Saturday Mornings: Teen Toons
The vast majority of cartoons of the 1960’s and 1970’s were focused on either young children or full grown adults. For every Richie Rich or Rainbow Brite, there was a Thundarr the Barbarian or She-Ra. However, the kids at home were dreaming about their teenage years, wondering what it would be like in high school and to have new freedoms afforded to older children. Saturday morning cartoons eventually caught up with the ROCKIN’ 80’s and the RADICAL 90’s, where teenagers with attitude took center stage. This new animation vanguard focused on what it meant to be a teen, dealing with real drama and tackling a strange new world. The concepts of personal identity, the morality of one’s decisions, and just trying to fit in with a social group was the hot new subject matter, ripe for exploration.
Kidd Video – Today, Kidd Video may feel like an “Its so bad, its good!” experience, especially from a grown-up retrospective outlook. However, this was really just a bad cartoon. Created by DIC Enterprises, the series ran for two whole seasons on NBC from 1984 to 1985, with reruns for a few years after. The series revolves around a musician actually named Kidd Video, and his band, which was also called Kidd Video. The villainous Master Blaster transported them through their TV, down to his home dimension, a cartoon world called the Flipside. The teens were rescued by a fairy named Glitter, and they all try help to free people from Master Blaster’s rule, while also looking for a way home. This was a standard concept for a cartoon at the time, especially with the band of kids looking to get home, but it was everything else about the show that made it so cringey today. Each episode was a diet caffeine-free attempt to capture the MTV music video aesthetic, where one action sequence per cartoon was set to a popular song. Each episode also ended with a live-action music video by Kidd Video, the band not the boy. So yes, we have another live band starring as a cartoon band concept. The supporting voice over cast was well above grade for a cartoon this bad, but out of the main cast, the only standout was Robbie Rist who voice the Whiz, who was best known for playing Cousin Oliver in The Brady Bunch, and also voicing Michelangelo in the 1990 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film.
Hero High – I do not have the most vivid of memories of this cartoon as I was still a very little kid when it aired for only one season in 1981 and 1982 on NBC. However, I do remember this looking like a series of cartoons I had seen before of which I was not a big fan. Originally intended to be a new entry in Filmation's long-running line of Archie cartoon series, the cartoon was changed at the last minute because the company's rights to the Archie characters had expired and new characters had to be created. The changes were mostly superficial as you can tell that Glorious Gal and Dirty Trixie were transparent reskins of Betty and Veronica, while Captain California was clearly Archie. The idea of the show was about teenagers in high school learning how to use their superpowers to fight crime, but the episodes rarely focused on either of those concepts. It was mostly general hijinks and nonsensical plans by the villains. One of the actually interesting components of the show is that it was sandwiched inside of the Kids Super Power Hour with Shazam. This block of shows featured several shorts, Hero High, Shazam, and live action sequences with the teens from Hero High starring in their own rock band. It was schlocky, it was banal, but looking back it was actually a novel concept. Actual people in the costumes who did the voice work for the cartoons, it is like next-level cosplay before cosplay even existed!
Turbo Teen – This cartoon was awesome; not only was it a rocking adventure but also served as an apt parallel for teenagers having to come to grips with change. Other cartoons would try to connect the woes of teenage-hood and puberty with that of becoming a rage filled monster, but Turbo Teen gives us a boy who becomes an automobile. His transformation always looked rather gruesome and painful to me as his body stretched out and contorted. The end result is a bright red sports car, modeled after what is believed to be a mixture of a 3rd gen Chevy Camaro and a Pontiac Trans Am. Running for one thirteen-episode season in 1984 on ABC, the cartoon starred a teenager Brett Matthews, who swerved off the road in a thunderstorm, crashing into a secret laboratory. In the accident, Brett and his car become fused together by a laser. In something of a Bruce Banner/Hulk scenario, the transformation cannot usually be triggered at will and thus Brett must become exposed to extreme heat to transform into his vehicle form, and then extreme cold to switch back. This concept was used in inventive ways, where a villain might force him to change from one form to another, or that Brett’s transformations might occur at the most inconvenient of times. Turbo Teen was a clear riff on the Knight Rider television series in subject matter and even style, but was reframed in a way that was perfect for kids and teens alike.
