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My Favourite Lesser Known Cartoons and Kid Shows of Yesteryear Part 1



 When it comes to retro cartoons (as well as live action kid's shows), I tend to have extremely specific tastes (if my username wasn't anything to go by). Everybody usually gets the 'Member Berries for shows like say He-Man Original or Ren & Stimpy for example, but what about the unsung cartoons and kid's shows? With Nostalgia Market being rampant, the overlooked material has almost no room to float. I, Retrosnob88 am here to remedy that by telling you about 9 great unsung cartoons and live action kid shows I enjoy you probably never heard of (and didn't know you needed until I came along), and some you might get the 'Member Berries for.


Ulysses 31 (Copyright 1980, DHX Media)

 Before I go on, full disclosure for our friends in Europe: This show may have been all the rage in your part of the globe, but here in the States, there wasn't much demand for it. It only got as far as a small cult following. Having said that, just bear with me. 

 In 1980, a French (later turned American) Animation Studio by the name of Dic (#GoneButFondlyRemembered) created their first half hour animated series; Ulysses 31. The show mixes The Odyssey (Greek mythology story a lot of us have either read or had it read to us when we were kids) with Star Wars replacing swords with lightsabers, Ulysses' boat with a giant spaceship and even the monsters from the original book are given a futuristic update. In the 31st Century, Ulysses (latin for Odysseus) kills the giant cyclops. This angers the ancient Gods of Olympus and they turn his crew into lifeless bodies which will regain consciousness when Ulysses reaches the planet Hades in which his crew will come back to life and he can return to planet Earth. The show lasted a total of 26 episodes. What sets this semi unsung gem apart from the other cartoons of the time was this one existed for the sake of telling a story. The animation is great by 1980 animation standards (and that's saying a lot). TMS (Tokyo Movie Shinsha famous for Akira, Monster Rancher, and outsourced works like Animaniacs and DuckTales Original) did a great job with the animation. Shuki Levy did a solid job composing the theme song and epic music score, overall, this show was a breath of fresh air from the Scooby-Doo and Smurfs formula that was all the rage back then. Despite being Dic's first full length animated series, Ulysses 31 was not broadcasted in the US until 1986. Criminally, only 4 episodes were released on DVD in the US while Europe got the whole series on DVD (so to any European Retro Dazers reading this, you're the lucky ones while we Americans don't get jack). There are currently no plans to release the rest of the show on DVD in America and really, that's to our loss. However all the episodes are free on YouTube, so if you haven't watched this show or heard of it, check it out after this article. If you like Star Wars stuff mixed with Greek mythology, you won't be disappointed 

One more thing about Ulysses 31: In the mid 1980's, George Lucas was one of the few people in America to know about Ulysses 31. So much so, in one episode after hearing a piece of music that sounded suspiciously similar to Star Wars music, he sued Dic. It's very likely that things were eventually settled in Dic's favour because the show has continuously been distributed since.


Shelley Duvall's Mrs Piggle-Wiggle (Copyright 1994, Universal)

 In the early 1980's, prolific actress Shelley Duvall did a whole anthology series called Faerie Tale Theatre. In it, guest star celebrities like Elvira, Phyllis Diller, Paul "Pee-Wee Herman" Reubens, Christopher Reeve, and even Robin Williams played characters in live action adaptations of famous faerie tale stories. Airing on premium cable network Showtime and eventually in reruns on the PBS Public Broadcasting Service, Faerie Tale Theatre prompted Shelley to build a whole media empire on cable network featuring anthology shows mostly aimed towards kids. None of these other shows met the same cult success Faerie Tale Theatre had, but they were still watchable. This show was one of those not so successful ones: Mrs Piggle-Wiggle.

