Memory is slippery, susceptible to suggestion. Studies show that describing an image can trick the brain into creating a false memory of actually having seen that image. If you were to read about a Saturday morning cartoon starring a talking, anthropomorphic Rubik’s Cube, you might begin to believe that … oh, wait. Turns out there actually was a cartoon called Rubik, the Amazing Cube featuring a color-matching-puzzle fad who sprouts a head and legs and flies around helping children solve mysteries. The ’80s were a crazy time, man. For that matter, so were the ’90s and the early ’00s, so you’re forgiven for thinking you dreamed up some of these cartoons crashing out on the couch after too much sugary cereal. But they’re all real, and — until Google develops the technology to read our minds outright — way easier to search for if you remember their names. Even if you haven’t seen some of them, psychologists say you might remember watching them anyway.
We’ve already reminded you of TV shows, movies and video games right on the tip of your tongue, but for jogging extra-early memories, check out these 15 Cartoons You’ve Seen But Can’t Remember The Name Of.
15. Muppet Babies
Considering the what-you-see-is-what-you-get nature of the title, most people probably remember the name of Jim Henson’s Muppet Babies, so it’s mainly included here as a public service to keep the few fuzzy-memoried fans out there from adding something like “tiny furries” to your own personal list of Google image searches you can’t ever not remember. (Shout out to similarly sketchy search subject Wuzzles, the short-lived series about Island of Dr. Moreau-like hybrids Bumblelion, Eleroo, Rhinokey & co.) The Muppet Babies are animated versions of Henson’s much loved marionette-puppet hybrids Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Rowlf the Dog and Animal, Gonzo, Scooter and Skeeter the whatevers, exploring an adventure-filled nursery under the not-so watchful eye of the seemingly upper-bodiless Nanny (voiced by Leave It to Beaver mom Barbara Billingsley). The show often incorporated live-action film clips to parody pop culture touchstones like Indiana Jones and Star Wars.
Fun fact: The toddler Muppets were first introduced in a musical number in The Muppets Take Manhattan in 1984, but their popularity wasn’t enough to prevent Jason Voorhees from taking the island away in Friday the 13th Part VIII.
As the Native American marshal of the frontier planet New Texas, BraveStarr wields the power of four spirit animals — none of whom, shockingly, is Jennifer Lawrence. Eyes of the Hawk, Ears of the Wolf, Strength of the Bear, and Speed of the Puma aid BraveStarr in his battles against the evil broncasaur Stampede and his cohorts. Superhuman speed particularly comes in handy, considering BraveStarr’s horse Thirty/Thirty is an aggressive talking cyborg who spends most of his time walking on his hind legs, wields a futuristic blunderbuss, and is more likely to deal out folksy backtalk and excessive use of force than a free pony ride.
The powerful mystic Shaman provides the marshal with spiritual guidance, and Judge J.B. McBride dispenses her own brand of high-tech Wild West justice with her powerful gavel. Cousins Deputy Fuzz and Outlaw Skuzz play opposite sides of the law, obviously, and imaginatively named but nevertheless no-good varmints Tex Hex, Sand Storm, Thunder Stick, and Cactus Head round out the cast/pad the line of action figures.
Not to be confused with the long-running and often-run-from reality show (and recently green-lit major motion picture) COPS, C.O.P.S. is an acronym standing for Central Organization of Police Specialists, a tactical crimefighting unit of cybernetically enhanced law enforcement agents protecting the citizens of Empire City in the year 2020.
In the not-too-distant future, the police will come equipped not only with a variety of marketably nifty action accessories (some of which, in action-figure form, functioned as actual cap guns) but with pun-heavy monikers that helpfully explain their highly specific abilities. Officers Baldwin “Bulletproof” Vess, P.J. “Longarm” O’Malley, and Tina “Mainframe” Cassidy need every one of their nicknamesake powers to combat the likes of Big Boss, Dr. Bad Vibes, Buttons McBoomBoom, Rock Krusher, and the more-intimidating-than-her-name-implies Ms. Demeanor. Vehicles sold separately, of course, and toy versions of the female characters not sold at all.
