?If you like watching cartoons on TV, then you owe a huge debt to William Hanna and Joseph Barbera. While Jay Ward initially cracked the problem of how to create original animated programming on a TV budget with Crusader Rabbit, Hanna-Barbera figured out how to turn TV cartoons into a true mass-production industry. Hanna-Barbera produced Saturday morning cartoons, weekday cartoons, prime-time cartoons, and plenty of one-shot TV movies and specials. At one point in time, well over half the cartoons airing on TV on any given day were likely to be made by Hanna-Barbera.
Early Hanna-Barbera cartoons like the original Yogi Bear and Huckleberry Hound shorts hold up surprisingly well today, too. They’re pretty slow compared to more frenetically-paced modern comedy cartoons like Phineas and Ferb, but you can still enjoy a lot of strong cartooning and interesting background work. Hanna-Barbera kept up this standard of quality, or at least a basic sense of watchability, right up until the end of the sixties.
At that point, something went terribly wrong with Hanna-Barbera’s output. Maybe it was the inevitable excess brought by a solid decade of steady success or maybe the studio just took on too much work. It’s hard to say. Regardless, the cartoons on this list exist as relics of the terrible period from the late ’60s to the late ’80s, when HB began to produce some of the worst cartoons ever to air on television. If you’ve grown up on modern cartoons, you’ve probably never seen anything even a fraction as bad as these shows. Lucky you.
10) The Thing
There was a point in time when fans of superhero comics greeted the announcement of new cartoons, TV shows, and movies with little more than a resigned sigh. Stuff like Hanna-Barbera’s The Thing cartoon is exactly why. This cartoon basically took the Marvel Comics’ character, drew him exceedingly poorly, and then dumped him into a surreal mish-mash of Hanna-Barbera comedy stock tropes. So instead of battling super-villains, The Thing tends to end up punching sharks and destroying the motorcycles that belong to the mildly irritating recurring villains, the Yancy Street Gang. As a bonus, the show ran back-to-back with a merely lame Flintstones short, so its opening footage depicts the Thing dancing around with the Flintstones cast.
The Thing cartoon isn’t nearly as bad as anything else on this list, but it’s such a baffling thing to do with the character that the cartoons are impossible to enjoy. Even someone who had no idea who The Thing was, who had never read a Fantastic Four comic, couldn’t possibly look at this premise and think anything about it made sense. In the Hanna-Barbera version, The Thing is a wise-cracking alter ego summoned when the nebbish hero Benjy Grimm slams together his two magical Thing Rings, while saying, “Thing Ring, do your thing!” It’s not clear if this is a magical incantation required by the rings, or if Benjy is just an asshole.
The Thing is drawn in a blatantly different (and more awful) art style than the other characters, who all range from reasonable to actually pretty good Hanna-Barbera stock comedy character designs. Benjy Grimm usually hangs around with a spunky girl named Kelly, her hot older sister whose name is never used, and a smug rich bastard named Ronald. Most episodes concern Ronald taking everyone somewhere and flaunting his wealth until the comical Yancy Street Gang show up to bully them with mild pranks. Benjy sneaks off to save everyone by secretly transforming into a rock monster that can bench press 80 tons, who crushes the Yancy Street Gang’s futile rebellion against the moneyed overclass beneath his stony heel.
If not for The Thing’s random involvement in the shenanigans, this cartoon would merely be as lame and forgettable as most of Hanna-Barbera’s other ’70s output. Instead, all of these cartoons are memorably strange and become downright awful once The Thing shows up. The Thing usually suffers in cartoons because animators can’t be arsed to draw all the fiddly lines on him, but this version of the character may be the worst he was ever drawn, period. He has a flappy muppet mouth and utterly disconcerting blue eyes that pierce into your soul. The Thing knows what you did.
9) Sky Commanders
In the ’80s, action cartoons based on hot toy lines dominated both weekly syndication and Saturday morning line-ups. The most enduring toy-based cartoons of the era were produced by Sunbow in cooperation with Marvel Entertainment, particularly G.I. Joe and Transformers. These cartoons combined hot toy lines with goofy yet sometimes genuinely creative writing to create massive hits. Sky Commanders is pretty clearly the result of Hanna-Barbera looking at Sunbow’s shows and going, “Pfft. I can do that.”
