Before cable networks and satellite TV, before TiVo and other DVRs, children around the United States would flock to their TVs every Saturday morning to watch cartoons. Saturday mornings were magical because no one could record TV shows to watch later, let alone pull them up On Demand. And with only three networks to choose from, the list of cartoons available to watch was short. These cartoons earned the highest ratings, and biggest fan followings, during the 1980s.
While I was researching these cartoons, a trend appeared: hard-working voice-over actor Frank Welker stars in almost every entry. The sub-title to this list could be "Frank Welker's 1980s Timeline." Let's track it, shall we?
Millions of Gen' Xers were steeped in The Bugs Bunny/Looney Tunes Comedy Hour with Bugs Bunny, Road Runner, Daffy Duck, Foghorn Leghorn, Sylvester the Cat and Pepe Le Pew. These Looney Tunes from the early 20th Century could be enjoyed by children and their parents, if said parents were awake and in front of the TV on Saturday morning. For years Bugs Bunny and his friends had aired on CBS; with The Bugs Bunny/Looney Tunes Comedy Hour the characters now lived on ABC. The Bugs Bunny/Looney Tunes Comedy Hour premiered in 1985, followed by The Bugs and Tweety Show, which ran for fourteen seasons.
All the voices were provided by the legendary Mel Blanc. (No Frank Welker. But really, who could replace Mel Blanc?) 0-1.
Tom and Jerry has been tinkered with by Chuck Jones and Fred Quimby. The Tom and Jerry Comedy Show was produced by Filmation and premiered on CBS in 1980 and ran for two seasons. Fans enjoyed characters from the original MGM shorts, though they were watered down a bit for TV audiences, like Barney Bear, Droopy the Dog, Slick, Spike, his puppy Tyke and Jerry's nephew Tuffy. The cat and mouse were experts at slapstick chase scenes, winning fans and ratings alike.
Frank Welker provided the voice of Jerry, as needed. Tally? 1-1.
- Watch a trailer for Tom And Jerry: Greatest Chases - Vol. 2
- Watch a trailer for Tom And Jerry: Greatest Chases - Vol. 3
- Watch a trailer for Tom and Jerry: Spotlight Collection, Vol. 3
Hands down, The Smurfs was my favorite cartoon for many years. I proudly owned a Papa Smurf plush (though no one said "plush" in the '80s). The comedic antics, comradery and mix of magic enthralled me. Plus, I've always been a sucker for any character tiny enough to live in a mushroom. Though the cartoon lost its original spark when characters like the Smurflings and the humans Johan and Peewit came on the scene, I refuse to say The Smurfs ever jumped the shark. The Smurfs ran on NBC from 1981 to 1990, winning Emmys in 1983 and 1984 for Outstanding Children's Entertainment Series.
Frank Welker provided the voices for Hefty Smurf and Peewit. Tally? 2-1.
- Watch a trailer for The Smurfs
- Show Guide and Review for The Smurfs
Though Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends has been dissed as kitsch, the cartoon pulled in high ratings and offered one of the few female superheroes for girls to idolize, meaning Firestar. Firestar, also known as Angelica Jones, could heat up a room not only with her blazing fire but also with the super-tight, near-camel-toe bodysuit she wore. Peter Parker's other superhero friend was Dan Gilvezan, Iceman. Occasionally other Marvel characters would visit Spider-Man and his amazing friends, like Storm and Flash Thompson. Venerable voice actor June Foray provided the voice of Aunt Mae. Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends premiered on NBC in 1981, airing through 1983.
Frank Welker voiced the characters of Iceman and Bobby Drake. And now? 3-1.
Where there's Marvel Comics, there's D.C. Comics. Just as Marvel had Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, D.C. had the All-New Super Friends Hour, featuring Justice League superheroes Batman, Robin, Superman, Wonder Woman and ever-under-appreciated Aquaman, along with human helpers Marvin, Wendy and Wonder Dog. Adam West, who played Batman in the '60s live-action Batman TV show, provided the voice for this animated Batman, with famous deejay Casey Kasem as Robin. This hour-long cartoon on ABC was a spin-off from Super Friends, with safety tips added as bumpers during the cartoon. All-New Super Friends Hour ran from 1980 to 1985.
