Saturday Mornings: Strangest Cartoons
Saturday mornings were a great time to be experimental with the programming. Just as MTV had wierd cartoons at night, some of the major networks found that infusing thier cartoon blocks with an hour of humor and shenanigans that were geared to a slightly older demographic would still pull in big numbers. You had the classic cartoons that everyone liked, but these were some of the stranger shows that ever graced the airways on Saturday mornings.
Rubik, the Amazing Cube - This desperate cash grab is so strange that it boggles the mind. I figured that a cartoon about a Rubik's Cube might be more about, you know, puzzles. But instead we have a magical creature with a child's voice that blasts magic and hangs out with children. The show was broadcast as part of The Pac-Man/Rubik, the Amazing Cube Hour in 1983, with reruns lasting until 1985. I found the concept to be terrible, there was poor quality animation and voice acting was equally as weak, but the idea of it was so strange that it just didn't fit in any genre. Rubik was just a little too creepy when it is just trying to be cute. Its only redeeming factor is that Rubik's friends were the Rodriguez family, showcasing some uncommon diversity for the early 1980's.
Bump in the Night - Strange, but in the most awesome of ways. First of all, this show stood out as being stop-motion instead of traditional animation, giving it a huge visual appeal that made it stand out. Also, it was a darker show, visually, but all of the character were colorful, so your eyes went directly to them, and you could follow their movements as they flew about the screen. Voiced by the masterful Jim Cummings (who also voiced Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, and Darkwing Duck), Mr. Bumpy was a small green monster living under the bed of a ten-year-old boy, who eats dirty socks and dust bunnies as if they were delicacies. His best friends are Squishington, a blue monster that lived in the bathroom toilet cistern; and Molly Coddle, a Frankenstein's monster-like rag doll. The strangeness of it all was balanced with these supporting characters and various other toys or objects from the child's room like Destructo, the boy's toy robot who sees himself as a cop and persecutes Mr. Bumpy for his actions. The animation was fast and silly, but there were also fairly well made musical numbers, which more-or-less played like a musical montage more than anything. Bump in the Night aired on ABC from 1994 to 1995, then broadcast on Toon Disney from 1998 to 2001. This show was really unusual, really out there, and really fun to watch!
It's Punky Brewster - I really wanted to give this show a pass, because the theme song is so dang rockin'! But I remember this cartoon frying my brain because I didn't understand what was going on. If you know anything about Punky Brewster, she was a spunky little orphan girl who was adopted by a foppish older man, and hijinks ensured, but the core of the show was about a little girl needing a family. Sometimes it would be about her having been poor or trying to learn how to have friends, but it felt like a genuine kind of show. THIS cartoon is about a spunkly little girl, who finds a giant leprechaun gopher creature named Glomer, who came a city at the end of the rainbow and possesses various magical powers. One such power was the ability to transport Punky and her friends to any part of the Earth instantly. Did I mention Glomer looks like he is wearing a toupee and a fake goatee? It is almost like the final season of The Flintstones; in the sense the Great Gazoo was added in the series to try to save ratings. The show ran from 1985 for 2 seasons, with reruns lasting through 1988. Mega cool points for having the entire live action cast reprise their roles in the cartoon, including Soleil Moon Frye! But Glomer had the worst possible voice that any 3rd-rate voice actor or drunken uncle can do. Who was this voice actor? The amazing Frank Welker! I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't IMDB'd it.
Potato Head Kids - You asked for more potato-themed children's media, you got it! Wait, no one ever asked for that? But if you had, what other show could you see it paired with? Another food based property? A wacky space adventure? It was actually made to pair with My Little Pony 'n Friends! This whole cartoon is random. There are these Potato Head people living in the same world as normal people. They don't even have their own universe to build off of. The Potato Head Kids go to the beach, to a county fair, to the zoo, and so on. Debuting in 1985, this was a simple little cartoon and mostly fairly inoffensive. They usually had a song or two per 15 minute episode, but why the Potato Head franchise? This could have been a much strong cartoon if these were the McNugget Buddies in a McDonald's themed word. Could you imagine?