As it turns out, no, Hanna-Barbera actually could not do that. Sky Commanders apes the look of Sunbow’s cartoons well enough, but the actual show is bad on every level it possibly could be. For one, it was based on one of Hasbro’s all-time worst toylines for boys. The gimmick of the Sky Commanders toys was that they came with lengths of plastic “string” you could run between objects, so you could then slide your Sky Commanders thrillingly from point A to point B. The line took this gimmick absurdly far, even crafting vehicles that could slide around on strings. Not only did the toys look like boring G.I. Joe knockoffs, but once you broke the string (and trust me, the string always broke) they were basically unplayable.
While the G.I. Joe cartoon applied a lot of imagination in turning the action figure line into a horde of shallow but distinct characters, Sky Commanders was a painfully literal take on the toyline. The cartoon alleged that the characters had mastered new “laser cable” technology, which meant the good guys and bad guys slide around on grappling cables they can summon instantly, slowly firing rainbow-colored lasers at each other and somehow missing. The cartoon took place on a bizarre “new continent” in the Pacific that conveniently consisted of nothing but sharp mountain peaks and contained a form of unobtainium called Theta 7 that was apparently explosive, corrosive, and able to spontaneously generate betentacled mutant plant creatures.
Although there were only six characters each on the good guy and bad guy factions in Sky Commanders, it somehow felt like too many. The characters were impossible to tell apart, due to every character on a given faction wearing basically the same colors and similar stupid sliding harness.es The main good guy would shout “It’s time to slide!!” before engaging in another slow on-rails laser-shooting bout with the bad guys. Every fight’s climactic moment was someone’s cable getting shot through and their stupid harness plummeting, because seriously, what the hell else can you possibly do with a fight where everyone’s riding around on a personal laser-spewing ski lift?
8) Paw Paws
To understand how the hell Paw Paws got made, you’ve got to understand how ridiculously popular Hanna-Barbera’s cartoon iteration of The Smurfs was in the early ’80s. Supported by a line of super-trendy collectible figurines, The Smurfs was the Spongebob Squarepants of its day. Hanna-Barbera’s version was severely watered-down compared to Peyo’s original Belgian comics, but an America getting its first taste of Les Schtrompfs just didn’t care. In the mid-’80s, American kids seemed to have an endless appetite for all things Smurf-like, so H-B happily set about trying to clone the formula with characters it wouldn’t have to license.
Problem: H-B’s “original” Smurfs-like characters tended to be, at best, incredibly lame even when compared to the Smurfs. At worst, you get Paw Paws, characters that live in a bizarre tribal village that’s a mish-mash of every native culture the creators could be arsed to look up in the encyclopedia. You’ll see teepees, wigwams, and pueblos standing inexplicably side-by-side in a baffling forest setting. When the show does its winter episode, an igloo appears. The characters all have names that mash up Smurf naming schemes with blatant Injun stereotypes like Laughing Paw, Medicine Paw, and a dog named (seriously) Papooch. You could easily call this show Hanna-Barbera’s Racism Bears.
In theory, your average episode of Paw Paws is about outcast Dark Paw trying to wrest control of the Paw Paw tribe from the virtuous Princess and her father Wise Paw. His schemes are usually foiled by generic hero Brave Paw or the tribe’s Totem Bear, an honest-to-god totem pole composed of a bear, an eagle, and a turtle that comes to life and wrecks everything when Princess points her “mystic moonstone” at it. The Totem Bear is by far the most entertaining part of the show, so naturally it gets very little screen time and is omitted entirely from some episodes.
Paw Paws isn’t one of the worst-animated or ugliest shows you’ll read about on this list, but it suffers from some of the most surreal writing and voice casting you’ll ever see. It seems like the writers set out to do simple stock plots, but then added more stock plots to the initial stock plots whenever they failed to fill up the show’s twenty-minute running time. This means you end up with episodes where it begins with something simple like a villain shape-changing to infiltrate the heroes’ village and ends with blithering insanity involving the villain having permanently split into two different people by the end.
7) CB Bears
One of Hanna-Barbera’s most reliable formulas for creating successful (if not necessary good) cartoons was to combine a bunch of different then-current cultural trends in a kid-friendly package. Scooby-Doo, for instance, combined Dobie Gillis, TV mysteries, and occult debunking with a talking dog. So at some point in the ’70s, someone at Hanna-Barbera decided to make a cartoon that combined Charlie’s Angels, CB radio, and garbage trucks with talking bears. If you’re thinking, “That doesn’t sound like it would make a very good cartoon,” well then no shit, Sherlock.
