It’s hard to imagine there was a time when kids didn’t have access to whole channels of cartoon programming. Back in the ‘80s, if you wanted to watch your favorite cartoons, you had to wake up early on Saturday and sit in front of the TV to catch them. Now, you just fire up the ol’ iPad and you have thousands of hours of cartoons in an instant.
Throughout the ‘80s, networks would throw everything out there on Saturday morning to see what works. While some shows became hits and would spawn franchises that have lasted decades, most of them were gone way too soon, and are forgotten in the depths of time, with their dusty action figures littering garage sales. Let’s take a moment to go over 15 cartoons from the ‘80s that you’ve probably forgotten about, but may hold a special place in your heart!
15. M.A.S.K. (1985-86)
There’s a theme with many of the shows on this list.: they tend to be reverse-engineered from an idea for a toy line. “M.A.S.K” is one such show. Developed in partnership between DIC and Kenner, M.A.S.K. is a show about a special task force called the Mobile Armored Strike Kommand (Get it?) who fought the evil group known as V.E.N.O.M. (Vicious Evil Network of Mayhem).
The gimmick with this show was that the members of M.A.S.K. all wore, you guessed it, MASKS! These masks were all themed after each person’s appearance and they would don their masks while piloting vehicles that also had very limited transforming abilities. If you read this and think it sounds an awful lot like “G.I. Joe” meets “Transformers,” then you guessed correctly! This show was a blatant cash grab that actually lasted for two seasons from 1985 to 1986.
While the series didn’t last as long as “G.I. Joes” or “Transformers,” the toys sold very well, and the series still holds a special place in many fans’ hearts.
14. SILVERHAWKS (1986)
Coming hot off the heels of the success of “Thundercats,” series creators Rankin and Bass decided to tweak their formula slightly and create “Silverhawks.” Instead of following catlike humanoid aliens, the series follows a group of humans from the far future, which battle enemies in space with their shiny, winged metallic suits.
The characters are described as “partly metal, partly real” and fight an escaped alien mob boss who turns into a hulking armored character named Mon*Star. While most of the Silverhawks had wings and could fly, one of the crew, Lt. Colonel Bluegrass didn’t have wings. Instead, he fought enemies with his weapons, a super-powered guitar and a lasso. Yes, this series had campiness for days.
Rankin and Bass didn’t even really attempt to hide the similarities between the two series. “Silverhawks” features almost the exact same voice cast as “Thundercats,” down to the voice actor of “Thundercats” villain Mumm-Ra providing the voice of Mon*Star in “Silverhawks” and sounding virtually identical. While “Silverhawks” only lasted once season, they produced 65 episodes, a Marvel-produced comic book series, and a full toy line, which was very popular with kids.
13. ROBOCOP: THE ANIMATED SERIES (1988)
It’s hard to believe that TV executives watched “RoboCop” and thought that the film would make a great kids show, but that’s exactly what happened in 1988. What’s incredible about “RoboCop: The Animated Series” is just how much of the film makes its way into the cartoon. The show begins, not with a catchy rock song, but with a 30-second recap of the film, complete with explaining to young children how Alex Murphy is “mortally wounded” by a group of criminals. The series doesn’t show the gruesome murder, but the intro does show the criminals open fire on Murphy. Heavy stuff for kids!
Some minor changes were made to make the series appeal to a younger crowd. Instead of bullets, the guns fire lasers. In the film, RoboCop moves slowly and with “weight,” but in the show, he’s faster and more nimble. The final major change in the world of the show is that robots are much more common, so RoboCop isn’t just mowing down human criminals. Much like the movie, however, the show delved into some political commentary, such as with racial issues, environmental issues, and peace in the Middle East. Unsurprisingly, the series only lasted 12 episodes.
12. DINO-RIDERS (1988)
“Dino-Riders” has the distinction of having one of the more difficult to explain premises on the list. The series is about a group of people called the Valorians who are engaged in a war with the Rulons. The Valorians, who are basically humans, are fleeing from the Rulons, a group of grotesque aliens, when the Valorians use their “S.T.E.P. crystal” and are taken back in time 65 million years to pre-historic Earth. There, the Valorians use their AMP necklaces to befriend the dinosaurs and combine forces to battle the Rulons. The Rulons, instead, use “brain boxes” to brainwash other dinosaurs to fight for them. So, basically, lots of super-powered dinosaurs fighting.
Sounds complicated, huh? Well, the series only lasted 14 episodes, but did spawn multiple, successful toy lines, as well as, a miniseries from Marvel Comics. The series still lives on with fans, with shout outs in “South Park” and “Robot Chicken.” There were also rumors in 2015 that Mattel was going to attempt to create a film based on “Dino-Riders,” but no news has come out since then.
11. BRAVESTARR (1987-88)
Not too many people know that “BraveStarr” technically started as a spinoff of the animated “Ghostbusters” series from 1986. When the writers of “Ghostbusters” created the character Tex Hex, they decided to create a series around the character instead of using him in “Ghostbusters,” and thus, “BraveStarr” was born.
