It’s a common enough situation. You’re sitting around with friends, talking about how back in the day, you raced home after school or got up extra early in the morning to catch Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Thundercats, The Disney Afternoon, Animaniacs, etc. You’re all fueled by nostalgic reverence for the “good old days” of cartoons, sharing and getting each other’s Inspector Gadget references, bonding over how Monterrey Jack’s cheese problem might have been an allegory for drug addiction and commenting that Uncle Gadget’s free-range parenting of Penny was either smart or possibly neglect … and then I bring everything to a screeching halt by saying, “And how about that weird 80’s cartoon … Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors? Was his sister a plant? I’m pretty sure his sister was a plant …” Everyone is just staring at you. You think you hear crickets, but they’re probably just implied.
“Do you mean Transformers?” A well-meaning friend asks.
“No. I mean Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors. I think they drove vehicles that … stacked?”
“Yeah, that’s Transformers. Or that Transformers knock-off … with the cars that turn into a giant robot?”
I shake my head. “No! That’s Voltron!”
Another friend gives me a pitying look. “Voltron was lions, not cars. I think you just forgot.”
Me? Forget something unimportant pertaining to entertainment from a bygone era? Never! Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors was real, his sister was a plant (kinda), and now we have Wikipedia and the Internet to verify these facts. Even so, humans are lazy and would often rather argue than look things up. As it was back then, my memory of Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors was cemented in reality when I found an aged coloring book in a small store in a small town, still sitting on the shelf as if 1980-whatever was yesterday. I bought it and it lives in a box in my closet as pre-pervasive-Internet proof of its own existence.
Did you watch a show when you were a kid that seems to have fallen out of the collective memory of humankind? Do you ever feel like you’re the only one who remembers some of your favorite old cartoons? What ever happened to Peter Pan and the Pirates? Freakazoid? Pirates of Dark Water? And yes, that weird Voltron that had cars instead of lions? What about some Nickelodeon weirdos like David the Gnome, and that one with the kid named Sandy who goes to a weird koala-world with a flying pink koala and her stuffed koala bear? I’ve seriously never heard the world “eucalyptus” so much in one place in my entire life. Here are some of my own cartoon half-memories, and in the comments, I’d love to hear some of your own!
1.) Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors
This show aired starting in 1985 and was literally a cartoon commercial created to sell toys. Despite this, the plot captivated baby-Me enough to stick with me for many years. The intro song is … intensely ’80s. Listen to it. The heroes were the Lightning League and the villain team was the Monster Minds. It was kind of a weird ’80s version of the organic against man-made trope, only they were marketing stackable toy car things, so the tree-peeps were the enemy. Suck that, Captain Planet, you weird, weird conditional being!
Seriously, when the Planeteers combined, was that the only time Captain Planet was sentient and in existence? Or, was he always around, but could only be arsed to fight eco-villains when called upon by the right elemental combinations? Yeah. Overthinking my entertainment. Again. Jayce was the main hero, his dad was some kind of plant science guy, and Flora, who was kind of Jayce’s little sister was basically a laboratory experiment their father created. Yeesh. And it was real, and I have the Internet to back me up. That, and a crappy coloring book.
2.) The SilverHawks
The SilverHawks was basically done by the same team as The ThunderCats, which were much more popular. Many of the same voice actors were involved, and even the villain names were similar. In ThunderCats, the main big bad was Mumm-Ra, and in SilverHawks, it was Mon-Star, and both were voiced by the same voice actor, Earl Hammond. The opening themes are even similar, with a battle cry of, “Tally Hawk!” instead of “ThunderCats, ho!” SilverHawks aired in 1986, and followed the adventures of a team of futuristic, armor-clad, space-flying, bird-motif’d cyborg people who fought crime in a place called the Galaxy of Limbo. They had very similar team dynamics to ThunderCats, and even as a little kid I remember joking that Quicksilver was, “Space Lion-O!”
Another forgotten fact about this show that has always been a bit in the shadow of ThunderCats? There was a Planet of the Mimes. Yep. Kidd Copper came from there. Mime planet, everybody! And, before ThunderCats fans laugh too hard – the Thundereans’ (sp?) enemies were referred to as the Mutants of Plun-darr. So yeah, it was the ’80s. Shut up.
3.) Pirates of Dark Water
This show aired in 1991, and captured my imagination for a good year. At that time, I was a kid, I didn’t have the Internet, and I did not know what fanfiction was yet. Suffice it to say, had I known then what I know now, I would have been all over that fic! I bring this show up in conversation when people are doing the, “Do you remember ____?” thing. Sometimes, someone has heard of it, but I mostly get blank stares.
The show took place on the planet Mer, which, unsurprisingly, was a very watery place. The problem was that this “dark water” was contaminating things and making things … murky? Gross? Eh, it wasn’t super clear. Ah? See what I did there? I’ll stop. I will. I won’t let my terrible puns further cloud the water … yeah, sorry.
