7 Awesome 90s Cartoons Too Cool for TV Now

awesome 90s cartoonsDespite all the advances in technology and the inevitable but plodding progress towards a society that doesn’t treat huge swatches of its population like second class citizens who are allowed to starve to death, there is one thing that just keeps getting worse and worse. Something that is so fundamentally important to the development of our children and our culture that its decline in quality is a legitimate societal tragedy.

Cartoons.

Those of us thickly in the middle of our 20s were spoiled, spending our formative years watching Saturday morning cartoons that really pushed boundaries and tried to be as subversive as possible.

That isn’t to say there aren’t quality cartoons nowadays, but the best ones are more obvious in their catering towards the stoner/bored parent demographics while the ones directly geared towards the younger generation are generally. In the 90s, they just snuck all that stuff past the censors. Simpler times and all.

The Toxic Crusaders

Now, the content of the Toxic Crusaders was not particularly objectionable – it was essentially Captain Planet with a grotesquely malformed mutant instead of a sort of creepy blue skinned guy who lives in a bunch of kids’ Ring Pops. That might piss off the people that think the Lorax was “librul progapaganda” but wouldn’t make it a no-go to regular people who actually, you know, like having a planet to live on. No, the reason Toxic Crusaders wouldn’t happen now is because of what it is based on. Rather than explaining Troma and their awesome brand of filmmaking, I’ll just leave this video here to make my point for me.

And here’s the cartoon version:

With Google, Youtube, and parents apparent inability to make sure their kids aren’t looking at boobs and nuns getting run over without complaining to your local news show or congress first, there is no way a network would give this a chance now.

Gargoyles

Even the good cartoons that make it onto the airwaves in the 2000s tend to treat their stories like Lindsamanda Bynehan treats the law – as if they don’t matter. Most cartoons in the English speaking world adhere to the cyclical status quo, where no matter how outlandish the events of an episode are, it comes right around to where it started and are usually never acknowledged again. Whether that’s because they just don’t think the younger crowd has the attention span for intricate plots and strong characterization. They usually replace all that junk with bright flashing colors and fast paced butt jokes.

Gargoyles was a show that didn’t feel that way. Quite the opposite actually. Story arcs were long and given time to develop, characters were complicated, and there isn’t a bright color to be found anywhere – especially evident in the grayness of its morality. This show was so dark that it probably did more to create teenage goth kids than Ian Curtis.

SWAT Kats

I know I said “90s kid’s cartoons” in the very beginning of this article, I figured I’d throw SWAT Kats on here anyway. Plus I’m pretty sure none of you care about the accuracy as much as you care about me saying funny things about stuff you are getting nostalgia boners over. SWAT Kats was really not a cartoon for kids, at all. It was Hannah-Barbera seeing the writing on the wall about Japan’s future cartoon dominance and wanting to get the west in on the action. In order to compete with a country that already considered cartoons an adult form of entertainment, and a good place to watch tentacles have sex with school girls, SWAT Kats ratcheted up the intensity. Unlike Gargoyles, which focused more on slow burning character arcs, SWAT Kats was all about the action. And the body count. The krime fight-.. er crime fighting Kats themselves don’t pull any punches. Bad guys get killed, people get betrayed, innocents get sacrificed, and a major part of the show revolves around drug running. Catnip, naturally.

For some reason, SWAT Kats is considered an obscure show. This was despite it being the highest rated cartoon in syndication during its run. Ted Turner, wanting to make sure that cartoon enthusiasts had a chance to hate him as much as classic movie buffs and professional wrestling fans already do, pushed hard for it to be canceled so they could focus on shows that didn’t “encourage kids to shoot people.” Despite the people who actually created the show telling him that it wasn’t for kids.

Seriously Ted, fuck you.