The series tells the story of New Texas, a planet almost 2000 light-years from Earth, where BraveStarr and his trusty horse, Thirty/Thirty, protect citizens from the evil Stampede and his sidekick, Tex Hex. The show only lasted one season, but produced 65 episodes. Each episode features a moral at the end, similar to “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe.” One such moral involved a kid who became addicted to a space drug, only to overdose and eventually die.
After the series was canceled, a film titled “BraveStarr: The Movie” was made. Released in 1988, with only a limited, matinee release, the film flopped. Filmation, the creators of “BraveStarr” couldn’t recover and went out of business.
10. DEFENDERS OF THE EARTH (1986-87)
Did you know that Stan Lee was a lyricist? Well, not full-time or anything, but he did provide the lyrics to the opening theme of “Defenders of the Earth.” The series featured the super-team of Flash Gordon, The Phantom, Mandrake the Magician and Lothar, Mandrake’s super strong sidekick, as they fought a green-skinned version of Ming the Merciless.
Perhaps worried that the series featuring heroes from another generation wouldn’t appeal to children, the Defenders also had four young teens helping the main four heroes. Each teen was the child of one of the main four Defenders. Ming the Merciless also favored nepotism by having his son fight by his side.
The series only lasted one season, but the odd combination of heroes spawned a toy line (naturally), books, comics and even a video game. While Stan Lee never did write another theme song, fans can still listen to his (not so awesome) lyrics on YouTube.
9. THE LEGEND OF ZELDA (1986)
What could go wrong with a cartoon series based on a hugely successful video game like “The Legend of Zelda?” Apparently, a lot.
“The Legend of Zelda” animated series was released in 1989 and based on the video game of the same name. The series follows our hero, Link, as he teams with Princess Zelda to defend Hyrule from the evil Ganon. Unfortunately, the series wasn’t just a retelling of the first game. Instead it had all the same issues that most cartoons of the era had, complete with Link having his own signature catchphrase. “Well, excuuuuuuuuse me, Princess!” was perhaps the “Jump the Shark” moment for the series. Link was portrayed as a whiny, sassy kid, instead of the hero he should have been.
However, the series also gave Princess Zelda a chance to shine as a badass. She was given a bow and arrow and she routinely fought alongside Link. The series only lasted 13 episodes, at 15 minutes a piece. “The Legend of Zelda” animated series is still brought up today in talking about the worst video game adaptations.
8. SNORKS (1984-89)
The most popular show on this list (based on number of seasons), but still forgotten by most everybody, is “Snorks.” Lasting a total of four seasons, the show was just never able to reach the popularity if its sister-show, “The Smurfs.” The similarities between the two shows are pretty obvious. “Snorks” is about a group of a small race of beings living in Snorkland with snorkels on their heads, which they use to travel around. Take away the snorkels on their heads, and the Snorks are pretty much the same as the Smurfs, just underwater.
It’s clear that Hanna-Barbera, the creators of both shows, phoned it in with “Snorks.” Every aspect of the show is just inferior to “The Smurfs,” and it’s not like “The Smurfs” is Emmy-worthy television to begin with. From character designs to the writing of the show, “Snorks” was clearly just a cash grab for Hanna-Barbera and NBC. You can’t blame ‘80s kids for completely forgetting this series.
7. CHALLENGE OF THE GOBOTS (1984-85)
A series about two warring factions of transforming robots that’s not called “Transformers.” Welcome to “Challenge of the GoBots!”
The “Transformers rip-off” as most people know it as is about the good robots from the planet Gobotron named the Guardians as they battle the Renegades. Unlike the Transformers, these factions didn’t have any distinguishing marks in the TV show. There wasn’t a cool symbol for each, as seen in “Transformers,” and the character designs all looked the same, which caused confusion among viewers.
However, that didn’t stop Hanna-Barbera from pushing these robots for two seasons and a movie. Yes, just like “Transformers,” the GoBots were featured in a movie, released the same year as “Transformers: The Movie,” called “GoBots: Battle of the Rock Lords.” You may be let down to know that this movie doesn’t have the GoBots crossing over with late ‘80s rockstars. Instead, the film has them interact with transforming rocks. Yes, transforming rocks.
Eventually the feud was put to rest when Hasbro decided to buy Tonka, who created the failing property, in 1991 and Transformers canon was updated to show that the GoBots lived in an alternate universe.
6. POPPLES (1986-87)
The only series on this list based on an idea inspired by rolling up socks (literally), “Popples” is the pseudo-adorable series about teddy bear-like animals that roll up into little pouches on their backs. The show follows these Popples as they interact with neighborhood kids and convince the kids to get into all kinds of mischief. Of course, everything works out in the end, but the children hide the existence of the Popples from any adults.
