The alternative title, Steven Spielberg Presents Animaniacs, says it all. The man behind multiple big screen blockbusters, including Jaws, ET, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Jurassic Park, wanted to take Warner Brothers back to its Looney Tunes glory days. When Tiny Toon Adventures became a massive hit, he decided to go deeper into “the vault” so to speak. The result was a show built around three forgotten WB icons who, in the modern world of the ‘90s, became a cartoon combination of Airplane! and any Mel Brooks spoof. While the tots took to the simplistic characters and concerns, their parents giggled at the numerous homages and parodies.
John Kricfalusi will argue, to this very day, that he can’t believe how much he got away with during this celebrated series’ initial run. There are jokes that, to this day, never re-aired once the show went into syndication. At the time, Nickelodeon was known for their cutting edge entries into the genre, and kids ate up the goofy gross out humor. But with his constant nods to Ralph Bakshi and the entire underground comics scene, Kricfalusi became an instant icon, and a source of much parental consternation. The show couldn’t survive the hype or the hate, and was quickly lost into the realm of pen and ink legend.
Okay, this may be a bit of a cheat. We recognize that when William Hanna and Joseph Barbera were out to capture a prime time audience, kids were not their primary concern. They were desperate to evoke the adult audience lost on such shows as Huckleberry Hound and Quick Draw McGraw. When it debuted, this Honeymooners mimic became an instant smash with both demos, cementing its status once it hit syndication. It would remain popular for over three decades, spawning spinoffs, tie-ins, and even a proposed reboot by Family Guy‘s Seth MacFarlane. Kids today still love its stone age silliness. For parents, its neverending nostalgia.
Yes, this show is that great. It’s imagination is so limitless and its approach so novel that it presses Pixar for a place at the animated masterpiece table. Two brothers, Jake the Dog and Finn the Human live in the Land of Ooo. There, they have numerous adventures while battling baddies and saving princesses. The show, centered on the unbridled invention of its underage heroes, has such heart and heroism that you won’t believe an episode only lasts 15 minutes. Creator Pendleton Ward cut his teeth on shows such as The Bravest Warrior and The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack. Adventure is his clever classic.
Few entries on this list demand more respect, and earn more resistance, than this oddball undersea weirdness. After an initial run from 1999 - 2001, the series was revived…twice. Once in 2005, and again in 2007. It is such a part of the planetary zeitgeist that individuals of all ages line up to experience Spongebob amusement park rides, get Squidward tattoos, and long for a bite of a real Krabby Patty. In fact, while kids still adore this title, the adults have long since usurped its absurdist qualities for themselves. Some argue that it’s past its heyday, yet it remains one of the most singular examples of kid cartoons appealing to an older demo ever.