I am a huge cartoon fan, so I talk and rave about a lot of them, but not every one of them deserves its article or even to be on a top ten list. There are a lot of good ones that are left off or have been forgotten because they were not instant cult classics. I love Batman The Animated Series more than the next guy, but who will stand up and talk about all of the other cartoons it squashed on the way to the top? With that in mind, let’s talk about some of the underrated cartoons from the 90s, and allow me to gush about the red headed step children.
Any true connoisseur of bad films has seen the Attack of the Killer Tomatoes and its sequel that this cartoon is inspired by. The plot of the animated version actually continues the plot from the films, and goes on to show what happens when Dr. Putrid T. Gangreen actually succeeds in taking over the world, and is eventually overthrown by his army of tomato constructs. The show not only had an ongoing plot, numerous inside jokes, and references that occasionally broke the fourth wall, but was also one of Fox’s first animated children’s shows. The wonderful piece of trivia for this show is that it was actually a segment in The Muppet Babies that featured scenes from the first film, which inspired the creation of the second movie and this cartoon. I will watch most anything that is Muppet approved.
Based off of one of my favorite game series, I love and hate the Double Dragon cartoon. I hate it because the series spawned the worst game in the franchise, Double Dragon V: The Shadow Falls, Tradewest’s awkward attempt at a fighting game. What the series did well however was give brothers Billy Lee and Jimmy Lee more character and background than just their girlfriend being punched and thrown over the bad guy’s shoulder. The show also managed to come across as violent and depressing in some parts, while remaining kid friendly, building up Shadow Master as a violent and ruthless villain with things like his shadow mural that absorbed defeated warriors. Not only were the storylines decent, but the writers created several interesting original characters for the IP.
Saturday nights on the USA Network were made awesome by a private dick, which happened to be a duck, voiced by Jason Alexander. Duckman was a series with characters based off of comics from Everett Peck that had a long solid run, but ended on one of the biggest cliffhanger episodes, that a sequel was never planned for. The show was quirky, sexual, and had a strange and morbid sense of humor that matched its art style and Frank Zappa music. Overall it was memorable. The show was doing so well at one point that a rare and hard to find PC game was made for the duck detective, but little has been done with the franchise since then, but here is to hoping for more Duckman one day.
On the fantasy world of Mer, Ren and his crew fight against the evil Bloth as they struggle to find the thirteen treasures of Rule, so that they can save their planet from the encroaching dark water. Pirates of Dark Water offered up a great expansive world, memorable characters that bicker expertly, and some top notch voice acting. It sadly never had a proper ending and is hard to get a hold of on DVD. The legacy lived on for a while though, with the franchise seeing two video games, a role playing game book, and a nine issue series from Marvel Comics. This is one cartoon I would love to see more done with, and for more people to see.
Some people want to knock Mighty Max for being a vehicle to promote the British toy line, and sure it involves a magical baseball cap, but Mighty Max is more than it appears to be. After the initial setup of the prophecy and meeting Virgil and Norman, the series seems pretty normal at first, other than its strong themes of violence, fate, and death that had some viewers saying that the show was almost not kid friendly. Many smaller characters are killed off, Max has to make several very adult decisions, and the last episode is ripe with time paradoxes after his two companions are slain by Skullmaster. I actually love that the series is ‘technically’ an infinite loop. To celebrate that, I have watched it multiple times!
In the past I would have never seen TaleSpin was an underrated cartoon, but the more I talk to people who have never heard of it, or never gave it a second glance, I feel the growing need to discuss this epic show. Based off of characters from Disney’s The Jungle Book, this show follows Baloo and Kit through a 1930’s based world full of anamorphic creatures and flying aces, as they face dreaded air pirates, corrupt businessmen, and money problems. The show made several references to old movies and radio serials, and based its main relationship off of a dynamic from Cheers. There were a couple of controversial episodes that were never re-aired due to their subject matter, and the show has ties back to Miyazaki’s Porco Rosso. What is not to like?
Based off of the hit computer game series, this cartoon may seem like a joke at first, but most people do not realize that the show won an Emmy for children’s programming. The show follows two junior ACME detectives, Ivy and Zack, as they race around the world playing complicated games of cat and mouse with the titular foe, as she attempts to rob the world of some of its greatest treasures. This particular cartoon was an attempt at an action show that did not have the same level of violence as some of the other FOX Kids programming, but would still be entertaining, and it succeeded. The characters were liked so much in this show that they were added to the next game, and each episode even incorporated the ‘real world’ player into it to keep the cartoon grounded in its origins. Odd, but I liked it.
From two former writers of The Simpsons, the show followed the life of film critic Jay Sherman, famously voiced by Jon Lovitz. The Critic parodied many famous movies and actors, as well as featuring actual critics as guest stars, and building up to its own special brand of humor. The show was met with numerous problems though, constant cancellations, ratings issues, forced character changes, and shifting timeslots. All of these things could not keep the show down though, striking a chord with their fans. The desire for more episodes led to ten additional mini web episodes, added to the twenty-two original ones in the DVD box set. The show, and humor, still holds up well, and it bothers me how many people have still not seen this one.
The first completely computer animated television series, many viewers wrote ReBoot off as being too goofy or meant for younger audiences before giving it a fair chance. The first season and a half had several great standalone episodes, but by season three the plots had become complex, the characters literally grew up as the plots did, and the show kicked the awesome-level up to ten easily, perhaps a little too much, as it garnered numerous complaints about its violence and adult themes. The creators were also forced to constantly change the breasts on the character of Dot to meet with standards and practices, resulting in some responding ‘messages’ being left in the binary code throughout the show. Following several beloved characters, the show exposed life on the inside of the computer, and never lacked in imagination. As great as it was though, the show always felt incomplete, with the promise of three movies and a spin-off called Binomes that never came and even more promises of ‘something’ as recently as 2011. ReBoot deserved each and every one of their diehard fans, not just because of all of the awards it won, but because the show always tried to do something good and different.
Is Gargoyles underrated? In my opinion, a lot of people watched Gargoyles but never looked into how awesome it actually was. I do not just appreciate this show for its heavy Shakespearean themes and dark tones, as cool as that is, it also had some great character stories, complex plots, long running story arcs, and approached a lot of touchy subjects like gun safety and racism. Based on Scottish mythology and seeds of ideas from other similar shows, Gargoyles saw the age old creatures cursed and then reawakened in New York, forced to adjust to the new world and New York as their new home with the help of one of the least annoying human characters in a show like this, Elisa Maza. The artwork was good, voice acting was great—especially if you were a Star Trek alumni fan—and even though the creators were not pleased with the third season of the show, it was highly enjoyable. The comic series that finishes off the story of these characters actually ignores the third season completely. Gargoyles had fans while the show was airing, but really grew to cult following after it went off the air. It sold well on DVD and is probably one of the best cartoons that audiences did not take a second glance at.