Cartoons of the 80’s:Golden Age or Pure Nostalgia

When we reminisce on our childhood, we have fond memories of sugary cereals, Happy Meals, and Saturday morning cartoons. Many of us think of that time period as the golden age of U.S. televised animation. Is that accolade truly accurate, or are we just overly nostalgic for the more simple time of innocence?

If the names Raphael, Donatello, Michelangelo, and Leonardo conjure images of four green ninja turtles rather than historical artists of the Renaissance – you are a nerd made in the 80’s. Congratulations. You can probably tell me which Ninja Turtle had what color bandanna, personality type, and preferred weapon. Violent turtles… ahhhh retrospective humor. As a kid, it really seemed like a credible animal choice: turtles, if treated with enough radioactive ooze and with the right rat mentor, will definitely make good subjects for an action adventure series. You not only accepted this, but had more than just a passing thought about how cool it would be if Splinter was your father. To this day you may exclaim with a T.M.N.Turtleism (such as “Cowabunga!”) should the occasion arise.

But no 80’s nerd had only ONE favorite cartoon show. That was hardly possible by design, as one hit cartoon show piggybacked on top of another during Saturday morning. Take a trip down memory lane and check out In the 80s , it’s a typical Saturday TV schedule from our favorite decade! After viewing it, you’ll return from a mini time warp with the Muppet Babies theme song in your head.

How awesome was it to have Jim Henson’s genius shrunk down into little cartoon Kermi and Miss Piggy in Pampers? Well, I remember it being awesome. Though I have to say… now its starting to sound a little more on the pathetic side of awesome.

As do many others on the line up, such as Alf Tales, The Real Ghostbusters, and Droids: the Adventures of R2D2 and C3P0 – talk about content recycling! My apologies if those were beloved shows to you, but for me, they are just titles with no emotional impact I could recall. When Muppet Babies cut to a Pepsi or Nintendo commercial break, you could flip to the Smurfs, or Mighty Orbots. You could then follow up with Turbo Teen, Dungeons and Dragons, or wait for some Alvin and the Chimpmunks to come on, however your personal tastes may have dictated in the spring of 1985. Thanks to the internet, DVDs, and services like Netflix, you can share most of your childhood cartoons with your very own child. But be prepared, kids today are coming from a different planet, technologically speaking, and the pace and quality of these toons may not translate for them.

He-Man deserves an honorable mention, as a show that was developed to promote the sale of Mattel action figures and turned into an epic on par with the Odyssey. I am pretty sure that’s how my older brother felt about it. It’s true, despite the common sounding name, He-Man wasn’t just your average Prince Adam with a classic bob. Thanks to the “power of Grayskull,” he and his cowardly tiger were able to become so much more. We’re talking about an alter ego transformation on a universal level. To quote the Man: “And I became… the most powerful man in the universe” (fist-punch out to the viewers), “so kiss my hairy, He-Man butt Superman!” I still remember being unsettled by the sight of his nemesis Skeletor’s floating skull laughing, but I knew He-Man had the Sword of Power, and all would turn out well in the universe. Shout out to She-Ra! Sidebar – I heard He-Man dumped her for Jem, and she then rebounded with GI Joe. Sigh… she should have gone with Lion-O.

Such was the golden age of low-quality, non-educational programming for kids. We were simply out to be entertained, whether the content was original or the graphics were well-developed, we watched it all. We were equal opportunity cartoon consumers. As adults we’ve inevitably lost the pureness of that enjoyment. We’re shocked at how little we were supervised, how much wasn’t known about TV and child development, and the shamelessly inappropriate nature of many of the commercials targeted to kids. But our nerdling selves in the 80s had yet to lose their innocence. Optimus Prime was the hero and Megatron was the villain; it was as black and white (in and out of real life) as that. Further, nobody was pressured to be (or make) a Baby Einstein/Mozart or infant genius of any kind. Nope, our parents were just grateful it was Saturday morning, and as the televised-induced quiet settled over the house, they were guiltlessly enjoying a little time to recover from the work week. Maybe a cruder time, yes, but just like the cartoons, things went at a slower pace and had a simplicity that is now missing. So go ahead, force a healthy helping of Tom and Jerry with a side of Bugs Bunny into your kids TV diet. Watching some old school cartoons may just slow you both down a bit… th-th-th-that’s all folks!

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