Frank Welker played Mr. Mxyzptlk and Dr. Wells on Super Friends, as well as Darkseid on SuperFriends: The Legendary Super Powers Show. Bam! 4-1.
Before Paul Reubens' fall from grace in the '90s, Pee-wee's Playhouse was a hot commodity on Saturday mornings, attracting youngsters, teens and college students (who were mysteriously drawn toward the psychedelic colors and other-worldliness). Pee-wee's Playhouse aired forty-five episodes on CBS, beginning on September 13, 1986. Though the TV show isn't completely animated, several segments were, including the stop-motion dinosaur family and a little girl named Penny. Plus, Pee-wee showed vintage cartoons, as well as a cartoon titled El Hombre. Pee-wee's Playhouse was nominated several times for Outstanding Children's Series, and won several Emmys for design and music.
As for Frank Welker, I'd love to say he played one of the baby dinosaurs or even El Hombre himself, but no joy. Tally? 4-2.
Only the big-hair mentality of the 1980s could produce a hit cartoon that stars a slave who wields "his fabulous sun sword" and wears a fur mankini, a nearly-nude princess with magical powers and a beast named Ookla, who is a cross between Chewbacca and one of the ThunderCats. Perhaps even more astonishing is that the cartoon's creators imagined that our world would be devastated by a cosmic abnormality in the very near 1994! Thundarr the Barbarian aired on ABC from 1980 to 1982.
No Frank Welker in this cast list. Although he missed the paychecks, I'm sure he feels his CV dodged a bullet. 4-3.
Alvin and his Chipmunk friends, Simon and Theodore, first became famous in their ubiquitous Christmas song in 1958. Nearly thirty years later, The Chipmunks premiered in 1983, a spin-off from the 1961 cartoon, titled The Alvin Show. The Chipmunks featured the boys, and Dave, running through with contemporary storylines. The Chipmunks also introduced the Chipettes, female Chipmunks named Jeanette, Brittany and Eleanor. David Seville (born Ross Bagdasarian, Jr.), the original composer of "The Chipmunk Song," provided voices for all the Chipmunks. Dodie Goodman voiced the Chipettes. It all added up to a hit cartoon that was nominated three times for an Emmy for Outstanding Animated Program.
Though Frank Welker specializes in animal sounds, he wasn't asked to contribute to The Chipmunks. 4-3.
9. The Littles
The Littles is about tiny, human-like people who are discovered living in the walls of Herny Bigg's house (get it? Bigg?). Based on the titular children's book series by John Peterson and Roberta Carter Clark, the cartoon series ran from 1983 to 1986 on ABC. The animated series was full of adventures for the Littles, as well as Henry, whose father was often too busy with science to occupy his son. Perhaps The Littles was such a hit because audiences loved anyone tiny, after the success of The Smurfs. Or perhaps children could relate to Henry being on his own because they were growing up in the first latchkey-kid decade.
Unstoppable Frank Welker played Slick the Turtle. 6-3.
Terry-Toons character Mighty Mouse was popular enough to originally star in The Mighty Mouse Playhouse, which aired on Saturday mornings beginning in 1955. But in 1987, Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures starred a very different Mighty Mouse. Now he had an alter ego, Mike Mouse, and worked in a factory. His design was also slightly different, with exaggerated facial features. For two seasons Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures aired on CBS Saturday mornings and was nominated for an Emmy award for Outstanding Achievement in Music Direction and Composition. (As it should have been, because who doesn't know the theme song? "Here he comes to save the day!")
Interesting casting bit: Maggie Roswell, who played Maude Flanders on The Simpsons, was the voice of Mighty Mouse's paramour, Pearl Pureheart.
Another interesting casting bit: Even though Frank Welker didn't play a part in this particular series starring Mighty Mouse, he did do the voices of Heckle and Jeckle in The New Adventures of Mighty Mouse and Heckle and Jeckle. Amazing! 7-3! Wonder if he had a Flock of Seagulls haircut to go with that '80s success?