I still firmly believe that the ’80s was the best time to grow up in. It was an era filled with amazing toys, bright colour and, of course, some of the best kids cartoons to ever grace a CRT television set.
I still have fond memories of watching shows such as BraveStarr, He-Man, Transformers, and Voltron, but to name a few. These shows have been ingrained into my consciousness to a point that I can still recall many of the individual episodes.
The ’80s was also an era of experimentation for the various television networks, as each fought to gain dominance of the highly-valued kids market. This meant that many of these networks would throw anything out there to see what sticks. While not all of these shows were bad, most of them were left alongside other relics of the era, such as parachute pants, never to be spoken of again.
Recently my rapidly failing memory started to recall more obscure cartoon shows which I completely forgot existed. This got me thinking, what other ’80s cartoons have I forgotten over the years and were they any good? Please take note that some of these cartoons might not exclusively be from the 80s’ as the list could include some forgotten gems from the early ’90s as well.
Wild West C.O.W.-Boys of Moo Mesa – They’re real cow boys
Being the 80s/90s you knew it wouldn’t be long before we entered ‘mutated animals’ territory. There was a time where every studio tried to create their own mutated money-making machines. This had almost everything to do with the fact that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles had become so popular, with most kids scooping up the hordes of TMNT branded merchandise. While numerous studios tried to replicate the formula, many failed (I’m looking at you, Street Sharks). One of the more popular shows which incorporated mutated animals was called Wild West C.O.W.-Boys of Moo Mesa, quite a mouthful. Now, bear with me I know that the name might sound silly (or just plain stupid), but underneath this terrible name beats the heart of a true ’80s gem.
After an irradiated meteorite slams into the desert, the surrounding animals find themselves mutated into walking talking creatures (except for the horses for some obscure reason). The impact of the meteorite created a mile-high mesa that protected its inhabitants from prying eyes. For some unexplained reason, the animals created a civilisation inspired by the 19th century wild west.
Que the country music.
As with most wild west stories worth their salt, there is always a group of nefarious criminals that needs stopping. Luckily, Moo Mesa (as the town was now called) is protected by Marshall Moo Montana and his group of C.O.W-Boys, the soft-spoken brute The Dakota Dude and the impulsive Cowlorado Kid. Together they fought against the corrupt mayor Oscar Bulloney and the despicable Sheriff Terrorbul, but to name a few.
Once you get past the terrible (oh, so, terrible) names of the characters, what lies beneath is a fun and light-hearted show. While the animation work itself was great, it was the unique character designs that had little ol’ me enthralled as a kid. It was only years later that I discovered that Ryan Brown, who had created numerous side characters for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, was responsible for the show’s creation.
Unfortunately, the show didn’t last very long and only ran for two seasons before it was cancelled by Disney when they acquired ABC.
The best part of the show remains its catchy theme song which I still clearly remember, even though I don’t remember much of the show itself. If you like westerns and loved the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, then you owe it to yourself to get hold of this cartoon.
Bionic Six – We are a family
I grew up hoping to one day discover my latent mutant powers or, should that fail, being turned into a cyborg with amazing abilities. To my dismay, I am still waiting for one of these to happen (although I’ll never lose hope).
Bionic Six was a show that tapped into the idea of becoming part human, part machine. Although it had potential to be a big hit, the show ended up mostly forgotten. Heck, if it wasn’t for the catchy theme song, I might have totally forgotten about it.
The show centred around an everyday family who, after a tragic accident, are turned into super power bionic heroes by their father (what an awesome dad!).
Bionic Six was a mixture of the best and the worst ’80s cartoons had to offer. It was basically a super powered version of Growing Pains, filled with its fair share of family drama. The animation was top notch, particularly during the show’s intro which not only oozed 80s-ness but also had one amazing theme song. I still recall every word of it.
Each member of the family had their own unique bionic power.
Jack Bennet, the father of the group, had a handy-dandy set of bionic eyes which allowed him to not only cycle through various vision modes but also afforded him the ability to shoot energy blasts. Basically, he’s what you would get if you combined Cyclops and a pair of x-ray specs.
The matriarch of the group was Helen Bennet who, thanks to her bionic implant, had various ESP-based powers that could give her glimpses of the future.
The jock of the family was Eric Bennet, a hot-headed, loud-mouthed sports fan whose electromagnetic powers allow him to retract and repel objects with great force.