12. Eek! the Cat
Better Off Dead director and Press Your Luck whammy animator Savage Steve Holland’s Eek is like an alternate-reality Garfield — instead of being celebrated for misanthropic and lethargic tendencies like the legendarily Monday-loathing, lasagna-loving Orange One, purple Eek finds himself entrenched in increasingly awkward, oftentimes dangerous situations because of his altruistic personal philosophy, “It never hurts to help.” Where Muppet Babies imagined themselves in popcorn adventure flicks, Eek would find himself in situations parodying much darker fare like Apocalypse Now, A Clockwork Orange, and The Lord of the Flies. Girlfriend Annabelle, oblivious aspiring polyglot Mom, and even the well-meaning Squishy Bearz offer little help against the conniving Rat Pack and no protection from the always-agitated Sharky the Sharkdog.
Renamed Eek!stravaganza in later seasons, the show also included segments starring two other cartoon characters whose names might escape you — The Terrible Thunderlizards, a group of bee-bomb-flinging dinosaur mercenaries locked in an unending Sisyphean struggle to protect the population of Jurassic City by assassinating Bill and Scooter, two primitive humans with big ideas and uncanny luck.
One of the two animated series starring spotted furry animals to spin-off from Disney‘s 1992 animated-short showcase Raw Toonage, orange Bonkers D. Bobcat can be easily distinguished from the yellow and non-species-specific Marsupilami by the fact that he wears clothes — or a shirt and hat at least. (Like most animated animals that live in houses or work day jobs, Bonkers seems to have no use for pants.) After his career as a cartoon star dried up, Bonkers began working as a police officer, solving crimes in Los Angeles with his partner Lucky Piquel, a hardboiled grump who hates cartoons. Similarities to Roger Rabbit are presumably intentional, and other licensed Disney characters such as Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse, Lady and the Tramp, and the Mad Hatter also make brief appearances in this irreverent meta-toon.
To add to the insanity, Bonkers changes partners (to the much kinder Miranda Wright) and appearance throughout the duration of the show’s 60-episode run, creating a timeline only hardcore fans could keep track of, especially since his Raw Toonage appearances feature Bonkers playing a delivery boy in the cartoons he made before joining the police force.
10. Moon Dreamers
AKA My Little Ponies but with people, the Moon Dreamers cartoon promoted a similarly styled Hasbro toy line released concurrently with the more popular equestrian action figures in the mid 1980s. Charged with ensuring the children of earth have pleasant dreams, the celestial citizens of the Starry Up — Whimzee, Crystall Starr, Bucky Buckaroo, et al — must manufacture an endless supply of happy-thought-inducing magic crystals using their Dream Machine. The Evil Scowlene, who spends her sleepless days and nights in the Castle of Insomnia, spends the 16-episode single season of the show attempting to pull off a Folgers-style switch-up and substitute her own brew of nightmare crystals in unsuspecting children’s subconsciousnesses with the aid of her mischief-making Sleep Creeps and Professor Grimace.
9. Captain N: The Game Master
Not all children’s cartoons are shameless commercials for action figures. Some shamelessly promote video games instead. Adapted from a character originally appearing in Nintendo Power magazine, Captain N chronicled the adventures of Kevin Keene, a young boy transported with his dog Duke to the 8-bit kingdom Videoland via a reality-warping NES console. Armed with a fully functioning Zapper and aided by Megaman, Kid Icarus, Castlevania‘s Simon Belmont, and a giant-size anthropomorphic Game Boy, Keene battles licensed baddies like Dr. Wiley, Egglplant Wizard, and Punch-Out‘s King Hippo, all serving Metroid‘s mastermind Mother Brain, the show’s main villain.
Donkey Kong, Link and Zelda, Ganon, and of course, Mayor Squaresly — the beloved elected leader of Tetris — make guest appearances, and several original characters, including Videoland monarchs Princess Lana and King Charles and superhero-turned-villain-turned-hero-again Wombatman, hang around without games of their own to go home to.
