A cartoon boom in the ’90s saw the Golden Age of Disney animation as well as a nod to adult audience members with shows that weren’t afraid to go dark or comment on politics and society. There were so many offerings, in fact, that I had a hard time narrowing down the field. The ’90s is when I really began paying attention to what was going on with humor, animation style, and individual actors. Therefore, I’ve included brackets, breaking up the cartoons into three categories.
The Golden Age of Disney Animation
I fell madly in love with the Disney animation style, so it follows that I watched all of it that I could, particularly:
- Talespin (1990-1991) – Baloo and Kit fly high while Rebecca keeps things shipshape on the ground, most of the time. I think my dreams of being a pilot came from watching Baloo pilot the Sea Duck, and I’ve always wanted that contraption Kit uses to sail through the clouds. With a catchy theme song and one of the coolest villains in a cartoon, this was probably my favorite of the Disney animated shows.
- Goof Troop (1992-1993) – Goofy and Max, their neighbors, and friends were all so amusing to watch, but I really loved the character design, particularly with Peg, Max and Pistol.
- Darkwing Duck (1991-1995) – I just watched four or five episodes at Dragon Con for the “90s Cartoon Showcase” with a group of dedicated animation nuts. It was a blast, particularly because Darkwing was not just for kids. We laughed uproariously at one line from Morgana MacCawber when she said she only needed to steal money to pay off her student loans.
- Quack Pack (1996-1997) – Huey, Dewey and Louie reminded me of my three favorite cousins, ensuring its place among my favorites. Three teenage boys getting into mischief and slathering on the sarcasm and snark? Yes, please!
These cartoons were either specifically geared toward adults or enjoyed by adults primarily. I found these much later, but as a child of the ’90s I feel like I still have a connection to them.
- The Simpsons (1989 – Present) – Sneaking onto this list despite its debut in mid-December, 1989, The Simpsons found its strength in the 90s and is still going. With episodes written by Conan O’Brien and guest stars, pop culture references and the depiction of semi-typical home life, the Simpsons cartoon can be enjoyed by a wide range of ages.
- Futurama (1999-2013) – Another Matt Groenig offering, this cartoon is about a created family of crazy characters, and once again replete with pop culture humor. Unlike The Simpsons, it’s a bit more honed in on the adult themes.
- Batman: The Animated Series (1992-1995) – While not specifically for adults, the darker tone, stylized animation and excellent writing and voice acting make this show popular even today. “Almost Got Him” remains one of my favorite episodes of television ever and is a great way to introduce people to the show.
These shows didn’t fit into either of the two categories above, but they were such a benchmark for a lot of us that I had to include them.
- Dexter’s Laboratory (1991-1995) – while I found the animation strange at first, I couldn’t help but grin when Dexter and DeeDee interacted. His “evil” genius persona was delightful.
- Animaniacs (1993-1998) – This might be the best cartoon offering of the decade in terms of depth, history and cleverness. The Warner Bros. (and sister, Dot) cavort around the Warner Bros. Studio, causing mayhem while managing to look innocent and adorable. In the first episode alone, there was an old timey film reel showcasing their escape, Marx Brothers-esque word humor and visual gags, meta narrative and references galore.
While some of these shows were not part of my childhood, I’ve discovered them over time and marveled at the range of skills required to produce cartoons of such quality. I’m glad a lot of these are showing up on DVD now because I have some nieces and nephews who definitely need to be introduced.