Syndicated cartoons were big business in the ’80s with toy inspired shows like Transformers, Masters of the Universe and My Little Pony being picked up by local television stations to fill airtime and grab valuable advertising dollars. Usually, these shows would pop up on weekday afternoons or the infamous Saturday Morning Cartoon block.
But by the time the 90s rolled around, there was another special time to watch cartoons that has always stuck out in my mind. Saturday Morning Cartoons always get the glory, but I think it’s time to give Weekday Morning Cartoons of the ’90s their due. So here’s a list of shows I watched like a ticking clock in the early morning hours before school started.
James Bond Jr (1991)
I had just learned about the James Bond film franchise in 1990, watching Thunderball and You Only Live Twice at a friend’s house on VHS, so when James Bond Jr. exploded onto the small screen in 1991, I was primed and ready. The rockin’ theme song instantly hooked me, but the line, “He learned the game from his Uncle James, Now he’s heir to his name…” always baffled me. How could the boy be a Junior if 007 was his Uncle? I quickly got over that plot hole once the wild villains like Jaws and Dr. No appeared on the screen to wreak havoc as S.C.U.M., an evil organization bent on world domination (but aren’t they all?).
Not only was I watching the show before school while scarfing down a bowl of Rice Krispies, but I was also playing with James Bond Jr. action figures. The box art was so eye-catching with the contrasting neon pink swirls on a black background, I had to pick up 2 or 3 of them. I don’t know that the show was very satisfying for hardcore Bond fans, but it was a nice way to keep the brand alive between the Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan years.
Mighty Max (1993)
This was one of those shows that ended up being so much more compelling than a toy based on the boy version of Polly Pocket had any right to be. As fulfillment of an ancient prophecy, Max (voiced by Rob Paulsen aka Raphael from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) gets a magical baseball cap and is guided by an anthropomorphic talking Owl named Virgil and a Viking protector named Norman (voiced by Richard Moll aka Bull from Night Court) as he travels through time and space as the “Mighty One” to defeat Skullmaster (voiced by Pennywise himself, Tim Curry).
The setup sounds basic, but the characters were written so well that you really got connected to them over the course of the series, making it that much more shocking when Virgil and Norman are killed in the final episode (though Max brings them back through time travel). It was just a very tightly scripted series with a definite endpoint, which was rare for any syndicated cartoon series. I did buy one of the tiny flip open Mighty Max playsets that inspired the show and more basic versions that were also featured in McDonald’s Happy Meals at the time. Most recently I picked up a copy of the show on VHS, which I was very excited about.
Biker Mice From Mars (1993)
Usually regarded as a rip-off of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or just another mutant animal action show, Biker Mice From Mars had an edge that few cartoons at the time could match. The 3 road ready rodent heroes of Throttle (voiced by guess who…Rob Paulsen), Modo and Vinnie (Ian Ziering from Beverly Hills, 90210) were tough talkin’ bikers with battle scars that proved they were far from pizza-munching surfers dudes. Teaming up with an Earth woman name Charley to fight the fishy Plutarkians led by Limburger for 65 episodes, it was a rude wake-up call whenever I caught these heroes revving their engines.
What a lot of people don’t realize is that Biker Mice From Mars was originally associated with Marvel Productions, with Stan Lee as Executive Producer and they even got their own comic book, of which I own the first issue. I recall seeing their action figures on toy store shelves and the video game for rent at Blockbuster Video, but I never quite bought all the way into the hype. Still, in the age of Street Sharks and Stone Protectors, I feel like Biker Mice From Mars was a cut above the rest.
The Bots Master (1993)
I’ll be honest, The Bots Master was not my cup of tea, but simply by its placement in the early morning hours, it got my attention while I waited for my Australian Toaster Biscuits to pop out of the toaster. The story of Ziv Zulander and his endless stream of robotic B.O.Y.Z.Z. battling against RM Corp was kind of boring and adding to the weirdness was the hip-hop street culture angle they used in place of the played out surfer/skater lingo. I mean, come on, the theme song was a Robot Rap!
I will say though, whenever the show jumped to “Lazer Time” which was a semi 3-D effect added to the animation, I got a little excited. Since the show was executive produced by Avi Arad who owned Toy Biz, Lazer Time could be enhanced through buying The Bots Master action figures which were packaged with 3-D glasses. Though fairly generic, the toys were way more fun than the cartoon could ever be.
Sailor Moon (1995)
Anime and Manga were never my favorite forms of entertainment growing up, but I had a Chinese neighbor across the street who introduced me to Dragonball Z and Sailor Moon before they were all the rage in the United States. So when Sailor Moon, Tuxedo Mask and the rest started appearing on my TV screen in the early morning hours, I took notice. I wouldn’t say I became a huge fan, but the concept had just enough superhero in it to make me interested in sitting through it.
My favorite part of adventure cartoons were the transformation sequences, so shows like Filmation’s Ghostbusters, Turbo Teen and Dinosaucers always had a special place in my heart. Well, Sailor Moon has one of the most stylish and iconic transformation sequences in animation history, so you better believe I got pumped whenever our heroine or her Sailor Scout cohorts powered up for action.
There you go, a few of my memories of Weekday Morning Cartoons. Special shout out the Hanna Barber produced Wake, Rattle, and Roll that featured live-action segments of a boy and his robot with a VHS tape for a head between some pretty terrible animated fare from the house of Yogi.
So tell me, what were some of your favorite cartoons to catch before hopping on your bike for school?
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