Saturday mornings were some of the best times to be a kid. No school. No rush. And, most importantly, plenty of time for watching cartoons before starting the rest of the day.
Each Fall, a special about the new Saturday morning shows would air on a weeknight in prime time. Would last season’s incarnation of Scooby-Doo be renewed? What arcade games would become cartoons this year? Would the Wonder Twins finally be replaced? These were the kinds of questions we worried about back then.
Though I enjoyed many Saturday morning shows, certain ones stand out amongst the others when I think back on those days. I’ve limited this Top Five list to Saturday morning cartoons that produced new episodes between 1977 and 1986, my main cartoon watching years. Well, okay, yeah, I still watch cartoons. But I watched them even more back then. Really.
I enjoyed this cartoon series almost as much as the video game itself. Unfortunately, the TV show is not one that really holds up over time. I still tend to visualize Pac-Man in this animated style, though. The video game still holds up, at least. It is just as fun and frustrating as ever!
#4: Dungeons & Dragons
I was too young for this role-playing game at the peak of its popularity, but I do remember all of the fuss about it from certain adults at the time. The game was accused of being Satanic, and causing young people to separate from reality. This, of course, made for a great cartoon! I doubt it was very much like the game, but I definitely enjoyed the show.
I seem to remember first becoming aware of the Smurfs through the figurines long before running across the cartoon. I know people make fun of it now, but I always loved this show. I even collected trading cards and other items from it, including a “Smurf Ahoy” game. A CGI movie version of Smurfs is apparently in the works.
#2: Jim Henson’s Muppet Babies
Yes, the popularity of Muppet Babies led to such travesties as The Flintstone Kids, A Pup Named Scooby-Doo, and Tom & Jerry Kids. But Muppet Babies itself was a great show, most noteworthy for its hilarious parodies of various movies – usually those of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. My favorite episode, of course, was one in which Kermit, Gonzo, Piggy, and the others make their own home video version of Star Wars.
#1: Super Friends
This one went by many titles over the years, but my friends and I always called it Super Friends. Featuring Superman, Batman, Robin, Wonder Woman, and Aqua Man, this was by far my favorite cartoon. Despite its annoying aspects (Zan, Jayna, and Gleek), Super Friends embodied the best traits of the Justice League, the world’s superheroes working together for the common good.
Other favorites included, in no particular order, Dragon’s Lair, The All-New Popeye Hour, Pole Position, The New Adventures of Mighty Mouse, and Ewoks.
Yes, you read that right, I liked Ewoks. Much better than the Droids cartoon, anyway. And I didn’t mind the Ewoks in Return of the Jedi, either.
The places where they wore thin on even me were The Ewok Adventure: Caravan of Courage and Ewoks: The Battle for Endor, those really bad, live-action TV movies that came out after Return of the Jedi. Even in those movies, though, the Ewoks gave the most convincing acting performances.
Though not always a cartoon, I also must mention the ABC Weekend Specials series, hosted by Captain O.G. Readmore. One of my favorite episodes was “Homer and the Wacky Doughnut Machine,” in which a boy soups up a doughnut machine at a diner and it won’t stop making doughnuts. A rich lady’s diamond bracelet gets lost in one of them, which results in a contest to find it. Well, anyway, it was pretty good at the time. But I do, after all, like Ewoks. And Smurfs.
ABC Weekend Specials also featured Miss Switch the Witch, another favorite. Sure, lots of students may have suspected their teachers were witches, but Miss Switch really was one. Fortunately, she was a good witch–more like Glenda or Samantha Stevens than the Wicked Witch of the West.
Another favorite was “The Seven Wishes of Joanna Peabody” in which a girl from a poor family is granted seven wishes by a genie of sorts who lives inside her television. Of course, wishes never turn out quite like you expect. This was followed by a sequel, “The Seven Wishes of a Rich Kid,” which was pretty much the same story except about a boy from a wealthy family. Not sure if that second one actually turned up on ABC Weekend Specials, but I remember seeing it somewhere along the line.
Yet another great ABC Weekend Special was The Mouse and The Motorcycle, the classic Beverly Cleary novel about Ralph S. Mouse. I could do a whole column on Cleary’s books.
Okay, so maybe ABC Weekend Specials deservers more than just an honorable mention here. I’m going to bump it up to Grand Champion of Saturday Morning. Sorry, Super Friends.