Meg Bennet was a young teenager with the power to emit sonic beams from her shoulder mounted blasters.
The brains in the family was J.D Bennet, one of the family’s two adopted children. J.D had both superhuman I.Q and strength, making him quite a formidable opponent.
Lastly, there was Bunji Bennet, the second adopted kid in the Bennet family. Of course, being of Asian descent, the writers figured that he had to have increased agility and enhanced martial arts skills.
The group also had a giant robotic gorilla called F.L.U.F.F.I., but the less said about him the better.
The main villain of the show was the evil Dr Scarab (it seems that most doctors in the 80’s tended to be either mad or evil), who yearned to learn the secret of eternal life (at least he’s not trying to take over the world).
What would an 80’s villain be without his blubbering henchmen to back him up? Fortunately, Dr Scarab had quite a few of these to help him on his quest for eternal life. With names such as Chopper and Klunk, most of these henchmen leaned more towards being ridiculous rather than scary.
While the show boasted some great animation, the writing tended to be more on the silly and awkward side. Strangely, I preferred it that way. It became part of the show’s charm.
I have to mention that the Bionic Six toys were also some of the sturdiest toys the 80’s had to offer. The 13-inch figures were made out of a combination of plastic and die cast metal. This meant that they could take a lot more punishment from kids than the plastic-only figures.
Galaxy Rangers – Space cowboys (and one cowgirl)
So we’ve covered cows turning into cowboys, but what about space cowboys (and no I’m not talking about the amazing BraveStarr)? Don’t fret, the ’80s were known for taking themes that just shouldn’t work together and forcefully squishing them into one single money-making machine.
Galaxy Ranger takes place in a universe where man has figured out how to use hyperdrives, thanks to the help of a few peace-loving aliens. As Earth begins to interact with other alien worlds and colonise distant planets, it becomes necessary to establish an organisation to protect mankind and its colonies (you know, from the scaaaary aliens). Enter the Galaxy Rangers, who are tasked with protecting mankind from the space conquering Crown Empire. Each Ranger is not only given a sweet robotic horse (who wouldn’t want a robotic horse?) but are also afforded a special brain implant which, as you’ve probably guessed it, gives them unique powers.
The group consisted of a cyborg named Zachary Foxx, a shapeshifter name Shane Gooseman, Niko (the only female in the group) who had various psychic abilities and, lastly, there was Walter “Doc” Hartford who was basically a techno wizard and could hack into just about anything.
Together they rode (and flew) across the galaxy finding trouble wherever it would rear its ugly head. What made the show so unique was how it blended the futuristic with wild west themes and it did it, dare I say, even better BraveStarr. There’s no doubt that the show owes some of its “lived-in” and “dirty-tech” aesthetics to the Star Wars franchise.
Another aspect that made the show stand out from the other kid shows of the ’80s was that it didn’t shy away from taking on more adult issues. The Rangers spent just as much time discussing space politics as they did shooting at the bad guys. And while, as a kid, my tiny brain didn’t always grasp concepts the show introduced such as placing the needs of the many above the individual, I still have to commend them for doing this.
Galaxy Rangers looked good, sounded good and took us on an action-packed journey through space.
Dungeons & Dragons – Here be dragons
In a time when many associated Dungeons & Dragons with the most evil of evils, some studio exec decided to approach the franchise in a more kid-friendly way.
Produced by Marvel Productions (Yes, that Marvel) the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon followed six friends who, after riding on a creepy ass fairground ride (why would someone do that?), find themselves transported to a land filled with myths and legends (oh… and dragons). Thanks to the Dungeon Master (who strangely looks similar to Yoda), the six friends are soon roped into a quest to kill the evil multi-headed dragon Taimat and his demonic son Venger.
Firstly, who sends a bunch of kids on a mission to kill a ferocious dragon? Secondly, it’s not just any dragon, it’s an MULTI-headed dragon. Luckily, the Dungeon Master doesn’t just send the six friends into battle unprepared.
Each is given the abilities and weapons of different Dungeons & Dragons classes. Hank becomes a ranger, Bobby becomes a barbarian (even if he is the youngest of the group), Presto becomes a magician and is given control of the magical arts (and somehow still ends up being mostly useless), Sheligha becomes a thief, and Diana an acrobat. Finally, there’s the most irritating person in the group, Eric who becomes a cavalier. Having such a diverse group of characters meant that most kids could find at least one character could relate with.