Camp Candy - When I think of a bunch of children hanging around a larger-than-life character and going on adventures, I think of Mr T. and his little gang of junior Olympians. Oh, if you want ed me to suggest the star of a wacky comedy cartoon about a camp counselor getting into funny scenarios, all while trying to save the camp from a man who seeks to demolish the camp in order to make way for a condominium... then I would say Ernest P Worrell !!! Jim Varney is a master with voices, so he could do half of the characters all on his own. But instead, someone decided a cartoon about John Candy was what we needed. Was he ever some sort of massive draw for younger audiences that I did not know about? The cartoon appears to be very loosely adapted from John Candy's movie, "The Great Outdoors", but there is no Dan Aykroyd, no family, heck, he's not even married. The cartoon is about Candy running a summer camp, there is a bear that shows up, and that's all I can connect with the movie. It makes me think of Life with Louie, another cartoon about a funny fat man. Life with Louie was a miserable thing to watch, but it made a little more sense than this. Running from 1989 through 1992, Camp Candy had a relapse in repeats on the Fox Family channel from 1998-2001. I wish I had stronger feelings about this cartoon, but I avoided it like the cabin next door where the family had chicken pox and wouldn't share their PopTarts. It looked unpleasant, it sounded unpleasant, it was simply not a fun day at camp.
Ghostbusters - No, not those proton pack wearing Ghostbusters, but the original; the OG from a full decade prior. Yes, there was a property called Ghostbusters that came before the beloved movie franchise. In 1986, an animated television series created by Filmation came out, serving as the sequel to their 1975 live-action television show The Ghost Busters. Why did they wait so long to make a cartoon? When Columbia Pictures' was making their unrelated film in 1984, they had to purchase the rights to the name Ghostbusters. Eager to capitalize on the success of the movie, Filmation decided to revive their property, producing the cartoon. This was a very confusing and strange show to be out there on Saturday mornings in an era before the internet, when the difference didn't make sense and no one knew why. Children watched this zany cartoon, absolutely dumbfounded that everything about it felt wrong. The characters were foreign, the style of humor was very old fashioned, more akin to Globe Trotters or Scooby Doo than a 1980's cartoon. The Real Ghostbusters cartoon came out only 5 days later. However, with both names floating around, it was too much for small minds to handle. Overall, this wasn't a bad show. I would have loved to have seen it bundled in some sort of spooky hour with Beetlejuice!
Attack of the Killer Tomatoes - This era was shifting from the technicolor robots and stuffed animals of comforting childhood memories, through the period of strange creatures, mutations, and oddities. The strangest part of this cartoon is not actually the story, the characters or even the Killer Tomatoes; it is the process by which this cartoon was ever made! In an 1986 episode of The Muppet Babies, young Fozzy Bear captures a bunch of giant silly tomatoes in a ketchup bottle. The cartoon would often use old movie clips in a sort of parodying way, as children might reinterpret things they had seen their parents watching, and this episode featured clips from Attach of the Killer Tomatoes movie from 1978. It became one of the higher-rated episodes of the season, so much that shows production company (New World) approached the original movie company (Four Square) about making a sequel to Attack Of The Killer Tomatoes. The resulting film, Return of the Killer Tomatoes, was a surprise success and pleased with the results, New World decided to duplicate the results of the film with an animated series aimed at a younger audience. Tweaking various characters and ideas from both movies, the cartoon was born and debuted as one of the first Saturday morning cartoons on the Fox Children's Network in the fall of 1990. This was not my favorite cartoon as it almost glorified evil in the second season. The characters did not evolve although it felt like the world around them was, having been taken over by the tomatoes. Worth a watch of you are curious, but I don't suggest it.
Most of these cartoons were too strange to watch. Sure, there were other insane ideas out there, but most of them worked within their universes or were just products of the time. The more uncomfortable cartoons with adult-oriented themes came on at night, so Saturday mornings were a fairly safe place for children of all ages. I remember finding some of these stranger cartoons interesting, if they were even watchable. There is something comforting about a Shirt Tales, or Pepper Ann, or even a Rude Dog and the Dweebs, but it was interesting to see what other cartoons would come out that pushed the norm.
Did you have a favorite cartoon growing up that would be difficult to describe to someone today? Please share your stories with us in the comments section!