Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Top Ten Classic Cartoon Intros

Today Geekanerd is running down the TOP TEN CLASSIC CARTOON INTROS, those 60-second masterpieces that got you all fired up before your favorite cartoon. Grab a bowl of Cap'n Crunch, and join as we count 'em down!

  • Must be from a series no longer being produced
  • Must be an English-language series
  • Must feature original animation (none of that Disney Afternoon clip-show crap!)
  • Must be from a series intended for kids
Read the rankings and watch the videos after the jump...
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1:00 - This opening shot of Tazmania is as awe-inspiring as any IMAX nature doc.
0:43 - Taz has more personality and life in these few frames than he did in any of the actual episodes.
0:28 - Falling Safe Alert. WB Animation really nails those classic gags!

This opening does a great job putting Taz-Mania's madcap cast of characters on display. Taz himself, however, was a pretty poor protagonist. It's as if they gave Ed from the Lion King his own show. Taz was only around for name recognition, and was by far the least interesting thing about the series. The opening sequence seems to acknowledge this up front ("Oh yeah, don't forget Taz") in the grand tradition of Warner Brothers Cartoon Self-Awareness.

9. Muppet Babies

0:29 - Words can't convey how bizarre this transition is; it seems that the dimension Scooter had been occupying is sucked into a black hole and replaced with a circus nightmare featuring his opposite-sex doppelganger.
0:18 - The appearance of a genuine Advanced Tie Fighter cements Muppet Babies as the coolest show on Nickelodeon, ever.

Does this opener remind you of anything? I'm now convinced that the very distinctive (read: ugly) Rugrats intro is in fact a direct homage to Muppet Babies. They both capture the sense of micro-chaos that makes up the world of a child, although Muppet Babies does it to a rockin' 1960s The-Beach-Boys-meets-The-Monkees-Meets-The-Chipmunks theme song.


0:40 - This switch from 1st to 3rd person perspective is a brilliant example of how sometimes breaking the rules yields amazing results. And that is one POWERFUL run cycle!

The animation in this intro is technically superb, and here's why - it was done by Pacific Animation Corporation, which in 1986 included a collective of animators who would go to found Studio Ghibli!

7. Count Duckula

1:23 - This stuffy British production company logo confused kids across the nation..."When did Nickelodeon become PBS?!"
1:15 - Great, scary image...wouldn't you love to own that animation cel?
0:50 - The narrator really sells this voice over. Gotta love the brits.
0:18 - Showing a mere carrot to be more vicious than Duckula is a nice surreal way of putting a point across.

There sure is a lot of satanic imagery on display here...good to know that while until recently Harry Potter books were still being burned, in the 80s you could slip a pentagram and blood rituals into a kids show and no one would bat an eye. Good times!

6. Doug

0:28 - Ah young love...don't you wish real crushes were as gentle and transcendent as this?
0:21 - The way Doug tenses his feet to convey surprise is a great bit of cartoon "acting".

Doug may be THE most innocent cartoon ever made - while many of these intros are heavy on flash and action, Doug's opening sequence is so charming and simple you might not notice what an ingenious bit of meta-animation it really is.

5. Jem

0:40 - Did you see that?! A guy drove his car drove up on stage and grabbed Jem! And look at how the frame shakes after they drive off screen - he totally drove into a wall and killed them both!
0:19 - Wow...The Misfits are not afraid to use slightly discordant harmonies, KISS-style make-up, and provocative stage presence. Good for them!
0:14 - Although I have to say, Jem really makes her one spin-move work for her.

No one on the Geekanerd Writing Staff ever watched Jem as a kid, but this intro is incredible. It captures the 80s MTV aesthetic almost better than MTV did! The rotoscoping is used to great effect, and I can't get over how awesome The Misfits are. I hope a reunion tour is in the works.

4. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

0:37 - "Get a grip!" And they're literally getting a grip on their weapons. Classic.
0:27 - Anyone who thinks Mikey is mere comic relief would do well to witness his pwning of ninja stars.
0:24 - Splinter's transformation is kind of terrifying...look at that smoke coming off his hands!
0:12 - Pizza toppings stick to the "camera lens"...nice touch, animators!

This intro's hyperactive energy is impossible to resist, and it somehow succeeds in making anthropomorphic turtles look like the coolest guys around. But take a look at 0:40 - This profile shot of the turtles is awesome, but why does it look familiar? Compare with Thundercats at 0:55...hmm.