Although the show took place in a fantasy world, which in itself had loads of potential, Dungeons & Dragons was marred by recycled music, corner-cutting, and even the occasional unfinished animation. Even with all of its shortcomings, it remained a show that I kept coming back to. I mean, it’s a show filled to the brim with orcs, goblins and, once again, dragons. It’s important to remember that by this time most shows focused on the “all-American hero” or “transforming robots”. There was almost no fantasy centred shows.
While most of the episodes suffered from bad animations and ham-fisted writing, Dungeons & Dragons still gained quite a following.
Filmation’s Ghostbusters – These are not the Ghostbusters you were looking for
If I shout, “Who you gonna call?” into a crowd of random people, I’d bet a whole lot of money (not that I have any) that someone would shout back “Ghostbusters”. This is a testament to the everlasting popularity of the Ghostbusters franchise. And while many might be familiar with the franchise, chances are quite good that not many of them know that before Egon, Venkman and Ray were busting ghosts there was another group of busters out there fighting the good fight.
Back in 1975, there was a live-action television show called The Ghost Busters. The show consisted of a team of bumbling detectives who would investigate ghostly occurrences. Oh, and they had a gorilla called Tracy accompanying them. In the 80s, Filmation, who no doubt wanted to cash in on the success of the Ghostbusters movies, created a cartoon based on the 1975 Ghost Busters. Now, I have to be honest, as a kid, I didn’t understand why the Ghostbusters suddenly had different names and were accompanied by a gorilla, but hey they were busting ghosts which meant it must have been somehow tied to the film (which it wasn’t). I only realised my mistake when The Real Ghostbusters cartoon was released.
That said, irrespective of the fact that it wasn’t the real Ghostbusters, I still thoroughly enjoyed the show. Something about its slapstick humour and silly premise made the show endearing to me. That and the fact that they had a fricking gorilla hunting ghost alongside them. I will admit that the show’s villain, aptly (and ridiculously) named Prime Evil, was a bit too much and was one of my least favorite parts of the show.
At least the show had a catchy intro song. “Go-go Ghostbusters, go-go. Let’s go!”
Dino Riders – Guys riding dinosaurs. Nuff said.
Like most kids in the ’80s, I was obsessed with everything to do with dinosaurs. I mean what kid wouldn’t be? They’re big, they have sharp teeth and they would make the perfect weapons of war, or at least that’s what the studio must have thought when coming up with the concept for Dino Riders. Possibly my all-time favourite cartoon, the show was only surpassed by the amazing range of toys that followed. It’s important to note that the show not only included dinosaurs, which already was enough of a reason to watch it, but it also had spaceships, aliens and laser weapons. It was basically an amalgamation of everything a kid could dream of.
The show followed the Valorians who, up until the arrival of the evil Rulons, lived in peace. During a space battle, the Valorians attempted to escape the Rulons by using their S.T.E.P. (Space Time Energy Protector). Unfortunately, something went wrong (as things in these cartoons tend to do) and the Valorians ended up on Earth in the time when dinosaurs roamed its hills and valleys. Unbeknownst to the Valorians, the Rulons also ended up on Earth during the same time.
The leader of the Valorians, Questar, decided that they should use their AMP necklaces to communicate telepathically with the dinosaurs and in the process befriend them. On the other hand, the Rulons, lead by a reptilian creature called Krulos, used devices known as Brainboxes to brainwash the dinosaurs into serving them. In an attempt to destroy the Valorians, the Rulons outfitted their brainwashed dinosaurs with weapons. Needing to defend themselves from the Rulons, the Valorians followed suit.
Enter large-scale laser_wielding dinosaur battles.
The best part of each episode was seeing the various dinosaurs facing off against each other. Few things were as exhilarating to the younger me than seeing a T-Rex covered in armour battling a laser-wielding Diplodocus (those things with the long necks). And in the process of watching the show, I even managed to learn some of the dinosaur’s names without realising it. Sure, the show was criticised for having dinosaurs from different periods walking side by side, but who cared. It’s not like the half man, half hammerhead dude was historically accurate either.
In the end, even if the series were created mainly to sell those really awesome toys, it remains one of my favourite 80’s kids shows.