s
entertainment. At times, Tom and Jerry were friends (specifically the
1970s) and as far as the rest of the time, well, it’s not known for
being a particularly violent show for nothing. The 1990 Fox reboot of the
series kept the adversarial relationship, but made it “for kids.” Do
you know what constitutes taking a kid’s show and making it for kids?
Put a baseball cap on a cat. The world eagerly awaits Itchy & Scratchy Tots.
As you can see, the show retains the fangs– in the case of this clip,
quite literally– of the earlier, more violent shorts. So score one for
Fox for basically getting it, but really, what’s with the hat? The
bowtie makes sense, but the hat?
3) Muppet Babies
The granddaddy of them all! Birthed out of a single musical number in The Muppets take Manhattan,
this series was arguably the most successful of the many aged-down
franchises, running from 1984 to 1990 on CBS. It’s also notable in that basically, nothing ever really
happened, the adventures were entirely in their heads. The show didn’t
write down to its audience, referencing something beyond the scope of
the audience’s pop culture references was incredibly common. If you
watched Muppet Babies in 1987, you probably aren’t going to get
that “The News Brothers” was a parody of an SNL sketch that was old
before you were conceived. One demoralizing note for Henson trivia
buffs: this series lasted longer than any other Muppets television
Later seasons of the show expanded the main cast of eight– Piggy,
Kermit, Gonzo, Animal, Fozzie, Scooter, Skeeter, and Rowlf– with
numerous cameos. And one of the hardest-working voice actors on the
show was Dave “Cut It Out” Coulier, TV’s Uncle Joey. Despite this, the
show had a good run but when you’re the symbol of what many cartoon
fans consider to be wrong with TV animation, you don’t get a place in
Cartoon Valhalla. The series never answered the question, “What
Happened to Skeeter?” You see, Scooter had a sister on this animated
series, and it’s assumed by licensed Muppet-ologists that Skeeter
killed and ate Scooter, assuming his identity and powers in future
series. (It should be noted that this very true fact was not verified
by the Topless Robot fact-checking staff.)
2) X-Men Evolution
The original Fox Kids X-Men
series is something of a legend. Perhaps you remember getting the VHS
tapes from Pizza Hut. Maybe you recall all the ads for the Phoenix Saga
episodes, adapting Chris Claremont’s work for animation and a new
generation. Kids WB’s 2000 hit X-Men Evolution isn’t that show.
Fact: kids love angst. Fact #2: lockers beget angst. Relocating the
X-Men (and women) to a high school environment lets fans see all sorts
of quibbles, because it wasn’t cool enough that Nightcrawler could
vanish, now he’s significantly less Catholic and has a projector to
hide his blue appearance. Old farts may wonder what happened with kid
shows, in that now to save the world, you need to be under 16. It’s a
good thing they can teleport or fly, because otherwise it’s going to be
hard to stop the evil mutants when you need someone to give you a lift.
1) Tiny Toon Adventures
While it’s not uncommon for a show to inspire a legion of fans, it is
unusual for a TV show to possibly inspire a lifestyle choice. While
originally heralded as an amazing joint venture between Steven
Spielberg’s production company and Warner Brothers animation, the
after-school favorite is now largely remembered as a possible
inspiration for this generation of Furries.
The show relied heavily on parody and high-school conventions, so you’d be just as likely to see an Indiana Jones
spoof as you might be to see Babs being upset about something with her
date with Buster. It’s not every day you see a show focused on dating
with characters that don’t wear pants, which is generally something
more commonly thought of as a piece of another country’s animation
history. The show reportedly had a slightly higher cost with an
orchestra for its music and a higher grade of animation, which why the
most irritating thing most fans may remember from the series was that
the same episodes looped seemingly forever without much in the way of
new stuff past the first season. 100 episodes may sound like a lot, but
this was a 5-days-a-week show which ran from 1990-95, and the first 65 aired pretty much all in
the first year.
Also, if you were in elementary school when this show was stripped five
times a week, odds are you watched it every freaking day after you got
off the school bus. Don’t deny it. We know your desires.
THE LEAST AWESOME:
5) Yo! Yogi
After Yogi’s Treasure Hunt
was a decent syndicated success, Hanna-Barberra decided to get some of
that sweet, sweet kiddie cash by taking nearly its entire cast of
cartoon characters and make them “fresh” or “extreme” or whatever it
was in 1991.
If the whole idea of stealing pic-a-nic baskets seemed passe, clearly,
throwing on some jacket is going to make Yogi a star again. Change
Jellystone Park to Jellystone Mall and you appeal to the kids, right?
