Miss the 1990s? The decade that gave us grunge music, the Sega Genesis, and The X-Files also happened to be a golden age for animation. After all but disappearing in the 1970s and 1980s, animated movies made a big return in the 90s – starting with Disney films such as Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King before Pixar dropped Toy Story on the world and ushered in the age of computer animated films. Television cartoons also caught fire in the 90s, as the success of The Simpsons led to a wide range of new and more sophisticated cartoons – both for kids and adults. Sadly, no television show lasts forever. But here are 10 cartoons from the 1990s that we feel should come back.
10. Animaniacs (1993-1998)
Animaniacs was a silly and zany cartoon, existing simply for the sake of being off-the-wall. The whole show was geared towards kids who had just finished their third bowl of Coco Puffs on Saturday morning and were bouncing off the walls of their rec room. An ensemble cast of weird Warner Bros. characters named Wakko, Yakko, and Dot, three siblings whose only purpose was to cause mayhem everywhere they went, Animaniacs broke new ground in kids cartoons with its blend of wit, slapstick, and pop culture references. Positioned as a variety show, it was basically a bunch of random events and zany situations pulled together into a half hour program. Without Animaniacs, there’s a chance there would be no SpongeBob SquarePants or Almost Naked Animals, and so on.
9. Pinky and the Brain (1995-1998)
Another classic 1990s cartoon from Warner Bros. was Pinky and the Brain, about two lab mice (one a genius and the other stupid) who are hell bent on world domination. This was one of those shows that parents and kids each enjoyed for different reasons. Kids liked the silly interplay between Pinky and the Brain and just how dumb Pinky was; while parents got a kick out of the sly political and pop culture references. There were episodes of the show where the Brain appeared on Larry King Live and before Congress in Washington, D.C. Pinky and the Brain was another cartoon that explored new ground and took children’s cartoons out of the realm of the cute and cuddly and into more mature territory.
8. Darkwing Duck (1991-1992)
A bit of a cult classic, Darkwing Duck only ran for two seasons. But in that time, the Disney-produced show earned a loyal fan base. There were rumors as recently as 2016 that Disney was planning to reboot the show, but those rumors turned out to be false – although a comic book version of Darkwing Duck was published in April 2016. About an egotistical, though largely inept, superhero who guards the citizens of St. Canard from a series of bizarre criminals, Darkwing Duck is aided in his adventures by his dumb pilot sidekick, Launchpad McQuack, and his adopted daughter Gosalyn. This show was more of a straight ahead kids cartoon. But those who watched it as youngsters have remained loyal and not forgotten old Darkwing Duck as they have grown up – giving the character and show a lasting legacy in 1990s pop culture lore.
7. Powerpuff Girls (1998-2005)
Girl Power was big in the 1990s, with the Spice Girls and all that. And a big inspiration to girls everywhere were the Powerpuff Girls, a cartoon about three super-powered little girls who save the world and their hometown of Townsville from monsters, would-be conquerers, and several other gross things that tend to pop-up from time-to-time. Filmed in a unique style that is reminiscent of Japanese anime, the Powerpuff Girls were created when Prof. Utonium’s set out to create three perfect little girls, but accidentally included the superhero ingredient “Chemical X” in his creation. The result was the creation of the red-head Blossom, blonde Bubbles, and brunette Buttercup. Not unlike Charlie’s Angels, the flying, super strong, karate chopping girls spring into action whenever Townsville is threatened. This show also proved to be a merchandising gold mine, with Powerpuff Girls adorning school bags and lunch boxes everywhere. The girls were brought back for a TV special in 2014, and premiered again in a series in late 2016 – though with less fanfare and impact than in the 90s. Time for a proper reboot, one that uses the original animation style.
6. Beavis and Butt-Head (1993-1997, 2011)
For certain people, Beavis and Butt-Head are as synonymous with the 90s as Pearl Jam and flannel shirts. The show, which aired on MTV, was definitely not for kids. It wasn’t really for adults either. The core audience was high school and college students, who tuned in to watch Beavis and Butt-Head skip school, try and score with chicks, and watch TV. Mostly, Beavis and Butt-Head spent their time criticizing music videos of the era. If a video contained heavy metal, nearly naked women, and was simply loud, they liked it. Everything else sucked. This was an animated show that spoke to the slacker generation, or Generation X. What’s interesting is that this cartoon actually made a brief comeback in 2011 after initially ending in 1997 (for a grand total of 222 episodes) – which was long after most of the core audience had grown up, gotten jobs, and stopped watching. Series creator Mike Judge stayed with the show until the end, and said in 2014 that he wanted to revive Beavis and Butt-Head on a new network for a new generation. Judge has even talked about a live action Beavis and Butt-Head movie. But, to date, nothing has materialized.
