Remember the days when you couldn’t wait to jump out of bed, pour yourself a bowl of cereal, and turn on the TV to watch cartoons? No matter what decade you were born in, Saturday morning cartoons were a staple of every kid’s childhood. There was no school to rush off to, only the boob tube to keep you entertained before you were inevitably forced to go outside or do some chores around the house.
These days, ‘90s nostalgia is in full swing, as those of us who were fortunate enough to live through that time still remember the cartoons that permeated our brains. Certain shows just stay with you, whether it’s because of a catchy theme song, wacky scenarios, or hilarious voice talent. In tribute to these animated relics of the past, we’ve compiled a list of the 15 Best Saturday Morning Cartoons From The ‘90s. So, grab your bowl of Fruit Loops and see if you agree with our top picks.
15. Goof Troop
Goof Troop was one of those shows you either loved or hated as a kid. If you were a hardcore Goofy fan, it may have seemed like an embarrassing attempt at keeping the character relevant, but to everyone else, it was just another Disney show with its own strengths and weaknesses. The series’ suburban setting also gave it more of a sitcom vibe than its predecessors, while allowing Goofy to shine in his single parent role. While he certainly wasn’t the perfect father, he was at least shown as well-meaning and loving towards his son.
The show mainly focused on the relationships of the main characters, namely Goofy’s relationship with his son Max and his neighbor Pete (who loses some of his villainy in exchange for providing a contrast in parenting styles from Goofy). It also showcased the talents of some really prolific voice actors like Rob Paulsen, Jim Cummings, and Nancy Cartwright. Despite only lasting for one season in the early ‘90s, the show’s comical scenarios and feel good father-son bonding eventually inspired two spin-off movies, A Goofy Movie and An Extremely Goofy Movie, which were also generally well-regarded.
Based on a Franco-Belgian comic book character, Disney developed their own iteration of Marsupilami, which originally aired during Disney’s Raw Toonage segments. Following its popularity, the character appeared in his own Saturday morning cartoon on CBS during the 1993-1994 Fall to Spring season. Each episode featured Marsupilami and his friend Maurice the gorilla outsmarting a dimwitted human named Norman or evading Eduardo the leopard, who was always trying to eat the titular character.
Originally, Marsupilami only spoke one word in a Hodor-like fashion—his catchphrase “houba”—and spent more time rescuing other creatures rather than causing trouble. However, he was changed to being much more of a talkative, smart-ass character, which was later a staple of Saturday morning cartoon characters like the Warner siblings on Animaniacs (fear not, we’ll get to them in a bit). While Marsupilami was one of those fun-loving cartoons that lacked much in the way of educational value, it made up for it with slapstick humor in the vein of Laurel and Hardy and early Looney Tunes cartoons.
Like Goof Troop, Taz-Mania featured a character we were already familiar with, the Tasmanian Devil, and built up his backstory with a family and supporting characters. While Taz was still his crazy, manic self, we got to see him doing everyday things like talking on the phone and trying to sew. Unlike the Looney Tunes version of the character who’s only seen chasing prey in a ravenous tornado, Taz also has to deal with the frustrations of parents, siblings, and living a domesticated life.
Taz-Mania often broke the fourth wall and had a number clever cultural references that went over kids’ heads. In particular, Taz’s Dad and Uncle were parodies of Bing Crosby and Bob Hope, who starred together in a number of films during the 1940s. A lot of scenes also took place in a hotel, where Taz was employed as a bellhop, which was meant to spoof John Cleese’s Fawlty Towers sitcom. The show also hilariously played with the idea that Taz could speak perfectly fine, especially if he wanted something, but chose not to. Although it’s often overlooked in favor of other animated WB shows from the same time period, Taz-Mania was a legitimately funny slice of satire.
12. Tiny Toon Adventures
In the same vein as Muppet Babies and A Pup Named Scooby-Doo before it, Tiny Toon Adventures utilized younger versions of existing animated characters. Although Tiny Toons looked like the cuter versions of their Looney Tunes counterparts, they weren’t actually related to them (or each other, as Babs and Buster constantly reminded us). Instead, the older incarnations appeared as teachers at the Acme Looniversity, where the younger characters were pupils.
Tiny Toons was the first in a series of animated shows born out of Warner Brother’s collaboration with Steven Spielberg, and is often seen as a testing ground for Animaniacs. In fact, it was eventually canceled in order to make way for that very series, which had a similar intro and many of the same voice actors.
While an inherently fun show, especially for kids, Tiny Toons constantly peppered itself with ’90s current events, which makes it appear a lot more dated in a modern day rewatch. As a result, it inspires a more specific type of nostalgia in comparison to some of the other shows on this list. Where else could you see Batman unzip himself completely to reveal Michael Keaton inside?
Freakazoid! became a cult favorite for its frequent pop culture references, especially those relating to other superheroes. The show latched onto Batman, in particular, naming Freakazoid’s headquarters the Freakalair (with a butler named Ingmar) and his primary means of transportation was known as the Freakmobile. Every superhero and supervillain on the show was more absurd than the last, including a character named Hand Man, which was actually just Freakazoid’s right hand (who ended up marrying his left). Even his methods for defeating his enemies were completely insane, sometimes coming as a complete surprise to Freakazoid himself.