Exosquad


Right on the corner of Gargoyles Street and SWAT Kats Drive would be Exosquad. Once again, not really a show that was geared towards kids, but in the early 90s network execs thought anything animated was targeting the same audience as Disney’s Adventures of the Gummi Bears. If that same audience turned on an episode of Exosquad, they’d see permanent death, bloodshed, good guys doing bad things and bad guys doing good things, realistic representations of prejudice, and a whole lot of questioning towards the necessity of war and all the tragedies it causes. Pretty much all kinds of serious things parents don’t feel like talking to their kids about until they are old enough to vote.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2nRflfyievk

Exosquad is incredibly underrated, criminally so even, and holds up against almost anything from the Land of the Rising Sun. Like SWAT Kats, it was canceled despite being well received. Maybe I should have named this article “Cartoons from the 90s that would be canceled today AND the 90s because they totally were. Seriously, it is like nobody knows what the fuck “good” is.”

Might have been too wordy though.

Courage the Cowardly Dog

Speaking of me stretching the definition of my articles to include shows I want to talk about, Courage the Cowardly Dog barely makes the cut for the 90s. It debuted in November of 1999 and ran until 2002, but hey the 90s are the 90s. Plus Courage was a truly fucked up show. Following the adventures of the titular high strung dog as he is loved and abused by his elderly owners, this show wandered its way into nightmare territory every ten minutes. I can’t even think of a singular example to use in a witty analogy like “this part is creepier than something creepy from a different thing” because of how often Courage had a justifiable reason to be cowardly. All you have to say to somebody who is familiar with this show is “Freaky Fred” if you want to watch somebody pee their pants.

Have fun sleeping!

Ren & Stimpy

If you haven’t seen Ren & Stimpy and I need to explain why it is still mindblowing that it was actually on television, on Nickelodeon no less, you have been living one sheltered life.

The Animaniacs

If there was ever a Saturday morning cartoon that could be considered “too smart” it would be the Animaniacs. There are jokes in this show that I’m still not old enough to get. Not only that, but Yakko, Wakko, and Dot probably cost more censors jobs than every recession combined. If you Google the term “subversive” I give even odds that you can find one definition that, in lieu of words, is a picture of three anthropomorphic dog/cat things trying to make out with an incredibly busty nurse.

Or Prince.

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Comments

  1. Cyborger says

    Here we go with another one of these “dime-a-dozen, I hate anything after 1999″ blog posts. If you would give new shows a chance you’d see that they go as far or nearly as far as any of the shows on this list. The reason you don’t think so is because you don’t watch them and won’t give them a try.

  2. Ben says

    Good call, cyborger. There’s some good cartoons on this list, but current shows like Adventure Time, Regular Show, Gumball, Chowder are up there with the best.

  3. Ash says

    what about dexter’s lab? or i am weasel? or ed, edd n’ eddy? or The Mask? they were my favorite. i loved watching those.

  4. Helen says

    When i was younger i watched Courage the Cowardly Dog ALL the time!!& now when i watched some of the episodes again i realized how my mom & grandma always called me a “weird child” Still!! it was EPIC!!

  5. smirk says

    How about Pinky and The Brain,Tiny Toons (hilarious and very satirical about then-current events for a cartoon) and Rugrats (before it became this huge popular show)? How could you forget those–they’re classics.

  6. smirk says

    Or the teenage cartoon Daria (which I never actually heard of until a couple of months ago) and MTV’S liquid Television which showcased raw,experimental insane cartoons you’d never see anywhere on mainstream TV? How could you not have namechecked the latter? I mean,c’mon!

  7. Kruhn says

    I would agree somewhat with Cyborger that some of the more recent animated shows can be as dark as some of the “serious” shows in this list. Some of the animated DC Comics shows like Young Justice and even the Star Wars Clone Wars can be as epic as Exo Squad, but boy, those are some memories! Those shows were great! Exo-Squad seems to have had a third season as there was a cliffhanger at the end.

    Nonetheless Animaniacs is one of a kind! Steven Spielberg captured the classic feel of Warner Brothers animation in both visuals and comedic timing! Yeah that show probably gave a coronary or two to Fox’s, later the WB’s censors! Smirk’ Pinky & The Brain was an offshoot of Animaniacs. Watching it 20 years later and the show has aged well!

