As nerds, bastard-like or otherwise, cartoons are at the core of what started the love of all things nerdy for the vast majority of the community. Nerds are exposed to them as children and from then on the seed grows. Cartoons can shape and inform what we choose to indulge in as adults. Nerds rally against any change or reboot or reimagining of our beloved childhoods, some even going so far as to say that these changes ruin what came before. As the years roll by we tend to look back on the cartoons so endeared to us with rose-tinted glasses. But do they hold up? Were our cartoons as good as we remember them being or are they better left in the rear-view mirror we call nostalgia?
So there you are. Sitting there with your kids or nieces or nephews, or maybe your dog. On tv is a newer cartoon. Then comes the commercial for the reboot of your childhood favorite. “This is terrible! Cartoons were so much better when I was a kid!” Next thing you know you’re bringing up Netflix, YouTube, or one of a dozen other streaming video services to find an example to justify your claim. As you watch, you begin to notice all the mistakes, the little things that didn’t matter to you as a kid. But now that your tastes a little more refined and sophisticated, you can’t filter it out. Here’s some examples of cartoons with amazing stories whose animation doesn’t hold up to adulthood scrutiny.
Every 90s kid watched Spider-Man. For a lot of kids, it was the first introduction to a comic book character. The series had it all, bad guys you could name and others that seemed similar but sported new names and looks. But when you take a second look at your Friendly Neighborhood 90s Hero, he doesn’t quite hold up… Misspelled words, colors changing back and forth in a single scene, choppy animation… as much as this series did well, the animation didn’t rise to the same level. There were some deep and convoluted story-lines for kids to wrap their heads around, and perhaps without this cartoon, other comic book cartoons wouldn’t have taken off quite so well. But as time and technology progressed, future Spider-Man adaptations would handle the animated far better.
Remember that great intro? X-Men zooming across the screen, flipping around, shooting blasts from their eyes, their names displayed with them so even the uninitiated knew who they were. That epic end frame, the X-Men toe-to-toe with The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants? That’s about as good as the show got in the animation department, and even that points to the areas the show didn’t shine. X-Men has to be shown respect for being one of the first comic book cartoons to hit the mainstream, along with Spider-Man and Batman: TAS. Its plot took on some pretty heavy material from the comic books, doing their best to make it something digestible for kids. While a lot of the show’s downfalls were due to TV restrictions and Marvel’s financial issues at the time, comparing the animation from this to X-Men: Evolution a few short years later highlights the issues. Weird angles, strange body proportions, characters swapping vocals, it’s a little painful to watch. The show still gave us some great comic book adaptations, touching on everything it could while changing it up to fit all the restrictions put on them. Nearly everyone’s favorite character got at least an episode in there somewhere.
Beast Wars 1996-1999
There’s a lot of good things to say about Beast Wars. Between the cartoon and toy line, Beast Wars gave new life to Transformers, introducing a new generation to revisioned characters and adding new depth to the Cybertronian Mythos. The toys were fantastic and a step up from what a lot of people had seen from any action figure up to that point. It was ambitious! An entirely CGI show that featured robots that transformed into animals, that more or less needed to match their action figure counterparts. Unfortunately, using cutting-edge technology can have its downsides. Beast Wars’ dated graphics and animation drag it down when rewatching the show. The repeated footage, blank backgrounds, limited characters to cut cost, all cost the show some low marks. Beast Wars was rich in story, featured some great voice acting, and gave a lot of kids characters that they’d continue to love into adulthood as well a bridge into Transformers that a generation of kids might not have crossed otherwise.
80s kids aren’t removed from this list because they came a decade earlier. While the techniques and technology didn’t have the 90s advances, there were still plenty of sins for 80s cartoons to make, and boy, did they make them. The vast majority of 80s cartoons made similar mistakes, but few bring nostalgic disappointment the way ThunderCats does. That amazing intro gets you bumped up, like it did as a kid. But when the show starts, it doesn’t quite hold up. Not all of it can be put on the shoulders of being “toyable”, a term coined by the cartoon industry for cartoons that could be turned into action figures and toys that kids would demand, and thus make even more money than a cartoon alone could make. That being said, that line of thinking did drag things down. More detailed work with more realistic styles were harder to animate on the cheap, so studios cut corners. ThunderCats had a mind-blowing intro and theme that the cartoon itself didn’t come close to. The characters often had static bodies while only the necessary parts were the ones that moved. The fight scenes were stiff and didn’t live up to expectation given by the intro. The 2011 reboot did a much better job with their action scenes, but it was a more costly show to create and not enough people tuned in. The new reboot, ThunderCats Roar, has a far more simplistic style. Whether or not you’ll love it is up for debate, but it does open the door for more dynamic storytelling with it’s animation. But if the new vision for ThunderCats can deliver the same level with it’s writing, voice acting, and world building as what came before is yet to be seen.
This show is the worst in terms of quality of animation to quality of the story. Gargoyles gave us some of the most interesting and detailed characters and world-building, but the episode-to-episode animation could leave a lot to be desired. Items and marks disappearing and reappearing, the color of items or sometimes entire characters could change from frame to frame or scene to scene, and the show suffered from what a lot of shows had a tendency to do, where the color of a movable object was different than its surroundings. You knew when a wall was going to break, or an inconspicuous object was about to move because it had a different look to it than everything else in the frame. It gave away the surprise. But for all its fault, Gargoyles touched on myths and legends that a majority of kids had never been exposed to before, while giving us a story that taught about family, loyalty, gave kids a moral compass. The voice acting was on point, with a cast featuring a lot of familiar names from Star Trek: The Next Generation. A lot of nerds are hesitant to say it’s time for something to be done in a new style, but if a reboot of Gargoyles could stay true to the writing and acting of the original, an updated version may be what the franchise needs.
Don’t be mistaken, this list is not to bash your favorite or take a crap on your childhood. But sometimes all nerds need a little perspective to realize new and different doesn’t always equal bad, just like old an familiar doesn’t always equal perfect. Each and everyone one of these shows are fantastic in their own right, paving the way for new cartoons with better animation and ever evolving story. As much as nerds love these shows and as good as they were in their day, there’s a reason they’re not still on the air. And there’s always plenty of new things to become new favorites. Each generation needs their own cartoons. Loving the past is great, and a huge, huge part of what we do as nerds, but change can and ultimately necessary. The community should embrace that a bit more. Disagree? Is there a cartoon that should be added to this list that’s not mentioned? Hit us up on Facebook or comment below and let us know!