He originally hit the big screen as Super Mouse in 1942, even sporting the familiar red and blue of the character that he parodied. But by 1944, he’d picked up a new name and, later that year, a new yellow and red suit. You know him today as Mighty Mouse, he of the outsized super-powers and infectious theme song. But as popular as he was in the 77 theatrical shorts that ran between 1942 and 1954, that would pale in comparison to his reach upon his move to TV in 1955.
Mighty Mouse started animated life with a Superman parody concept from animator Isidore Klein at the Terrytoons studio. Klein suggested poking fun at the Man of Steel, but originally drew the character as a fly. Studio owner Paul Terry saw the value in the idea, but, possibly keying in on another animated icon, had the character rendered as a mouse instead. Super Mouse debuted in the 1942 theatrical short, “Mouse of Tomorrow.” The title was a play on The Man of Tomorrow, one of Superman’s many nicknames. A familiar trope of the character emerges in the first short, which features him rescuing endangered mice from scary, even fascistic, cats. As the studio cranked out more cartoons against the backdrop of World War II, the parallels between the animated cats and Nazis would get much more explicit.
The first “Super Mouse” cartoon, “Mouse of Tomorrow.” (Uploaded to YouTube by TerryToons; Public Domain)
In “The Wreck of the Hesperus,” the eighth short, the Mighty Mouse name is used for the first time. It’s clear by the eleventh installment that the studio was ready to move away from the parody costume, as they switched him to a red costume with a yellow cape. By “The Sultan’s Birthday,” the mouse’s fifteenth adventure, his look has settled into the familiar yellow and red. While Mighty Mouse continued to appear regularly on the big screen and was one of Terrytoons’s biggest characters, he wasn’t as popular as, say, Tom & Jerry, Woody Woodpecker, or other regular inhabitants of the shorts. By 1955, Terry licensed all of his Terrytoons cartoons to CBS, eventually completing a sale of the studio to the network by the following year. On December 10, 1955, Mighty Mouse became a TV star.
The first series was called Mighty Mouse Playhouse, and featured the classic shorts repackaged for TV. Mighty Mouse caught on in a big way with the public, and the show ran for just short of 12 years. The theme song by Marshall Barer, with its call of “Here I come to save the day!” became as familiar as any tune in pop culture. CBS did make three more theatrical shorts between 1959 and 1961, bringing the total to 80, but abandoned the practice with December 1961’s “Cat Alarm.”
When Playhouse ended in 1967, the character stayed alive in comic books and TV syndication packages. Mighty Mouse returned to CBS in 1979, along with fellow Terrytoon characters Heckle & Jeckle, in the aptly named The New Adventures of Mighty Mouse and Heckle & Jeckle. The hour-long show included new cartoons for both sets of characters, as well as for Quacula (yes, a vampire duck). Each episode had one Quacula short, two Heckle & Jeckle shorts, and three spots for Mighty Mouse, one of which would be an installment of an ongoing serial called “The Great Space Chase.” In 1980, the show was cut to half an hour, and eventually moved to Sunday, before ending. The Great Space Chase theatrical film of 1982 was edited together from the 16 parts of the completed serial.
Mighty Mouse didn’t stay away from CBS for long. Famed animator Ralph Bakshi, who started his career and Terrytoons before becoming known for edgy animated features like Fritz the Cat, Wizards, and American Pop, as well as his 1978 adaptation of The Lord of the Rings, kicked off a revival series in 1987. Titled Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures, the series drew critical acclaim for its new style and more sophisticated humor. Those elements could be owed in part to Bakshi, and to first season senior director John Kricfalusi, who would create Ren & Stimpy. The series even made Time’s list of the Best of 1987. Unfortunately, the show came under attack by Donald Wildmon’s American Family Association, who alleged that one episode where Mighty Mouse sniffed a flower depicted cocaine usage. The fairly ludicrous story played out in the press, and though CBS released statements supporting Bakshi, the show was cancelled by 1989.
Mighty Mouse has mostly been out of the spotlight since that time, but rumblings of a reboot continue. In 2019, Paramount Animation began assembling a team for a hybrid live-action/CGI feature; writers Jon and Erich Hoeber and producers Karen Rosenfelt and Robert Cort are reportedly attached. As of November 2, 2020, the film was scheduled for an October 2022 release.
Whether the super-powered mouse grabs the attention of a new generation of fans remains to be seen. But just because he’s been in the background for a couple of decades, don’t count Mighty Mouse out. It could be on the big screen, or maybe on Paramount’s streaming service, but chances are good that he’ll be coming to save the day once again.
Featured Image: Still frame from Wolf! Wolf! From 1945. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Superraton.jpg (©CBS/Terrytoons via Wikimedia Commons; Public Domain)
Bring on the cartoons! In honor of the late, great Casey Kasem, who voiced many a classic cartoon character, including both Shaggy from Scooby-Doo and Robin on Super Friends, this is going to be a Top 40. So, what constitutes the greatest animated TV theme song? Sometimes it’s a shockingly great instrumental. Sometimes it’s something that elegantly explains the premise for the show and sets up the action. And sometimes it’s just wacky.
Let’s grab a bowl of cereal, plunk down in front of the tube, and count down the best from Saturday mornings and after school.
40 (tie). Mobile Suit Gundam Wing (1995-1996) and Cowboy Bebop (1997-1998)
Mobile Suit Gundam Wing is part of the mighty Gundam franchise; the giant robot pioneer hit screens in 1979 and is still going strong. Gundam Wing is one of the series that stepped outside of the main Gundam continuity to tell its own story of rebellion and the cost of war. The J-pop theme “Just Communication” by pop duo Two-Mix is by turns propulsive and introspective, which are the two dominant moods of the series. Two-Mix also did the main song “White Reflection” for the wrap-up film, Mobile Suit Gundam Wing: Endless Waltz.
Cowboy Bebop is frequently held up as one of the great anime series. A kicky space noir, the show serves up deft characterization, swift action, and a knockout punch of a conclusion. The jazzy theme is called “Tank!” and it invokes the two-fisted P.I. tales that the show emulates.
39. Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995-1996)
If you’ll allow a personal digression, Neon Genesis Evangelion is this writer’s favorite anime, period. A cryptic rumination on religion, depression, grief, and the possible futility of love that plays out against the seemingly hopeless series of battles of giant robots and their teen pilots against increasingly monstrous creatures that might in fact be angels, EVA (as its fans call it) is so incredibly popular that its creator has been doing a new rebooted edition for the past several years. The original theme, “A Cruel Angel’s Thesis” starts off like soft rock, then gets increasingly frenetic.
38. Family Guy (1999-are you kidding? It’s still going?)
Somewhere in his insane heart, Seth MacFarlane is just a song and dance man. That’s evident in the opening to his most famous creation, Family Guy. Starting off as both a parody and tribute to All in the Family with Lois and Peter at the piano, it evolves into a Broadway-style showstopper. Well done, Captain Mercer.
37. The Smurfs (1981-1989)
Apologies in advance: just by mentioning The Smurfs theme, it’s already stuck in your head. Obviously a measure of greatness.