  8. Snakeman Nagraj says

    Awesome list. Though I have only watched Courage the cowardly dog, SWAT Kats and Gargoyles out of this list. All other shows never aired in my country. But you are absolutely right about Courage the cowardly dog. It was freakingly awesome! Besides this, the “Spiderman the animated series” is also a favourite of mine. There was a show named “Pinky & The Brain”, that was also a good one, but aired here only for a short period of time. 90’s cartoons were indeed the most memorable.

  9. Dustin says

    Why did you mention Pinky and the Brain? It’s part of Animaniacs. Think he covered that.

  10. diadae.webs.com says

    While it would have been great to see Bucky O’Hare on this list, I can also understand why it wasn’t. All the other shows I would name are too close to ones already named (Rocko’s Modern Life, Freakazoid) EXCEPT…

    Batman The Animated Series. THERE’S a show that was seriously dark, or as dark as they could get away with, and had gripping plots that I could barely keep up with at that age. The last couple seasons were a little weak, it’s true, but still enjoyable. Close runner-up would have been the X-Men cartoon (though watching it again as an adult, didn’t age NEARLY as well; cheap animation and only half-decent voice acting, despite the awesome designs and storylines).

    Great job with all the rest.

  11. Allykitty says

    The flinstones, Tom and Jerry , secret squierl, squidly diddly ,yogi bear, the jetsons, smurfs, richie rich, fantastic max I still watch these today and I am 14 love all if these cartoons

  12. Matt says

    Not enough time or money invested in animation any more. It’s impossible not feel nostalgic about cartoons if you grew up in the 90’s or have seen any of those cartoons. How about a special mention to Rocko’s Modern Life?

  13. MARIO V says

    How could Freakazoid not be on this list?!?! That show was incredible and cut waaaaaaay too short

  14. Rocky says

    How the hell could you not have Batman: The Animated Series on this list?! it definitely deserves a mention and I agree with Mario V, why no Freakazoid either?

  15. gooble says

    People are suggesting a bunch of great 90s cartoons, but this list is specifically about cartoons that tried to break the boundaries of what is typically considered to be “appropriate for kids”, they were edgy and even dark and more adult than you’d think. Also, Tintin, Batman and other superhero cartoons are missing here… and they seriously shouldn’t be. The new Batman series, while it is made well for what it is, again treats kids like they can’t enjoy smart, serious, and deep cartoons by reverting Batman back to the less popular campy and comical 60s style (WHILE there’s a far more popular movie series in theaters that is the total opposite of that.. if I was a kid watching batman today I’d be like “hey that’s not batman!” if I saw the new cartoons after seeing something like Batman Begins)

    Crazy, silly, and funny comedy cartoons are great for kids, no doubt there, and while I think good cartoons like that exist now just like they did in the 90s and before (hell, Spongebob is partially inspired by shows like Ren and Stimpy, and Ren and Stimpy was partially inspired by the even more classic Tex Avery cartoons). But I think kids have honestly lost the more serious and smart cartoons today… there are some that try for that vein, like Clone Wars, Ben 10, Avatar, etc, but from what I know and have seen of some of them they still like to try to keep within certain boundaries and are still essentially following the idea of being “safe for kids”, while I’ve actually known of stories about the people behind 90s “kids shows” actually trying to fight censors, some more often than others, to get some ideas and things through. Some of the few shows that do it right today don’t seem to be as popular as they should be, like the awesome Avengers show.

  16. A-M says

    If you lived in the UK in the 90s, one of the BEST cartoons was Animals of Farthing Wood based on the books by Colin Dann. I obsessively watched series 1 & 2 (missed the widely slated 3rd series as I moved abroad that year).

    It taught me all I’ve ever needed to know about life, death, nature, love and tragedy. With a large focus on the death part. No character was safe. An episode wasn’t complete without some small, cute, furry animal dying in some hideous way. Ask anyone who watched it to remember the hedgehogs or the baby field mice, and if a tear doesn’t come to their eye they’re obviously missing a part of their soul.