 Based on the book series of the same name (albeit loosely), Mrs Piggle-Wiggle is about an eccentric neighbour named Mrs Piggle-Wiggle (played by Edith Bunker (from the groundbreaking hit 1970's sitcom All in the Family) herself, Jean Stapleton) who helps the neighbourhood parents keep their naughty children in line. The episodes were just iterations of the original stories with the difference being her pirate husband is alive and mostly at sea, she has a daughter (played by Shelley Duvall) and a talking tree hat (that is literally a tree) and lives in a colourful, vibrant, upside down house. Despite the show's Pee-Wee's Playhouse-esque vibes, it truly delivered what the theme song promised: A Different Way of Seeing Things. Sadly, there's no DVD release of the show and no plans to bring it to DVD. So if you can find any episodes on VHS, snatch them up!


Fox's Peter Pan and the Pirates (Copyright 1990, 20th Century Fox: A Division of the Walt Disney Corporation)

 Let's talk about Peter Pan. When it comes to this prolific Fantasy Literature Icon, the most definitive one in the mainstream's eye is usually either the Disney one or Robin Williams Hook. Mostly the Disney one though which has been so engraved into pop culture most people forget more and more what Peter Pan was before Disney (at the risk of sounding rather pretentious, welcome to Generation Illiterate). While Disney Pan and Hook are great as their own things, neither one dared to tackle the darker more mature aspects of the James Barrie stories. This all changed in 1990 when the then brand spanking new Fox Kids line up aired their first programs. Enter Peter Pan and the Pirates.

 Released in 1990, this series managed to be semi faithful to the original source material and even played around with ideas from the original books from Peter stealing the Pirate's shadows to Wendy meeting her future daughter to the series finale where Peter grows up and takes Neverland with him (so he pulled a Hook before that was even a thing). Not to mention, this show has the best Captain Hook hands down: Tim Curry. His take on Hook is a gleeful villain who gets excited when his evil plans come to fruition but gets mad when things don't pan out (eh, pun not intended) in his favour. Quote Shakespeare and he just might let you live. Despite its short run, the show managed a 65 episode run. Like some of the other shows I'll be mentioning, there's no official DVD release and no plans to release the show have been made as of this article. If you can find any episodes, don't pass it up. 


Hey Vern, It's Ernest (Copyright 1988, Emshell Productions In Association With DHX Media)

 In the 1980's, clumsy but loveable bumpkin Ernest P Worrell (played by the late great Jim Varney) was everywhere: Movies where he went to camp, saved Christmas and then went to jail, commercials for regional gas station mini marts, Coca-Cola, and Toyota trucks, he even had his own kid's show that combined the random wackiness of such hit shows of the time like Pee-wee's Playhouse and You Can't Do That On Television. Despite its predictability, the show was brilliant and even won an emmy for best daytime kid's show. 13 episodes were made and the show despite not having been on television since the early 90's when The Family Channel (now FreeForm) showed reruns of it is out on DVD. It's a must see for its wacky factor. Or as Ernest put it, "Know what I mean, Vern?"


The Harlem Globetrotters (Copyright 1970, Hanna-Barbera Productions In Association With The CBS Television Distribution)

 A lot of us here are familiar with that one episode of Scooby-Doo and Friends where they meet the world famous Indie (Independent) Basketball Team/Novelty Sports Troupe The Harlem Globetrotters. But what if I were to tell you the Globetrotters starred in their own cartoon show? No joke. First aired on CBS in September of 1970, this show focused on the team as they go around in a bus playing Basketball and solving mysteries. This show was a milestone for Hanna-Barbera as it was their first of many clones of Scooby-Doo and Friends. Interestingly, this is one of the few pieces of Hanna-Barbera visual media that Warner Bros (who owns 95.9% of the Hanna-Barbera library with a few exceptions) has no distribution rights to. The show was done in conjunction with Viacom (now The CBS Television Distribution). CBS owns the rights to it and has no plans of ever releasing the show on DVD. So unless you bootleg the show, torrent it, or just watch the show on YouTube (and it is on there), this is one the world will never see again.