The show’s original concept was the brainchild of DC comics legend Bruce Timm, who intended for it to be a more straightforward comics series until Steven Spielberg got involved and changed into the zany comedy ’90s kids grew to love. Freakazoid was the alter ego of Dexter Douglas, a teenager who happened upon a computer code that sucked him into his computer and spit him out again with a set of unpredictable superpowers. Essentially, Freakazoid was the Mr. Hyde to Dexter’s Dr. Jekyll, although he was a lot less nefarious and much more insane. What’s not to love about a superhero who gained his superpowers from the Internet?
10. Darkwing Duck
Essentially a parody of superheroes like The Shadow and Batman, Darkwing Duck was filled with references to the Golden Age of comics, primarily the 1940s, with a bit of film noir and pulp novelization thrown in for good measure. A single dad by day, Drake Mallard struggled with his desire for fame as Darkwing Duck, the alter ego he assumed to fight crime at nighttime.
No preexisting Disney characters were used in the show with the exception of Darkwing’s sidekick, Launchpad McQuack, who had appeared in DuckTales as Scrooge’s pilot. Despite the character crossover, creator Tad Stones has said that Darkwing Duck was actually an alternate universe from the one in DuckTales (go figure).
Aside from the many adventures of Darkwing and Launchpad, the series was especially memorable for the consistent catchphrases uttered by Darkwing (Let’s get dangerous!), which he often adjusted according to the situation. And let’s not forget the show’s super amazing, ultra ’90s hip-hop theme song performed by Jeff Pescetto, who also did the DuckTales and Rescue Rangers intros.
9. Bobby’s World
Before Howie Mandel was asking people “deal, or no deal?”, he was a stand-up comedian and creator of a long-lived animated show for Fox Kids. Bobby’s World ran for eight years with Mandel bringing the title character to life, whose voice he supposedly discovered while choking on a piece of cake as a kid.
Bobby’s World explored the overactive imagination of Bobby Generic in scenarios inspired by Mandel’s actual childhood. Before and after each episode, Mandel would appear along with Bobby and either briefly discuss what the audience was about to see, or make some sort of commentary relating to the episode. Occasionally, Mandel would even tell an anecdote that related to the events in the episode to give it some real world context.
Aside from voicing Bobby, Mandel also played Bobby’s father, Howard, in his normal voice. You might also remember Bobby’s mother’s distinct Minnesotan accent and her frequent colloquialisms like “don’t cha’ know.” She was voiced by SNL alum Gail Matthius, who did a large amount of voiceover work for ’90s animation, as did other cast members like Edie McClurg (Aunt Ruth) and Frank Welker (Roger the dog).
8. Pinky and the Brain
Originally appearing as part of Animaniacs, Pinky and The Brain got its own spinoff series in 1995 and was later followed by another version called Pinky, Elmyra, and the Brain, where the two mice accidentally get adopted by Elmyra from Tiny Toons.
Every episode included the same exchange between Pinky and the Brain: “What do you want to do tonight, Brain?” “The same thing we do every night, Pinky. Try to take over the world!” Whereas Pinky was a happy, fun-loving idiot who had a Tourettes-like tic, Brain was a megalomaniacal genius who was hell bent on world domination. Ironically, Pinky often ended up saving the day or pointing out the flaws in Brain’s plans, despite his supposed lack of intellect.
Although the show only lasted for four seasons, it left a mark for its constant inventiveness and intelligence. Many adult jokes found their way into Pinky and the Brain as well, as SAT-level words appeared along with their definitions in the end credits. It was definitely one of the few Saturday morning cartoons that were ahead of its time.
Another long-running animated series that played out through the end of the ‘90s, Recess explored schoolyard politics among a group of elementary school kids at Third Street School. TJ and his gang of friends constantly navigated the tricky rules and traditions of King Bob and his predecessors, which were enforced by his numerous minions and assistants.
Each member of the Recess gang represented a “type”, not only within school, but in everyday life as well. A leader always emerges within a group (TJ), there’s the tough one (Spinelli), the egotist (Vince), the genius (Gretchen), the big teddy bear (Mikey), and the insecure one (Gus). Recess also dealt with common issues kids encountered while growing up, such as bullying, cliques, and morality.
The show was a microcosm of society, showing the diversity of human nature and the benefits of working through conflict for the betterment of everyone. Basically, Recess should be required viewing for HR departments and political leaders everywhere.
6. The Tick
There sure were a lot of animated superhero shows in the ‘90s. Like Freakazoid!, The Tick parodied the typical, straightforward superhero that kids were used to seeing in DC and Marvel comics. Originally, it started out as its own absurdist comic series for New England Comics, until its creator, Ben Edlund, was approached about doing an animated series. Christopher McCulloch jumped on board to help write the show, and later brought Edlund onto his own project, The Venture Bros.
