10. Ren and Stimpy
When Nickelodeon was first broadcast nationally, it was something of a
dream come true for children of the time. The claim was "A network for
kids, by kids!" That of course isn't true, but none of us cared because it
was ALL for us! Among the early Nicktoons, Ren and Stimpy was my favorite.
Despite being labelled for kids, Ren and Stimpy is full of so much off-
color, sick humor that looking back, I don't think it would be called "kid-
friendly." Mountains of poop, booger collections, guys ripping up their
forearms with a cheese grater, and LOTS of death. It was also extremely
bizarre. The art style was somewhat dirty, and everyday objects like
couches could take on strange appearances. Being dirty or weird didn't
mean it wasn't good, though. In fact, the animation is of very high
quality all around. Ren, Stimpy, and other characters like Powdered Toast
Man all move quite smoothly, and it never looks like a classic Hanna
Barberra cartoon. It was also a cartoon that knew it was a cartoon, and in
spite of the violence, everything was played for laughs. During the show,
"commercials" would be shown, most famously for Log (it's big, it's heavy,
it's wood!). While not as popular as Nicktoon competitor Rugrats, Ren and
Stimpy managed to leave a mark on many of Nickelodeon's cartoons to follow.
Rocko, Spongebob and Fairly Oddparents all owe a little to Ren and Stimpy,
particularly when those shows do something adult or just get a little
At one point, an episode of Spongebob Squarepants was a giant music video.
Ren and Stimpy did it first, with a better song. Sing with me now!
"HAPPY HAPPY JOY JOY HAPPY HAPPY JOY JOY!"
Many years later, the characters were brought back for Ren and Stimpy's
Adult Party, which is downright dirty. Yet the quality was still there.
Think of it as South Park, but actually decent to look at. Fans of the
original should check it out.
9. Tiny Toon Adventures
During the 1930s and 40s, the animated short was in a golden age. Disney
is the name most remembered today, but at the time, Warner Brothers was
going toe-to-toe. For every Mickey, a Bugs. For every Donald, a Daffy.
However, Warner never did manage to break into animated feature films like
Disney did, and when they finally did with movies like Space Jam and Quest
for Camelot, the results were less than stellar. In the late 1980s,
studios attempted to revive old shows with a new formula, setting and
style. Pup Named Scooby Doo (FAR better than any of the old Scooby shows)
and Muppet Babies were part of this trend. Tiny Toon Adventures came from
this re-vamping. The setting is now Acme Acres, with the Tiny Toons being
mentored by the Looney Tunes in a cartoon Looniversity. For the most part,
the characters are based on their older counterparts; Buster/Bugs Bunny,
Plucky/Daffy Duck, Hampton/Porky Pig, etc. While some episodes are similar
to Looney Tunes, others present the characters outside of class, going
about their lives. One episode has them apply a classroom lesson to cross
a cliff safely, simply by not looking down. Another had Buster Bunny
trying to get Montana Max to pay for his newspaper subscription, which the
tightwad refused to do. The whole episode consisted of Buster trying to
get his $2. At one point, the Tiny Toons even got a not-terrible TV Movie.
Today, the Looney Tunes are once again in production with the Looney Tunes
Show, which shows the Looney Tunes in their daily lives. While I have no
evidence of any kind, I like to think that this setting was influenced by
the Tiny Toons.
8. Pinky and the Brain
Pinky and the Brain started life as a series of shorts, but wound up being
so popular that they received their own show. The premise is simple: One
genetically altered genius mouse and his genetically altered idiot mouse
cell mate try to take over the world every night. Brain's plans are
elaborate, including using the Abraham Lincoln portion of Mt. Rushmore and
convincing people to re-elect him as president. Unfortunately, due to
malfunctions or the lovable idiot Pinky, Brain is never able to take over
the world. Some episodes step away from the usual domination plot, keeping
the show fresh. One episode has Brain on vacation, and chewing out all the
terrible bosses on his day off. The common people are inspired and want to
elect him to power, but he completely misses it! One PSA episode has Brain
trying to stop smoking. On the way, he is dressed up in a leprechaun
outfit and given loads of cigarettes, and all the kids want to be just like
him. When he sees so many children adoring him, he has a change of heart.
