80s Fantasy Cartoons!
If you are like me, a child of the 1980s, then you probably watched a lot of cartoons. Saturday mornings were your hook up, holla if you hear me! Oh, those glorious mornings were chock-full with three networks running cartoons from 8am to past noon. I remember the Saturday mornings of my childhood well since I woke up at 6am in preparation to watch a marathon of shows. I loved cartoons! (Still do!)
I have never told anyone this, but for the longest time I had reoccurring nightmares that I slept through Saturday, waking up Sunday morning after going to bed Friday night. I would wake up in a panic thinking I missed all my shows! Shudder the thought!!!
Have you ever contemplated this? Back in the 80s we had all of the following cartons on the air: G.I. JOE, Transformers, Go-Bots, He-Man, Thundercats, Star Blazers, Inhumanoids, JEM, Smurfs, Spiderman and his Amazing Friends, Scooby-Doo, Voltron, Shirt Tales, The Real Ghostbusters, MASK, Centurions, TMNT … hell, we even were graced by Hulk Hogan’s Rock n’ Wrestling! The list goes on and on…
So many incredible creative properties were born in mid 80s that when you look back, it’s total awesomeness-overload. As kids, how did our heads not simply explode and splatter Big League Chew and Nerds candy all over the room? I know I was glued to the TV all the time and with good shows on different channels in the same time slots I must have been flipping channels like a madman.
When I think back to the good old days there seemed to be three major categories of cartoons I watched: space, fantasy and animals/cute things. Being lovers of fantasy let’s talk about some of the RAD fantasy cartoons we were watching as kids.
Back in 1980 we were given an incredible gift. I for one used to really enjoy this dark, epic fantasy and to this day I think it’s really one of a kind: Thundarr the Barbarian. Remember the intro?
The year: 1994. From out of space comes a runaway planet, hurtling between the Earth and the Moon, unleashing cosmic destruction! Man’s civilization is cast in ruin! Two thousand years later, Earth is reborn…
A strange new world rises from the old: a world of savagery, super science, and sorcery. But one man bursts his bonds to fight for justice! With his companions Ookla the Mok and Princess Ariel, he pits his strength, his courage, and his fabulous Sunsword against the forces of evil. He is Thundarr, the Barbarian!
Savagery, super science and sorcery: these are a few of my favorite things! This has to be the first fantasy cartoon I watched, and back then I had no idea what “cross genre” or a “mash-up” was, but for two seasons I could not miss an episode. I cannot say enough good things about this gem of a cartoon. A loincloth sporting barbarian rushing into battle with a magical sword, yep, got it! A single piece bathing suit wearing princess-sorceress casting cool spells, oh yea! Some Chewbacca looking Mok tearing apart a helicopter; hell yeah!
To top it off Thundarr was always yelling things like, “Demon dogs!” and “Lords of light!” If you missed this show, you can buy it on DVD now. I just recently purchased and started re-watching it. I can’t help but wonder why we can’t have cool, dark fantasy cartoons now in 2011? We had this one way back in 1981…thirty years ago!
Today, I would be crushed if they took away a series I was enjoying after only two seasons. (I’m pointing my finger at the people who canceled Legend of the Seeker right now, yes you!) Back then, once Thundarr was gone, I’m sure I wondered where he went, but I had other shows to keep me distracted.
In 1983, two big fantasy cartoons were released: Dungeons and Dragons and He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. (Even when I typed that I heard the old He-Man theme music and voice over echoing in my head.)
Who here watched the Dungeons and Dragons cartoon? Raise your hand so I can count. Okay, I see, two, three…wait…twelve, no twenty…whoa, holy crap, several hundred hands. Nice! Me too!
Can you list the characters and their classes? Do it quickly because I am about to. Hank, the Ranger. Eric, the Cavalier. Diana, the Acrobat. Presto, the Magician. Shelia, the Thief. Bobby, the Barbarian. Uni, the Unicorn.
Something is missing in this group. Yes, clearly they needed a Cleric. They should’ve just had Diana be a multiclass character, along the lines of Thief-Acrobat and then given Shelia a healer’s amulet or something, right?
What a fun concept for a cartoon based on an adult (adultish?) role-playing game. I remember yelling, “Hey look, the Dungeons and Dragons ride!” at my local amusement park at the Jersey Shore when my parents took me there when I was little. Sadly, I cannot remember if anyone responded, other than maybe my dad telling me to tie my shoes. (I got Velcro laces after that. Ha! Take that dad!)
Dungeons and Dragons was such an enjoyable, and at times, frustrating cartoon. I wanted them to all be able to fight as more of a cohesive unit, trade items or even pair up weapons. For kids, they were all very heroic, sometimes too much so. It seemed like they had many chances to get home, but always took the higher road helping those in need first, therefore missing their opportunities. Did you know the series ended before the kids found their way home? I like to think they are still there in the realm of Dungeons and Dragons. In fact I imagine Eric is like Colonel Kurtz of Apocalypse Now, sitting in some jungle surrounded by Kobold’s, dreaming of his future vengeance against Hank.
“I should’ve got the bow…I should’ve got the bow…” Eric would be saying. “Oh the Hook Horror. The Hook Horror.”
All and all the Dungeons and Dragons cartoon had some great, and scary, bad guys. I mean hello, Tiamat was in that show and to this day, I still think of that five-headed dragon as being one of the best villains in cartoon history. My brain is a little full, but isn’t Tiamat also Takhisis in Dragonlance? That beast gets around.