The Tick helped fill out the Fox Kids Saturday morning block, but it generally appealed to a more adult audience than the other shows due to the comic book’s already established cult following. With an accountant for a sidekick and villains with names like Chairface Chippendale, it’s a small wonder the show lasted for three seasons on a mainstream network, but they always managed to throw enough comedy in that both kids and adults could enjoy. The Tick excelled at making fun of itself and constantly pushed the boundaries of what a cartoon could be, and especially, what a superhero cartoon could be.
5. Hey Arnold!
Hey Arnold! is one of those Nickelodeon shows that sticks with you even into adulthood. Arnold’s neighborhood could have been in any major North American city, which made it easy to put yourself in Arnold and his friends’ shoes. Along with his own personal dilemmas, Arnold was also helping solve the problems of others, including many adults, which is something a lot of ’90s kids can relate to.
In particular, it was refreshing to see a show with so many emotional nuances embedded in it, especially when it came to Helga’s feelings for Arnold. How many of us had a childhood bully whom we later found out had a serious crush on us? Hey Arnold! was great at getting inside the mind of a kid and navigating the world through its series of adventures.
After five seasons and numerous reruns, Hey Arnold! fans will be happy to learn that a full-length film is set to air on Nickelodeon in November. Finally, we’ll get to find out what happened to Arnold’s parents and if Arnold will reciprocate Helga’s feelings as they enter the sixth grade. Or at least, we hope we will.
Like the original Mighty Morphin Power Rangers TV series, X-Men was acquired during Margaret Loesch’s appointment as head of children’s programming for Fox. The show’s South Korean-style animation made it stand out from many of the other animated series at the time, making it more competitive with well-loved Saturday morning hits like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
It was a superhero show in all senses of the definition, and one that inspired the creation of many others during the ‘90s and ‘00s. There was even some crossover with the Spider-Man animated series, at a time when it was not very common to see that done, especially in animation.
Fans of the X-Men comics could enjoy seeing some of their favorite characters come to life on the small screen in both original stories and those adapted from the Marvel comics. The show also included some familiar premises that were later adapted into the live-action film franchise, including the Sentinels scenario from X-Men: Days of Future Past and the “Age of Apocalypse” storyline kinda sorta seen in X-Men: Apocalypse.
To this day, Rugrats remains one of Nickelodeon’s most popular animated series (and for good reason). The combination of Klasky Csupo’s wacky-looking animation, fleshed out characters, and adorable premises made it easy to relate to the babies and their weekly escapades. Plus, how awesome was Reptar, guys?
Rugrats taught kids to do the right thing through Tommy Pickles’ moral compass, made being weird okay through Phil and Lil, and represented every kid’s inner worrywart through Chuckie Finster. And despite her villainous behavior, we all looked forward to seeing what kind of trouble Angelica could cook up (even if she was a spoiled brat).
Rugrats won multiple Emmy Awards for Outstanding Animated Children’s Program, and it was also one of the only kid’s shows that featured Jewish characters. It even had two Jewish holiday specials—one for Hanukkah and one for Passover. The show gave viewers a chance to re-explore their world through fresh eyes and remember what it was like to just play and have fun.
Generally regarded as the best animated series produced by Warner Brothers in coordination with Steven Spielberg, Animaniacs still remains a fan favorite to this day. In fact, it was so well received, the show took home eight Emmy awards (and even a Peabody Award) in its debut season.
Yakko, Wakko, and Dot whirled into our lives like a tornado with ADD, teaching us the U.S. states, presidents, and nations of the world through song. A variety show of sorts, with a heavy dose of fun but educational songs, Animaniacs also had a number of short segments with other principal characters like Pinky and the Brain, The Goodfeathers, and Slappy Squirrel.
Besides all the wacky antics and silly catchphrases, Animaniacs worked because it dared to venture into risky territory. Nothing was safe from their writers, including competing shows like Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, Disney films, celebrities, and adult sitcom shows like Seinfeld. It effectively broke the fourth wall time after time, combined slapstick humor with parody, and captured the hearts of kids and adults alike.
1. Batman: The Animated Series
Arguably the best cartoon superhero show of all time, and perhaps even one of the best animated shows of all time, Batman: The Animated Series was a no-brainer for our number one spot. No other Saturday morning cartoon was as inventive and memorable in every aspect, creating a piece of art that still stands the test of time.
From its mashup of art deco, film noir, and a Burton-era Gotham setting, along with its incredible voice cast, Batman: TAS pushed the boundaries of an animated show, making it easy to forget it was made with kids in mind. The show was noticeably darker both in tone and appearance than most other cartoons of the time, tackling themes of death, abuse, and revenge. Batman: TAS also had considerably more realistic looking violence than even live-action shows like Mighty Morphin Power Rangers could ever lay claim to.
It was here too that we were first introduced to Dr. Harleen Quinzel aka Harley Quinn, who has gone to become the most popular female character in the DC universe aside from Wonder Woman. Batman fans were also blessed with the voice of Kevin Conroy, who for many, will always remain their favorite Batman. Oh, and Luke Skywalker played the Joker.
What animated ’90s series had you waking up early on Saturday mornings and parking in front of the TV? Let us know in the comments.
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