Hollywood! Adapt This: Cartoon Craziness Edition – A Battle of the Decades

     March 23, 2014


It’s been a pretty crazy week for Hollywood adaptation news.  Just when I think that Hollywood! Adapt This! offers up some of the weirdest ideas for adaptations, we get words that Jon M. Chu wants to make a live-action version of the 80s cartoon, Jem and the Holograms.  I simply can’t top that this week.  So here’s what we’re going to do instead.

In honor of March Madness, I bring you Cartoon Craziness, a battle of the decades voted on by you, the readers.  We’ll take a brief look at some of the iconic toons from over the years to try and determine if newer is better, or “They just don’t make em like they used to.”  Hit the jump to make your picks!


While cartoons have been around in one version or another since the late 1800s, it wasn’t until the 1950s that the television medium really began to provide competition to the huge number of animated shorts produced for the movie screen.  This decade included the very first animated series made just for television in Crusader Rabbit, which split its 455 episodes between black-and-white and color runs.  Walt Disney aired an anthology series, The stop-motion animated The Gumby Show made its first appearance, along with cartoons featured on Captain Kangaroo and Mickey Mouse Club.  The 50s also featured such forgotten classics as Colonel Bleep, The Ruff & Reddy Show, and Bozo: The World’s Most Famous Clown alongside The Huckleberry Hound Show, Pixie and Dixie and Mr. Jinks, and The Woody Woodpecker Show.


Ah, the 60s, the heyday of Hanna-Barbera, which churned out The Jetsons, The Flintstones, Top Cat, The Yogi Bear Show, and Jonny Quest to name a few.  This decade also saw such heroic cartoon figures as Popeye the Sailor, The Dick Tracy Show, Underdog, The Mighty Hercules, and the cosmonaut-battling Rod Rocket.  This is also were international cartoons started to come into vogue, with Japan’s Astro Boy, Kimba the White Lion and Gigantor making a splash.  In the mid to late 60s, comic book superheroes got animated in such series as The New Adventures of Superman, Spider-Man, Teen Titans, and Aquaman, just to name a very few.  (Oh, and one of my personal favorites from this era, The Herculoids.)


Now it really gets crowded.  Japan’s animated series contributions continue to explode, even if much of the content doesn’t reach American shores.  Mobile Suit Gundam, Lupin III,  Gatchaman, and Cutie Honey stand out, though The Godzilla Power Hour was an interesting combination of the two. On the U.S. side of things, pop culture makes a bigger push into the animated world, with The Jackson Five and The Osmonds following in the footsteps of The Beatles cartoons.  Scooby-Doo explodes in this decade following its 1969 debut, and Schoolhouse Rock! cements its place in history.  Live-action TV shows like The Addams Family and Star Trek also get the animated treatment here, kickstarting a wave of cross-media adaptations.


This is the first decade when I can remember shows actually debuting rather than watching preexisting shows in reruns, so forgive my nostalgia.  Shows from Japan start to outpace American productions in this decade, which is a common theme across most industries during this decade.  The 80s may have been the decade that most strongly attempted to draw on nostalgia of yesteryear properties rather than producing original content, as Scooby-Doo, Richie Rich, Tom and Jerry, Tarzan, and The Lone Ranger got reboots (or re-airings) early on.  That’s not to say there weren’t original properties, however, as The Smurfs owned most of the TV time in the 80s and into the 90s.  Though Alvin and the Chipmunks had been created years earlier, their 80s reincarnation found greater success.  New heroes also took to the small screen, with He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, Inspector Gadget, The Transformers, Thundercats, The Care Bears, Disney’s Adventures of the Gummi Bears, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and The Real/Ghostbusters making their debuts. Oh, and a little property named Star Wars appeared in animated form as well. (*Shout out to Spain/Netherlands’ David the Gnome and Canada’s My Pet Monster.)


If the 80s served as an expansion of content from both foreign and domestic shores, than the 90s saw an explosion of diversity in animated content, ranging from the silly and fantastic to the dark, gritty and mature.  Graphic novels and comic books had been maturing for some years, but the animated adaptations started to pick up on these themes in the 90s.  They tackled the politics of the day, the darker side of the human condition, and the mysterious power of the burgeoning internet.  There’s also a huge amount of content in this decade that makes it unwieldy to condense to a mere paragraph, so I’ll rely on your memory and will just provide a few highlights below.

This decade saw content as disparate as Rainbow Brite and Samurai Pizza Cats (thanks, Japan!), and the odd U.S. contributions like Attack of the Killer Tomatoes and  We also saw some early attempts at mature content in Aeon Flux, Spawn, Beavis and Butt-head, Duckman, Dr. Katz, and The Maxx.

The 90s also introduced viewers to pro-environmental heroes like Captain Planet and the Planeteers, The Magic School BusToxic Crusaders, and to a lesser extent, The Pirates of Dark Water.  It was also the decade of Nicktoons, Nickelodeon’s collection of wildly popular series including Ren & Stimpy, Rugrats, Doug And of course I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the incredibly successful and series that transformed the animated landscape, The Simpsons (Yes, I know it debuted in 1989, but c’mon, it was on December 17th), Batman: The Animated Series and Sailor Moon.


Okay, I got carried away, but there’s just so much content in the 90s that a simple list of my favorites could fill an entire article.  The 00s? Not so much, not for me at least.  The content of the 90s paved the way for the well-deserved awards attention for animated features, of which Disney/Pixar received the lion’s share.  The small screen saw further diversification in both story content and production quality, since advances in computer technology allowed for an evolution from two-dimensional, hand-drawn animation to 100% computer-generated episodes.

narutoJapan, once again, saw big success on international shores with Naruto, Bleach, Zatch Bell, and Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Monsters, and further built onto the 90s Pokemon craze.  American TV saw a wide range of successful programs, with the educational Dora the Explorer on one hand, and Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim catalog on the other.  The Fairly OddParents, Cyberchase, a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot, Italy’s Winx Club, Canada’s Johnny Test, American Dad, The Boondocks,  and, of course, Family Guy, all accumulated over 100 episodes, which is saying quite a lot in this highly competitive decade.  Internet content also started to make a big push at vying for viewers, as web series like Homestar Runner and web-based content from Funny or Die and Ebaum’s World took off.

Although you should feel free to vote for your favorite decade below, this has been an exercise in looking back over the last 60-or-so years of animated television history just to appreciate the insane levels of content produced.  There’s so, so, so much material that is available for adaptation (deservedly or not), and more gets churned out every day.  If I were to vote for a favorite decade, it’d be the 90s, not just out of nostalgia but for the sheer amount of diversity and content produced.  I can’t wait to see what future decades bring and how the medium evolves from here.

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