5. Ren and Stimpy (1991-1996)
If you think the cartoons that kids are watching today are pretty gross, you have Ren and Stimpy to thank. This show, which ran for 52 episodes between 1991 and 1996, was about one thing – grossing people out. In the show, an intense, hyperactive Chihuahua named Ren and a dumb cat named Stimpy go on surreal and typically repulsive misadventures. Their experiences usually involved hairballs, poopy litterboxes, magic nose goblins, sentient farts, jars of spit, outhouses, eating dirt, monkey vermin, and any other disgusting substances that were gloriously brought to life through the wonders of animation. While vilified by critics and a lot of parent organizations, Ren and Stimpy ushered in the era of the gross-out cartoon that we still have with us today. For better or worse, this show broke down barriers and made it acceptable to be disgusting. Thank you, Ren and Stimpy. We can only imagine what these characters would get up to today.
4. Rugrats (1990-2004)
Rugrats was huge in the 90s. For kids growing up in the Bill Clinton era, this was the cartoon to watch. It was about four babies named Tommy Pickles, Chuckie Finster, and Phil and Lil Deville and their adventures in the big wide world. It’s hard to imagine now, but this show was massive back in the day. There was even a Rugrats Movie in 1998 that grossed $100 million in North American theaters. While there have been a few made-for-TV specials of the Rugrats since the long running show went off the air in 2004 after 172 episodes, the Rugrats have largely disappeared over the past decade. That’s too bad as this was a wholesome show that kids loved and never seemed to tire of. Probably one of the last classic children cartoons made.
3. King of the Hill (1997-2009)
Another long running animated series from creator Mike Judge that deserves to make a comeback is King of the Hill. The show about a typical American family in Texas ran for 259 episodes, yet it still feels like it could have continued. Meant to be a more realistic counterpunch to The Simpsons, King of the Hill was focused largely on everyday life and tried to find humor in the mundane. The main character, Hank Hill, lives in the fictional town of Arlen, Texas and sells propane for a living. It’s that simple. Praised by critics for its realism and for finding sly humor in everyday life, King of the Hill was initially a ratings hit for Fox. But the show’s popularity declined steadily during the more cynical 2000s. But with other middle brow family-oriented shows making a comeback, why not King of the Hill? If they can bring back Full House and Gilmore Girls, they can surely bring back this show. It’s ripe for Netflix!
2. Batman: The Animated Series (1992-1995)
Batman: The Animated Series was awesome. Dark, edgy, and oriented towards young adults, this cartoon captured the essence of Batman and Gotham City probably as good, or better, than anything else in the Batman cannon. Featuring the voice of actor Kevin Conroy as Batman and Mark Hamill as The Joker, this half-hour show had great stories, character development, and excellent action. Some Batman purists love this series so much that they place it on a shelf next to the Frank Miller comic book The Dark Knight Returns and the Christopher Nolan directed Dark Knight trilogy of films. This cartoon series has had such an impact, that its tone, style and characterizations was continued in a series of cartoons and comics known as the DC Animated Universe. It also spawned a separate (and more mature) series of original animated films – most recently an animated version of the famous comic book The Killing Joke, that was released in 2016.
1. The Tick (1994-1997)
We know that a live-action version of The Tick returned to TV screens in 2016, but what we really want to see is the original animated series make a comeback. After all, it was the cartoon show, with its irreverent humor and silliness, that led to the short-lived live action 2001 series on the Fox Network and recent live-action reboot. Really, everything related to The Tick springs from the amazing cartoon show that ran for 36 glorious episodes in the 1990s and showed what is possible in an animated program. Focused on turning conventions on their head, The Tick finds himself the protector of Reno, Nevada after crashing a superhero convention in the city. Teaming up with Arthur, an accountant in a moth costume, The Tick both fights against and teams up with a hilarious assortment of costumed villains and heroes, including Die Fledermaus, American Maid, the Caped Chameleon, and the Human Bullet. So, so funny. If there’s one cartoon from the 1990s to bring back, please let it be this one!