1980s Cartoons – Not Nostalgia – They Were Just Better
Youtube can be a very naughty thing, especially when you have a ton of things to do. Last night my long-suffering girlfriend and I, both of us with projects to work on, spent a total of three hours watching intro pieces to 80s cartoons. Bear in mind, with each one lasting around a minute, that’s a hell of a lot of cartoons we got through. Transformers, He man and the Masters of the Universe, Dogtanian and the Muskahounds, Thundercats, M.A.S.K, She-Ra, Jem and suchlike. The night disappeared in a blur of 2D cel animation and catchy (yet incredibly camp) theme tunes, and we came to the joint conclusion that they really don’t make them like they used to. What happened to the memorable theme tune? The jaunty lyrics? Who can forget tunes like the opening to The Lost Cities of Gold? (Yeah, I hear you all singing “Children of the sun…” right now) It does seem that the recent resurgence of interest in all things 80s has been caused by an abject lack of anything new and memorable in years.
Quite simply, cartoons were much cooler in the 1980s. Less agendas. Less overt political correctness. Gloriously outlandish characters. Questionable abuse of the laws of physics. The things didn’t make sense all that often, but they were a blast to watch and immerse yourself in, not to mention being an awesome status thing when your friends found out you got the Gen 1 Optimus Prime. Whoops, sorry, bit of a flashback there.
Also, 2D cel shaded animation is much cooler than the uber flashy CG fests around now. Seriously. The stuff onscreen actually seemed to have some mass to it. Granted, these endless action fests were blatant advertisements for related merchandise, but the content of each episode has proved to be memorable across the generation divide, and even though the animation, music and attitudes are dated, they remain huge fun to watch. Plus, they are nowhere near as patronizing as kid’s shows around at the moment. This is why these older series are such popular sellers on DVD and so highly respected by pop culture enthusiasts.They were fun, exciting, and lodged themselves so firmly in the collective consciousness that they’ve spawned movies, games, figures, shirts and endless other stuff featuring their likenesses, long after the shows have ceased to be produced.
Transformers has got to be the most obvious example of this. A cartoon based on a failing Japanese toy line that became the biggest cartoon merchandise, TV and animated movie phenomenon of the entire decade. The original Japanese toys were repainted, had a storyline slapped onto the franchise and became something almost mythical. The legend lived on into the 90s with new cartoons and toy lines, as well as comics and more, and of course, in 2007 came the first blockbuster live action movie. Not bad for a dodgy old 80s cartoon about cars that turned into robots. Not bad at all.
One weird thing that becomes apparent when viewing these things as an adult, is that you tend to try and over-examine every aspect. Where your younger self just accepted what was on screen, you start pulling the animation, script, voices and music apart. This can lead to viewers losing some appreciation for the source material, but for me, if anything, it has made me love those flawed, ludicrous things even more. Mind you, that over-examination of things we loved as kids is undoubtedly one of the big draws to the geek industries, for which I’m grateful for, but you should never forget that these things were made for kids and should be viewed as such. Have some fun. Disengage your brain, ramp up your suspension of disbelief, and enjoy.
Big kids? Yes we are, one and all. Damn proud of it too. Now, where are my sweets and bean bag?
Andrew writes for the pop culture/memorabilia site Starstore and its blogs, covering the latest and greatest in film, TV, music, comics and cartoon merchandise and collectibles.