36. Alvin and the Chipmunks (1983-1990)
Alvin, Simon, and Theodore have had several animated series since Ross Bagdasarian brought them to life in 1958. And while the current Nick series ALVINNN!!! And the Chipmunks has been running since 2015, the longest-running and most popular was the ’80s iteration. The of-the-moment pop sound acknowledges in the lyrics that it had “been a while” since they’ve been on TV, but the bright and fun intro demonstrates that they are back to stay.
35. The Simpsons (December, 1989-the end of time, apparently)
Danny Elfman broke big in music as the founder and leader of Oingo Boingo, then transitioned to a long and successful career as a composer for such films as Batman, Beetlejuice, Spider-Man, and Avengers: Age of Ultron. But the theme that’s probably heard the most is his main title for The Simpsons. At 679 episodes and counting, it’s one of the most-played themes in prime-time TV history, let alone animation.
34. Popeye (1933-present)
“I’m Popeye the Sailor Man” was composed in 1933 by Sammy Lerner for the first Max Fleischer Popeye theatrical cartoon. The song has been used in some fashion for every iteration of the character since, including the jump to original TV productions in 1960. And no, he does not say that he lives in a garbage can.
33. Darkwing Duck (1991-1995)
“I am the terror that flaps in the night!” Darkwing Duck was an extremely popular series from Disney that debuted in the wake of the “Batmania” that followed the 1989 Batman film. A parody of The Shadow, Batman, and other classic heroes, Darkwing Duck routinely fights a rogues’ gallery of bizarre enemies while trying to raise his adopted daughter. The jazzy score fits squarely in the animated-noir-hero subgenre, and is sprinkled with the titular mallard’s catchphrases, like “Let’s get dangerous.”
32. Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes (2010-2013)
If you’re looking for the best adaptation of the Avengers outside of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it’s right here. Produced during the run-up to and just after the first film, Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes mines the rich legacy of comic book stories in a way that’s even more faithful to the books in many places than the movies. Chicago band Bad City performs the rocking opening theme, “Fight as One,” which articulates the notion of pulling together for a battle; it even includes a shout of “Avengers Assemble!”
31. Heathcliff (1984-1985)
Another character that’s had plenty of shows, the comic strip cat got the added bonus of frequently being voiced by vocal genius Mel Blanc. The series has some great animation and a fun theme song by legendary composers and producers Haim Saban and Shuki Levy. The vocals to the poppy throwback are by Noam Kaniel, who you’ll see hanging out with some mighty mutants later on.
30. The Tick (1994-1996)
Doug Katsaros wrote the whacked-out jazz-inspired theme for super-hero parody The Tick. Featuring the slightly dim, but nigh-invulnerable do-gooder of the comics, the show follows the adventures of the Tick, his moth-costumed accountant sidekick Arthur, and their various super-hero allies as they battle incredibly strange threats, including one gangster that has a chair for a head.
29. Spongebob Squarepants (1999-present)
Let’s just put it this way. “Who lives in a pineapple under the sea?”
You know you just answered out loud.
28. Teen Titans (2003-2006)
DC Comics debuted the Teen Titans in the 1960s as a team composed of the sidekicks of prominent Justice Leaguers and led by Robin, the Boy Wonder. The comic relaunched in the early 1980s under writer Marv Wolfman and artist George Perez; Wolfman and Perez combined classic characters with new creations and the book became a massive success. The animated series features Robin, Beast Boy, and three Wolfman-Perez creations: Cyborg, Starfire, and Raven. The J-pop theme comes from Puffy AmiYumi, and it was so popular that the band got their own show in the States for a while.
27. Inspector Gadget (1983-1986)
Inspector Gadget sits squarely in the center of old-school gumshoe and science-fiction. The lead is a detective (voiced by none other than Don Adams of Get Smart) that is also a cyborg, capable of sprouting springing legs and helicopter rotors from his head when the need arises. The Saban-Levy theme song juggles inspiration from Henry Mancini and Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King” and is known for its repetition of the lead’s name and the refrain of “Go, Gadget, Go!”
26. Speed Racer (1967-present in various incarnations)
Here’s a huge asterisk. Yes, this is an anime import. However, the theme was completely redone and rewritten with English lyrics, resulting in one of the most well-known songs from an animated production. The 1967 take saw Peter Fernandez (one of the American producers and voice-actors) put together a new arrangement of Nobuyoshi Koshibe’s original with new lyrics; the song is performed by Danny Davis and the Nashville Brass.
25.Hong Kong Phooey (1974-1976)
Hong Kong Phooey is a Hanna-Barbera series capitalizing on the martial arts fad of the early ’70s, making its debut in the same month that Carl Douglas’s “Kung Fu Fighting” was on the charts. The lead character is voiced by Scatman Crothers, who also sings the theme. Hanna and Barbera wrote the song themselves with their longtime musical director Hoyt Curtin.
24. George of the Jungle (1967)
Though short-lived on its original run, this show from Jay Ward and Bill Scott (creators of Rocky and Bullwinkle) consists of three segments, two of which make this list. In the cartoon pantheon, George is probably most famous for his theme, which contains everything you need to know about the show.
23. Super Chicken (1967)
The other two segments on George of the Jungle are racing cartoon Tom Slick and this classic super-hero send-up. Henry Cabot Henhouse III drinks his super-sauce and becomes . . . Super Chicken! The show’s most beloved quote, “You knew the job was dangerous when you took it,” does indeed make it into the lyrics.
22. Mighty Mouse (1955-1967)
Originally called “Super Mouse” in his 1942 debut, the heroic rodent was renamed and redesigned with his familiar red and yellow costume in 1944. Though several theatrical shorts were made, the character didn’t really get mass popularity until it shifted to TV. The theme by Marshall Barer is perhaps most recognizable for the line, “Here I come to save the day!” It was also put to memorable use in an early Saturday Night Live bit by Andy Kaufman.
21. Underdog (1964-1973)
One of the longest-lasting Superman parodies, Underdog features the canine superhero battling villains like mad scientist Simon Bar Sinister and often rescuing his reporter love interest Polly Purebred.
20. Duck Tales (1987-1990; 2017-present)
The much-loved Duck Tales puts Donald Duck’s Uncle Scrooge McDuck and his nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie together for a wide-ranging series of adventures. Inspired by the classic comic books by Carl Barks, the show regularly introduces villains and supporting characters from the comics and, via Scrooge’s pilot Launchpad McQuack, sets up the unofficial spin-off Darkwing Duck. The show was rebooted in 2017, but kept the original theme song, albeit in a new version.
19. Pinky and The Brain (1996-1998)
This spin-off of Animaniacs features the popular titular lab mice. Brain is an evil genius, and Pinky his significantly less-intelligent assistant. A number of lines from the show became pop culture catchphrases, but the most famous is the regular exchange, “What are we going to do tonight, Brain?” “The same thing we do every night, Pinky. Try to take over the world!”
