Think back to childhood, odds are you spent an inordinate amount of time watching cartoons. Until recent times, watching cartoons on programmed television was simply part of being a kid. We all had our favourite shows. We sat like zombies before the tube, enthralled by the pictures on the screen. The humour in these shows was mostly lost on our young minds. Often the comedy aspects appealed more to adults than to children. Perhaps this was done for the benefit of the parents who often had to watch these shows alongside their kids. It’s only when watching these shows in retrospect that we realize how truly funny they actually were. Here is a collection of some of the funniest kids cartoons of all time.
1. Hey Arnold! (1996-2004)
Nickelodeon’s Hey Arnold is a bona fide classic.
Nine-year-old Arnold, the show’s star, lives with his grandparents in what seems to be a fictional inner-city neighbourhood. Each day finds him struggling through grade school, dealing with everyday problems which include his zany, senile grandmother Gertrude better known as Grandma Gertie. She often throws caution to the wind. For example, when she hijacked a bulldozer in season 2 to prevent Big Bob from chopping down the oldest tree in town during episode 29, titled Save the Tree.
The main angle of the show I would argue, however, is that Helga, Arnolds’ classmate, is secretly in love with him. To hide this, she often bullies and belittles him even referring to Arnold as ‘football head’ to mask her true feelings. This suppressed affection results in Helga delivering hilarious Shakespearean-like soliloquies, pledging her undying love for Arnold, all in private and hidden from public knowledge.
Hey Arnold! is characterised by its surprisingly sophisticated characters and storylines which moved between comedy and drama, often tackling issues of social justice from the perspective of children aided by good-natured adults like Grandma Gertie. Arnold’s heroism and self-effacing humility make him endearing and lovable and together with the show’s brilliant comedic elements make it a standout.
2. SpongeBob SquarePants (1999-ongoing)
Besides Looney Toons, perhaps no other kids cartoon appeals as much to children and adults as this show. SpongeBob SquarePants is easily one of the funniest shows ever, period. The animation is decidedly kid-friendly including its loveable characters SpongeBob and his best friend Patrick the starfish.
In contrast, the humour is often more for adults, resulting in grown-ups loving the show just as much as children. SpongeBob SquarePants is still widely popular and remains a pop culture phenomenon.
3. Looney Toons – Merrie Melodies (1930-1969)
For older generations Looney Toons was and still is the gold standard for animated cartoons. Characters like Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and Elmer Fudd are iconic. What makes these cartoons great was the brilliant writing and ingenious gags and quips between characters. Bugs Bunny’s teasing of Elmar Fudd or his outwitting of Yosemite Sam was filled with great banter and hilarious standoffs and some of the best-animated comedy ever.
4. Animaniacs (1993-1998)
Animaniacs and Tiny Toon Adventures were both produced by Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment. Animaniacs was a variety show featuring short skits and a large cast of funny characters like Slappy Squirrel and The Goodfeathers.
The levels of ‘wacky’ in this show was off the charts. The main stars, Yakko, Wakko and Dot were relatable and child-friendly but like the shows’ progenitor Looney Tunes, shared the same spirit of physical comedy and slapstick that bordered on the absurd, appealing heavily to adults. One hilarious example of the show’s genius and brilliant humour is the character of Chicken Boo. A six-foot-tall chicken who wants to live as a human despite being unable to speak while still acting completely like a normal chicken. A reboot of the show is in production and set to be released on Hulu in 2020.
5. I am Weasel (1997-2000)
I am Weasel was originally part of Cow and Chicken, another great show. I am Weasel focuses on the exploits of Weasel and his frenemy I. R. Baboon. Weasel’s heroics and above-average intelligence is played for gags against Baboon’s idiocy. The villain was I.B. Red Guy, a devilish weirdo with a penchant for bouncing on his buttocks.
6. Two Stupid Dogs (1993-1995)
Two unnamed dogs, referred to only as “The Big Dog” and “The Little Dog”, were the stars of this show. The two mutts are incredibly stupid, always finding themselves in all sorts of misadventures, with Big Dog always eager to eat whatever was in sight.
The voice-acting in the show was amazing and featured Brad Garrett from Everyone Loves Raymond fame as “The Big Dog” and Mark Schiff as “The Little Dog”.
7. Pinky and the Brain (1995-1998)
“… One is a genius, the others’ insane…” The intro to this cartoon was hilarious and perfectly summed up the premise of the show. Pinky and Brain first appeared as part of a skit on Animaniacs, but a spin-off show was created due to its popularity.
Pinky and Brain are genetically enhanced laboratory mice residing in a cage in Acme Labs. Brain is a maniacal genius, intent on taking over the world. The good-natured Pinky is a dimwit who constantly foils Brain’s over-ambitious plans. Pinky’s goofiness and signature insane sounding laugh cracked you up and his cockney accent made his quips all the funnier. Despite Brain belittling Pinky, Pinky always showed his affection for his best friend especially when Pinky would extoll Brain’s genius with a hilarious, ‘Egad, Brain!’
8. Duck Dodgers (2003-2005)
The series was based on the 1953 theatrical cartoon short Duck Dodgers in the 24½th Century. It featured Daffy Duck from Looney Toons as Dodgers, an arrogant, lazy and inept space captain. In one memorable episode titled, The Green Loontern, Dodgers accidentally becomes a Green Lantern after picking up the wrong laundry. An intertextual genius, such as the Green Lantern spoof, made this show special and the jokes left you in stitches.
9. The Mask: Animated Series (1995-1997)
This cartoon was so funny it made you laugh till it hurt. It was based on the film starring Jim Carey as Stanley Ipkiss/The Mask. The atomic wedgies The Mask loved to dish out to his and Stanley’s enemies was one of the best aspects of the show. Other hilarious characters were Dak and Eddie collectively known as The Terrible Two. These teenage numbskulls went into a nuclear power plant to become radioactive in hopes of becoming superheroes. Dak was subsequently turned into Putty Thing and Eddie into Fish Guy. These two provided ample joke material for The Mask who loved to tease and mock them.
10. Popeye the Sailor (1933-1957)
Popeye is a cultural icon. He originally appeared in a daily comic strip Thimble Theatre in 1929. Max Fleischer adapted the comic into theatrical cartoon shorts for Paramount Pictures in 1933. At the heart of the show is Popeye and Bluto’s unending quest to gain Olive Oyl’s affection. Popeye and Bluto’s stand-offs are great fun to watch. The ends and means both of them will go to gain the upper hand in battle provide for plenty of hearty laughs even after all these decades.
So many cartoons have been released over the decades, but few have that balance of humour and fun that appeals to children and adults in equal measure. All the cartoons above more or less managed to do just that. Finding quality cartoons that can do both is rare and while this list is not by any means exhaustive it hopefully managed to shed some light on some of the best ever created.