Main image by Deviantart user Smokebutt
This past weekend, the CW aired the final installment of its Vortexx animated programming block and, in doing so, unofficially ended an era: As of now, there are no major networks airing animation on Saturday mornings, meaning the kids of today and the future won't know what it's like to settle in with a bowl of cereal for marathon weekend viewings of cartoons, toy commercials masquerading as cartoons, and straight-up toy commercials. Sure, there are now entire networks dedicated to animation but, well ... it's just not the same. To mark the occasion, Blastr's writers got together to reminisce about one of '80s, '90s and '00s childhood's most beloved institutions. Check them out below, and then let us know your Saturday morning memories in the comments!
I'll never forget the pure joy of waking up extra-early to catch the classic X-Men animated series on Fox Kid's Saturday morning cartoon block back in the early-to-mid 1990s. I was still a bit too young to have really gotten deep into the comics, but X-Men introduced me to everything from the Sentinels to Days of Future Past and the legendary Phoenix Saga — all while I munched on my Cheerios and battled my big sister for the remote control. I might've missed the 1970s and 1980s heyday, but X-Men carried me through my childhood just before the wheels came off the Saturday morning cartoon concept. That time spent sitting cross-legged in front of the tube played a huge part in my becoming a comic fan, and to this day the X-Men series remains a fan favorite around my house. Just ask my 3-year-old son, who's now working his way through the show's two-parter take on Days of Future Past.
The Saturday mornings of my childhood were filled with such cartoon classics as Scooby-Doo, Josie and the Pussycats, Hong Kong Phooey and Underdog, as well the cheesy '70s delight The Krofft Supershow (home of Electra Woman and Dyna-Girl). But what riveted me to the television were the commercial breaks on ABC, which is where Schoolhouse Rock lived. Because of Schoolhouse Rock, with its enjoyable, memorable music and lyrics, I was ahead of the game when it came to nouns, the multiplication table, the planets and the preamble to the Constitution. It also gave me my first taste of feminism. I don't remember the plots of Underdog's episodes. But it's a testament to the awesomeness of Schoolhouse Rock that mumble-mumble years later, I can still sing almost every song. Although the animation screams 1970s, and one or two episodes are politically incorrect, you and your young ones can — and should — enjoy them today.
Being a kid in the '80s meant being spoiled with a buffet of animated amazingness that literally required hours of consumption. Picking one cartoon was as impossible then as it is now. While nothing can ever top any Hanna Barbera cartoon, especially the gems from the late '70s that lived on in reruns, my Saturday morning pick goes to the one thing that you could truly only ever find on Saturday mornings: Schoolhouse Rock. How or why that concept didn't get more widely used to teach elementary school kids is beyond me. Mixing cartoons and catchy rock tunes to teach kids about, well, ANYTHING was genius, and the results lasting. I'm in my 30s and still remember the words to most of the songs. While the majority of my favorite Schoolhouse Rock jams happened to be about grammar, those animated videos implanted subliminal knowledge into tiny brains about everything from science to civics. Who's to say the kids that watched them didn't end up better off for that in the long run? And while I'll forever find myself singing "Conjunction Junction" or "I'm Just a Bill," Schoolhouse Rock permanently reinforced one crucial message to all kids of the '80s, one that encouraged individual thought and put a premium on learning with three words that I still live by to this day: Knowledge Is Power.
My skewed childhood ambitions were born of Saturday morning cartoons. Sure, my biggest dream was still to be beamed aboard the Enterprise, but for a long stretch of time what I really pined for was the chance to be a Ghostbuster. Or a Ninja Turtle. In fact, I'm pretty sure I scrawled out several self-insert fan fictions in the back of my grade school classrooms over the years. And I certainly remember searching my neighborhood for ectoplasm or mutagen. Either way, those cartoons made me have an unhealthy obsession with green goo as a child. But if I have to put my hand on my heart and pick a cartoon favorite, it has to be Dungeons & Dragons. It wasn't very good, granted, but you never knew if Dungeon Master was a good guy or bad guy in each episode, which made the show the most important thing of all -- scary. And there's nothing kids love more than being scared.