To convince children that smoking has downsides, he pulls back the curtain
to reveal the company founder. The founder is sickly, wheelchair bound and
has a tube in his face. He is 40 years old. Brain vows to quit smoking,
and slaps a nicotine patch on his rather large head. While a PSA, even
this episode has lots of great moments and is funny.
Pinky is too dumb to know what is really going on, but had some of the best
lines. Dropping "poit" and "narf" in his sentences was endearing, but to
really understand him, you have to ask yourself: If they can make bacon
that tastes like pencils, why can't they make pencils that taste like
This show also makes me want a plush Brain in a leprechaun outfit with a
7. Power Puff Girls
AND EVERYTHING NICE!
These were the ingredients Professor Utonium used to create the perfect
little girls. But then he accidently added a can of Whoop Ass and thus
THE WHOOP-ASS GIRLS WERE BORN!
So goes the pilot for what would later become the Power Puff Girls.
Utonium went from being a little old grandpa to a young man, and the Whoop
Ass became Chemical X. Despite the changes, these adorable little girls
really are all about kicking ass and taking names. Blossom, Bubbles and
Buttercup have no qualms about beating down giant monsters with their own
severed limbs. And while this was another cartoon aimed at kids, a
sufficient pounding will usually result in the girls drawing blood from
their opponent. The series ended up becoming one of Cartoon Network's most
popular shows. The style is actually loosely based on the anime of the
time, such as the girls' big eyes, the action scenes, and arch nemesis Mojo
Jojo's stuttering speech. Some episodes got extremely risque. In the
episode "Members Only," the girls end up fighting against a space man who
exclaims "The more men you put against me, the harder I become!"
Of course, even the hardest man is no match for a hot pussy.
The show makes extensive use of Flash, and a pretty good movie was made that
includes the girls playing tag. And systematically smashing the City of
Since this show took so many elements from anime, it eventually was
actually turned into anime as Power Puff Girls Z. Strangely, despite
coming from a country where cartoons can get violent, sexy and dirty, the
anime seems to be more kid-friendly than the original show. Oh, and
Buttercup is totally a butch lesbian in the anime.
6. Swat Kats
Oh, Ted Turner. You crazy, socialist, eccentric wealthy man. Ted Turner
thought that his influence and power over his own channels would allow him
to teach American kids how to live their lives. This ego gave rise to
Captain Planet and Ferngully. But even in something stupid, something
awesome can be found. Swat Kats was another popular cartoon that aired on
Turner's networks, and unlike the overly preachy Captain Planet, Swat Kats
was an honest-to-god action cartoon. The Swat Kats are T-Bone and Razor,
two ace pilots who have been forced to work in a scrapyard until they've
paid off the destruction they caused trying to protect MegaKat City. They
use the pieces in the yard, and construct their own super plane and an
underground runway. Unlike many cartoons, the nameless mooks that run
around are all acceptable targets, and a lot of cats are slaughtered in
pretty much every episode. Given the chance, villains will be dispatched
rather than imprisoned. Mega Kat City is a pretty terrifying place to
live, as depending on the episode it might be under attack from giant
monsters or it might be something more mundane, like the episode where the
Swat Kats have to stop the city from getting NUKED! The animation is
pretty solid all around, and got a little boost in the second season. The
music is all kick ass, consisting of lots of crunchy guitar solos because
real awesome is fueled by rock and roll!
Sadly, Turner felt that by being awesome, this show was too violent for
kids and pulled the plug after just two short seasons. And this was in
spite of Swat Kats being rated highest among Hannah Barberra's shows at the
This is the show that Pinky and the Brain spun off of. Animaniacs is
billed as the story of the Warner Brothers (and the Warner Sister, Dot!).
The show was actually closer to the traditional shorts than plot-driven
episodes, with loads of characters each with their own little cartoons.
Along with the Animaniacs, Slappy Squirrel would make wisecracks about
EVERY classic cartoon character, Buttons would chase Mindy and save her
from danger and end up being beaten for it, and the Goodfeathers would do
lighthearted mob movie jokes. The show still holds up great today, since
the creators were given tons of freedom by producer Steven Spielberg and
often threw in a lot of jokes that were clearly NOT aimed at children.
Yacko: We need to find prints.
