Ok it's comparison time :) During a lunch break discussion with my work mates today, we somehow found ourselves chatting about cartoon's from our childhood. Actually it was Powerpuff girls that begat the discussion (we work for an Anime dvd company and are currently getting the Powerpuff girls seasons ready for the Christmas release schedule) I'm 30 and the average age of my work friends is 28-38 so we all understood and agreed that the 90's truly owned when it come to awesome animated efforts. Names like Dexters laboratory, Tiny toons, Johnny Bravo, Transformers: Beast Wars and Animaniacs were thrown around, thus leaving a big grin on all our faces as we got our nostalgia on. My friend (who shares a similar taste to me) mentioned the 90's Batman animated series as being a high point, and we all agreed (I actually own and still watch the series and all it's offshoots regularly, so definitely no argument from me) which led me to mention the 90's Spider-Man animated offering that is still so dear to my heart all these years on. Turns out he was also a fan. Must have been a permanent fixture of his childhood too. Some 80's cartoons were mentioned and we talked about how awesome shows like Transformers, G.I Joe, Voltron and Masters of the Universe were back in the day... and then laughed at how badly some of them have aged (Masters being particularly hilarious by today's standards) Turns out we were all Ninja Turtles kids. It was the 90's, if you were a boy, then you were a 'turtles' fan, no question. My other friend who is 38 years old mentioned he's little boy is currently nuts for 'turtles' and has a Leonardo costume he wears constantly, and I make mention mine was Raphael. Somethings thankfully don't change ;) I love how Turtles are still filling toy shop windows, and not just because I'm a massive geek who still buy's and collects them (only now I don't open) but because it's made something very dear to me timeless, still relevant for a whole new generation of geeky kids (I've decided upon writing this, that my next article will be a TMNT retrospective to try to determine what it is about them that keeps kids so enthralled from generation to generation) By the end of lunch we had all came to the same conclusion, kid's today don't know what they missed... but, is it just a nostalgia thing? As in we only remember the time so fondly because it was the time we grew up in? Or were things really so much better back then? That is the question I would like to get to the bottom of and whole reason for my article :)
Luckily I never really grew up and cartoons are still pretty much the norm for me. I'm not some crotchety old dude with no idea of modern standards, I'm well aware of what's currently popular with the kids (after all I do work full-time for an Anime/cartoon dvd company) and feel if I am to (possibly) convince we had it so much better than I had better have evidence to prove my bold statement. So without further ado on with the comparisons.
Of course I can't cover every cartoon from the 90's, I don't have that much free time, geez ;) So I'll be handpicking some important ones to my own memories as well as one's that can be easily compared with something more modern, whether it be similar in tone or modern reinventions of the same show.
1. 90s Spider-Man vs Ultimate Spider-Man
Yeah I know, of course I've started with Spidey. He's my favorite superhero after all. Who can forget the classic 90s series? That kick ass theme song with the wailing guitars "Spider-Man, Spider-Man, radioactive Spider-Man" (for the record it was the Aerosmith guitarist) the awesome adaptations of famous comic story lines. The perfectly voiced Peter Parker (for the record Daniel Michael Barnes aka Greg Brady from the Brady Bunch film) or the fact that stories from the comic may have been changed to fit the animated format but never dumbed down for kids, some even bettered. Take for instance the overly long, overly convoluted comic storyline clone saga eradicated in favour of a Scarlet Spider (Ben Reilly) from another reality, basically summing up almost a decade of nonsense in one half hour episode. The awesome Superhero guest stars like The Avengers and The X-Men. Or all the kick ass merchandise that was a given with such a popular kids series. I must have had at least 50 action figures from this show alone. I started reading comics at five years old, and spidey was my first. I was one of the few comic geeks in my primary school, and spidey was my all time fav (as I said before, somethings don't change) So when this show hit screens in 1994 if memory serves correct (I would have been nine) my mind was well and truly blown. A great adaptation of my favorite comic. Sure I was already a fan but this series made everyone else one too. So with all that praise I've just heaped upon it, lets try and compare it with the hit animated series currently making kids go spider-crazy, Ultimate Spider-Man. Based on my all time favorite comic run (of the same name) I had incredibly high hopes when I heard an animated adaption was in the works, especially upon hearing the brilliant Brian Michael Bendis was the shows front runner, the very same groundbreaking writer from the 'ultimate' comic run. I tracked down the first couple of episodes upon release... and was utterly disgusted honestly. This is pure dreck make no mistake. They turned Spidey into a chibi-fied, slap stick comedy character?? This was definitely not the clever, witty, dark and adult comic book I had fallen in love with, in fact there was nothing 'Ultimate' about it. Lets get one thing absolutely straight, Spidey has no need for a wall riding, building hopping, super-powered motorbike, no need at all. It's so at odds with the characters powers its laughable how obvious this was as an attempt to sell toys. The show does feature other famous super heroes, and while it's nice to see animated versions of cult favorite characters like Iron Fist or Nova, in reality they are bizarre choices for team up's considering how truly little the characters interact in the comics? Human torch and the F4 sure? Daredevil, Wolverine and the X-Men definitely, hell even Punisher has more right to be fighting alongside Spidey than these odd character inclusions. It's likely due to the whole 'Fox' ownership rights but regardless, stupid. Think it's pretty obvious who the real winner here is. Interesting side note, before this abomination released there was a pretty darn excellent series called Spectacular Spider-Man, but since it isn't the current 'hit' and was (in my opinion) cancelled prematurely in favour of this piece of crap, 'Ultimate' was a more fitting comparison.