Without Saturday morning cartoons, I probably wouldn't have a job as a journalist. Depending on your opinions on me, that might make this the darkest timeline. But when I would wake up on the glorious school-free zone that was Saturday in the mid-'80s, and plop myself down in front of the good ol' cathode ray tube television with a never-ending bowl of cereal, I was developing an awareness of what I thought was quality or crap. I wasn't just consuming and enjoying everything with superheroes or monsters that aired in the 8 a.m.-to-noon block. I loved The Smurfs, but The Snorks smacked of a cheap ripoff even before I had two digits to my age. In fact, I distinctly remember loathing Kidd Video so much that I just turned off the TV and walked away because there was nothing better on and I couldn't bear to watch the dreck. Meanwhile, even though my mom hated it because of the parental advisory warnings, I dug the fantasy and grittiness of Dungeons & Dragons. Mr. T was a paradigm of cool in my mind, except in animated form with that punk kid Spike. And my disappointment for future Star Wars adventures was seeded with the lame Droids cartoon. But among my earliest, questionable favorites of Saturday cartoons was Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends. It featured the ridiculous transforming of Aunt May's living room into a base with a bat-computer, but I remember the show's frequent valentines to Marvel heroes like Daredevil and Captain America. It still ages better than most of Super Friends.
My favorite Saturday morning cartoon was undoubtedly Scooby Doo. I was a horror and ghost story fan even at my smallest, so naturally the idea of a show built around monsters and boogeymen and hauntings hit me right in my Saturday morning sweet spot. I loved the gang and especially Scooby himself, of course, although it's only now in adulthood that I realize just what a stoner Shaggy was. The only disappointing thing about the show was that, most of the time, the monsters and ghosts turned out to be regular bad guys in disguise, usually just trying to scare someone off. The best part of all this? It's still on (in reruns) and my little girl likes to watch it, too. The torch is passed. ...
My addiction to prolonged blocks of glorious Saturday morning cartoons began in the 1970s, the holy grail heyday of television animation, a time when TV Guide offered a multi-page preview of the new season's cartoons and the Big Three networks even devoted prime-time specials showcasing their fall menu of kiddie fare. Bolting from our bunk beds every Saturday morning, fortified with Eggo waffles and a begging golden retriever or two, my younger brother, Brian, and I were occupied for the next few hours with some of our all-time favorites, like The Bugs Bunny Road Runner Hour, Superfriends, Valley of the Dinosaurs, Hong Kong Phooey and Fat Albert. It was also the era of trippy, WTF live-action programs from Sid and Marty Krofft, such as Sigmund the Sea Monster, Lidsville and Land of the Lost. For kids growing up in the '70s and '80s, Saturday morning cartoons were sacred ground and felt, to an imaginative California boy weaned on magic tricks, Disneyland and Estes model rockets, like the perfect way to launch the weekend. Now please go pop another waffle in the toaster, and don't change the channel!
Like Jeff, I remember the rush of anticipation that came with the big Friday night preview shows the major networks would air for their new season of Saturday morning offerings. But while I was always excited to see the new stuff, I always came back, in the end, to the classics: Looney Tunes. It was usually the last show of the morning, and while they often looked quaint next to their newfangled competitors, the adventures of Bugs, Daffy, the Road Runner/Wile E. Coyote, Marvin the Martian and more never failed to entertain. Plus, it was probably my first exposure to a lot of classical music I'd have never heard otherwise -- I still can't hear "Ride of the Valkyries" from Der Ring des Nibelungen without singing, "Kill the wabbit, kill the wabbit" in my head.
This might not offer me the same level of nerd credibility that I'd get by reminiscing about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or X-Men, but the happiest time of my Saturday morning was always when The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh came on. Sure, it didn't have Wolverine, but there was a power to that series that came from a sense of pure imagination, a sense that you could go out into the forest, even an empty forest, and imbue it with life and magic anytime you wanted. The Hundred Acre Wood felt like home to me, and the kind of escape that show provided still makes me smile.