3. The Real Ghostbusters

0:59 - This opening strut rivals Saturday Night Fever for sheer coolness.
0:42 - All the main characters are perfectly summarized...Egon does machines, Ray is the happy-go-lucky goof, Peter is lazy and hilarious, Slimer likes eating and Winston is the token black guy with no personality.
0:24 - Nightmare fodder for kids across America.
0:20 Nothing says "I'm going to trap you in a box" like rhythmic gun presentation.

Boy, the animation owes so much to anime! Jeanne's reaction at :30 to being kissed by Slimer is an facial expression straight out of the Tenchi playbook. And Jeanne is looking pretty sexy for a nerdy single secretary...but maybe that's just me.

2.Tiny Toons

0:48 - I love this gag. Babs and Buster defy expectations at every turn!
0:33 - Tiny Toons made a big deal about the art of wild takes, and Plucky, reacting to his own giant head, gives a great example here.
0:28 - Pay attention to their body language- Buster jumps in with a feminine flourish, and Babs barges in. A split second later, it's revealed that the two are disguised as the other. These animators really went the extra mile.

Tiny Toons began what would be a Renaissance in smart, edgy comedic cartoons from the WB (this trend would finally fly to close to the sun with the brilliant but alienating Freakazoid). The tone of this intro was used again and again in the WB cartoons that followed, but the quick-witted magic was never captured quite so well as on Tiny Toons. "We crack up all the censors" has to be one of the all-time greatest lyrics for a kid's cartoon. Irreverence defined.

1. Batman: The Animated Series

0:56 - As the cheery WB logo fades into the glaring headlights of a police blimp, you know you know this toon means business.
0:44 - Now that is a good looking explosion! And be sure to note the elegant animation on the falling debris.
0:33 - This is a perfect graphic-novel style composition - angular, bold colors - effortlessly effective.
0:26 - What are these crooks so scared of?
0:23 - Oh, right.
0:20 - If anyone had any questions as to how an unarmed vigilante could deal with gun-toting punks, here's your answer.
0:18 - Note the punk's horrified reaction to seeing this demon of the night take out his partner. This is what Batman is all about, people.
0:17 - Beautiful if physically improbable aerial move.
0:09 - Great dumbstruck body language on the cop, indicating that Bats works outside the system.
0:03 - Chilling. A single frame ingrained in the psyche's of kids across America.

Many readers will have had occasion to watch this opening long since their childhood, as the complete Batman: The Animated Series DVD Collection is required viewing for all animation/comic book geeks. But no matter how many times you watch this sequence, it doesn't lose it's impact. It's simple, stark, and gorgeous. Watched from beginning to end, you can't help but be moved by that ever-vigilant pose in the final shot...never has a cartoon hero looked so dark and foreboding. This intro prepared kids across the nation for what was so often a thrilling, serious, and emotionally gripping half hour of toonage. Give it up for Bruce Timm, ladies and gentlemen.

Some animation buffs may be ready to storm the Geekanerd Technodrome for making a "classic" list comprised entirely of cartoons from the 80s and 90s. In our defense, we did review toons from earlier eras, and even the best seemed flat and repetitive when compared to our cherished finalists. Also it seems the Z-axis was not discovered in popular American animation until 1980.

Oh, we also left out Animaniacs. Sorry.


Scott said...

Hmmmm . . . My list would be quite different. I think TMNT would be #1, and then that cracked-out show--Muppet Babies would be somewhere on the list, but I'd change the 8 other choices.

Albo said...

Let's hear your faves, Scott! What else would make the list?

Chris Battle said...

Batman and Thundercats.... absolute CLASSIC opening sequences! I agree with your #1 pick.

Degan said...

Some may change here and there, but Batman should always be at the top. For one, that sucker was so badass they didn't even feel the need to include a title! It's just his silhouette on the building! Total badass! No need for a logo, title, Nothing! Even as a kid that killed me.

AHR said...

If had told me in 1985 that the team behind the Thundercats opening would go on to establish the world's most acomplished animation studio...I wouldn't have known what they were talking about, cause I didn't watch Thundercats. I should retroactively call social services, cause I obviously had a deprived childhood.

Scott said...

Well, I am drawing a blank . . .

