One of the things I miss most about being a kid, other than slumber parties and snow days, is the ritual of Saturday Morning Cartoons. Like every other kid I knew, I’d wake up hours before my parents, pad downstairs in my pajamas, choose a sugary cereal from our famously well-stocked cereal cupboard, and plop down in front of the television. I’ve never been able to recapture that magical feeling of knowing that all that lay ahead of me was hours of animated pleasure and probably a toy at the bottom of my rapidly disappearing box of Froot Loops. I’m sure there are still cartoons that air on Saturday mornings, and I’m sure “kids today” gobble them up like candy, but I refuse to believe they’re even half as amazing as the shows I watched in the late 80s and early 90s. The lineup changed every year and DVR definitely didn’t exist, so I was at the mercy of the programmers at ABC and NBC and CBS. But if I could design my creme de la creme cartoon lineup from that era, mixing and matching as I see fit, here’s what it would look like:
8 A.M. – The Wuzzles
A bizarre acid trip of a cartoon that lasted a mere 13 episodes, The Wuzzles featured a community of creatures that were each a hybrid of two different animal species. Half bumblebee-half lion, half butterfly-half bear, half moose-half seal, and so on. In case that wasn’t weird enough, they also all had wings, although only two of them were actually able to fly. Everything in their world was also a hybrid: they ate appleberries and lived in castlescrapers. What makes this show so cool, other than the groovy concept, was that episode premises were sort of dark. For instance, “Moosel’s imagination goes out of control when he accuses everything of being a monster or an omen, and believes a real and friendly monster is all in his head.” A far cry from the neutered Teletubbies mania of the generation to follow, is it not?
8:30 A.M. – The Adventures of the Gummi Bears
Featuring one of the greatest cartoon theme songs of all time, Gummi Bears told the story of the last remaining members of an ancient civilization of, well, Gummi Bears who were forced by jealous humans to go into hiding centuries earlier. Living in Gummi Glen and surviving on delicious Gummiberry Juice (which happened to give them powerful bouncing abilities), the bears encountered humans both kind and evil, vengeful ogres, wizards, and gods, all while trying to protect themselves and their subterranean kingdom. I loved the fairy-tale elements as a kid, but these days I’d rather get straight to the good stuff. So here it is, the official recipe for Gummiberry Juice: Combine six handfuls of red berries with four orange berries, three purple berries, four blue berries, three green berries and one yellow berry. First stir slowly to the right, then slowly to the left, then tap the pot to banish the bubbles. YUM!
8:30 A.M. (during a Gummi Bears commercial break) – California Raisins
Yes, the picture above is from the famous advertising campaign, NOT the cartoon, but those little Claymation dudes are obviously what come to mind when I think about The California Raisins. Created as a marketing campaign for The California Raisin Advisory Board (by the way, are they accepting new members, because I’d love to add that to my resume), this rhythm-and-blues musical group sang its way into our hearts and eventually won an Emmy award. Worth a revisit despite the fact that I remember literally nothing about the plot lines of the show.
9 A.M. – Garfield and Friends
We all know the titular fat lazy tabby cat, but do you guys remember its companion show, U.S. Acres? Every Saturday, Garfield and Friends featured two Garfield segments and one U.S. Acres segment, which starred a friendly pig named Orson who loved to read and a bunch of his animal friends. There would also be a Garfield “quickie” – a 30-45 second gag based on one of the famous comic strips. It’s pretty odd that the creators of this show didn’t think Garfield could handle a whole half-hour by himself, but they had a strong seven-season run, so I guess they were doing something right.
9:30 A.M. – Pee-Wee’s Playhouse
I know, I know, not technically a cartoon, but if we had to get together and vote for the one human on earth who seemed most like a cartoon character, wouldn’t it be Pee-Wee Herman? Plus, every episode included segments of puppetry, claymation, computer animation, and vintage cartoon excerpts. Of course, the bulk of the show was about Pee-Wee and his fantastic Playhouse filled with toys, gadgets, and talking furniture, not to mention a wacky coterie of friends, neighbors, and visitors (including a pre-Law & Order S. Epatha Merkerson!) and a “secret word of the day”. I saw the Broadway live production of Pee-Wee last winter and it so totally holds up. Mekka lekka hi mekka hiney ho!
10 A.M. – Fraggle Rock
Again, puppets, not a cartoon, but Fraggle Rock really embodies the spirit of Saturday Morning Cartoons for me, and it was on the 1987 lineup, so let’s count it. Fraggles were multi-colored little humanoids who lived in an underground cavernous world and devoted themselves to the art of having fun. Their counterparts were the Doozers, who were all work and no play. Our human world was known as “outer space” to them and was accessible through a hole in the wall of a workshop owned by an eccentric inventor named Doc and his cute dog Sprocket. I love that the message of this show was as simple as the promotion of friendship and fun. Plus the theme song makes a great ring tone.
10:30 A.M. – The Littles
Based on a series of children’s books, The Littles was about the adventures of a family of tiny semi-human creatures with mouse-like features. They lived in the walls of human houses and had a human friend named Henry. The books seem like a clear rip-off of the earlier novel, “The Borrowers”, but who knows. The creatures were cute and at the time I liked the idea of there being a secret world in the walls of my house (although if I thought such a thing were happening in my current apartment, I’d probably set out poison and rat traps). The creators weren’t doing much to help with the gross-out factor by giving these tiny people mouse ears and long furry tails.
11 A.M. – Heathcliff
I’ve never understood why Garfield got all the credit when Heathcliff was an equally charming, equally chubby, equally misanthropic orange cat. Plus, he was a street cat so he was way cooler. Most of the plot lines revolved around him lying and cheating to get some food, but of course he has a heart of kitty-cat gold underneath (as evidenced by his pining for the far classier Persian cat, Sonja). Heathcliff was sometimes accompanied by a gang of cats called The Catillacs who drove a (you guessed it) Cadillac that could transform into an airplane or a boat.
11:30 A.M. – Dennis the Menace
Classic cartoon based on the classic comic strip, starring mischievous little Dennis who just can’t seem to keep himself out of trouble. He hangs out with his dog Ruff and a group of sweet, like-minded friends. Of course, the person who bears the brunt of Dennis’s mischief is his neighbor, Mr. Wilson. I actually loved the live-action version of this show from the late 1950s and maybe that’s why this animated series holds a (not special, but not not-special) place in my heart.
Of course, there are only so many cartoons we can watch in a morning, so I had to leave a few gems off of the list (The Snorks and the ill-fated animated version of Punky Brewster, anyone?). What especially strikes me as I look over this schedule is how much it seems like the creators of children’s cartoons were on drugs. Either that or they were totally sick. But perverted or not, they obviously knew what they were doing, because the colors and characters of these shows are tattooed on my brain for life, right down to the toy commercials that would air in between.
And I definitely still eat Froot Loops and Cocoa Puffs.