2. 90s X-Men vs X-Men Evolution/Wolverine and the X-Men
I could honestly gush over 90's X-Men an equal amount to 90's Spidey for the exact same reasons. Featuring clever adaptations of famous comic story lines like The Phoenix saga and Days of future past, smart writing and the same unwillingness to dumb down for a young audience. I've since brought the dvd boxset and can happily say it holds up fantastically, it didn't skint on the melodrama, and while re-watching I was truly surprised at how 'childhood' Johnny was ever so enthralled in such adult and thematically heavy subject matter? It's no surprise at the time of release grown men were enjoying the show an equal amount (and after watching through adult eyes possibly more than) the kiddies. The series concluded in 1997 (wow that's a long running saturday morning cartoon) and being such a popular hit show (as well as having a just released blockbuster film) it didn't take too long before a new cartoon adaption was announced. X-Men Evolution followed next. This time teen-ifying the team with a high school setting. I know sounds like a terrible idea in theory but the show actually turned out pretty decent with quality animation and story lines. While still decent quality it wasn't nearly as memorable as the 90's incarnation. It's also a pretty hard comparison considering the show is hardly modern (finishing up in 2003) missing the 90's by just a year (releasing in 2000) a better comparison would be Wolverine and the X-Men. The third X-Men animated series released in 2008 featuring the search for a missing Professor X, with Wolverine being forced into the role of reluctant team leader. The show clearly took it's main inspiration from the hit film series, which was honestly a breath of fresh air after already witnessing two shows featuring straight up comic adaptions, it was nice for a different touch. The show was pretty darn good too honestly. Sadly it was cancelled after one season and never really had a chance to shine. Perhaps if it was allowed to live it may have been a contender for best animated version but as it stands, one quality season doesn't compare to five seasons of pure 90's quality.
3. Ren and Stimpy vs Regular Show
This one is incredibly tough for me. Childhood Johnny was literally obsessed with Ren and Stimpy. I even remember having a baseball cap, personally embroidered with the logo, and wore it everywhere. God I was a geeky kid. I'm wearing that lame blue hat in most of our family photo's. I taped it every Saturday morning. I collected the comics, trading cards (remember selling a rare, clear Mr Horse card at the local card shop... showing my age) and toys (still have my Ren and Stimpy plush toys) Basically it was my favorite. It was out before Spider-Man released ok! I actually discovered spidey's new show because of Ren and Stimpy. Taping it by accident not realising my favorite show had been replaced ("Ren and Stimpy cancelled?!?" was angry for about a second before I realised what had replaced it) I've since brought the original two seasons on dvd and I've given them a re-watch. What do I think now? Well it's definitely strange. Like really strange. I mean, you remember it being strange of course, but not this much, it's seriously bizarre. Every episode is self contained, with the duo having different jobs and living in different locales pretty much every episode. Sometimes space adventurers, other times living in a bird house? Yeah like I said, strange. Oftentimes dying at the end of the episode. Not to mention the batshit crazy side characters like the aforementioned Mr Horse, who just doesn't like it... sir. Or the psychotic scotsman Haggis McHaggis? Anyone remember the Christmas episode? A moving, operatic story of a lost fart... yep. It's weird and trippy but it's not hard to see the mark left by this landmark show. It's influences are obvious and literally everywhere when it comes to modern animation. All the cartoon network offerings released in the 90's followed the exact same template (Powerpuff girls/Dexters lab/Cow and Chicken etc.) not to mention paving the way for all future Nickelodeon offerings (Arghh Real monsters!/Rugrats/Catdog/Hey Arnold) Ren and Stimpy's animation style was revolutionary and at the time completely new and original. Coming up with a worthy contender for a popular modern comparison was easy, Regular Show, no question. I adore Regular Show. When Adventure Time released I was charmed by it's style, it's fantastic animation and kooky characters. It reminded me of the cartoon network offerings I had grown up with and thought it great to see the network still had 'it'. Then Regular Show came along and suddenly the admiration for Adventure Time was quickly forgotten in favour of my new addiction for the pure, unrestrained lunacy offered by 'Regular'. A bratty raccoon and a dorky bird suddenly became my two favorite cartoon characters. Why at 30 years old was I so hooked on this