Of course CB Bears was a shitty cartoon. While HB’s method of combining trends certainly sold a lot of shows, all of the studio’s best programs had a more solid basis in an appealing core premise or title character. CB Bears is one of those TV show ideas so completely half-baked that it almost forces the final product into incoherence. In CB Bears you’ve got a trio of talking bear janitors named Hustle, Bump, and Boogie — kids also liked disco — who are given secret missions by a sexy-voiced lady named Charlie who contacts them exclusively through the CB radio installed in their magic transforming garbage truck.
That’s not a cartoon pitch, that’s a fever dream. Since it’s a premise too insane to comfortably use any of Hanna-Barbera’s formulas, CB Bears cartoons end up being rambling, incoherent chains of events that don’t end so much as stop. Many of the team’s missions could’ve just as easily been resolved by placing a phone call or checking a records department. The rare mission that does make good use of the CB Bears and their transforming garbage truck tends to involve a problem that simply doesn’t make any sense, like an island sinking because a fucking shark is eating the coral supports that hold it up.
CB Bears is also, unsurprisingly, a really poorly-drawn and animated show. The characters are poorly-designed and animators have clear difficulty just drawing them doing simple things like walking around. The animation ends up extremely stiff, even by the standards of Saturday morning limited animation. Characters are kept in hold positions way longer than makes any sense, often while discussing conveniently off-camera action. Likewise, scenes that only call for animators to drag still drawings across the screen get way too much camera time, often with characters speaking over them for minutes at a time.
6) Scooby-Doo and Scrappy-Doo
Generations of cartoon lovers stand united in their unmitigated hatred of Scrappy-Doo. It is so completely a given that everyone hates Scrappy-Doo that the character was unironically made the villain of the 2002 live-action film and then appeared as a stuffed and mounted taxidermist’s model in the current Mystery Incorporated cartoon. If you’ve only seen the initial cartoons with Scrappy, where he joined the usual Scooby gang characters, it might not be clear to you exactly why people hate Scrappy so much. He’s pretty inoffensive in those shows. If you’ve seen this run of awful cartoons produced in 1979, you will understand a generation’s murderous rage at Scrappy-Doo perfectly.
Scooby-Doo and Scrappy-Doo decided to take the basic Scooby-Doo formula, which revolved around a teen gang wandering around solving mysteries, and removed the part where a teen gang wanders around solving mysteries. What the cartoons were left with was Shaggy traveling the world as a sort of itinerant hobo with his two dogs, either working odd jobs or bumbling into trouble in exotic locations. The old Scooby-Doo “rule” that the monsters were never real was broken for the first time in these cartoons, so they could do short, uninspired rip-offs of Abbott & Costello movies.
These cartoons are pretty terrible on a lot of levels. They’re excruciatingly repetitive, the comedy is tired at best, and the animation is a complete mess. Even at that, it’s really just Scrappy-Doo himself that elevates these cartoons from merely lame to completely fucking awful. This iteration of Scooby-Doo runs for three seasons, a total of 99 6-to-8 minutes episodes, each completely reliant on Scrappy doing mind-numbingly stupid shit all the time to propel what passes for a plot forward. Scrappy will always provoke the monster, force Shaggy and Scooby to chase him around dangerous areas, and generally act like a self-absorbed little shit all the time.
Scrappy usually has no good motivation for his stupidity, often doing things simply because he’s bored. So the entire show feels like the adventures of a sadist who tries to repeatedly get his uncle and his legal guardian killed purely for his own amusement. Small children may vicariously enjoy Scrappy’s murderous tyranny, but to everyone else these cartoons are an exercise in mounting disgust and rage. Scrappy’s god-awful “Puppy power!!” catchphrase and generally terrible dialog just make his behavior irritating in addition to reprehensible.
5) Blast-Off Buzzard
Chuck Jones’s Coyote andRoad Runner cartoons are brilliantly simple, distilling the theatrical cartoon short down to its pure basics. There’s an idiot, he wants to obtain something, but he never will due to his own idiocy. In the meantime, the audience can watch him suffer and laugh at his entirely self-inflicted failure. The simple format allowed the Coyote and Road Runner cartoons to focus on coming up with creative visual gags based around Wile E. Coyote’s inevitable failure and suffering, often beautifully timed.
Okay, now imagine a Coyote & Road Runner cartoon that is complete shit on every conceivable level. That’s Blast-Off Buzzard, a series of six-minute Hanna-Barbera shorts from the ’70s. I do not exaggerate when I say these shorts are literally nothing but uninspired ripoffs of the Coyote & Road Runner cartoons. The visual design and gags are usually copied shot-for-shot, but uglier because this is Hanna-Barbera TV animation from the depths of the ’70s. Some gags are copied multiple times, with slightly different framing devices built around different iterations. It’s really confusing when they copy the “falling” or “boulder drop” gags, because otherwise the show depicts the titular Blast-Off Buzzard as a character that’s able to fly.