18. X-Men (1992-1997)
Bonus: Japanese theme songs
Originally seen as sort of middle children from the initial burst of creativity that was Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s vision of the Marvel Universe, the X-Men were rebooted into an international team in 1975 and rose to become Marvel’s most popular book. 1980’s “The Dark Phoenix Saga” and its aftermath firmly implanted Uncanny X-Men as the best-selling regular comic of that decade. When a new spin-off (simply titled X-Men) was launched in 1991, the first issue sold over eight million copies. The animated series launched in its aftermath and became an immediate hit, paving the way for the film franchise. The propulsive theme song is a genre classic, combining elements of spy and science-fiction themes of the past. As a bonus, we’re including the two opening sequences that were made for the Japanese release of the show; they rock in their own right.
17. The Bugs Bunny Show; The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Hour and iterations (1960-1983)
In 1960, the Looney Tunes stable came to TV with an anthology format that pulled from theatrical shorts stretching back to 1948. Over the years, the show would switch formats, titles, timeslots, and networks, but the opening theme “This Is It!” would remain a constant until it was abandoned in 1984. The song combines a sort of Vaudeville sensibility while presenting the main cast; the opening also includes a snippet of another theme that lies ahead in the countdown.
16. The Jetsons (1962-1963)
In terms of lyrics, you can’t get simpler than Hoyt Curtin’s The Jetsons theme. The song simply introduces George Jetson, his boy Elroy, daughter Judy, and Jane, his wife. Originally shown in prime-time on ABC, it was the first series broadcast in color (stablemates The Flintstones were made in color, but only shown in black and white for the first two seasons).
15. Tiny Toon Adventures (1990-1992)
The first of several series co-produced by Warner Bros. Animation and Steven Spielberg’s Amblin’ Entertainment, Tiny Toon Adventures opened the door for Animaniacs and Pinky and the Brain, among others. The approach is that the original Looney Tunes characters are teaching a whole new class of young cartoon characters at Acme Looniversity in Acme Acres. Most of the big name characters have young analogues like Babs and Buster Bunny, Plucky Duck, Hampton (a pig like Porky), Dizzy Devil, Montana Max (a young, rich Yosemite Sam type) and so on. The exposition-heavy theme comes from famed composer Bruce Broughton, who’s won 9 Emmys and scored countless TV shows and films.
14. Super Friends (1973-1986)
Though there are spoken-word narration bits that vary from season to season, the main Super Friends theme stuck around (with minor changes here and there) for 13 years. It was another stellar piece from our old friend, Hoyt Curtin. In the late 1990s, the theme was remixed by Michael Kohler for a Cartoon Network promo called “That Time is Now!”
13. Freakazoid (1995-1997)
Cut from the same cloth as the theme to The Tick, the boppy and jazzy Freakazoid theme is filled with explanations of the show’s premise paired with oddball non sequiturs. That pairs perfectly with the frequently-distracted, internet-powered hero.
12. Pink Panther (1963-present)
Why is this a classic? Because you heard it in your head the second you read the name. The creation of the Pink Panther has a strange genesis. The Pink Panther was originally a diamond in the Inspector Clouseau series of films, so named because the diamond contained the image of a panther if held up to the light. Beginning with the second film (The Pink Panther), the credits were animated, with the diamond panther becoming the familiar character. The animated panther then spun-off into theatrical shorts and various animated series on TV. In every iteration, it’s kept the Henry Mancini tune from the movies.
11. Road Runner
As part of the The Bugs Bunny Show and later its own separate program, the Road Runner comes equipped with a quirky, bouncy, slight countrified tune that details the eternal struggle between Wile E. Coyote (Overconfidentii vulgaris) and the Road Runner (Disappearialis quickius). The Chuck Jones shorts are remembered for the Coyote’s reliance on ACME devices and the continual beating he takes in trying to catch his prey.
10. Josie and the Pussycats (1970-1971)
Everybody’s favorite feline-inspired band sprung from the pages of Archie comics to the screen in 1970. The adaptation was actually driven by the fact that The Archie Show cartoon of the late 1960s delivered a hit single in the form of “Sugar Sugar,” and the producers wanted to see if they could pull it off again with other Archie Comics characters. Though no Top Ten hits resulted, a couple of important things came from the show, aside from its excellent theme song. One is that Valerie, voiced by Patrice Holloway, was the first black female character in Saturday morning cartoons. The other is that it was the first significant Hollywood job for the speaking and singing voice of Melody, Cherie Moore; you’d know her better as Cheryl Ladd of Charlie’s Angels.
9. Jem (aka Jem & The Holograms, 1985-1988)
In the 1980s, Hasbro caught lightning in a bottle twice in a three-partner collaboration with Sunbow Productions and Marvel Productions. The partnership resulted in huge hit comics, toys, and TV shows with G.I. Joe and The Transformers. Turning their attention to the girls’ market, Hasbro launched a doll line with a tie-in show that featured a female band that was led by an enigmatic figure with a secret identity. That was Jem, whose singing parts were performed by Britta Phillips of the acclaimed dream pop band Luna. Though the toys weren’t a huge hit, the show was, and was the # 3 show among kids in 1987. Overall, 151 different songs were created during the tenure of the show.
8. Animaniacs (1993-1998)
Part of the WB/Spielberg deal, Animaniacs was the anthology show that introduced Pinky and the Brain as regulars. The main segments featured Yakko and Wakko, “the Warner Brothers and the Warner sister, Dot.” The three leads would wreak giddy havoc over a number of pop culture institutions, memorably destroying a Barney lookalike and sneaking an incredibly inappropriate Prince joke past the censors. Some of the songs from the show are still used in classrooms, like “Nations of the World” (23 million views on YouTube) and “Wakko’s 50 State Capitols.” The Emmy-winning main theme explains the plot, and has a number of variations with sight gags for the penultimate line; as they rhyme with “totally insaney,” different versions have the characters singing everything from “here’s the show’s namey” to “Citizen Kaney” to “Dana Delaney.”
7. ThunderCats (1985-1989)
Rankin/Bass may be most known for their awesome array of holiday specials, but they’re also the production team behind one of the best cartoons of the 1980s, ThunderCats. The series was developed and co-written by comic book artist Leonard Starr and writer Stephen Perry. They gave the show a rich fantasy and science-fiction background and packed the series with action. Throughout the decade, Rankin/Bass developed two other shows with similar approaches, Silverhawks and TigerSharks. When ThunderCats was rebooted in 2011, the show explicitly tied new versions of the other two sets of characters into a shared continuity.
6. G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero (1983-1986)
Hasbro developed the original 12-inch G.I. Joe action figures in the 1960s. America’s Fighting Man had a dip in popularity after Vietnam and shrunk to the 8-inch scale for a bit. In 1982, the figure was reborn as a whole team in the Stars Wars 3-3/4” scale; the unique personalities (and Cobra villains) were created by comic writer Larry Hama in a cooperative deal with Marvel that saw Hasbro finance animated commercials for the new comics. It was only a matter of time before the new toys and comics became a TV series, and it arrived with the instantly recognizable theme that incorporates the line’s subtitle: A Real American Hero.
5. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987-1996)
In comics in the early 1980s, the two biggest crazes were mutants (see, X-Men) and ninjas (by way of Frank Miller’s run on Daredevil). Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird parodied the concepts with their black and white indie comic Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and a cult hit was born. The cartoon lightens up the darker comic quite a bit; the lighter tone is set by the theme, which was composed by D.C. Brown and Chuck Lorre (who would go on to create Two and Half Men and The Big Bang Theory, among others).
4. The Flintstones (1960-1966)
The Flintstones holds the distinction of being the first animated series to be broadcast in prime time. The Hanna-Barbera sitcom draws inspiration from The Honeymooners, but combines domestic comedy with an immersive world filled with Stone Age and dinosaur puns. You won’t be surprised that Hoyt Curtin wrote the theme; you might be surprised to discover that the first two seasons had a totally different theme and that “Meet the Flintstones” didn’t become the theme until Season 3. The original theme was called “Rise and Shine,” but it’s been replaced in rebroadcast for decades with the more familiar “Meet the Flintstones,” which is, of course, the entry here. By the way, the line after “Let’s ride/with the family down the street” is “Through the/courtesy of Fred’s two feet.”
3. The Transformers (1984-1987)
Following up their massive success with G.I. Joe, Hasbro, Sunbow, and Marvel again collaborated on a new Hasbro acquisition. Hasbro had bought the rights to a number of disconnected toy lines, all of which had the common denominator of being robots that transformed into cars, planes, and more. Marvel writer Bob Budiansky took the Larry Hama role and fleshed out names and backstories for the characters, based on Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter’s idea to break the bots into Autobots (good guys) and Decepticons (bad guys). Every piece of the franchise was a huge hit. The Ford Kinder-Anne Bryant theme combines the two marketing taglines for the toys “More than meets the eye” and “Robots in disguise” into lyrics. Since that time, the Transformers have appeared in a number of TV series, films, and constantly reinvented toy lines; the theme has also been repurposed and covered a number of times, including Lion’s version for the animated Transformers: The Movie and Cheap Trick’s take for the live-action Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.
2. Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! (1969-today in various incarnations)
Last year, the Post covered the long history of Scooby and the gang. While there have been a few different themes with different iterations of the show, the original “Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!” theme is the most well-known and the one that keeps coming back. A classic premise-setting tune, the song gives you the basic gist of the plots that revolves around Mystery Incorporated. The theme was composed by David Mook and Ben Raleigh. When the popular direct-to-video Scooby movies began in the late 1990s, a number of high-profile musical acts recorded versions for different films, including The B-52s, Third Eye Blind, and MxPx.
1. Spider-Man (1967-1970)
Commonly referred to as the “Ralph Bakshi Spider-Man cartoon,” even though the storied animator didn’t take over as Executive Producer and Animation Director until Season 2, Spider-Man took off based on its use of villains and plots from the comics and its devotion to the trippy visual stylings of Spider-Man co-creator and original artist Steve Ditko. Spider-Man’s other dad, Stan Lee, was a consultant on the show, as was John Romita Sr., who was drawing the comics by that time. The much-loved theme song was written by lyricist Paul Francis Webster (who was nominated for 16 Best Song Oscars, winning three) and composer Bob Harris. The song is so pervasive in pop culture that people that have never even seen the 1960s cartoon know it. Iterations and samples of it are still used in the Spider-Man franchise today. An orchestral version of it even replaces the Marvel Studios fanfare in the openings of both Spider-Man: Homecoming and Spider-Man: Far from Home.
Featured image: Shutterstock
This much we know about Carmen: she’ll ransack Pakistan and run a scam in Scandinavia. It’s much harder to figure out one simple thing: where is she? 35 years ago this week, kids started hunting for that sticky-fingered filcher with a thing for thievery. But did anyone expect that a computer game aimed at teaching geography would spawn multiple sequels, game shows, insanely catchy theme songs, and animated series and specials, including a new one for Netflix? Carmen Sandiego may have criminal tendencies, but she’s a legitimate phenomenon. Let’s crack the case of how Carmen stole the limelight.
Clue #1 – The First Game: The original Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? game was developed by Broderbund for all of the popular home computer platforms that were available in the early 1980s; that includes Commodore 64 and the Apple II, which was particularly popular in schools. The initial idea of an adventure for children came from programmer Dane Bingham; his co-workers Gene Portwood and Lauren Elliott joined the project, working on the concept of a game where you catch one criminal at a time. Gary Carlston, the co-founder of Broderbund, had traveled in Europe when he was younger, and suggested integrating geography into the game. They brought in writer Dave Siefkin, and Carlston instructed him to use the World Almanac for reference. Eventually, the story of a rookie detective (the player) tracking down a network of thieves and their elusive leader (the red-hat-wearing Carmen) across 30 countries using geography, pun-heavy clues, and a World Almanac (that came packed with the software) resulted in the original 1985 version of the game.
The game became an immediate hit upon release. Embraced by schools, it managed to do the nearly impossible thing of being a fun mystery while teaching the player as it went along. In the first 10 years, the original title would end up selling four million copies. Magazines like Compute! and Info heaped praise on the game. The Software Publishers Association called it the Best Learning Product of 1985.
Clue #2 – The Game Becomes a Franchise: You don’t have to be ace detective to know that a hit product usually means a hit sequel. In the case of Carmen Sandiego, that one game turned into an entire line of software. Since 1985, more than 20 official games have been released, with some broadening the scope to include history, math, and science. The series has earned over 100 awards throughout its existence.
Clue #3 – The Franchise Switches Identities: In 1991, PBS launched Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? as a TV game show. Bright and colorful and combining clues with animated villains, music, and sketch comedy, the show became a huge hit in its own right. Over five seasons and 295 episodes, it pulled in dozens of Daytime Emmy nominations, seven Emmy wins, and a 1992 Peabody Award. Without a doubt, the most memorable element of the show is its criminally catchy theme song, a title number by the vocal group (and program cast members) Rockapella. A spin-off, Where in Time Is Carmen Sandiego? ran for two seasons of 115 episodes following World.
Clue #4: She Made a Move to Saturday Mornings: With the games selling spectacularly well and the game show sailing along, Carmen was next discovered hiding out on Saturday mornings. Where on Earth Is Carmen Sandiego? launched on the Fox Kids block in February of 1994, backed by the support of Fox’s other blockbuster Saturday morning shows, X-Men and Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers. The titular character was voiced by showbiz legend and EGOT holder Rita Moreno. As the four seasons of the show ran, Carmen turned into more of an antihero than straight-up villain.
Clue #5: She’s Back for the Streaming Age: Carmen Sandiego never really had a cultural dormancy period since the character and franchise broke through in the 1980s. Even today, Google and The Learning Company continue to develop gaming content. But the series popped up on the broader cultural radar again last year with the launch of the Netflix animated series, Carmen Sandiego. The modern Carmen (voiced by Gina Rodriguez) is now a Robin Hood type character, outsmarting both the detectives of ACME and the agents of her former criminal organization, V.I.L.E. Characters from every level of the franchise, including the games, the previous animated series, and even the game shows, appear in the series. There have been two complete seasons; on March 10, Netflix debuted a special interactive episode, “To Steal or Not to Steal.”
