21
Jan
2012
Random Pop Culture Top 10 List
Top 10 Favorite Childhood Animated Shows
Jordan & Rachel
Random Pop Culture Top 10 List is a (fairly self-explanatory) biweekly list in which the Review to be named gang take stock of the realm of pop culture, and come up with their Top Ten in a specific category.

Top Ten Cartoons from Our Childhood


10. Tale Spin

The concept of taking characters from The Jungle Book and transplanting them to an Art-Deco constructed, serial-film homage filled 1930's world of air pirates, smugglers, simmering sexual tension (Rebecca and Baloo are the best will-they-won't-they the under-10 set has ever come across, and were admittedly based on Sam and Diane from Cheers) and high flying adventure is so weird it is kind of hard to imagine Tale Spin getting green-lit. That must have been some pitch meeting, though, because for all the oddities of its premise (and the fact that the show is basically just resurrecting a genre from the "˜30s and "˜40s for an audience whose parents were probably too young to enjoy the originals), the show is nothing if not a consistent blast. The series steered clear of Nazi analogues (because it's, you know, for kids), but there were plenty of references for adults (wild boars as Stalinists and a bar run by Louie come to mind first) and a serialized adventure feel that was incredibly appealing to kids. Baloo is recreated as the kind of hero we all loved, both then and now: treasure hunting, air-pirate battling, smuggling, romancing, and wise-cracking all the while. The show ran for 65-episodes, and presaged our eventual love of the Indiana Jones movies, once we were old enough to know what those were.




9. Darkwing Duck

By day, he is the mild-mannered Drake Mallard (get it?), adopted-father to Gossalyn (again...get it?). By night, he is Darkwing Duck, egotistical, fame-hungry protector of the city of St. Canard. Created with the help of Alan Burnett (who would leave before production even began to start work on Batman: The Animated Series, leaving behind his parody of the character for the real thing), Darkwing Duck is pretty much just Batman in a universe overrun with anthropomorphic animal super-villains and a tone that is more reminiscent of the Caped Crusader's Silver Age slapstickery...in other words, it is pretty much the perfect counterpoint to the much darker B:TAS to cleanse a kid's super hero palate. Darkwing protects the night from such threats as Negaduck, Dr. Reginald Bushroot, The Liquidator, Megavolt and Quackerjack, among others. His villains are as astute in their parody as the character himself, each resembling a Batman rogue but taking on jokey elements all their own in the process. Few sentences sent us into fits of excitement quite like Darkwing's most famous catchphrase: "Let's Get Dangerous!"




8. Pinky and the Brain

In general, each of the animated series on this list managed to leave a lasting legacy on the strange, pop-culture obsessed people we've grown into. Tale Spin introduced us to adventure, Darkwing Duck taught us self-confidence in the face of absurdity. And Pinky and the Brain instilled in us a drive for total world domination. Originally appearing as recurring characters on another great show, Animaniacs, Pinky and the Brain are two polar opposite lab mice, the latter super intelligent and driven to escape the lab and take over the world, the former the haplessly dim-witted and ridiculous side-kick. But it isn't all cut and dry here: Brain is no evil super villian, and Pinky, somehow manages, manages to exhibit some pretty sage behavior, despite his general lunacy. Also like most of our other favorites, Pinky and the Brain deftly handled pop culture reference and parody in a way that was superficially entertaining for children but which ultimately goes deeper to remain resonant as we've "grown up." Which means it is totally acceptable for us to still watch cartoons all the time....right?




7. Muppet Babies

It is no secret that we here at RTBN love us some Muppets. And while as adults, we love The Muppet Show and all of the Muppet films, our adoration of Jim Henson's gaggle of misfits was definitely born in a nursery with the miniature versions of the gang going on adventures between visits from Nanny. Whether the babies were serving out edu-tainment in the form of quelling kids fear of the dentist, answering the all important question "Where do muffins come from?" or just amusing themselves with their imaginations, the show was so much fun it actually tricked us into learning in the process. The show managed to keep the Muppets characters intact and Henson's sense of humor permeates every episode, ensuring that Muppet Babies was a pleasure to watch for all ages.




6. Aah! Real Monsters

When you're little, what's scarier than the idea of strange monsters living under your town, doing weird things all over? Aah! Real Monsters totally recuperated the monster image by showing that little monsters are just like us: they go to school, they're generally bad at things, and they have to find their way. Aah! Real Monsters follows Ickis, Oblina, and Krumm, three oddball rascals as they struggle to reach monster maturity. This involves, perhaps surprisingly, school, taught by the terrifying Gromble, the strange, red-pump wearing headmaster and his peculiar assistant Zimbo, voiced by the great Tim Curry. As they try to rack up their scares, the trio often ventures out into the above world, often coming up against monster hunters as they seek to terrorize small children. In the end, though, the monsters are just people, wtih families and personalities and goals and dreams, and sure, maybe we wouldn't really like those smelly, creepy things living under our beds, but in the end they don't seem that despicable.