Blast-Off is trying to catch a snake named (sigh) Crazylegs that races along desert highways at high speeds the way that real-world snakes don’t. Crazylegs is given more freedom to blatantly violate the laws of physics than the Road Runner, wiggling sometimes like a worm and sometimes literally leaping out of electronics just to fuck with Blast-Off Buzzard. Where the Coyote wanted to eat the Road Runner, it’s not clear why Blast-Off wants to catch Crazylegs. Blast-Off is perfectly capable of driving a car and baits his traps with hamburgers, so he obviously has plenty to eat.
Blast-Off Buzzard is shittily animated the way you’d expect for something on this list, but the most infuriating thing about it is seeing well-animated old Chuck Jones gags copied at frame-rates so low that the timing can no longer make sense. There’s no sense of satisfaction to watching boulders crush Blast-Off or in watching him plummet to the ground. The gags happen much too quickly and Blast-Off’s suffering is too poorly-drawn to be funny. It’s one thing to make a rip-off because it’s cheap and easy, but what’s the point of ripping off a format you basically can’t afford?
4) The Buford Files The Buford Files is a Scooby-Doo clone that features animation so wretched and writing so insipid that it leaves one longing for the authentic lameness of actual Scooby-Doo cartoons. Where most Scooby-Doo clones struggled to come up with plots that could fill a half-hour, The Buford Files failed to come up with plots that could fill a mere ten minutes. A typical Buford Files plot followed a pair of Southern-fried teen siblings and their bloodhound Buford as they solved crimes that confounded the bumbling Dukes of Hazzard-inspired duo Sheriff Bullhorn and Deputy Goofer.
Scooby-Doo clones usually focus on using the mystery format to make audiences fall in love with the show’s cartoon animal mascot, but Buford is a miserable character who completely fails this formula. Buford’s design turns a bloodhound’s wrinkly skin into an oozing lavender mass of horror that slides unnaturally along his skeletal form. Buford’s amusing character tic, beyond speaking with a typical Hanna-Barbera cartoon dog accent, is howling uncontrollably at the full moon.
While The Buford Files is certainly full of ugly, lumpy animation– especially when it comes to drawing Buford himself– the show’s stand-out point of badness is its unspeakably shitty scripting. Scooby-Doo mysteries may be predictable, but most of them ultimately follow some sort of logical sense. The Buford Files frequently has mysteries that appear to be building in a logical direction and then do an insane, impractical 180 at the end.
So a mystery that seems to be building up to a revelation that criminals used a river to steal treasures off a train actually ends with the discovery that the criminals… uh, somehow hid a two-ton crane in a swamp and used it lift treasures out of boxcars. Even a kid dumb enough to end up watching The Buford Files is going to be capable of thinking, “You know, that is complete bullshit” when confronted with a plot twist so monstrously stupid.
3) Galaxy Goof-Ups Galaxy Goof-Ups is one of Hanna-Barbera’s crossover shows, pairing up Yogi Bear and Huckleberry Hound with new characters in a strange premise that mashes up Star Wars‘ space opera with F-Troop‘s screwball military hijinks. This is a premise that might have worked if, say, not all of the new characters were execrably wretched or if the animation wasn’t among the all-time worst Hanna-Barbera ever produced. Yogi and Huck also act like they’re on quaaludes during most of the show, making their inclusion feel rather pointless.
In Galaxy Goof-Ups, Yogi, Huck, an irritating cartoon duck called Quack-Up and an ursine Shaggy knock-off called Scare Bear are a troop of bumbling space cops. The troop is overseen by a long-suffering officer called Captain Snerdley who is a transparent ripoff of Phil Silvers’ character from The Phil Silvers Show. The joke of the series is that Snerdley is ambitious and self-important, but is forced to oversee a bunch of outright morons who constantly make him look bad and endanger his life. It’s a conflict between an asshole and a bunch of morons, where the only possible happy ending could be the lot of them getting incinerated by a jet engine.