Today, Carmen Sandiego exists in that sweet spot of being both Gen X nostalgia and a familiar entity to schoolkids. Books, board games, and comics have continued the mission of teaching young people about their word through entertainment. Rumors continue to swirl about possible feature film adaptations, with Sandra Bullock and Jennifer Lopez both having been attached at various points. With the Netflix series set to continue and no real end in sight for the computer games themselves, the answer to “Where is Carmen Sandiego?” is actually pretty easy. She’s here to stay.
Their struggle is an eternal one. Though they sometimes put aside their differences for a common goal, the image lodged in popular consciousness is that of the hunter stalking his prey and the resourceful target outwitting his tormentor. Their battle has lasted eight decades, crossing 161 theatrical shorts, numerous television incarnations, direct-to-video films, video games, and even a Japanese musical adaptation. They are, of course, Tom and Jerry, and here are five things you should know for their 80th anniversary.
1. They’re a Hanna-Barbera Creation
William Hanna and Joseph Barbera worked in Rudolph Ising’s animation unit at MGM. Tom and Jerry wound up being the launch pad for decades of successful collaboration and creation. They founded their own television animation studio in the 1950s, which led to The Flintstones, The Jetsons, The Smurfs, and Scooby-Doo among many, many more.
2. Tom Wasn’t Always Tom, and Jerry Almost Wasn’t Jerry
In the original first short, Puss Gets the Boot, Tom was named Jasper. Jerry doesn’t even have a name in the cartoon, though the name Jinx was discussed during creation. After the first short started to get a positive reaction, an internal contest at MGM settled the name debate, with animator John Carr supplying the final choices. Regardless of the initial indecision about what the boys were called, they still got the attention of the Academy, earning an Oscar nomination for Best Short Subject: Cartoons. Over the course of their theatrical run, they’d be nominated 13 times, and win seven Oscars.
3. They’ve Provoked Quite a Bit of Controversy
Tom and Jerry, like the Road Runner/Coyote shorts and other cartoons, have drawn negative attention over the level of violence (however comically intended) in the shorts. Whereas the characters generally move from one seemingly catastrophic injury to the next without being too worse for wear, watchdog groups have complained about the series’ frequent use of guns and explosives. Smoking scenes have been targeted by advocates as well.
However, perhaps no element of the cartoons has been criticized as much as the character Mammy Two-Shoes. A racial stereotype usually depicted from the knees down, she’s frequently portrayed as Tom’s owner. Over the years, the character has either had her voice redubbed or has been removed from cartoons all together, with a white lady or white teenager animated into the shorts in her place. There are recent DVD releases that contain the original cartoons, but Warner Brothers has added a video introduction featuring Whoopi Goldberg; she addresses that while the stereotypes are wrong, the character is preserved in the release for historical accuracy.
4. New Episodes Stopped Running . . . Wait, They’re Still Running?
Tom and Jerry made the transition from theatres to TV in 1965 with edited versions of the shorts. Since that time, a number of series featuring the pair have run, some with episodes that were new to TV, and some as repurposed anthologies of the shorts. The latest iteration, The Tom and Jerry Show, launched in 2014; its fourth season launched on Boomerang on December 31, 2019.
The pair continue to appear in direct-to-video movies, but the biggest news is that Tom and Jerry will return to movie theaters later this year. A live-action/animation hybrid, the film will star humans Chloë Grace Moretz, Michael Peña, and Colin Jost alongside the animated cat and mouse. The movie is slated for a December 23, 2020 release.
5. Would You Believe There’s a Post Connection?
The 1950 short Saturday Evening Puss is a direct reference to The Saturday Evening Post; the 1957 theatrical re-release even had a title card of Tom sporting the kind of tux, hat, gloves, and cane combo you might have seen in a Leyendecker painting. The installment is significant in the canon because it’s the only cartoon that shows Mammy’s face, although this has been edited out (along with Mammy altogether) in updated versions. The plot has Mammy (or her replacement character) going out for the night while Tom sneaks his buddies in for some raucous jazz, much to Jerry’s dismay; while Jerry engineers Tom’s defeat and the expulsion of all the cats, he’s left defeated by the fact that Mammy, her night out ruined, just plays the same music.
Featured image: Photo 12 / Alamy Stock Photo
America’s longest-running sitcom began its regular schedule 30 years this week, and it’s surprising how little the cast has aged. The Simpsons came from the mind of Matt Groening, best-known in those days as the creator of comic series Life in Hell. After a start as a series of shorts and a single episode that ran in December of 1989, the family went on air to stay on January 14, 1990. Here are five things you forgot (or maybe didn’t know) about The Simpsons.
1. The Simpsons Is Technically a Spin-Off
When the Fox Network launched its original line of prime-time programming in 1987, the first two sitcoms were Married . . . With Children and the eponymous sketch comedy series The Tracey Ullman Show. Ullman producer James L. Brooks invited Groening to pitch a series of animated shorts for the show; Groening originally intended to pitch Life in Hell, but he feared for his future ownership and pitched a new idea based on his own family instead. Ullman cast members Dan Castellaneta and Julie Kavner voiced Homer and Marge, respectively. The Simpsons would appear in 48 shorts on the series (which won 11 Emmys during its run) before spinning off into their own show.
2. The Animation Went from Crude to Smooth
The original shorts feature a much cruder version of the animation we’ve become accustomed to because the artists traced the character designs off of Groening’s original sketches. The look was refined over the course of the shorts. The final, smoother style would later be used for Groening’s subsequent series Futurama and Disenchantment.
3. The First Episode That Wasn’t and Other Delays
The first stand-alone episode of The Simpsons that aired created a little bit of a confusion. The series officially debuted on December 17, 1989 with the Christmas-themed episode “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire.” It was supposed to have been the eighth episode to run if the show had run in order. But when the first scheduled episode, “Some Enchanted Evening,” came back from animation, the producers thought it looked horrible. The shows went back to be fixed, and “Roasting” was pulled to the front and given the December date. A month later, the regular run began with episode “Bart the Genius,” the originally scheduled second episode. Other episodes ran out of order during the first season, with “Some Enchanted Evening” finally airing as the thirteenth episode and season finale.
4. They Had a Hit Album in That First Year
Just before the first anniversary of the airing of “Roasting,” Geffen Records dropped The Simpsons Sing the Blues, an album featuring the cast doing songs produced by the likes of Michael Jackson and DJ Jazzy Jeff and featuring musicians like B.B. King. While it’s a bit of a curious cultural relic today, it was a massive hit upon release. The disc hit #3 on the Billboard Album Chart in the U.S., and the first single “Do the Bartman” (with backing vocals by Jackson) went Top 40 in the States and #1 in 13 other countries. The album ultimately went Double Platinum in the U.S., selling in excess of two million copies. The close ties that Jackson had to the recording are a bit ironic today, as the only episode excluded from the 30 seasons available on Disney+ is “Stark Raving Dad,” which featured a voice-acting turn from the singer; the episode was pulled after the documentary “Leaving Neverland” revisited sexual misconduct allegations leveled at the singer, who passed in 2009.
