The crew at Total Geek Live has always had a fondness for Saturday Morning Cartoons. So much so that we did a whole video segment on it. It was a unique time in television history and child oriented programming. Each of the major TV networks reserved a whole multi-hour block for out of school kids to spend their weekend with shows catered just to them. It was something to look forward to every week, and created more than enough memories to fuel imaginations for decades after.
Consider my surprise in discovering this whole book devoted to the very subject shortly after our own feature. As an unintentional, unaffiliated, and unofficially related “companion piece”, I wanted to delve a little more into the subject of what drives our own needs in fondly remembering this segment of childhood.
Totally Awesome: The Greatest Cartoons of the Eighties truly does cover all the major “greats” of the era, and what it doesn’t cover, it does at the very least give a nod of acknowledgement to.
Among the subjects reviewed are:
Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends
He-Man and the Masters of the Universe/She-Ra: Princess of Power
G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero
The Real Ghostbusters
The Disney Afternoon
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
The book is a “Who’s Who” of top-tier shows, each finding their own mark of success with fans and ratings. It was a great time in animation, partially with the medium being an “untamed frontier”, coupled with the freedom of essentially being able to use animation as commercials to sell popular toys of the time.
As kids, we never knew we were being marketed to. We saw it as more of an expanded guideline of story ideas to put our action figures into. Sure, many of the shows included “morals” to increase its perception of containing some educational merit, but while the values were basic, there’s still a fond retention of those moments, as “Knowing is half the battle.”
In that regard, it worked.
This hardcover cover is filled with high-quality glossy photos of each cartoon, and well as additional animation inserts. The book goes into a lot of the “behind the scenes” work in getting the show approved and off the ground, how they came up with ideas for the show’s world, and even the struggles with the watchdog parent and television standards groups of the time.
The changes made to The Real Ghostbusters format past its third season stand out as particularly heinous, showing that executive meddling can screw up a perfectly good thing. I also learned that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles could have been incorporated as part of the Disney Afternoon format, but Disney execs passed on the show, stating that the concept was “Too out there”.
For as informative and entertaining as the book is, there are a few minor quibbles. While the book’s line-up of content is rock solid, some of the chosen shows I associated more with weekday syndication, and didn’t really air on the “Big 3” of ABC, CBS, and NBC. They are, however, some of headlining programs of ’80’s television animation.
There are also a few shows that I would have loved some background information on such as Dungeons & Dragons, Kidd Video, Droids/Ewoks, Pac-Man, and Fat Albert that are simply referenced here in passing. I could easily argue for a sequel to this book, or a 1990’s edition.
The cover art is also bold and colorful with fun representations of the characters, though I noticed that Disney was likely being Disney, with no Muppet Babies or DuckTales characters found among the illustrations (yet Spider-Man managed to get through).
My issues are all based on personal preferences, however, and don’t impact the book in any significant negative way. The book as a standalone product is rock solid.
How fun and timely that a book like this came out when it did. Totally Awesome: The Greatest Cartoons of the Eighties really took me back to a special part of my childhood that still evokes fond nostalgia, and those feelings are similarly apparent in the author’s own research and writing. The whole era tells this story of an unpredictable and untested era where a lot of “rules” still weren’t in place, and allowed creators the freedom to explore the concepts of these properties and toy lines, and they clearly had a blast in doing so.
Modern children will never truly get that experience of a specialized time reserved just for them by grown ups. We live in an era of cable, internet, and tablets that makes “Saturday Morning” any time that we want it to be for better and for worse. We’ll never truly see an era where the lines were so blurred between commercialism and entertainment programming, or how Hasbro could never have anticipated how “cleaning house” in Transformers: The Movie would traumatize children of the time. But 30+ years later, I still remember those moments.
I’m glad to have found a book that remembers those times as well as I did with such a level of detailed fondness.