Galaxy Goof-Ups‘ comedy was of the worst type, where every character was assigned an excruciatingly repetitive schtick that appeared at least once in every episode. Captain Snerdly got angry and shouted insults, Quack-Up was LoLsOrAnDoM and misunderstood orders, and Scare Bear was afraid of everything and did unsettling wild takes. Yogi and Huck got assigned new stupid schticks, since otherwise they might accidentally be funny. Huck’s involved incoherently trotting out a new secret weapon every episode, and Yogi… Yogi always wanted to go to the space disco.
A godforsaken disco of nightmares.
2) Yogi’s Gang Yogi’s Gang was one of the first cartoons made for no other reason than to be preachy at kids, paving the way for later pedantry like Captain Planet and The Get-Along Gang. It was also one of the very first Hanna-Barbera crossover cash-ins, paving the way for later schlock like Galaxy Goof-Ups. The theme song for Yogi’s Gang suggests the show’s premise involves Yogi Bear and his funny animal friends fighting pollution-themed enemies with wacky gadgets. So, naturally, there is maybe one episode that touches on this idea. The vast majority of the villains in Yogi’s Gang encourage people to lie, cheat, steal, and be sloppy.
In short, Yogi’s Gang is a Hanna-Barbera Justice League that has assembled to fight extremely unambitious super-villains who wanted kids to do things that annoyed their parents. Now, you’d think there might be a few good gags to eke out of funny animals playing pranks on self-important bad guys, but Yogi’s Gang approaches its premise in a completely humorless way. Most episodes of the series emphasize non-violent conflict resolution. Kids could finally thrill to the sight of quick-witted tricksters like Wally Gator and Snagglepuss calmly discussing their personal differences while a canned laugh track kicked in at basically random times.
It’s not enough that Yogi’s Gang is boring, either. It also approaches a lot of the social problems it tries to address in an appallingly facile way. The episode about bigotry isn’t about, say, how even well-meaning people can make unfair assumptions about others. Instead, it’s about how bigotry is the result of a man named Mr. Bigot who fires a bigotry laser out of his cloud-cloaked hate-zeppelin. Later in the episode, the titular Gang simply enters Mr. Bigot’s ship and reverses the bigotry ray, making it into a niceness ray that ends all bigotry forever.
Special mention must be made of this show’s thoroughly wretched animation. There’s not a show on this list that could be fairly called well-animated, but Yogi’s Gang comes close to being HB’s ugliest cartoon. Shockingly terrible animations are actually looped to help pad out running time in most episodes. None of the characters are consistently on-model outside of the opening sequence and the weekly villains don’t look like they should exist in the same universe. Coloring errors abound, leading to episodes where characters are miscolored in literally every scene.
1) Pink Panther and Sons
If Galaxy Goof-Ups and Yogi’s Gang are quintessentially bad ’70s cartoons, then Pink Panther and Sons is a quintessentially bad ’80s cartoon. Every shitty ’80s cartoon subgenre finds representation here: the preachy “kid gang” cartoons (Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids), the insipid “kid version” cartoons (Muppet Babies), and the shameless “rainbow-colored collectibles” cartoons (Care Bears). Pink Panther and Sons adds in completely incompetent animation, tedious plotting, and unimaginably wretched voice acting to make sure the show is completely unbearable.
Each episode about Pink Panther and Sons is about the classic Pink Panther’s sons Pinky and (sigh) Panky having misadventures with their friends the “Rainbow Panthers,” a multi-colored anthropomorphic panther kid gang full of terrible characters, and their rivals the Howl’s Angels, a biker kid gang composed of more sensibly-colored anthropomorphic lions. Most episodes are stock kid gang vs. kid gang antics, interspersed with surreal stock plots involving things like escaped cavemen and tropical vacations.
There’s a few things that make Pink Panther and Sons probably the worst cartoon Hanna-Barbera ever made. The sheer irritation factor of the Rainbow Panther characters cannot be overstated. They all have overstated vocal tics and they all speak in high-pitched simpering voices that could easily be used to cut glass. To help keep the animation cheap, every episode is loaded down with long, rambling dialog sequences that are completely unbearable. Particularly hateful is Chatta, a purple panther whose gimmick is using long, complicated words that make her lines extra-painful.
There’s also the design sense of the shorts. As you might’ve noticed, the Rainbow Panthers don’t really look like panthers, or any other sort of cat. They look and move like Care Bears, complete with rounded ears and stout muzzles. This makes any scene where they appear alongside the highly stylized original Pink Panther design completely surreal, since the two art styles just don’t have anything in common. In fact, watching an elegant design like Friz Freleng’s original Pink Panther appear alongside a simpering diaper-clad nightmare like Panky manages to be infuriating every single time it happens.