5. Its List of Accolades Just Keeps Going
The Simpsons is not only the longest-running sitcom in network TV history, it’s also the longest-running scripted prime time series. At 30 seasons and counting and 692 episodes in the can (as of January 12, 2020), it has a seven-season (and nearly 400-episode) lead on South Park. The only other shows in the neighborhood are Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (still running in its 21st season, with 468 episodes so far) and Gunsmoke (20 seasons and 635 episodes). The series has a heavily burdened award shelf, with 34 Emmys, 34 Annie (the International Animated Film Association) Awards, and a Peabody Award. In 2009, The Simpsons became the only TV series to receive a set of stamps from the U.S. Postal Service while still on the air.
Featured image: Entertainment Pictures / Alamy Stock Photo.
Imagine unearthing a Picasso in the corner of your basement, perfectly preserved for decades before you finally uncover it. Roy E. Disney experienced this in 1999 when he stumbled across Destino, the 1946 collaboration between his uncle Walt Disney, the animation pioneer, and Salvador Dalí, Spain’s legendary surrealist painter. And his decision to revive the project left us one of the most interesting collaborations in animated film history.
How many stars had to align before Disney’s creativity and Dalí’s imagination finally came together? It turns out, all they really needed was a dinner party hosted by Jack Warner (of Warner Bros. Studios). Walt Disney had caught the surrealism “bug” while creating Fantasia, and with it came the desire to continue dabbling in projects that carried the same dreamy element. Similarly, Dalí had a newfound fascination with cinematography and was determined to become the first popular surrealist to invade the film industry.
The story of their initial meeting has been passed around like folklore. It could only be verified through John Hench’s recollections and Jack Warner’s guest list. As the legend goes, at Warner’s party, Dalí and Disney immediately connected, and an overjoyed Dalí accepted Disney’s proposal to collaborate on a surrealist animated short. Over the next eight months, they created more than 200 storyboard sketches set to a love ballad composed by Fantasia composer Armando Dominguez. Their paired ambition (along with John Hench’s tremendous draftsmanship) resulted in the story of a haunting romance between two star-crossed lovers: Dahlia, a mortal woman struggling to find love, and Chronos, an all-powerful titan and the personification of time itself.
Sadly, financial struggles after World War II forced the studio to place the project on an indefinite hiatus. Destino spent the next five decades hidden in the Disney archives.
Destino was a project shared between two great artists at the peak of their powers. Dalí and Disney strove to bring people out of their daily tedium into what they considered better, more imaginative worlds. In their six-and-a-half-minute film, objects around Dahlia break or melt away as she dances her way through the scenery. She moves in and out of landscapes like a trapeze artist while her large, longing eyes scan the terrain for her lover. Her body undergoes drastic transformations — taking the shape of a bell tower, a dandelion, a ballerina, and a baseball — all in hopes of finding a form that can coincide with Chronos’s immortality. In turn, Chronos tries to meet her efforts by breaking free from his bonds.
But large towers prevent them from reaching each other. It takes a variety of surreal movements and shifting scenery before Dahlia’s bell tower appears in the hole in Chronos’s heart, signifying that the two have finally become one.
It took nearly 60 years for Destino to finally be completed — 37 years after Walt Disney’s death and 13 years after Dalí’s. By the time the artwork was rediscovered, nearly 50 original sketches had been lost or damaged due to poor preservation. Roy Disney re-recruited John Hench to help revive the project in 2002, and together, they stitched the remaining sketches into a single piece, keeping as close to the original storyboard as they could. Fans of Disney and Dalí will find that both artists’ styles are clearly evident throughout the film.
The final product was released on June 2, 2003, at the Annecy International Animation Film Festival. It was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film and honored in multiple exhibitions. It won titles in the Chicago, Rhode Island, and Melbourne International Film Festivals and even inspired its own four-star resort in Talamanca, Spain.
Disney and Dalí got more than what they bargained for out of their partnership. The Destino collaboration led to a lifelong friendship between the man behind the mouse and the painter of melted clocks. It’s more than just a surrealist 1946 package film. It’s a melding of the styles of two of the 20th century’s most imaginative minds.
Think for a moment about the greatest mystery solvers in the history of television. Who belongs on that list? Columbo, certainly. The variation incarnations of Sherlock Holmes. Probably Magnum or Jessica Fletcher and Jim Rockford, along with Luther and Monk and Mannix. Kojak and Veronica Mars, Pembleton and Bayliss, Jimmy McNulty? The list is seemingly endless, but it would certainly be incomplete without the team of Mystery, Inc. Over the course of 14 distinct series and dozens of movies, four friends and their canine companion have captured criminals disguised as all manners of spooks and specters while occasionally running afoul of true supernatural threats and super-villains. Believe or not, Fred, Daphne, Velma, Shaggy, and Scooby-Doo turn 50 this September. Here’s a look at their mystery history, from 1969 to their brand-new streaming series.
1. Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? (1969-1972, CBS)
The original Hanna-Barbera series introduces us to the four teens of Mystery, Inc. (Fred Jones, Daphne Blake, Velma Dinkley, and Norville “Shaggy” Rogers) and Shaggy’s best buddy, Great Dane Scooby-Doo. From the beginning, Scooby talks, but frequently starts words with a “R,” which leads to such famous pronunciations as “Ruh-Roh” and “Raggy” (when yelling for his best friend). Most of the recognizable conventions of the series are evident in the earliest episodes, which generally involve criminals trying to cover their tracks by pretending to be supernatural creatures; the “meddling kids” invariably solve the mystery through a combination of Velma’s research, the group’s combined clue-finding, Fred’s elaborate traps, and Shaggy and Scooby’s fear-driven haplessness. Also present from the start is their groovy van, the Mystery Machine. Twenty-five half-hour episodes were produced, and they ran over and over. From the first episode to the present day, the voice of Fred has been acted by Frank Welker.
2. The New Scooby-Doo Movies (1972-1974, CBS)
Among the most fondly remembered episodes by fans are the 24 New Scooby-Doo Movies installments. Clocking in at an hour each, every show featured a different celebrity guest-star, both fictional and from the real world. The gang was just as likely to solve a mystery alongside Mama Cass Elliott and Don Knotts as they were to team up with Batman and Robin or Josie and the Pussycats; when real-life celebrities appeared, they also provided their own voices. Batman and Robin were voiced by Olan Soule and Casey Kasem (who also voiced Shaggy); the dynamic duo of voice actors would also speak for their characters when Hanna-Barbera launched the Super-Friends series in 1973.
3. The Scooby-Doo/Dynomutt Show (1976-1977, ABC)
The gang made the transition to ABC in 1976 after a year reruns on CBS. ABC created new half-hour episodes paired with the new Dynomutt series, which featured the adventures of super-hero Blue Falcon and his dimwitted robot dog, Dynomutt. In November of that year, the network added reruns of Where Are You? to create a 90-minute show-block.
