I knew this was going to be a difficult list to settle on as there have been so many really good series made for the general kids audience over the years. Selecting just ten guaranties that a number of very worthy shows will be excluded. But most of the shows I did select have run for years and have become classics by virtue of their popularity and length of production run. The shortest run in the list below is number eight, Ren and Stimpy which though it ran for 5 seasons only totaled 52 episodes- but quantity was not my sole yardstick in including it. I will offer a few notes at the end of the list but without any further of my wanderings, here are my top ten.
10. Tiny Toon Adventures
This is the series that marked the return of Warner Bros. Animation to the predominate position it held through the sixties and seventies. From 1990 to 1995 Tiny Toon Adventures, along with Disney TV’s offerings, established the standard for high quality television animation. The show was based upon Warner’s established stable of characters but re-envisioned by Tom Ruegger and the writing staff as children. Following Disney’s lead, Warner Bros. held nothing back in trying to deliver the same high quality animation to the small television screen that they had become famous for with their theatrical shorts. Co-produced with Amblin Entertainment, 98 episodes were produced.
9. Duck Tale Adventures
Like Tiny Toons would three years later with Warner Bros., Duck Tales led Disney Television Animation in its quest to become the prime supplier of quality animation on television. And like WB, Disney drew from it’s well stocked vaults of branded characters (Scrooge McDuck and Donald Duck’s irrepressible nephews Huey, Dewy and Louie.) to base it first syndicated series upon. Although they had already come out with two series before Duck Tales, this was clearly the show that kept Disney forefront in everyone’s mind when they thought of high quality animation. Humor and adventure work very well together and this show had it all working for a long time - 100 episodes were produced from 1987 through 1990.
8. Ren and Stimpy
A show that many people hated (parents mostly) but created a following that was unique. I remember my son was a teenager when this series began to run on Nickelodeon in 1991 and how addicted he and his friends were to these two outrageously funny, dumb and offbeat characters created by John Kricfaluci. This show was overboard in so many ways that eventually Nickelodeon (MTV Networks then) yanked the show out of Kricfaluci’s studio (Spumco) and finished the production themselves at Games Animation, their own production house. I believe this show was a watershed series that led to so many other shows following its particular style of animation reminiscent of the UPA look and feel of the fifties and sixties. The animation relied on extreme (key) poses and limited the in-between drawings that allowed traditional 2-D characters to move fluidly. In Ren and Stimpy the characters jump from one exaggerated key pose to another without any concern for a smooth transition. Like it or not, the style fit well with the frenetic pace of the stories and over the top dialogue - the show was a perfect fit for a young, hip audience and they loved every strange and unpredictable moment of this groundbreaking series.
On this second Warner Bros. Ambling Entertainment pairing the outcome was the same - A major hit with another run of nearly 100 episodes being produced from 1993 through 1999. Once again Tom Ruegger was overseeing the series and once again he brought us a wonderful, funny and delightful mix of great animation and great writing, combined and well shaken to make one really great series. Wacky, Yakko and Dot brought us back to the off the wall and zany animated characters of the thirties and forties and the silly humor was just what the doctor ordered if you were in need of a laugh, just for a laughs sake. Few writers do this any better than Ruegger and he was never more on top of his game than when producing this series. This show worked on a number of levels and that was the joy of it - whether you were a eight year old or an eighteen year old boy or girl, you could enjoy the humor and pace of these wild siblings as they led you down one rabbits hold after another. Great show.
For seven seasons from 1988 thorough 1994 this insipid, laconic, lazy overweight cat entertained audiences with his antics and the open window into his thoughts by way of the wonderful voice of Lorenzo Music. This show was the foundation that the Film Roman Studio was built upon and what a foundation it was with 242 Garfield and Friends episodes produced. This show knew exactly what it was about and though it was very much formulated, it was a formula that worked over and over because of the delightfully naughty charm of Garfield. Even when he’s tormenting Odie or manipulating Jon his owner you know he doesn’t really have a mean bone in his big furry body. Written primarily by Mark Evanier the storylines always felt right and the characters never strayed from their own warm, funny likeable selves. A very good show that delivered over and over for a long time.
5. Fat Albert
Hey, Hey, Hey, It’s Fat Albert! In 1972 Bill Cosby teamed up with Lou Scheimer at Filmation Studios to produce the first episode of this wonderful series. Not only was it far ahead of its time in regard to offering racial diversity to kids watching animated shows on Saturday mornings, it was warm, funny and a huge hit for CBS and Filmation Studios. The show was build around a group of poor black kids that hung together and were always learning life’s lessons from one crazy situation after another. The show was named after one of its main characters, Fat Albert, an overweight, sweet kid that Bill Cosby voiced so well that the tag, “Hey, Hey Hey“, became almost iconic in its time.
