Saturday, November 9, 2013

My Top 6 Cartoon Opening Sequences

I grew up during the golden age of cartoons.  The 80s and early 90s produced some of the greatest pieces of animation in television history.  My earliest memories of watching cartoons are of Voltron, Transformers, and He-Man and the Masters of the Universe.  Other shows that I loved were Thundercats, G.I. Joe, and Bravestarr.

Things reached a ridiculous level of awesome in 1987 with the debut of this little show you may have heard of: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  That show changed my life.  Well, it may not have changed my life, but it gave me something to obsess over.  And obsess I did.  That's another blog entry entirely, though.

Following the awesome action cartoons of the early to mid 80s were the comedy cartoons from Disney and WB: Duck Tales, Darkwing Duck, Tale Spin, Chip 'n Dale's Rescue Rangers, Tiny Toon Adventures, and Animaniacs.

Then came the shows that would really change my life (or at least my buying habits):  X-Men and Batman: the Animated Series.  Those two shows are the reason I'm a comic book fan today.  I'm sure eventually I'll devote an entire blog to each of those shows, so that's all I'll say about them now.

There was something about those shows that cartoons these days are missing. It seems like back then the producers understood kids better.  Or maybe we were just way cooler back then and didn't like lame stuff like kids these days do.

Anyway, this post isn't about awesome cartoons so much as their awesome opening sequences, so here are my top 6 theme songs/opening sequences in no particular order.  I tried really hard to rank them, but I'm no good at that.

SWAT Kats Season Two

This is a show that I did not catch on its original run.  I don't know why that happened, but I didn't start watching it until it was on Cartoon Network some time in the late 90s.  The show is about two mechanics (who are also cats, just like everyone else in Megakat city) who secretly defended the city from villains and monsters as the SWAT Kats.  One of the Kats (Jake) is voiced by Barry Gordon, who was Donatello and Bebop on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

What Megakat city would look like IRL.

The theme for this show is pretty awesome.  It doesn't have any lyrics that describe the show or the characters, but it has some sweet guitar licks set over some pretty smooth animation.  Plus, I feel like this one would be forgotten on most lists and I wanted to spotlight it.

Scooby Doo, Where are You!

Okay, so this one isn't from the 80s or 90s, but how does one make a list of great cartoon theme songs and leave this one off?  The answer:  one does not.  I don't really have to say a lot about this show, because if you are clueless about it then you've been living under a rock for the last 40 years. 

Hey.  What did I miss?

This song has a great late 60s groove about it.  That bass line is killer!  The footage from the show is a great summary of what to expect in the show:  scary ghosts, a lot of running, and Shaggy and Scooby running in funny ways.  I also like the bats at the beginning.


Awesome guitar licks, awesome robot voices, and awesome visuals of robots shooting each other with lasers. There was always something that intrigued me about the line "more than meets the eye."  It's an obvious reference to the fact that they're cars or jets or whatever AND huge freakin' robots, but still, to my 4 or 5 year old brain there was something mysterious going on there.

Soundwave was more than meets the ear.


This show has held up surprisingly well compared to other cartoons from the early 90s.  Granted, there are some crazy bright colors going on in the wardrobes of most of the characters, but look at Saved By The Bell.  That was happening in real life, too.

I'm pretty sure Cyclops wore this in one episode of X-Men.
The stories were pretty much straight from the comics and the theme song was straight from what I imagine a soundtrack to an X-Men comic to sound like from 1992.  In the opening sequence, each character was spotlighted to show off his/her power and name (which used the characters' logos from the comics..awesome).  When I started playing guitar (way back in ninth grade, circa 1996), this was one of the first songs I looked up the tabs for.  I have since forgotten how to play it.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

This, ladies and gentlemen, is how to do a cartoon and appeal to children at pretty much every level.  Ninjas.  Turtles.  Mutants.  Creative villains.  Toys.  Catchy theme song.  When this show came out in 1987, my mind was blown.  Talking turtles with swords?  Yes, please!  My grandparents (or parents or greatgrandparents, whomever) would buy me a new Ninja Turtles toy every time we went to Wal-Mart (which, back then, wasn't that often, because we lived way out in the sticks).

I was so very obsessed with this show.  It was quite the departure from the original concept of the Turtles by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird way back in 1984.  The comic started out as a parody of Frank Miller's Daredevil run.  Our favorite Renaissance artist-named turtles were not the happy-go-lucky, pizza-eating friends that we grew to love on the cartoon.  They were cold-blooded killers.  It's what ninjas do.

I don't remember the episode where Leonardo stabbed Shredder then threw him off a building.  With a grenade.

The theme was greatness.  It is ridiculously catchy and tells exactly what the show is about:

They're the world's most fearsome fighting team (We're really hip!)
They're heroes in the half shell and they're green (Hey, get a grip!)
When the evil Shredder attacks, these turtle boys don't cut him no slack! 

(Obviously, we didn't worry about things like grammar in the 80s.)

And introduces the characters:

Splinter taught them to be ninja teens (He's a radical rat!)
Leonardo leads, Donatello does machines (That's a fact, Jack!)
Raphael is cool but crude (Gimme a break!)
Michelangelo is a party dude (Party!)

(The Ninja Turtles were saying "Jack" before Uncle Si!)

The song (which was co-written by Chuck Lorre of Two and a Half Men and Big Bang Theory fame) was played over some really great animation.  The animation was almost this good in the pilot episodes, but decreased in quality after that.  Overall, a great opening for a great cartoon!

Batman: The Animated Series

This, ladies and gentlemen, is how to do a cartoon and appeal to everyone on almost every level.  Much has already been written on the internet in the last 20 years summarizing the show or detailing its influence.  In my opinion, this is the greatest animated show in the history of animated shows.  As has been the case with all the themes on this list, this one gives a great introduction to the look and feel of the series.  It's dark and has Batman kicking butt.  And the music was composed by this guy:

Danny Elfman reworked his theme from the 1989 Batman movie to be used for the opening of the animated series.  And it worked perfectly.  The animation flows along with the music, rising and falling together like a couple climbing a mountain to jump to their deaths at a lovers' leap.

Well there's my list of favorites.  I probably could've made this a top 15 or top 20 list, but I think six will suffice.  Comment with your favorites and let's discuss.