4. Scooby’s All-Star Laff-a-Lympics (1977-1978, ABC)
This is how you can tell Scooby-Doo had become the cornerstone of ABC’s animated line-up. This two-hour, five-show block include three separate Scooby series, plus 11-minute episodes of The Blue Falcon & Dynomutt and new show Captain Caveman and the Teen Angels. The Scooby shows were The Scooby-Doo Show (new episodes), Where Are You? reruns, and an all-new series, Laff-a-Lympics. That show boasted a roster of 45 Hanna-Barbera characters split among three teams competing in Olympic-style events around the world; Scooby led the Scooby Doobies against Yogi Bear’s Yogi Yahooeys and Mumbly’s Really Rottens.
5. Scooby’s All-Stars (1978-1979, ABC)
ABC tinkered with the format in the next year, eliminating the Where Are You? reruns and moving Dynomutt into its own show. All-Stars retained new Scooby episodes, Laff-a-Lympics, and Captain Caveman. In later syndication, the initial run of new ABC Scooby shows was separated out into a package called, appropriately, The Scooby Show, while Laff-a-Lympics, Dynomutt, and Captain Caveman all ran separately.
6. Scooby-Doo and Scrappy-Doo (1979-1980, ABC)
Here begins the most contentious chapter in the history of our mystery-solving dog. Despite the fact that ABC had built a fair chuck of animated programming around the Scooby brand, ratings had begun to decline a bit. The network decided to apply the same logic that they frequently do to long-running sitcoms, and that’s to add a younger character. The “Cousin Oliver” in this particular case was Scooby’s diminutive nephew Scrappy, a smaller Great Dane that was as foolishly brave as Scooby was comically cowardly. The little loudmouth was a hit with younger viewers but disdained by the older audience. Regardless, ratings went up, leading to more controversial moves in the next iteration.
7. The Richie Rich/Scooby-Doo Show (1980-1982, ABC)
Hanna-Barbera took a different approach for the next two seasons. Longtime Harvey Comics character Richie Rich and his supporting cast made their animated debut in this one-hour series, which split alternating seven-minute segments between Richie’s cartoons and the Scooby gang. Not only did ABC’s top dog get second billing, but Fred, Daphne, and Velma were written out of the show, leaving only Shaggy, Scooby, and the divisive Scrappy. Interestingly, the Scooby villains started to drift into actual supernatural territory versus the traditional “crooks in costumes” concept.
8. The Scooby & Scrappy-Doo/Puppy Hour (1982-1983, ABC)
Okay, this is weird. We have the truncated Scooby gang again sharing a show, but this time with The Puppy’s New Adventures, a Ruby-Spears series that spun-out of four ABC Weekend Specials, based on the work of children’s author Jane Thayer, that ran between 1979 and 1981; in the series, Petey Puppy and his dog friends travel to world trying to find his owner, Timmy. This configuration would only last for one season as ABC put the Puppy cast in a new show, The Puppy’s Further Adventures, and put the gang into their own solo show again.
9. The All-New Scooby and Scrappy-Doo Show (1983-1984, ABC)
Hey, look! Daphne’s back! The first 11 episodes of this half-hour series each told two stories; the final two episodes switched back to the full-episode story format. This led immediately into . . .
10. The New Scooby-Doo Mysteries (1984-1985, ABC)
This season followed a similar format to the previous season, alternating episodes that contained single mysteries with two shorter stories. Fred and Velma appeared again in various episodes. One notable episode, “A Halloween Hassle at Dracula’s Castle,” featured a reversal where the gang helps classic monsters like the Count and Frankenstein’s monster figure out who’s been haunting them.
11. The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo (1985-1986, ABC)
13 Ghosts marked a major departure for the series. For the first time, there was an overarching story to the season and a loose continuity between episodes. In the premiere, Scooby-Doo and Shaggy accidentally opened a chest of 13 demons that scattered across the planet. Scooby, Shaggy, Scrappy, Daphne, and their new ally, a child named Flim-Flam, sought to return the demons to the chest with the guidance of Doctor Strange-like mentor Vincent Van Ghoul (voiced by horror film legend Vincent Price). The show ran for 13 episodes, but the plot wasn’t resolved in the final episode. With the drastic change of the next series, the whole conceit was dropped, and would not be revisited until the 2019 direct-to-DVD film Scooby-Doo! and the Curse of the 13th Ghost. During the 1985-1986 television season, ABC also ran a show called Scooby’s Mystery Funhouse; however, this series was composed entirely of reruns from the various 1980 to 1985 shows, and doesn’t count as a true separate series.
12. A Pup Named Scooby-Doo (1988-1991, ABC)
The final Scooby series to run on ABC was a reinvention that de-aged the cast back to junior high kids, while Scooby became the titular puppy. Gone was Scrappy-Doo, and in was a meta sensibility that included bits like breaking the fourth wall and Fred wanting to blame every mystery on a kid named Red Herring. The new iteration proved to be popular and ran for four seasons.
13. What’s New Scooby-Doo? (2002-2006, Kids’ WB)
The Scooby franchise was dormant for a few years save for the Scooby-Doo! In Arabian Knights special on TBS in 1994. In the late ‘90s, Warner Brother embarked on a series of direct-to-video movies starring an updated, more modern version of the gang; these films, which kicked off with Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island in 1998, started off with supernatural adversaries for the first few installments. The videos proved popular enough that Kids’ WB launched a new regular series called What’s New Scooby-Doo? Using the more modern designs and settings, and a modern theme song by the pop-punk band Simple Plan, but the reliable formula of “crooks in costumes,” the show proved extremely popular and ran for three seasons. Mindy Cohn, perhaps best known as Natalie from The Facts of Life, began her run as the voice of Velma, even earning a Daytime Emmy for her work. Grey Griffin, who began playing Daphne with 2001’s direct-to-video Scooby-Doo and the Cyber Chase, continued into this series and has held the role since. Particularly notable was 2003’s A Scooby-Doo Halloween, which featured an appearance (and voice-acting) by legendary rockers KISS, who also performed “Shout It Out Loud.”
14. Shaggy and Scooby-Doo Get a Clue! (2006-2008, Kids’ WB on CW)
A mystifying reinvention of the show, this series focused on Shaggy and Scooby moving into a mansion that was left to Shaggy by an eccentric inventor uncle. A rogue’s gallery attempts to steal a secret invention with Shaggy and Scooby (and occasionally, other members of the gang) work to foil them. It ran for two seasons.
15. Scooby-Doo: Mystery Incorporated (2010-2013, Cartoon Network)
A thoroughly modern makeover in all the best ways, Mystery Inc., as it’s known, emphasized tight continuity and an ongoing story that pulled in elements from the entire existence of the franchise. The 52-episode series told one large tale while delving into tangled romantic plots, satire, meta-humor, world mythology, and occasional social commentary (like teacher pay and shallow advertising). Individual episodes were loaded with homages and references, invoking everything from the works of H.P. Lovecraft to James Cameron’s films to Twin Peaks. Other Hanna-Barbera characters appeared, notably the Blue Falcon, Dynomutt, and the cast of Jonny Quest. Writer Harlan Ellison guested twice as himself. After 41 years, Casey Kasem turned the voice of Shaggy over to Matthew Lillard, who had played the character in two live-action films; Kasem stuck around for cameos as Shaggy’s dad. Many other well-known actors voiced regular characters, including Lewis Black, Vivica A. Fox, Gary Cole, Linda Cardellini (who also played Velma in live-action), Patrick Warburton, and Warhol-film veteran Udo Kier, who handled the role of the evil parrot Professor Pericles. Easily the most ambitious version of the show, it remains a high-water mark for Cartoon Network’s non-Adult-Swim work in this decade.