The biggest shortcoming of this cartoon was not having a toy line. All great 80s cartoons had toy lines, right G.I. JOE? Right, Transformers? Right, He-Man?
Oh, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (there it is again, that echo) had one of the best lines of fantasy toys for us kids. Everyone had these toys. I remember in 1995 when I was dating a girl in college, her youngest brother had a Whiplash action figure that had been handed down from her older brother. It was in pretty darn good shape still and when I saw that thing in his pile of toys, I got so excited. Man, I loved that toy line.
He-Man, was another victim of the two season curse, but produced 130 episodes at least. It was not a weekend show, it was a weekday after school one. Come to think of it, it might have started the trend that G.I. JOE and Transformers followed.
He-Man, like Thundarr, mixed fantasy with sci-fi and I never questioned it. Sure one minute He-Man and Man at Arms were flying around on jet-propelled cycles and the next they were having sword fights in an ancient castle with Skeletor and Beastman. I’m down with that. In fact, I loved it. So did most of my friends. The thing that worked best with He-Man was all the interesting characters.
Who was your favorite?
Of the good guys, I always liked Man at Arms and Buzz-off. When it came to the baddies…oh the list gets long, but I would have to say Skeletor is my overall favorite. He really is one of the most fun cartoon archenemies, and he has a kickass HQ. Tell me you would not want to live in Snake Mountain. Now that is an episode of CRIBS I want to watch on MTV.
In He-Man the characters were all so different in design, speech, history, and even uniform and gear, that they each became unique. We rarely saw the races they came from in mass, these guys in the show were basically the representatives of them, the best of the best. I mean they were “The Masters of the Universe.”
I remember being at touch crazed with wanting these toys, and the stores never stocked enough of them. I was picky too; I only wanted my favorite characters from the show. I never owned a Beastman (sorry, dude) but I had a Mossman, which was kinda a green version of Beastman and coated…HEAVILY, with a greasy, smelly perfume that reeked of “pine.” If you owned one you know what I mean. You seriously could not touch that toy without having to wash your hands for five minutes afterward, he stunk so badly!
That cartoon had some great episodes, because they had a good set of writers. One name you might recognize is J. Michael Straczynski. He wrote nine episodes of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, but later became better known for his TV show Babylon 5. Since the 1980s, I have not seen a single episode of the old He-Man, but I loved the new version in 2002. Especially the voice acting! Holy cow, Skeletor’s voice was perfect and Stratos sounded a lot like Sean Connery.
In 1985, a new call to battle was heard, “Thunder…Thunder…Thundercats, HO!”
Thundercats was another mix of science fiction and fantasy. At this point, most kids my age were getting used to it. Of course, swords and battle tanks, it makes total sense when you think about it (not really). I just hope some guy in his late 30s doesn’t try to reflect a laser blast off his sword! I can see the headlines now blaming cartoons for common stupidity.
Like He-Man, the Thundercats had created a plethora of new “mutant” races. We followed the cat-like humanoids from Thundera, but the villains were again, in my opinion, more interesting. In 130 episodes, we saw some fascinating worldbuilding; creepy necromancy and a bit too much Snarf for my taste, but overall Thundercats was one of the best. Oddly enough, I never owned any of the toys from this cartoon.
A few others cartoons barely made their mark on the world before being snuffed out, but they still shaped me as a fantasy lover and future author in the genre. Of these, I recall Galtar and the Golden Lance and Visionaries: Knights of the Magical Light.
“It is a time when Magic is more powerful than Science, and only those who control the Magic, control destiny. They are the Visionaries.”
All I remember of the Visionaries is an awesome laser light show and some killer music. Lots of fighting and trashing around; it was great! Or wait, am I mixing up that cartoon with some heavy metal concert I went to? Yeah, I can’t remember. Anyway, what I do remember was magical battle standards, swords and axes, and the coolest holographic-looking dragons ever. It was a violent cartoon as I recall it, with the knights being able to transform themselves into all sorts of mythical beasts. One guy turned into a djinn, while these other two girls could take the shapes of a dolphin and a shark to battle it out. I cannot remember why the two factions were fighting, and I wish I could. I might have to track down some DVDs of this show soon.
Like Dungeons and Dragons, Galtar and the Golden Lance was more seated in the world of fantasy than sci-fi. In fact, it is often referred to as an action-adventure romance, which is funny because that’s exactly how I remember it. When I think of Galtar, I remember more of the romance aspects than anything else. Regardless I watched and enjoyed it. I remember tying to get my one friend hooked, but he slept to like noon on Saturdays, so he missed all the good cartoons on the weekends. Yeah, in my memories of Galtar there seems to always be a red haired girl riding on the back of his horse. I mean, I can’t blame Galtar, Princess Goleeta was kinda cute, but she was no Cheetara.
Being released in 1985, the same year as Thundercats, Galtar had more adult themes. From early on in the series, it was stated that the “big bad” assassinated Galtar’s parents. Whoa, that’s a harsh concept for a young kid, right? I have to wonder what themes did I understand and which details were sinking into my creativity and molding me as an artist? Galtar was a freedom fighter; a rebel using his magical Golden Lance to take down the enemy. Back then, it might have been the action that hooked me to watch, but now I would like to understand the background story more.
So what did we learn? I ask because in the 1980s there was always a lesson to be learned. Besides that you need more than a stupid blonde bowl cut to mask your secret identity. Well, I learned one really important lesson from He-Man and Lion-O. It’s not the size of the sword; it’s how you use it.
This article was originally published on April 19, 2011.
Title image by DrewEiden.