As with all of Cosby’s creations, this show was warm and heartfelt with humor that was always funny but never hard edged. Fat Albert ran from 1972 through 1985 with 109 episodes being produced.
4. Rug Rats
Blockbuster hit for Nickelodeon and Klasky Csupo running from 1991 through 2004. For 9 seasons these little strange looking kids and toddlers delighted young viewers with their adventures and unique look at life from the vantage point of… well, a rug rat. With Tommy, Chuckie, Phill and Lil and friends experiencing and imagining the world through the eyes of toddlers and the slightly older Angelica serving as their antagonist, there were no end of fun and laughable situations this group could dream up. 351 episodes and several theatrical releases make this series a classic.
3. The Smurfs
Who didn’t watch the Smurfs? If there ever was a show that caught fire and stayed hot for years, this was it. These little blue guys lived in a wonderfully green and peaceful forest in harmony with the nature around them, well except for Gargamel the sorcerer and Azrael his cat and a whole bunch of other evil creatures that just hated the nice, sweet, lovable Smurfs… And through it all the Smurfs just kept on being themselves, really themselves as each one had a name that more or less told us who and what he was.. Happy Smurf was happy, Farmer Smurf grew vegetables, Carpenter Smurf built things with wood, Sleepy Smurf was always napping and so on. Led by Papa Smurf this little village of blue men (and later Smurfette) three apples high, delighted kids and even parents for a good many years. Created by Belgium artist Peyo, the show rocketed NBC to the top of the Saturday morning charts and became the favorite child of Hanna-Barbera through the 1980’s. The original producer on the show was Gerard Baldwin and it is he that many believe was responsible for the show’s success. He fought with both studio and network executives over the shows style and pace and it was Baldwin that demanded that classical music be used in the tracks. Eventually Baldwin’s protectiveness became too big of a rift and he left the show with Bob Hathcock taking over as the show’s new producer. The show was a Mega Hit and major phenomenon almost for day one. 256 Episodes in all and the majority were full half-hours, now that’s a Hit.
2. Sponge Bob Square Pants
If ever a character was almost too cute it has to be Sponge Bob Square Pants. I defy anyone to look at this little guy and not break out into a big smile. Debuting in 1999 the show is still alive and well today. This show’s remarkable success is due to the fact that it cuts across such a broad swath of demographics, little kids love it, teenagers love it, parents love it and college kids love it. Maybe even lumberjacks and truck drivers love it…. Sponge Bob and his pals Patrick Star, Squidward live in the ocean in a place known as Bikini Bottom. Sponge Bob works for Mr. Krabb in the Krusty Krabb café serving us those tasty Krabb Burgers… This is a wonderfully designed and well written show that just keeps on making you smile from the first frame to the last. The events are silly and often nonsensical but it is always funny and leaves you wanting more. This show replaced Rug Rats as Nickelodeon’s all time hit, and that’s saying something. Nearing 300 episodes and still going strong. This is a show is already a classic.
1. Scooby Doo
Well, here I am with number one and that show is Scooby Doo. The last three or four shows were all very close in my mind and it was not an easy decision but I’ve gone with Scooby because it clearly has the longest legs of any of this categories animated series and still can be watched today. The loveable Great Dane and friends, Daphne, Fred, Velma and of course Shaggy, have led us on hundreds of fun and crazy adventures as they toured the country in the distinctively colored Mystery Machine. Created in 1969 by Ken Spears, Joe Ruby and Iwo Takamoto, Scooby Doo has run for over 22 seasons and we’ve watched nearly 300 episodes of this series and the brand today is still very much alive and well. There is something about this big goofy pooch and his pal Shaggy that charm us with their innocence and warmth. Above all they are friends and no matter how badly they screw up or how cowardly they are, their friendship shines through and they are always there for one another. The other characters help round things out with the bookish brain Velma and the attractive Daphne and handsome Fred balancing the group dynamic to a perfect pitch. Generations of kids have watched these shows and loved the chemistry of Scooby and his pals. We all seem to love these adventure mystery jams and puzzles the group gets caught up in week after week. Ghosts, Pirates, Crooks and Swindlers beware, Scooby and the gang have hit town and your larcenous days are numbered! I may be prejudice as my wife and I both worked on a number of early Scooby shows but after all is said and done, I think Scooby Doo deserves to be number one, at least on my list.
Ok that’s it but I would like to offer a brief list of honorable mentions as there were so many really good shows in this large category: Inspector Gadget, Johnny Bravo, The Pink Panther, Rocko’s Modern Life, Hey Arnold, Alvin and the Chipmunks, Winnie the Pooh, Bobby’s World and Sonic the Hedgehog.
All of these shows had built a following and had a strong run on broadcast or cable television and I wanted to at least mention them.
Next week on to Top 10 Classic Animated Series (1950-1969)…