The Popples’ pouches aren’t just for rolling into and turning into a ball. These pouches are also used as a way for Popples to store anything they want. They can literally pull anything out of these pouches, no matter the size. In one of the episodes, when a child looks into the Popples’ pouch, it’s shown that inside their pouches are objects floating in a void. That’s enough to give little kids some nightmares.
Believe it or not, “Popples” was rebooted in 2015 as a children’s series on Netflix.
5. MISTER T (1983-86)
It’s difficult to imagine now, but Mr. T used to be a huge star in the ‘80s. After his popularity skyrocketed because of “The A-Team,” Mr. T was all over the place. Perhaps none of his entertainment ventures is as strange as the ‘80s animated series called “Mister T.”
Bookended by live-action segments featuring the man himself, “Mister T” was about Mr. T as the coach of a gymnastics team of young people. They would travel all over and solve mysteries. Think “Scooby Doo,” but without any of the wit and charm that worked so well in that series. The multi-cultural gymnasts featured heavily in the series were all paint-by-numbers racial stereotypes. Rounding out the group was Spike, a redhead who worships Mr. T, dressing exactly the same as his hero, and Mr. T’s dog, sporting his own mohawk.
It’s still unknown why anyone thought that it would be a natural fit for fictional Mr. T to be the coach of a gymnastics team, but that didn’t stop the series from being successful. Surprisingly, the series was a hit, lasting a total of three seasons from 1983 to 1986 on NBC.
4. DENVER THE LAST DINOSAUR (1988)
“Denver the Last Dinosaur” was about as ‘80s as the 1980s could get. Featuring a group of California teens that discover and hatch the last dinosaur egg, these kids teach the dinosaur, Denver, all the best parts of life in the ‘80s, like skateboarding and wearing super cool sunglasses! If you ask someone if they’ve heard of the show, they may not remember it other than the catchy theme song that’s destined to be stuck in your head for days.
In addition to riding a skateboard and getting into trouble, Denver also had a piece of his shell that, when used, would allow himself and his friends to go back in time to pre-historic Earth. The series came about in a time when cute dinosaurs were all the rage. “The Land Before Time” was launched around this time, which became an instant hit with children. However, when that series saw declines in popularity, it affected “Denver the Last Dinosaur” as well. The series only lasted two seasons.
3. COPS (1988-89)
Not to be confused with the 1989 reality show of the same name, “COPS” tells the story of a futuristic group of super-cops that protect Empire City from “Big Boss” Babel and his gang of CROOKS. COPS is actually an acronym for “Central Organization of Police Specialists.”
Utilizing the futuristic setting, the series had more in common with superhero comics than it did with everyday police officers. Each member of COPS had a unique ability, including their leader Bulletproof, with a cybernetic torso that made him actually bulletproof. The CROOKS also had special abilities, like Buttons Mc BoomBoom (you can’t possibly make this stuff up!), who also had a cybernetic torso. However, his torso concealed twin machine guns.
“COPS” also was known for its catchphrases. “It’s crime fighting time,” was said by the COPS, which may or may not be a play off of The Thing’s “It’s Clobberin’ Time” saying. Meanwhile, the CROOKS were known to say, “Crime’s a-wasting.” COPS only lasted one season, but also had a 15-issue comic series published by DC Comics.
2. THE CENTURIONS (1986)
You would think a series that utilized the talents of comic book legends Gil Kane and Jack Kirby for concepts and design work would be amazing, especially if it, also, featured episodes written by none other than Gerry Conway. Unfortunately, “The Centurions” wasn’t the massive hit that everyone had hoped it would be.
“The Centurions” tells the story of a group of heroes known as the Centurions that shout “PowerXtreme” and turn into half-mech, half-human weapons and fight the evil Doc Terror and his drones. The series separates itself from many of the cartoons on this list due to its great animation. Instead of working with cheaper animation houses, “The Centurions” was animated by Sunrise, known for “Gundam,” “Cowboy Bebop,” and a ton of other series.
“The Centurions,” obviously, had a highly successful toy line created by Kenner that allowed kids to put on various exo-suits on their figures. The series also inspired a comic book series by DC Comics.
1. DINOSAUCERS (1987)
In a story as old as time, four teens meet a heroic intergalactic group of anthropomorphic dinosaurs named Dinosaucers and join their ages-old war against a group of evil anthropomorphic dinosaurs known as the Tyrannos. These human teens will become the Secret Scouts and are given special rings and jackets with really puffy collars.
As silly as the premise sounds, Dinosaucers was created by none other than Michael E. Uslan, better known as a producer of the live-action “Batman” films. The series shares a strong resemblance with “Transformers,” with its warring factions of aliens from a distant world. Instead of going full-on “Challenge of the GoBots,” the series decided to just give technological advances to dinosaurs, which judging by this list, kids of the ‘80s were in love with.
The series only lasted one season, but stands out from the rest of the lost ‘80s cartoon crowd with its lack of toy line. A series of toys was planned, but instead of pushing the toys instantly, the toy company decided to see how the series did, first. Unfortunately, the series was canceled and the prototypes of the toys were shelved, and no action figures were created.