16. Be Cool, Scooby-Doo! (2014-2018, Cartoon Network)
This series reverse-engineered the darker tone of Mystery Inc. and leaned into a more comedic and self-referential vibe. Comedian Kate Micucci signed on as Velma in this run, wherein the animation veered into a more comedy-oriented style reminiscent of other Cartoon Network projects like Regular Show. The durable format also lasted 52 episodes.
17. Scooby-Doo and Guess Who? (2019-?, Boomerang app & streaming)
Everything old is new again! Premiering last month on the Boomerang app and streaming service, Scooby-Doo and Guess Who? is a modern update of The New Scooby Movies, with fictional and celebrity guest-stars. The animation has moved back to the style of What’s New and the direct-to-video films. Guests for the new run include Wonder Woman, Sherlock Holmes, Ricky Gervais, Wanda Sykes, Bill Nye the Science Guy, and, of course, the gang’s old pal, Batman.
18. An Aside for the Movies
The first Scooby-Doo television special to run in prime-time was Scooby-Doo Goes Hollywood in 1979; four others have run between 1998 and 2015. Between 1987 and 1994, the gang was featured in four animated TV-movies (Scooby-Doo Meets the Boo Brothers, Scooby-Doo and the Ghoul School, Scooby-Doo and the Reluctant Werewolf, and the aforementioned Arabian Knights). Since 1998, there have been 32 direct-to-video Scooby-Doo films and six shorter direct-to-video specials. Two big-budget live-action films were made in 2002 and 2004; Scooby-Doo and Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unlimited were written by James Gunn (known today for directing the Guardians of the Galaxy films) and starred Freddie Prinze Jr., Sarah Michelle Gellar, Lillard, and Cardellini, with the voice of Scooby-Doo provided by Neil Fanning. Two additional live-action TV movies and the direct-to-video Daphne & Velma have appeared. Scooby-Doo and friends are scheduled to return to the big-screen in the 3D-animated Scoob!, which is set for 2020; it’s slated to be directed by Tony Cervone, who is a veteran director and producer of a number of the direct-to-video films.
Over the past 50 years, Scooby, Shaggy, Fred, Daphne, Velma, and even Scrappy, have entered the popular lexicon. Phrases like “Jinkies!” and “Ruh-roh!” are unmistakable in their origins, and an endless number of films and TV shows use the program as a reference point. In addition to TV and video, the gang lives on in web specials, video games, Lego sets, toys, clothing, and more. They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks; as long as criminals pretend to be ghosts and teenage detectives are willing to meddle, Scooby-Doo doesn’t need to change a thing.
Featured Image: Khairil Azhar Junos / Shutterstock.com
The 1999 Kids’ Choice Awards on Nickelodeon is famous on its own merits. NSYNC and Britney Spears performed as their ascents to stratospheric stardom continued; TLC also performed, doing “No Scrubs” in the midst of its four straight weeks as Billboard’s #1 song. But a great many people remember it most for what happened directly after the show. That’s when Nickelodeon debuted SpongeBob SquarePants, an animated series about an anthropomorphic sponge and his undersea friends that rapidly went from Saturday morning champion to adult cult favorite to pop culture phenomenon. Now, 20 years later, we look back at five fascinating facts about a character that’s still headlining television, film, and even Broadway.
1. SpongeBob Was Born from a Perfect Marriage of Interests
SpongeBob creator Stephen Hillenburg loved two things as a kid: drawing, and the ocean. He eventually majored in marine biology and minored in art, and worked at the Ocean Institute in California. While there, he created an early comic precursor to SpongeBob called The Intertidal Zone. Hillenburg later enrolled at the California Institute of the Arts to pursue animation. He landed a job on the popular series Rocko’s Modern Life , where one of the series’ writers, Martin Olson, would encourage Hillenburg to develop his comic as an animated series.
2. The Pitch Is the Stuff of Legend
When it came time for Hillenburg and the team he’d assembled to pitch the show to Nickelodeon, the crew went all out. As the crew explains on the Season One DVD, Hillenburg wore a Hawaiian shirt and played Hawaiian music, and they brought along an underwater terrarium that contained models of the various characters. Two executives had to leave the room to compose themselves from laughing. The network gave Hillenburg and company cash and two weeks to get the first episode written; they returned and killed it with a read-through that got the show its greenlight. When they screened the pilot, executives asked to watch it again immediately after the first showing. Everyone could feel that it was something special due to surreal humor, the quality of the voice-acting, and the fact that it didn’t look quite like anything else on TV.
3. It Was an Instant Success . . . Then Got Bigger
The opening sequence of the show. (Uploaded to YouTube by Nick Animation)
When the first episode was sneak previewed on May 1, 1999, following the Kids’ Choice Awards, buzz began to build around its fun design and quirky humor. By the time that the first regular episode ran in July, fans were waiting. It only took a month for the show to dethrone Pok émon as the most-watched Saturday morning cartoon in America. By 2001, Nickelodeon also began running the show in evening slots to accommodate a growing teen and adult audience; the show ended the year with a regular audience of 15 million, one-third of whom were adults.
4. It’s Grown Beyond the Show
The trailer for the 2015 film, The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water (Uploaded to YouTube by Movieclips Trailers)
SpongeBob SquarePants has only grown in the telling. There have been musical albums, comic book series, two TV movies, two theatrical releases (with another pending), theme park rides (including a coaster at the Mall of America in Minnesota), video games, and even a Broadway musical adaptation (which received multiple Tony Award nominations in 2018).
5. The Fan Theories Get Pretty Wild
Fans have suggested all manner of theories related to the series since its earliest days, with some running from the mildly amusing to the extremely dark. Many have suggested that the main location, Bikini Bottom, is the result of either nuclear war or nuclear testing (the interaction with the surface world in the films would seem to rule out nuclear apocalypse). Some are fairly innocuous (the characters live in the remains of tiki bar props from a sunken cruise ship), while others are hilariously adult (one suggestion is that the episode where Sandy and SpongeBob become obsessed with karate is actually about sex, with the word “karate” allegedly serving as a substitute for the word “sex” in all conversations). Of course, nothing is certain, and television programs generally welcome theorizing that keep the fans engaged in the show.
Creator Hillenburg passed away last year as a result of cardiopulmonary failure due to ALS. The series itself will continue, with television spin-offs and a new film in development. Twenty years in, the silly guy with the square pants continues to entertain audiences of all ages. Now, if only they’d actually make the Krusty Krab into a real restaurant chain . . .
Featured Image: SpongeBob SquarePants turns 20. (©Viacom International, Inc.)