The main character was a prince named Ren, who was raised not knowing he was a prince. He wielded his father’s broken sword and sailed around Mer trying to find 13 treasures that will somehow magic away the magical ickwater. Also on his crew was Tula, an ecomancer, who was voiced by none other than Ariel herself, Jodi Benson! Other notable characters were Ioz, who always tried to get rich, and Niddler, a monkey-bird. True to my theory that whenever I love something animated, voice actor Jim Cummings turns out to be involved – it turns out that he took over voicing Ioz after the original voice actor was no longer able to. On the side of the baddies, the main villain is Bloth, and Konk, one of his henchmen, is voiced by Tim Curry! The characters have an elven sort of appearance, which matches the fantasy feel of the show. Close to Earth, close to human, but not quite.
4.) Peter Pan and the Pirates
Speaking of Tim Curry and pirates … Captain Hook in this cartoon is voiced by him as well! It has a great intro and cool music, too. Very adventuresome. Peter Pan and the Pirates ran for 2 seasons on Fox in 1990/1991, but then was re-run throughout the ’90s. I’m not sure what year I saw it, but it immediately stood out to me because of the opening theme and because the cartoon Peter Pan was the only version I’d ever seen who didn’t wear the green outfit. Instead, this Peter Pan wore brown. One of the main things I remember about this cartoon is that there was one pirate who was much younger than the rest who occasionally seemed sympathetic to the Lost Boys, and I always wondered if the show ever resolved any of those issues. I do remember being really sad when Jane, Wendy’s daughter from the future, showed up, thus cementing the fact that she would eventually leave Neverland, grow up, and have a family.
5.) The World of David the Gnome
I saw this cartoon in bits and pieces, all out of order, whenever I would visit my grandmother’s house (she had cable TV and we did not.) I always figured this was a German cartoon, for some reason, but it turns out it was Spanish, but based on a Dutch children’s book written by Wil Huygen and illustrated by Rien Poortyliet, then dubbed into English and thrown onto Nick Jr. in the ’90s, where I watched in confused fascination as a geriatric gnome rode around on a fox named Swift and generally gnomed about with his wife Lisa and their gnome friends and family.
Compared to other cartoons of the time, it was a weirdly calm and domestic show, often offering insights into gnomish culture and showing how the gnomes had to combat the damage humans do to nature. David occasionally had to outwit some bumbling trolls, but that was about all of the action this show offered up. Even the theme song was remarkably chill. Years later as an adult, my brother sent me a link to the last episode of David the Gnome on Youtube. If you want to cry your eyeballs out at the sight of a cartoon fox saddened by the sudden rejection and demise of his main companion, then this is the clip for you! Seriously, this messed with my head, and it wasn’t until a few years later that a friend told me that there was more, that the fox finds a lady fox in the forest and another gnome to hang out with.
Okay, that’s fine, and I’m glad Swift found a new family, but … the cartoon show ends with them embracing death together and turning into trees?? Really? Turns out gnomes only live 400 years and this whole show long, David has been 399. Why wasn’t this cartoon called, “David the Gnome: The Last Days of a Gnomish Doctor?” or “End of Times: Soon You’ll be a Tree!” Still not sure I’m okay.
There are so many shows, and I watched a LOT of TV as a kid, so there is no way to include all of them. I’m sure that everyone has that one show that it seems like no one else in their circles remembers. For one of my friends, it was BraveStarr, a futuristic animated space western with animal-hybrid people. Another mildly obscure one was Freakazoid. It had the zany humor of Animaniacs, but never got quite as popular.
And, never forget, that the old Voltron had a lion version AND a cars one! The lions were better. Way better. And, just to leave you on a WTF note … the koalas. The show was called Noozles, which, as far as I can figure, had zero to do with anything at all. Sandy, the little girl, was given a stuffed koala that came to life when she nose-kissed it. His name is Blinky, his floating pink sister is Pinky, and she’s always trying to get them to go back to KoalaWalla Land. Apparently, humans were not allowed there, and Sandy had to wear a koala mask sometimes. The show was made in the ’80s, but ran on Nickelodeon well into the ’90s.
Let me know some of your own semi-forgotten cartoon favorites in the comments!
Sara Goodwin has a B.A. in Classical Civilization and an M.A. in Library Science from Indiana University. Once she went on an archaeological dig and found awesome ancient stuff. Sara enjoys a smorgasbord of pan-nerd entertainment such as Renaissance faires, anime conventions, steampunk, and science fiction and fantasy conventions. In her free time, she writes things like fairy tale haiku, fantasy novels, and terrible poetry about being stalked by one-eyed opossums. In her other spare time, she sells nerdware as With a Grain of Salt Designs, Tweets, and Tumbls.
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