8. The Mysterious Cities of Gold
Set in the recently discovered New World during the 16th Century, The Mysterious Cities of Gold features many names from history class like the Mayans, the Inca and the Olmecs, but anyone who answered questions based on episodes of this show, which aired on Nickelodeon in the late ’80s and early ’90s, probably got some really bad test grades. Chronicling the adventures of Esteban, a young boy with the ability to make the sun appear at will, as he searches for his father and for the titular precious-metal provinces, the show spiced up South American history lessons with a solar-powered ornithopter called the Golden Condor, tales of the mythological sunken empire of Atlantis, and genetically mutated villains with a complicated sci-fi backstory.
Zia (an Incan girl kidnapped by Spanish invaders), Tao (the last survivor of the destroyed Hiva civilization), and Mendoza, Sancho and Pedro (experienced sailors with often ambiguous motivations) join Esteban on a magical quest that hinges suspiciously often on the sun coming out unexpectedly.
That other orange comic-strip cat with an attitude problem, Heathcliff (voiced by the legendary Mel Blanc) is a street-smart alley cat more apt to starting fights than sleeping in. Much like his presumed literary namesake, the cantankerous antihero of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff’s romantic aspirations seem star-crossed. His primary love interest Sonja, a high-class white Persian cat, is not much impressed by Heathcliff’s attempts to claw rival suitors, caterwaul ballads by moonlight, or shoplift supper from the local fish market.
The half-hour series, syndicated across several cable channels from the early ’80s on, also featured the adventures of the Catillac Cats, an even-rougher gang of felines that lived inside an old airplane hull in a junkyard. Led by the undersized and always scheming Riff-Raff, tough-talking Hector, brawny and brainless Mungo, and rhyming and rollerskating Wordsworth may live in a literal dump, but they also drive a Cadillac that can transform into a boat and an RV, in case you wondered where they got that copyright-skirting name.
6. The Littles
Much like The Borrowers — who’ve appeared in several on-screen adaptations of their own including the 2010 Studio Ghibli film The Secret World of Arrietty — the Littles are a family of tiny humanoids who live in the walls of a house owned by much larger people, making great efforts to conceal their presence from most of the house’s occupants. The Little family — the subject of a series of books, two feature-length animated films, and a cartoon that ran for three seasons on Saturday mornings — have elfin pointed ears, rodent-like buckteeth and tails, and a single human ally, Henry Bigg, the adolescent child of the two often-absent archeologists who own the house and, thanks to Henry’s efforts, remain oblivious to the Littles’s existence.
The aptly named Dr. Hunter and his assistant Peterson attempt to trap the Littles, who often endanger themselves pursuing the lures of the human world: rock concerts, model airplanes, gold mining, and in one case, a misplaced remake of The Wizard of Oz all put the tiny protagonists in big peril.
5. Count Duckula
Though he originally appeared as a villain in the British spy spoof Danger Mouse, Count Duckula the 17th is not nearly so evil as the 16 vampiric waterfowl who preceded him — primarily because of a mixup during his resurrection ceremony that resulted in his blood being replaced with ketchup. Most vampires thirst for blood, but the vegetarian Duckula inexplicably craves broccoli sandwiches and show-business superstardom, much to the chagrin of his vulture manservant Igor, who’s always trying to lure the well-meaning count to the dark side.
The giant, clumsy and often confused Nanny will literally walk through walls to protect her “Ducky-boos,” often harming him in the process. Vampire hunter and mad scientist Dr. Von Goosewing and the pitchfork-wielding peasants refuse to believe that the newest incarnation of Duckula is any different from his antecedents, even if Duckula mostly uses his powers of time travel and teleportation to try to jumpstart a career as a jazz musician with an ancient Egyptian saxophone or to break a land-speed record to promote a bed-and-breakfast business.