Captain Power and The Soldiers of the Future (Copyright 1987, The Landmark Entertainment Group)

 I'm fully aware this show isn't as rare or obscure, but nobody I know has gotten the 'Member Berries for this show since Nostalgia Market became mainstream 5 years ago or even prior to that, so I'm counting it. Set on earth in the year 2147, the human race ends up in a war against robots and lose to the robots. Only a few humans survive as a group of renegades run by Captain Jonathan Power who's arch nemesis is Lord Dredd. For being a kid's show on Saturday morning television, this show was dark making it all the more brilliant. Not to mention, it was an interactive show that had light beams you could shoot with your toy gun that used the same technology as Lazer Tag and looked like a spaceship. When you hit a target, the show would shoot back and catapult the action figure in the cockpit. It was awesome. Unfortunately, this show was pulled off the air after only one season. A script for season 2 was made, but never went into production. It is such a shame this show was canned before it really got a chance to thrive, but then when you live in a world where predictability and familiarity are the norm, anything brilliant that stands out from the top dogs is lucky if it makes it past 1 season. Unfortunately for Captain Power, this ended up not being the case after all. That said, it's on DVD and also free on YouTube for those wanting to check it out.


Dragon Quest/Warrior (Copyright 1989, Studio Comet)

 Based on the series of Japanese Video Role Playing Games of the same name, Dragon Quest (Warrior in North America for a time) was an anime adaptation that slipped right through the cracks in America. Not because Anime wasn't as profitable of an import market in the US back then, but because this show aired on a poor time slot on its US Broadcast. While this iteration didn't have stupid puns (Super Mario Bros Super Show. One of my most guilty pleasures), cringetacular catchphrases (The Zelda cartoon), or characters that looked nothing like their video game counterparts (looking at you, Captain N), this show managed to be pretty faithful to the source material (not that the game franchise had a linear timeline to begin with. Well, except for the first 3 deemed as the Loto/Erdrick Trilogy with the 3rd being the prequel where you play Loto/Erdrick). Unfortunately for the show, only 13 episodes aired in America (usually at 6 am on Saturday mornings on any local syndication network willing to accomodate it), the series got a total of 45 episodes in Japan where the franchise is at its most prolific to this day. Some episodes are available on YouTube.

 As for the status of a DVD release, the original Japanese version has been released in full on DVD, but sadly Dragon Quest's very small cult following in America doesn't seem to be enough to garner a US DVD release. Just as well. Even if it did, the show would be subtitled with Japanese audio for the full release and I can't read and watch what's going on at the same time *sighs* Oh well... Moving on.


The Weird Al Show (Copyright 1997, Ear Booker Enterprises In Association With Dick Clark Productions)

 A lot of us know one Alfred Matthew Yankovic aka Weird Al Yankovic as The Undisputed King of the Song Parody. But did you know that once upon a time in the 90's, he had his own kid's show? No joke! Originally aired on CBS in September of 1997, the show pits Al in an underground cave (designed by Wayne White who was also known for designing the sets for Pee-Wee's Playhouse, Shining Time Station, and Beakman's World) as he gets into some sort of mischief each episode only to learn the lesson of the episode announced by Ren &/or Stimpy/Nickelodeon Doug Funnie/Roger Klotz/Phillip J Fry himself Billy West at the beginning of each show) the hard way whilst meeting celebrities of the time like the kid from Jurassic Park 1, Hanson Mmm Bop (When's the last time you thought about them eh?), and Teri Garr. The show failed to grasp any attention due to CBS giving the show a poor time slot (likely because they viewed it as Pee-Wee's Playhouse 2, didn't understand it and wanted it off the air quickly, but who knows?). Had the show aired on Nickelodeon instead, it would have thrived a lot more than it did on CBS. After 2 months, the show was cancelled and largely forgotten about.

 Despite this, the show was eventually released on DVD in 2006. It's a shame this show never caught on because Al went all out on it. Not to mention the talent he got for it: Patton Oswalt, Stan Freberg, Eddie Deezen, just to name several A list celebrities who appeared on the show. Today, the show remains mostly in obscurity. Despite its rather small cult status, I proudly consider myself part of the minority who saw it new 

 Fun Fact: In 1999, The Weird Al Show theme song became a track on Weird Al's 9th studio album Running With Scissors


The Mysterious Cities of Gold (Copyright 1982, DHX Media)

 How appropriate that I end this on another obscure (at least in America. Again, to our European members, I'm fully aware this was popular in your part of the world. Such was not the case in the US) French Anime.