How about that Disney show "Gummi Bears" with the juice that made them bounce away from their enemies which were dumb knights and ogres?

Ohhhhh! "Duck Tales!" Gotta love an elderly duck swimming through gold coins as if they were water!

Oh, were these supposed to be Saturday morning cartoons, or were weekday ones okay, too?

"Smurfs" too young? That was a weird show!

"Captain Planet--he's our hero, gonna take polution down to zero . . ."

"Captain Nintendo!"


"Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventures"

I know there was a show about Mario, Luigi, and the Princess, but I can't think of the name.

AHR said...

On The Omission of DuckTales:

I regret that basically ALL of the Disney Afternoon titles were banned from the list, because they were all cursed with clip show intros...little to no original animation, just poorly slapped together clips from the episodes. CHEAP! But if this list were for Greatest Cartoon Theme Songs, you can bet this would not be a Disney-free list. Or a Hannah Barbera-free list, for that matter.

I do remember Bill and Ted having a fun intro, but it doesn't seem to be on YouTube.

I do clearly remember the opening...

"I am Bill S. Preston, Eqsuire!"
"And I am Ted Theodore Logan!"
"And we are...WILD STALLIONS!"

So Bill was a lawyer?

Hunter said...

Hey guys, about that Tiny Toons intro-- Specifically the line "Dizzy Devil Ducky." Who sings it, and what does it mean? It doesn't fit the pattern of the rest of the introductions of being either an item on a list or a short sentence. Also, every other line in the song is sung either by the TT Chorus or a single child. Buster sings Hampton's name, Plucky sings his own... Is "Dizzy Devil Ducky" Dizzy's interior monologue? It almost makes sense in that context, like he comes out of the vacuum bag and looks at Plucky and thinks to himself "I am that duck" in Devilish. But I remember Dizzy's speaking voice being a more phlegmy affair.

Tiny Toons (and Animaniacs after it) wholesaled so much of its premise and its world from Who Framed Roger Rabbit that when I watched it I could not stop thinking that these children probably lived in constant fear of DIP, and that there were probably drills at school.

AHR said...

Hunter - I think the lyric is "Dizzy Devil's yucky." Not the most graceful way of putting it, but at least it makes sense. Babs sings it. I like your explanation better.

And to your point about Tiny Toons lifting the premise of Roger Rabbit - I must disagree. While they certainly launched off that movie's success, Warner Brothers toons had been characterized as self-aware "actors" at least as far back as the 40s. In those old cartoons Bugs and Daffy would compete for screen-time and refer to their agents, whereas the TT bunch were still in what amounted to acting school, and had yet to reach that point. It all fit into one universe pretty neatly, considering it spanned half a century.

Brice said...

I think I would have the original GI Joe into in there. The animation was quite good, especially after knowing how terrible the show's could be and the style was great. There's multiple perspective shifts and star wars inspired flying along the grooves of a large airship. All of the subsequent seasons shared similar aspects, but got progressivly crappier. I did think He-man for a second, until I realized that it was actually pretty much the worst into to a cartoon I could think of. I probably would have changed the channel if I had had good taste when I was a child.

Albo said...

Wow, I was with Hunter in thinking the line was "Dizzy Devil Ducky..." Another childhood mystery put to rest.

AHR said...

Brice, I originally had G.I Joe in the top ten, but it was veto'd by another Geekanerd editor that I'm not at liberty to name. Besides, much like the way Animaniacs was pushed off the list for being too similiar to Tiny Toons, the best aspects of the G.I Joe were all done even better in Thundercats, which came out two years earlier.

That said, it's still pretty awesome. Gooooo JOE!

Brice said...

Actually the one I was thinking of was this one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5YjfGex5JHY&mode=related&search=

I can see your reasoning with Tcats, though GI Joe's intro was much fuller and more detailed I thought, and the thing I liked about it was that it didn't really introduce characters. You saw a lot of specific characters, but nobody doing any sort of "gimmick" associated with them, overall all the characters just kind of ran around beating the shit out of each other.

Mattieshoe said...

Animanaics was worlds more clever then tiny Toons.

for the most part, Tiny Toons was just another Saturday Morning Cartoon.

Animaniacs was an antidote to that terrible plain of thinking.

That line really isn't that Clever. These type of jokes were much more refined and strong on Animaniacs.