This didn’t quite click, but the show did try out parodies of Vanilla
Ice, which was a mistake because what America really wanted was to see Milli Vanilli play Wendy Koopa’s birthday party.
Peter Potomus and Magillia Gorilla appeared on the show as well, but
thankfully they managed to go on to a slightly better future as guests
on Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law. And speaking of people who have been Harvey’s clients…
4) The Flintstones Kids
Not only were The Flintstones Kids
one of the most forgettable casts of characters on this list — except
for Captain Caveman (and son) — but the most memorable thing about them
is a PSA on buckling your seatbelt which got pretty decent airplay.
75 half-hour episodes were produced between ’86 and ’88, but defy someone to remember any
of them. The great Mel Blanc provided a few voices on the show, as did
a few other famous or soon-to-be-famous voice actors. Just like real
kids, there were cursed diamonds, rock and roll fantasies, and the kids
trying their hand at the private investigator racket. It’s not like
anyone needed to watch this show to know how Fred turns out, as a
never-ending pitchman for cereal and vitamins long after his wife left
him for someone who bought her a real garbage disposal and not some
dinosaur who’s going to give you lip about having a crap job.
3) James Bond Jr.
His name is James Bond Jr., and he’s 007’s nephew. Clearly, nobody’s particularly interested in what “junior” means.
What is arguably the ultimate male fantasy escape vehicle has now been
made for kids! Isn’t that lovely? All of the sex double-entendres you
love are now gone, but hey– at least Jaws and Goldfinger and Oddjob
stuck around, right? Enjoy Terri Firma and Lotta Dinaro, for you will
not find your beloved Pussy Galore in this fairly dull short-run
series from 1991. If nothing else, it probably helped a generation of kids to ask
what the real James Bond was all about and get a crash course in crazy
boat chases and Indiana Jones’ dad getting a ton of action.
The show did leave us with one awesome artifact, a Ninja James Bond action figure that speaks volumes about the licensed toy market of its day.
2) Baby Looney Tunes
While the readership of this site is likely too old to have watched the
show for themselves, maybe your kids forced you to catch it once or
twice. This series decided to drop the pretense of being for an
audience which has learned to speak — clearly, the Tiny Toons weren’t tiny enough.
Proof positive that America lost her way, because most people in the last 50 years grew up watching stuff like The Rabbit of Seville and Rabbit Seasoning,
amazing classics for kids of all ages. Instead, here they are wearing
diapers, which is actually somewhat appropriate given the age of the
franchise itself. Writing down to your audience is something a number
of creative people claim to avoid, but clearly these people did not
work on this program. If you ever wanted to see Daffy Duck in a diaper,
though, it’s totally your lucky day. And you’re disgusting.
1) Little Rosie
Do you know the ultimate sign of animation quality? When nobody bothers
to pirate your show. That’s the kind of love you rarely get the
opportunity to see in this Full House fanfic-filled universe, and precisely what happened with Little Rosie.
Roseanne was the biggest sitcom on television in 1990, so
naturally someone said “let’s take this ball-busting strong woman
character and make something for people who can’t talk yet.” Why watch
Mickey Mouse when you can see one of the reportedly most notorious
tantrum-throwing stars in sitcomland? A vaguely remembered dialogue sample:
“I’m going to be the Queen of Bagdad.” “No, I’m going to be Queen of Bagdad.” “But I want to wear the curly-toed shoes!”
Clearly someone got scared at a production meeting and opted out of the
prospect of RoseanneTales, as AlfTales was some hot stuff, arguably the
greatest show to ever air that featured both Alf and fairy tales. It’s
assumed that this show’s failure cost the world Little Cheers, Mini M.A.S.H., and Golden Girls Tots. Which, arguably, could have been the greatest thing ever.
Robert Bricken is one of the original co-founders of the site formerly known as Topless Robot, and its first editor-in-chief, serving from 2008-12. He brought the site to prominence with “nerd news, humor and self-loathing” as its motto, raising it from total internet obscurity to a readership in the millions, with help from his savage “FAQ” movie reviews and Fan Fiction Fridays. Under his tenure Topless Robot was covered by Gawker, Wired, Defamer, New York magazine, ABC News, and others, and his articles have been praised by Roger Ebert, Avengers actor Clark Gregg, comedian and The Daily Show correspondent John Hodgman, the stars of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Rifftrax, and others. He is currently the managing editor of io9.com. Despite decades as both an amateur and professional nerd, he continues to be completely unprepared for either the zombie apocalypse or the robot uprising.