Scraping the Bottom of the Cartoon Barrel – And Loving It!

The press release for Warner Brothers Saturday Morning Cartoons: 1980s DVD is at once hilarious, depressing and frightening. Some background: Warner Brothers has been releasing 2-DVD sets that are grab-bags of Saturday morning cartoon episodes from the ’60s and ’70s. The ’60s cartoons are generally better, but the ’70s sets outsold them. So WB figured that they’d raid their library for some cartoons from the ’80s, since ’80s childhood nostalgia is even bigger than the ’70s variety. Except that, when it came to unreleased cartoons, WB doesn’t have much from the ’80s: they’ve released a fair amount of the Hanna-Barbera stuff they have the rights to. So this set is mostly put together from worse-than-usual H-B cartoons and, above all, the library of Ruby-Spears, a studio put together by Hanna-Barbera writers who wanted to prove that they could make stuff just like their bosses, only worse. (They were soon taken over by the same company that bought H-B, and wound up making anything H-B passed on.)

The ’80s was a somewhat grimly fascinating time for TV animation because the quality, which had been getting steadily worse from the moment TV animation was invented (every year, H-B’s shows would get a little worse than they were the year before), went even further downhill, thanks to such innovations as the cartoon-length toy tie-in (these had been banned from TV before Reagan’s FCC loosened the regulations). But it was also the decade when animators and writers started to rebel and try to reverse the trend; there was the recently DVD’d The New Adventures of Mighty Mouse, made by H-B, R-S and Filmation people in search of some fun and freedom, but even at H-B, there were some signs of life from the people who would later go on to Ren and Stimpy or Tiny Toons or the various non-crappy cartoons that turned things around — for a while — in the early ’90s. So cartoons were showing signs of getting a little better, but the bad cartoons were worse than ever before. The new set is mostly an introduction to just how hilariously bad cartoons could get, to the point that you’ll never believe they’re not Robert Smigel parodies of bad cartoons.

I mean, look at this cartoon, one of eleven shows represented on this set. It is, in fact, a real cartoon — but if you didn’t know that, and you were told it was an SNL parody, wouldn’t you believe it? I would. It’s just, in the words of Too Much, “Too Much!” Also, there’s a certain name the announcer is fond of saying. See if you can guess what it is.

Also on the set is R-S’s Mr. T cartoon, which is almost as famous as the Norris one thanks to — yes — the Robert Smigel parodies. Which really are not very different from the real thing.


Other immortal classics represented on this set include, presumably for the sake of fake CanCon, Hanna-Barbera’s Ed Grimley cartoon with Martin Short. Also from H-B comes Galtar and the Golden Lance, a He-Man ripoff  (you may remember that “Galtar and the Golden Lance” was one of many H-B characters with suggestive/obscene names featured on an episode of Harvey Birdman):

…and Ruby-Spears’ Goldie Gold and Action Jack, which I’ve mentioned before, but it once again will let us wonder: who was the target audience for this show? Rich girls who dream of flying around with rugged adventurers? But who are eight years old and prepared to bug their parents for sugary cereal?

While we’re pondering that, here’s the now-famous highlight reel from Chuck Norris Karate Kommandos. “Sorry, guys, this is an emergency. I’m Chuck Norris.”


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