By Jeff Pfeiffer,
Warner Bros. toons
Beginning in 1930, Warner Bros. produced a series of theatrically released animated shorts under the banners of Merrie Melodies and Looney Tunes. These iconic cartoons eventually introduced generations of viewers to the likes of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Tweety Bird, Sylvester the Cat, Wile E. Coyote, Road Runner, Foghorn Leghorn, Tasmanian Devil and many other characters who remain firmly entrenched in our collective pop-culture consciousness. When the studio stopped making new cartoons for movie theaters, that definitely was not all, folks. These looney creations were kept alive in people’s minds and hearts through re-airings of the original shorts on television, particularly via the long-running anthology series of the 1960s and 1970s that became most famously titled The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Hour, and featured the still-very-hummable theme song “This Is It.”
MGM was another major studio that produced theatrical toons during Hollywood’s Golden Age, featuring characters who also became famous to later generations on television. The cat-and-mouse pairing of Tom and Jerry is among the company’s most famous creations, and those characters’ ongoing, often hilariously violent, battles and pursuits became an inspiration, decades later, for The Simpsons’ show-within-a-show Itchy & Scratchy.
William Hanna and Joseph Barbera started making cartoons on the big screen, but from the 1960s through the 1980s, their production company dominated television with some of the most famous animated series and characters of all time, featuring the likes of Yogi Bear and Boo-Boo, Huckleberry Hound, Magilla Gorilla, Snagglepuss, Quick Draw McGraw, Squiddly Diddly and countless others. Many of these creations appeared in their own series, and some of them came together on occasion in crossover shows like Laff-A-Lympics. Hanna and Barbera created the first primetime animated sitcom geared toward adults with The Flintstones, but that “modern Stone Age family” quickly became beloved by kids, too (with the characters even lending their shapes to the famous children’s vitamins). The Flintstones’ futuristic counterpart, The Jetsons, wasn’t on the air as long but still also has staying presence in our pop-culture imagination.
After Saturday mornings, the second-best time of the week for kids was probably the moment when that final school bell rang, releasing them for the day to go home and perhaps watch cartoons on TV. And there were plenty of great ones from which to choose, from Woody Woodpecker and Casper the Friendly Ghost to some of the more memorable cartoons that actually started out as toys, including He-Man and the Masters of the Universe and its spinoff, She-Ra: Princess of Power; those famous “robots in disguise” The Transformers; and G.I. Joe. Other can’t-miss toons that may have distracted kids from their homework over the years included Speed Racer, Inspector Gadget, Thundercats, the “truly, truly outrageous” Jem and DuckTales.
Comic-book superheroes get animated
Comic books, with their colorful pages and over-the-top heroes and action, have always been prime inspirations for cartoons, dating back at least to Max Fleischer’s theatrical Superman shorts in the 1940s. Even Mighty Mouse, who also debuted on the big screen in that era, borrowed elements from comic books, even if that character himself was not directly inspired by a publication. On television, DC Comics characters were represented well in the ’70s-’80s Super Friends series. That show ran in various incarnations and included different heroes on occasion but always maintained core favorites Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and Aquaman. On the Marvel Comics side, until the company had a renaissance on the big and small screens in recent decades, their most memorable TV hit was the late ’60s/early ’70s animated series Spider-Man.
Saturday morning fave
For kids of a certain generation, Saturday mornings used to mean one thing — getting up at the crack of dawn, pouring themselves a bowl of cereal and settling themselves in front of the tube for several hours of cartoons. During the heyday of such programming in the ’70s and ’80s, children could wake up and solve mysteries with Scooby-Doo; meet up with Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids; play with the Muppet Babies; enter the fantasy worlds of Dungeons & Dragons and The Smurfs; go on adventures with celebrities who provided voices to shows starring them as characters, like Mister T and The Brady Kids; or maybe even learn a thing or two thanks to Schoolhouse Rock!
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