 The Mysterious Cities of Gold is about a young boy named Esteban living in a church orphanage in 1532 Barcelona, Spain. Upon learning where he came from from Father Rodriguez before his timely passing, Esteban sneaks aboard a ship bound for the Americas in hopes of finding his father. At his side are friends Zia, Tao, Mendoza, Pedro, and Sancho as they navigate rough seas, harsh mountains, brutal deserts, and treacherous jungles while finding hidden ruins (that usually have something to that of a puzzle you see in video role playing games) and ancient cities ruled by the Natives. Airing for 39 episodes, this serialized anime mixes elements of Education, History, Fantasy, Adventure, and even a dash of Science Fiction. I never saw this show new and only learned about it in early 2019. Much like Ulysses 31, this show was a standout series. While by this time, most cartoons in America were beginning to exist for the sole purpose of being blatant half hour toy commercials, this show existed to tell a story (hence why it never really caught on in the States). This show had solid animation, this time, from the good people at Studio Pierrot (who's credits years later would include Yu Yu Hakusho, Bleach, and Naruto), a solid theme song and music score by Shuki Levy, and a plot line that ropes you in from the first episode and has you wanting more. Overall, pretty much one of the greatest cult classic cartoons the 80's ever saw.

 The Mysterious Cities of Gold was the 2nd half hour Dic cartoon made by the studio (shortly before Dic branched out to the US). It aired on RTL (Radio Television Luxembourg) in Luxembourg on the 7th of May, 1982, on NHK in Japan on June 29th of that same year and on Antenne 2 in France in June of 1983. The show was subsequently translated and dubbed into numerous languages. Like Ulysses 31, The Mysterious Cities of Gold was not broadcasted in the United States until 1986. Also unlike Ulysses 31 (which aired in syndication on the cartoon block Kideo TV), Mysterious Cities was broadcasted on Nickelodeon (back when they were that oddball channel importing shows from Canada and Europe).

 One more thing about The Mysterious Cities of Gold: In 2012, a sequel series was made. The sequel show has 2 going on 3 seasons and has some slight differences from the original show. Despite that, it's good for what it is and the fact that they waited 30 years for a follow up. While Mysterious Cities 2012 has been dubbed in English (for its Australian broadcast. So to our friends in Australia reading this, I envy y'all. Just sayin'), there are currently no plans to bring it to the US. Not even its cult following is enough demand for it in this country which sucks. Oh well, here's to attempting to torrent it lol


 And that's my list of unsung kid's show gems. Was it a big loss that these shows never caught on? Both yes and no. With Nostalgia Market thriving today, lots of 80's and 90's franchises are being butchered into reboots, car commercials, useless junk at Walmart, and so much more. I think if I had seen say The Mysterious Cities of Gold in a commercial for Hyundai cars (as opposed to Ninja Turtles or Tecmo Bowl) or turned into a Michael Bay film, I honestly would be pissed. Even if these shows never got the recognition they deserved for a long time, it's great to have them as nothing more than cult classic media. Do you have a favourite cult classic to obscure cartoon or live action kid's show? Please let me know in the comments and thanks for reading.


Written and completed on November 28th, 2019

Photos courtesy of Google

All Copyrights acknowledged 

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OldSchool80s Posted on Dec 11, 2019 at 12:39 PM

Like Vapor, the only 2 that I specifically remember are Hey Vern

Benjanime Posted on Dec 10, 2019 at 07:46 PM

Had I not seen the Nostalgia Critic review of the Peter Pan cartoon (god he sucks now) I wouldn't have known about that gem of a show. I highly doubt a petition would work to bring it to dvd, but hey at least there's the option of bootlegs!

Vaporman87 Posted on Dec 09, 2019 at 07:55 PM

Well written, super-informative piece here RS88. Thanks for this. Most of these shows I don't even remember, with the exception of Hey Vern, It's Ernest and The Weird Al Show (which was a lot of fun). That Captain Power program I missed, but am hoping to check out.

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