Today’s world provides a lot of relatively new conveniences that past generations did not have. Instant communication no matter where you are at via a palm sized computer that also allows access to an endless feed of information, like having every book, magazine, news broadcast and encyclopedia at your fingertips 24 hours, seven days a week. Entertainment is just as available with television stations transitioning to streaming services instead of scheduled broadcast and even the scheduled programs exist on such a vast number of channels, that choosing what to watch has gone from, “There is nothing on” to “I can’t decide, there are too many choices”. All of this is wonderful, and I love it, but I feel that there is something lost with it too. Not having an infinite knowledge and entertainment at my whim when I was a child, meant that I learned the joyful elation of anticipation especially when it came to Saturday morning cartoons.
For those that are on the younger side, you may not understand this, but Saturday mornings were a special time for children, the three major networks (we only had three channels back then), would air programming specifically geared towards children. I believe the idea was, that a child could pour their own bowl of cereal, hunker down in front of the television, and be entertained for hours without having to wake the parents, who desperately needed the recharge that sleeping in provided and without getting into any trouble. Saturday mornings became a sanctuary for kids and a respite for parents. Each autumn, networks would release new seasons of existing shows and begin new shows. For me, the 1970s is what I grew up watching, and by the 1980s I was beginning to phase out of some of the more childish cartoons, but there were a few that still caught my attention. Not sure I would have admitted as much to my peers at the time, but even into my early teens, I still liked getting up, fixing my bowl of Captain Crunch and letting the colorful animated worlds wash over me. And now that I am in my 50s, I look back on that time as some of my fondest memories. A simpler time!
This article will look at three of my favorite Saturday morning cartoons whose first episode was released in the 1980s. This is by no means a complete list of everything that aired or even everything I liked, they are just the shows that first leap to mind when I remember my Saturday morning ritual.
Mighty Orbots (1984) – The Might Orbots was a Japanese – American joint production that was similar to Voltron and others like it, that featured a giant robot created by joining other robots or ships together. The animation definitely had an anime vibe, which is probably what first drew my attention. The characters all had a very 80s rock and roll look with vibrant colors and amazing use of light effects. The movement in some of the fight sequences was fluid and almost like a complex dance. There was humor, music and usually a lesson to learn all combined with action and adventure. More than any single episode, what I remember is the look and feel of the artwork and characters.
Adventures of the Gummi Bears (1985) – At first I thought that a cartoon based off of a candy was going to be stupid, but this soon became a guilty pleasure and one of my favorites. The Gummi Bears live in a hollowed-out tree called Gummi Glen and harvest Gummi Berries that when processed correctly make a potion that gives the drinker enhanced strength and elasticity. The Gummis have a deep and rich history and are thought to be legends to most humans, but a few know they exist. Gummis and humans use to live together in harmony, but greedy humans wanted their magic and technology and now most Gummis are extinct. The episodes were incredibly rich in detail and were surprisingly well written. Where the animation wasn’t quite as good as the Mighty Orbots, the vocal talent was excellent, But what most people remember is the theme song. That damn song still bounces around my head nearly 40 years later.
Dungeons and Dragons (1983) – I saved the best for last. This is one of my all time favorite cartoons. Six friends get transported by a magical carnival ride to the realm of “Dungeons and Dragons”, they are given magical weapons, which just happen to reflect their personalities. With the help of the wise Dungeon Master, the group travels the land searching for a way home, while helping those they meet. Their main adversaries are Venger, a powerful sorcerer and Tiamat, the five headed dragon. The episodes were very well written and characters so memorable. Even though the series were episodic, there was a storyline that went throughout. There was magic, mystery, adventure, and humor. If any cartoon deserved a live action remake this is one. I do understand a Dungeons and Dragons movie is in production, but whether it will follow the cartoon or be it’s own story based on the TSR game is unknown to me.
Well, this is just a very brief review of three of the cartoons from Saturday mornings in the 1980s that helped shape me into the man I am today. There was a kind of purity in the shows that came out during my childhood and I often wonder, if society wouldn’t be better off if more children had the sanctity of Saturday morning cartoons. That precious time when most of the world was still asleep where they could safely imagine other worlds and other beings, where they could be heroes, they could be themselves and most importantly, they could be children in a very crazy world.
Decades 1980: Saturday Morning Cartoons
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