popular kids cartoon? Good question, I'll happily answer. It is NOT a kids cartoon. Kids may dig it's fun animation style. They may dig the talking animals and crazy adventures, but the amount of content that must go completely over their heads is truly massive. The characters are somehow relatable? They don't talk like cartoon animals should, no cartoony voices to be found. They talk like you and me. Human voices. They slack off, hate work, dig on old school videogames (of the 8 bit variety) love partying, strike out with girls, rock out to 80s hair metal etc. They are basically a couple of dudes I'd happily hang out with, hell, they are me! They throw parties and drink "soda", and funnily enough get drunk too ;) They eat super glazed donuts... with the exact same effect as a certain "speedy" illegal drug, with the exact same after effect too... well without all the world ending danger of course. See what I mean when I say "not for kids". It's real brilliance lies in it's winning episode formula, which honestly never changes. Every episode begins with something mundane, an everyday problem or task (that anybody would relate to) like returning a lost videotape to the shop or cheating a friend in an arm wrestle, will ultimately end in an epic as hell, world ending disaster. The fun is in witnessing how it happens and how they have to overcome said disaster, with absolutely hilarious results. I can't gush anymore, than it's freaking awesome and addictive as hell! So... who is victorious? Like I said, this one's tough. Ren and Stimpy was history making. Without Ren and Stimpy, Regular Show probably wouldn't exist, but... while childhood Johnny may have been Ren and Stimpy obsessed, adult Johnny found it to be (while still a fun watch) a little too bizarre for addictive, repeat watches. While Regular Show shares a lot of the same traits that made Ren and Stimpy so brilliant for it's time, as well as being truly adored by adult, 30 year old Johnny. It's totally original and I can honestly see it being equally historic for animation in general as Ren and Stimpy, with it's adult overtones and quirky, relatable characters. Only time will tell, but my minds made up on the true winner.
Transformers: Generation 1 vs Transformers: Prime
Transformers is a tricky one. Tricky because there are so many different incarnations of the show. Also Gen 1 is the one most fondly remembered by my generation but it was more of an 80's series. Though I've since discovered a loophole to save me from breaking the rules too much. Apparently the term 'Gen 1', while mainly used to coin the original series that began way back in 85 and concluded in 87, is actually meant as a term used to encompass everything that ran until 1993, so I'm in the clear, it became a 90's show. While still fun to watch it's hard not to see a few corny issues, it's definitely not the most intelligent script, but as far as a cartoon that was created as a sole excuse to sell toys, it was far better than it had any right to be. Oh and sell toys it did. It also birthed an enormous franchise that has sustained for nearly 30 years. Spanning many, numerous animated television shows, a blockbuster movie franchise, comics, toys, videogames etc. There is no denying it's popularity. So how does it compare to the recent Transformers: Prime series? Transformers: Prime is a big budget offering featuring beautiful cgi animation and resembles something more akin to the look of the film's (though script seems to be much better) It's a great show and a perfect example of how to re-adapt a classic show for a new generation (in much the same way the recent ninja turtles did, though I'm saving that comparison for my future TMNT article) So who wins? This one is debatable. I'm sure if I showed a 'prime' kid the original series he would laugh at the hammy dialogue and corny characters, and they definitely wouldn't be impressed by the dated 80's animation either. So I'm just going to have to go with personal opinion and say Gen 1 wins because I still enjoy it. I find the corniness charming and dig the old school animation more. This score is for anyone who grew up in this time. Oh and it's pretty much fact, for our generation at least, there is only one Transformers movie... and it aint Bay!
Winner: 90s... and 80s ;)
Well that's my list. If I had the time I would have mentioned a lot more, and as I wrote I couldn't help but come up with more ideas for comparison (does anyone else remember the brilliant disney cartoons that have all but been forgotten? Duck Tales/Rescue Rangers/Goof Troop/Tail Spin etc. (I stand by my point, kids of today really don't know what they are missing) So I'll save all my ideas for the inevitable part 2 list :D
Really hope you enjoyed reading and don't forget to follow me on Moviepilot. Any other ideas or forgotten classics? Sound off in the comments people!
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until next time, stay awesome