Being careful here not to make the same mistake as a British TV poll of the public regarding their top 100 cartoons: this is specifically a list of the cartoons/series, rather than a list of some series, some characters. And it’s all cartoons, too – no other forms of animation.
1. Daffy Duck / Looney Tunes & Merrie Melodies
Immediately breaking the rules in the preamble, I’ve gone and singled out Daffy. Don’t get me wrong – Bugs, Elmer, Foghorn Leghorn, Marvin, Wile E. Coyote, Porky, et al are all amazing (for proof of this, you need look no further than Chuck Amuck – the biography of Chuck Jones, one of the main animators of these golden gems), Daffy is head and shoulders the winning ingredient, and I don’t think there’s a cartoon that features him that isn’t a winner. The countless hours my colleagues and I – particularly one Dr Spiro, the goat enthusiast – have spent watching, quoting, re-watching, re-enacting, and reminiscing about the Robin Hood one (“YOIKS, AND AWAYYYY!”), Duck Dodgers in the 24 1/2 Century, Ali Baba Bunny (“Ickety ackety oop…”), Duck Amuck, and even back to earlier drafts where Daffy’s MO was skipping across the top of ponds making a crazed “Woohoo! Woohoo!” noise… Time well spent.
2. The Simpsons
Now in its 20th year, there’s not much point in explaining what The Simpsons is all about. The fun started though in about season 4 or 5 when the creators realised that it was all about Homer, rather than making it Bart-centric as they had been. I love that friends of mine have formed entire relationships with each other based on quoting Simpsons material to each other. There are just too many ways I love this show to ever begin to list them all in a short summary like this.
3. Don Hertzfeldt’s “Rejected”
What’s not to love about a white fluffy smily cloud thing shrieking “FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, MY ANUS IS BLEEDING!!!”, while his friends giggle and dance in a line next to him? Rejected is an amazingly screwed up short film, which showcases the work of aspiring animator Hertzfeldt and his various attempts to pick up advertising contracts, and how they are all rejected. It’s magnificently malevolent. You can more than likely find it on YouTube, but I’d recommend the DVD featuring other examples of Don’s equally twisted work.
Ridiculous teen-superhero show made possible by the insistence of Spielberg, Freakazoid was A-class silliness which it appears that nobody ever saw. It was running mates with the Animaniacs, and operated in a similarly anarchic way. The titular Freakazoid was a superhero, created when teenager Dexter Douglas got zapped into his computer via a series of keystrokes his cat pushed when walking across the keyboard. I loved the way Freakazoid transported himself – turning into a lightning-bolt-with-a-face sometimes, or most of the time forming his arms into a point over his head and running forwards whilst making airplane noises. In addition to these main cartoons, the producers also sometimes included smaller adventures by lesser superheroes, such as the transparently-Cleesian Lord Bravery.
Maybe I’m a sucker for sci-fi… maybe it’s just plain funny… there was plenty to love in the series about Philip J. Fry, a pizza boy who was inadvertantly frozen for 3000 years and brought back to life in The Future. It got a bit mawkish towards the end (when the writers had presumably resigned themselves to the fact the show wasn’t being recommissioned), and the newer movie-length episodes don’t quite cut it like they used to (though they’re still pretty good).
6. Pinky & The Brain
Megalomaniac arch-genius rodent, The Brain, lives in a lab cage with his buddy Pinky (whose IQ is so low he really should be watered 3 times a day), and constantly plots & connives new ways of taking over the world. Presumably The Brain only keeps Pinky around because there’s nobody else available to be his henchman – you do wonder whether or not The Brain would be better off to go it alone than to repeatedly suffer Pinky’s “assistance”.
7. Danger Mouse
Cartoonists seem fixated with mice, it seems – vintage 1980’s British action hero Danger Mouse lives under a pillar box on Baker Street, and is accompanied everywhere by his bumbling assistant, Penfold (a hamster who wears glasses and a suit, naturally enough).
8. Father of the Pride
I discovered this gem whilst staying in a hotel in Brussels – it’s a Dreamworks project, set in the wilderness habitat of Sigfried & Roy’s lion show in Las Vegas, and following elder lion Sarmoti’s disasterous faux-pas during a stunt routine, his son Larry is promoted to Head Lion – much to Sarmoti’s chagrin. The voice cast includes John Goodman, Cheryl Hines, Carl Reiner, Orlando Jones, and some A-list guest talent: the show is satirical & often surreal. As far as I can gather, transmission was delayed/hushed up because of real-life Roy’s mauling, and that some uptight Americans thought that emblazoning the show with “From the creators of Shrek” was going to be problematic due to it being considered less family-friendly than Shrek.
9. The Super Globetrotters
What could possibly be better than a 70’s cartoon about the Harlem Globetrotters? Well, it’s a 70’s cartoon where the Globetrotters turn into superheros – specifically, a spaghetti man, a dude who can become fluid, a guy who can multiply himself, one turns into a basketball, and my favourite – “Gizmo” – a guy with a massive afro, in which an infinite number of things appear to be stored. Week after week their satellite watchdog boss, the Crime Globe (again, shaped like a basketball), would alert them to some emergency with the cry “Wa-HOOOOO-ga! Wa-HOOOOO-ga! Now dig this…”, and whatever the marauding that was taking place the situation always seemed to be decided by way of a basketball game.
10. Star Blazers
There were a few cartoons which, as it later turned out, were Japanese cartoons which had been bought up by American production companies, re-cut, redubbed, and sold under a different name. One was the excellent Battle Of The Planets, but the one on my list was Star Blazers – originally the Japanese series Space Battleship Yamamoto. It was set in the future where the evil Gamalons (lead by their commander, Desslok) are bombing the crap out of the Earth’s surface, and the people are all hiding undergound in caves. Learning of a technology that can save them on the planet Iskandar, the humans restore the ruins of an old battleship (the Yamamoto) and transform it into the Argo: sporting whizzy new Wave Motion Drive system, and a sodding great cannon in the front (the Wave Motion Gun). I loved this show – I think most of all because to a 10 or 12 year old it was unbelievably cool that every week the Argo would be on the verge of destruction, but then fight back using their thumping great big cannon. It was also genuinely scary, I think in part because the animation was geared for adult audiences and was such a departure from the other saccharine fare on Saturday morning TV. However I also seem to recall that the radar operator was a cute (if 2 dimensional) brunette called Nova, who was the first proper woman I ever had a crush on (Sandra from my grade 1 class didn’t count… at least not the way I’m telling it now). She also had some kind of radar screen-dome thing that looked like a pair of boobs.