Galaxy High – Airing for only 13 episodes in the latter half of 1986 on CBS, this science fiction cartoon was actually created by Chris Columbus, who is best known for writing the screenplays for Gremlins and The Goonies, directing Home Alone, Mrs., Doubtfire, and two Harry Potter movies! I remembered just getting in to this show as it ended and wondering where it had gone because I found the concept to be novel at the time. Two teens from Earth are accepted into an intergalactic high school. Doyle, was a popular jock and Aimee was more of a shy wallflower. The theme song even called Aimee, "the smartest girl in school, not very popular, not very cool." The voice acting team were all very experienced, with Hanna-Barberra alum Howard Morris, Nancy Cartwright from the Simpsons, David Lander who played "Squiggy" in Laverne & Shirley, and Pat Carroll who had voiced Ursula in Disney’s The Little Mermaid. It was a fun cartoon that was ahead of its time with what would later become classic high school concepts of cliques such as winning “the big game”, running for student president, struggling between academics and sports, etc. Bright and colorful, this was a fun cartoon with loads of promise, and it should have run for a second season, but CBS retired the show early and re-ran episodes of the first season for the 1987 schedule.
Mr. T - This cartoon was as much about the teen sidekicks as it was the titular character. For those unfamiliar with Mr T, he was a former wrestler and actor, best known for his roles as B. A. Baracus in the 1980s television series The A-Team, and as boxer Clubber Lang in the 1982 film Rocky III. In this show, Mr. T is the coach to a gymnastics team (with a specific emphasis on members Jeff, Woody, Robin, and Kim), travelling the world while becoming involved in and solving various mysteries. The cartoon aired on NBC from 1983 to 1986, running for a healthy 30 episodes, produced by Ruby-Spears Enterprises. Mr T did a great job voicing his own character, but he was also supported by an amazing cast of voice actors. This includes Takayo Fischer, an accomplished actress on film but who had also done work on Batman: The Animated Series, Super Friends, Captain Planet, Teen Titans, Justice League Unlimited, and Avatar: The Last Airbender. She played the role of Ms. Priscilla Bisby, the well-mannered bus driver. There was also Cathy Cavadini who voiced Skye Redfern, a Native American gymnast, whose grandfather was accused of a crime. Cavadini is better known today for voicing Blossom in The Powerpuff Girls cartoon. Most notably, this was the first role of one of animations greatest voice artists, Phil LaMarr! He played the role of Woody Daniels a gymnast who hopes to become a lawyer when he retires from gymnastics. Like many other cartoons at the time, the show was bookended with live-action segments starring Mr. T himself. At the beginning of each episode, Mr. T would explain the plot of the upcoming show, and at the end he would narrates a moral lesson for the young audience. It was fun, it was wacky, and I pity the fool who did not enjoy this cartoon.
Beverly Hills Teens - If I told you about a cartoon that was all about glamour and glitter, fashion and fame, you would likely think I was talking about Jem and the Holograms! That was a superior cartoon to be sure, but the knockoff version that graced the airwaves back in 1987 for a staggering 60 episodes that were dumped within a 3 month period was called Beverly Hills Teens. Taking place in Beverly Hills, Californina, and revolving around a club of sixteen-year-olds, the group would get in to dramatic situations with a back drop of such places as their palatial high school, the country club, the salon, or while shopping on Rodeo Drive. The voice acting was on par with a lot of the other content of the era, even though it had a much more exciting cast than you would think. Some noteworthy voice actors were Karen Bernstien who voiced Hello Kitty in the mid 1990’s, Tracey Moore who was Princess Toadstool in The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World, Hadley Kay who starred as Nicholas in the Care Bears Movie, and Jonathan Potts who voiced Link from The Legend of Zelda and Captain N: The Game Master cartoons. The animation, on the other hand, was well below average at best! Loops would cycle on endlessly to facility longer conversations, and everything felt jumpy, as if it had a much lower frame rate of animation than what you would be used to seeing. The art style could be considered somewhere between that of Jem and the Holograms as far as style but degraded down somewhere between Bratz dolls and Troll dolls. I do not remember getting into this cartoon, although I am fairly sure it came on a little later in the morning. I likely caught more of it after its original run when the series continued to be broadcast as part of a syndication package featuring rebroadcasts of Maxie's World and It's Punky Brewster. Beverly Hills Teens was described by one columnist as "spoiled rich kids who attend classes equipped with Louis XIV antique desks”. As the series was touted for being more wholesome and character rich in response to the rise in more violent cartoons of the time, it was countered that the money-happy teens weren’t rich in character, just rich.