episodic list articles by Corey B. Buckner
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The 5 Best: 80s Cartoons

by Corey B. Buckner


I don't think there is any argument against the thought that cartoons of the 1980s are likely the absolute best and most enduring era and medium of kids entertainment ever. Modern day Disney Channel, Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network all pale in comparison to 1980s Saturday morning cartoons on network television. I can say with all certainty, there will never be anything like Saturday Morning cartoons, and you could argue that without Saturday morning in the 80s; all the modern Kids-only cable networks would not exist.

Of all the amazing cartoons in the 1980s, here is my list of the 5 best of them. With a list limited to just 5, there are bound to be some notable and worthy omissions, so here are some admittedly great cartoons of the 80s that did not make my list: G.I. JOE, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Muppet Babies, He-Man/Masters of the Universe, Alvin and the Chipmunks, Rainbow Bright and the Care Bears. Now that some of you are probably already mad at me for the cartoons left off of my list, here are the cartoons that did make my list.

5. Thundercats

Team-up cartoons was the name of the game in the 1980s for action cartoons. Teams of all types of creatures were made up of some combination of a smart one, a tough one, the leader, the one who is better than the leader but not the leader, the girl, the cool one or the black one, etc. These teams ruled Saturday mornings in the 80s and one of the most unique and most believed of these teams was The Thundercats. Lion-O, Cheetarah, Panthro, Tygra and Snarf changed the game, and led to other similar groups like the Silverhawks and Tigesharks. One could argue that they laid the groundwork for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles who would dominate pop culture some years later.

The Sword of Omen is one of the coolest hero weapons of all time, and few animated actions could get you as hype as when Lion-O pressed pause on the battle at hand and pulled the sword to his face and said, “Thunder, thunder, THUNDER; Thundercats HO!” But for me a weapon that was almost equally as cool as The Sword of Omen was Tygra's Bolo Whip. When he jumps up and throws that whip during the intro, you knew that it was time to get down to business. The collective love of the Thundercats endures today evidenced by how often we the fans request that they finally get the big budget Hollywood live action treatment.

4. Smurfs

Before Ash Ketchum tried to catch all the Pokemon, there was Gargamel trying to catch the Smurfs. The Smurfs was the ultimate “every type” cartoon in the 1980s with the angry one, the vain one, the arrogant one, the old wise one, the girl, the handy one, the hungry one and so on. Boys and girls alike liked the Smurfs and their popularity transcended the small screen and extended to every aisle of local department stores. This show was a simple, yet captivatingly interesting tale of a man trying to capture creatures that only he and his dog seemed to know existed. It's a simple concept that became so long-lied due to the great character design and voice work of the Smurf characters and how well and entertaining the writing of the individual episodes were. The Smurfs was the excellent execution of creating an expanding universe of similar, yet distinct characters that fans wanted to see, collect and own all of.

3. Voltron (Lions)

What was cooler than the Sword of Omen? Hearing Captain Keith Cogane yell, “Form Blazing Sword!” When you heard that, you knew that it was time to send some evil being back to wherever it came from. Voltron, for my generation, was the original color-based team who for some reason didn't find it necessary to match their uniforms to their Lions. It didn't matter though, because we knew who drove which lion and didn't need color-coordination to match them up. Why? Because we watched every single week, followed their adventures and became deeply engrossed in the stories behind each character.

Voltron was also a part of the pioneering class of cartoons and toys being brought to America from Japan and rewritten for that market. Unlike Transformers and Robotech; the conversion of Voltron was considerably less convoluted from the original source content. There is no “Skyfire” in the Voltron conversions. As such, newer iterations of the American version of the cartoon remain quite similar to the 80s version without constant need to rewrite and rename the characters.

In the 1980s there were three Voltron forces, but we all know that the only one that mattered (and has endured) is the Lion force. I have yet to meet the man (or woman) who said that the Car Voltron was their favorite Voltron. If you know that person, please introduce them to me. Voltron was the Power Rangers before Super Sentai became the Power Rangers. In fact, Voltron is quite likely the reason that The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers were so well received when they were released in the 1990s.

2. Transformers

Speaking of teams of robots being brought over to America from Japan in the 80s, the Transformers were the undisputed winners of the Transforming robot boom of the era. The Transformers were such a phenomenon that even their 80s movie, which was a financial failure, is still part of the fond collective memories of the 80s in the minds of those of us who lived through it. Transformers proved that some characters could become so beloved by kids that they couldn't just be killed off and cycled out for another character like so many other properties do.

For as popular as many other cartoons and franchises are, you will not find another character as untouchable and irreplaceable as Optimus Prime. Our love for Optimus was and is so strong that we actually forced a rewrite and redirection of the entire toy line and cartoon when we refused to embrace Rodimus Prime as a cooler and hipper replacement leader of the Autobots. You would be hard-pressed to find another character from 1980s cartoon lore who has remained as untouchable and unchangeable as Optimus Prime has been over the years. The Transformers took the 80s by storm, and that storm still rages even today in the form of multiple series reboots and a bevy of billion dollar Michael Bay films.

1. Ducktales

Are you surprised to see Ducktales at number one? Go to YouTube and play the theme song and you will immediately be reminded of how much you and others around you loved this cartoon in the late 1980s. Ducktales ran from 1987 through 1990 and was an amazingly fun thrill ride through Duckville every week. Ducktales changed the look and feel of DIsney for a whole new generation. It took them from being old school Mickey Mouse cartoons and somewhat dated family films, and brought Disney to the weekly-episodic forefront which is where my generation of kids lived. If you lived through the 80s and don't think Ducktales belongs at number one, I ask you to try and remember what Disney was to you before Ducktales was released?

Prior to Ducktales, our generation saw Disney as feature family films and old, dated, often voiceless cartoons that aired on the Premium Disney Channel at 6AM on school days. There was no appointment-viewing for us as it related to Disney cartoons before Ducktales. Nobody was rushing home from school to watch DTV. Nobody was rushing home from school to watch another old school Goofy instructional cartoon. Think about it. But, following Ducktales we got Talespin, Goof Troop and Darkwing Duck; all appointment viewing. Following Ducktales, the Disney Channel became a direct competitor to Nickelodeon which previously was the only true kids network. Now, Disney owns just about everything and Disney+ is one of the best streaming services available today. I am not saying that all of this is solely because of Ducktales; but I am saying that it is often grossly understated the role that Huey, Dewey, Louie, Launchpad McQuack and Scrooge McDuck played in making Disney relevant to the era of fans that would make a service like Disney+ possible.



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