4. Dragon’s Lair
Adapted from the state-of-the-art-for-1983 LaserDisc arcade game of the same name, Dragon’s Lair presents the quests of chivalrous-but-clumsy Dirk the Daring in a format that still seems unique. Narrator Clive Revill breaks down the commercial-break cliffhangers Choose Your Own Adventure-style, as a multiple choice problem for the protagonist. The viewer sees Dirk’s several possible failed attempts — typically while trying to rescue his beloved Princess Daphne from the dragon Singe — before his single successful effort, all without having to feed a single quarter into the TV set. Considering the arcade game consisted entirely of cutscenes prompting the player to move the joystick in brief quick time events launching further cutscenes, the show is probably one of the most faithful video game adaptations ever made.
Character design and scripting from former Disney animator Don Bluth (The Rescuers, The Secret of NIMH) ensured that the franchise is still loved to this day. Bluth’s efforts to crowd-fund an animated pitch presentation for a film adaptation have netted more than $650,000 from fans to date.
3. Bobby’s World
The intro follows Bobby as he rides his big-wheel tricycle around the house, a la Danny Torrance in The Shining, and that’s not the only reference that probably goes over the heads of this long-running series’ intended audience. Episode titles are often derived from adult-oriented films like Roger and Me, Stand by Me and even Sex, Lies and Videotape — an oddly appropriate choice considering that most of the show’s fantasy sequences are inspired by young Bobby’s misunderstanding of the grownup world. His family — including father Howie, Uncle Ted, and mother Martha, with her legendarily heavy Midwestern accent — most often only add to the confusion, don’cha know?
During the show’s seven season run, Bobby’s worldview matures slightly as he advances in age from 4 to 6 years old, though his voice never seems to get any deeper. America’s Got Talent judge, Deal or No Deal host, and prop comic Howie Mandel said he originally discovered the high-pitched voice for little Bobby Generic when he started choking on a piece of cake at a birthday party.
2. Aaahh!!! Real Monsters
Debuting in 1994, Klasky Csupo’s Aaahh!!! Real Monsters features three of the oddest looking protagonists to ever appear on children’s television. Big-eared Ickis (frequently mistaken for a rabbit, to his extreme annoyance), candy-cane-shaped Oblina (capable of extracting her internal organs for display purposes), and eyeball-toting Krumm are students at Monster Academy taught in the arts of terror by the intimidating and even more hideous-looking Gromble. Misfit monsters attend school to learn to scare humans while hiding the secrets of the monster world. Sound familiar?
Rumors of an unreleased film adaptation of this animated series, which ran for four seasons on Nickelodeon, have persisted since 1997 — with the most commonly repeated version of events being that production was shut down because executives deemed the movie’s subject matter “too dark” for children, but others claim to have seen parts of the finished film broadcast on TV. Odds are, however, that Disney’s 2013 film Monsters University covered similar ground, but with fewer jokes about armpit stench.
1. Captain Caveman and the Teen Angels
The not-quite-as-classic Hanna-Barbera cartoon about teenagers riding around in a van solving mysteries with their hairy mascot, Captain Caveman and the Teen Angels aired on Saturday mornings from 1977-1980. Unlike the comparatively grounded Scooby-Doo, the entire premise of Captain Caveman relies on the fantastic but often malfunctioning powers of its hero, so the villains are often mummies, aliens, and other baddies not so easily unmasked. Other iterations include The Flintstone Comedy Show, where he appears as a Superman-like hero posing as a bespectacled newspaperman, and The Flintstone Kids, where he stars in the kid’s favorite show-within-a-show Captain Caveman and Son.
The unfrozen superhero and his teen caretakers/companions Dee Dee Sykes, Brenda Chance, and Taffy Dare live on in syndicated segments of Scooby’s All-Star Laff-a-Lympics, and “Cavey” makes appearances in Robot Chicken, Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law and, very briefly, in South Park‘s “Imaginationland.”
What other old-school cartoons are deserving of remembrance? Let us know in the comments.
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