5. Rocko's Modern Life

Rocko's Modern Life is an American tale, really: the not-so-simple story of an Australian emigre coming to America to start a new life for himself. That emigre just happens to be a wallaby. And in crazy old O-Town, a sherbet colored world of animal friends and general insanity, Rocko does a lot of trying. A lot of the plots of the show's episodes are really just not children's fare, but apparently, if a wallaby takes a job as a phone-sex operator, then we suppose it makes it more palatable. O-town is full of a host of lovable neurotics, including Rocko's best friends Heffer and Filburt, the first a loveably stupid cow, the second a nervous. Throw in ridiculous neighbors, a family of strange cows, and a general menagerie of supporting characaters and you had us hooked as children. But he smart, adult undertones are what make us remember Rocko.




4. Recess

While monsters and wallabies and mutant mice are fun, there really is nothing more resonant for a child than the complicated political power structure of a place we know best: the elementary school playground. Recess dissects the dynamic of the school yard pitch-perfectly, placing the viewer directly in the middle of the most enviable group in the cafeteria. And no, it isn't the popular chicks, although they have a pretty amazing hidden fort underneath the tire pile, or even the older kids who rule over the school. The best group, the one with the most solid bonds of friendship and who are undoubtedly having the most real fun, is the rag-tag group of misfits, the unlikely friends who come together not superficially, not even because they have anything in common or because their friendships are easy, but because somehow, they make sense. The gang is headed by de facto leader is T.J, the rough and tumble every-boy, rounded out by the tough-as-nails tomboy Spinelli, the athletic Vince, the lovable gentle giant Mikey, the supremely intelligent but equally nerdy Gretchen, and military kid oddball Gus. They constantly antogonize the school administration as they maneuver the complex society that is elementary school, proving that sure, kids can be cruel, but nothing is better than a real friend.




3. Batman: The Animated Series

We're just going to come right out and say it: As far as we're concerned, Kevin Conroy is Batman. The actor so embodies the character in our collective conscience that any other portrayal is just a pretender to the throne. And while Heath Ledger's Joker was incredible, terrifying, and philosophically fascinating, it still has to contend with Mark Hamill, who manages to make Luke Skywalker arguably his second most important role by how fully, beautifully, and maniacally he transforms himself into The Joker. Batman: The Animated Series is a great cartoon, to be sure. But it is so much more than that. For many of us, it was the gateway to a life of Bat-fandom, and stands even today as perhaps the greatest incarnation of the character ever, in any medium (we don't say that lightly, either. Find us a better Mr. Freeze story than "Heart of Ice," a better Ventriloquist tale than "Read My Lips," or a more perfectly crafted understanding of Poison Ivy than "House & Garden," and we'll reconsider). Episodes like "Almost Got "˜Im," "Perchance to Dream," and "Legends of the Dark Knight" played with the conventions of storytelling in ways that are flat-out fascinating even returning to the series as adults. Bruce Timm and Paul Dini took a love of Batman that rivals any and funneled it into creating a series that encapsulates everything that is great about Batman. Except horrible, grisly murder. We could have used a little bit more horrible, grisly murder.



2. Hey! Arnold

As your average American kids, growing up in the suburbs, there is nothing more intriguing and enticing than the real world adventures of a kid coming of age in New York City. No need for monsters or superheroes here: the not-so-far-from-true-life stories of the random assortment of people who come together in the crossroads of the world are enough to keep us coming back for more. This is the premise that grounds Hey! Arnold, giving it a spot high up on the list because of the show's deft handling of urban relations and human connection. Arnold is a strangely compelling football headed kid growing up in his crazy grandparents' boarding house. Like any solid kids' show, Hey! Arnold features a fantastic gaggle of kids at its center, one that makes us envious of not growing up in the center of the universe also known as New York City. The cast is rounded out by the inhabitants of the boarding house, a cultural swath of characters with intricate stories and complex lives that intertwine in a way that is a particular product of New York. Arnold is a sensitive, genuine, fantastic kid, even going as far as to reunite one of the residents, Mr. Hyunh, with his long lost daughter one Christmas in one of the most emotional and heart-felt Christmas episodes we've ever seen, animated or otherwise. But the heart of this show isn't saved for special episodes: it's everywhere, which is why we still find ourselves seeking out Football Head on youtube.




1. Doug

Before we even knew what being a teenager meant, we knew how they were supposed to act thanks to Doug a show that fed us tween-age angst and unrequited love, as if carefully preparing us for a lifetime of disappointment that was to follow. We kid. Doug writes in his journal about the daily goings on of his life, whether it is his love for Pattie Mayonnaise, problems with his best friend Skeeter, or issues with class bully Roger. Though the less said about the Disney continuation of the series the better (Roger is rich? Beebe has a school shaped like her head? Quail Man gets his own episode? No. None of those things happened), the show's effect on our psyche's cannot be overstated. Doug faced most of the problems we would face later in life before we did, and how he handled the situations actually effected the way we might later address similar problems. We don't want to overstate it and say that watching Doug taught us how to live...but, also, we don't want to lie. When it comes to "˜90s kids cartoons, Doug is the gold standard. No others need apply.




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