Dot: I found Prince!
Yacko: No, Fingerprints!
Dot: (looks at Prince) I don't think so.
One of the most unique segments were the Rita and Runt sketches. Rita is a
singing cat, voiced by Bernadette Peters. These segments are take-offs of
popular musicals, though based around animals instead of humans and with
the words changed accordingly. These segments are often a little
depressing, partly because Peters is such a soulful singer that when the
two don't find a home, it conveys real emotion.
The show is also packed with fun educational segments, and is completely
worth checking out, particularly if you didn't watch it or are too young to
really remember it.
4. Road Runner Shorts
Of all the classic Looney Tunes shorts, the Road Runner shorts are my
favorites. While Bugs, Daffy, Elmer and the rest of the gang had a
combination of verbal and visual humor, all of the Road Runner cartoons
revolve around visual gags. While this might make seem to be a bad thing
considering how good the jokes in the other cartoons were, it also keeps
them from getting dated. One Bugs Bunny cartoon has Bugs yelling at an
audience member to sit back down. This NEVER made sense to me as a kid,
because like most folks these days my exposure to Looney Tunes was on TV
and not in the theaters. Some jokes just don't make a lot of sense if you
don't know the culture they were written in, either. Road Runner avoids
this with the visual gags. The setup is simple: Wile E. Coyote is hungry,
and wants to eat Road Runner. He can't catch up to Road Runner, so he uses
elaborate traps and plans to try to catch him. The humor comes from the
way these gadgets backfire, often flattening Wile E. or causing some other
horrible injury. The characters are almost completely silent, with Wile E.
occasionally holding up a sign or saying a couple words. The music and
sound effects sort of take the place of dialog, as a certain segment might
be even more funny if it's punctuated with a blaring trombone.
Due to the reliance on visual gags, Road Runner is one of the most well-
loved Looney Tunes internationally, as no knowledge of English or the
culture behind the jokes is needed to find the humor.
With the Looney Tunes show, the Road Runner shorts have been revived. They
use exactly the same format, but now everything is CGI. It's actually a
little strange to watch, but the humor is there and it doesn't look too bad
For these last entries, I'm going to leave the TV shows and shorts behind
and focus on full-length movies. While I could come up with 10 series,
these movies are so well-made that they are not only my favorite cartoons,
but among my favorite movies as well. I hope you like Don Bluth.
3. The Land Before Time
The Land Before Time is the story of Little Foot, an apatosaurus on a
journey to the Great Valley, where herbivores can eat and not be eaten. He
is joined by duckbilled Ducky, pteranodon Petrie, ankylosaur Spike and
triceratops Cera. Don Bluth's movies aren't afraid to be extremely dark,
and the reason that these children are traveling alone is mostly because
Little Foot's mother died after nearly being eaten! In the original cut of
the movie, she was actually drawn with a visible bite taken out of her
back, which always frightened me as a child.
Don Bluth's animation is superb. The colors are a little darker than in
the Disney animated movies of the same era. Elements such as rain are
animated to produce a beautiful effect. When Little Foot and Cera fight,
the ground they are on splatters and caves in, following their feet. They
have 8 feet between them.
Following the fight, we are treated to a closeup of Little Foot. He is
trying hard not to cry, but isn't succeeding very well. He's been beaten
and possibly hurt, he might be going the wrong way, he may have led all his
friends to their demise, and for a moment his strength wavers. And he
doesn't say a word. The scene is powerful.
Due to the studio making several cuts, the final product is only slightly
over an hour long. While a longer cut did exist at one point, it is now
believed lost forever.
The success of the Land Before Time led Universal to use the license to
create a series of 12 more sequels. At best, they are watchable. At
worst, they will serve to piss you off even if you don't know the original.
None of them have animation anywhere near the original in quality, and at
one point the backgrounds began being rendered in CGI rather than drawn.
The result is pretty damn ugly. I don't recommend watching the sequels.
2. An American Tail
At the end of the 19th century, the United States was experiencing a major
influx of immigrants. Previously, the majority of immigrants had been
English, German and some French as well. This time, the Irish, Italians
and Russians were coming in full force. An American Tail is the story of a
family of Jewish Russian mice emigrating to America. Think Gangs of New
York with singing mice. The main character is Fievel Mousekewitz, and he
and his family have fled Russia to get away from the cats, which are
portrayed in Cossack uniforms destroying the village. On the ship, Fievel
is thrown overboard in a storm which is frightening. Lots of ships get hit
by waves, this wave PUNCHES the ship!
Fievel somehow drifts to New York City. He is naive, and at this point
quite annoying. He trusts every stranger he meets, including the one who
forces him to work. This stuff actually happened, ya know. Fievel's
parents are so distraught that they don't look for him, which seems cold
and horrible, but is forgivable if you can imagine that loss is something
they have had to deal with for their whole lives. For them, they have lost
hope. America is not a golden land, and there damn well ARE cats in
America. Kudos to Fievel's sister for keeping his memory alive, though.
Fievel eventually uncovers a plot run by the cats, who are extorting the
mice to make it rich. This kind of stuff happened, too. He gets captured,
but teams up with vegetarian Tiger and eventually makes his way back to the
mice. Once there, they unleash the SECWET WEAPON which is a nightmare-
inducing abomination which is a masterpiece of animation. Check out how it
pops out from the background, and has a metallic sheen to it. To make it
even more frightening, it's on fire and has a stock reptilian roar. I
think it's the same stock roar as used in Jaws: The Revenge, but it is a
bit more effective here.
The only major problem with this movie is that it's a musical, and Fievel
is completely tone-deaf. It doesn't help that his voice is extremely
bright. "Somewhere Out There" is a classic cartoon song but it's actually
a bit painful to listen to. To his credit, when he sings with someone he
seems to be able to carry a tune a little better.
Sequels were made. Not as many as The Land Before Time, thankfully. My
DVD actually has Fievel Goes West on the flip side. It was funny when I
was 4, but nowadays it's just stupid. If you want, go ahead and watch it
but it isn't on the same level as the first one, and no Don Bluth
When the family leaves Russia, they have a little baby mouse. Where DID
that baby go?
Excellent movie, and I considered it for my #1 spot, but had to reserve
1. The Secret of NiMH
Don Bluth didn't believe animation was a dead art. He didn't believe that
cartoons were just for kids. He didn't believe that an animated feature
needed to be a musical. And the Secret of NiMH is his big "FUCK YOU" to
everyone who says otherwise.
The movie opens with a lot of dialog, delivered by wizened old rat
Nicodemus. Jonathan Brisby was killed today. Nicodemus' thick, raspy
voice and the dark dialog set a dark tone and the movie never even tries to
get out of that dark, creepy atmosphere.
Mrs. Brisby enters as a doting mother, simply trying to get medicine for
her ailing son. In fact, her entire motivation is saving her family and
she will NOT STOP FOR ANYTHING! Rather than being shallow, she actually
comes off as an extremely strong character. Despite not being a
genetically altered mouse (didn't I talk about those already?) she is
nearly as intelligent as the altered rats. She can read a little, and has
the courage of the heart that few possess.
Mrs. Brisby befriends a crow, Jeremy. He is love sick, but doesn't
actually have a female. Brisby's daughter calls him a turkey, which is
fitting. He mostly serves as a comic relief character, however he doesn't
go overboard. It works well, and when he isn't needed for the plot, he is
written out of it. Bravo, we don't need comic relief every ten seconds.
The tractor scene seems to be a precursor to the Abominable Mouse scene in
An American Tail. The tractor looks to be drawn and animated in a similar
style, though being a tractor it isn't something that'll cause too many
nightmares. This scene also forces Mrs. Brisby to get the ball rolling on
saving her family. Her son is bedridden, and the only thing she can think
of is moving the whole house. The Rats of NiMH can help, and for them
Jonathan was a hero whom they'll do anything for.
And the rats fight! And actually KILL each other, with blood and
everything. This movie gets quite brutal in the last act, and also
features the original bizarre Don Bluth moment. I won't spoil too much,
because this movie can be watched on Hulu anytime. So go watch it.
This one also got a sequel, starring that sickly child which is not worth
watching, but the Eric Idle song is awesome. Strangely, not only does the
sequel have genetically altered mice, one of them is trying to take over
the world. Didn't I write about that before?
There you have it, my own personal top 10 cartoons.