10 Best Cartoons of the 80’s
Updated in our London animation studios for 2023
Ready for a cathartic dose of retro cartoons nostalgia because here's one whether you ready or not. We've gone back and reminisced over our misspent youth in front of the telly watching some of the most iconic cartoons ever made. And to think that my Mum told me I was wasting my life, well look at me now Mum!
Here's a deep dive into their characters and stories.
I know I’m not alone when I say that I was blown away by the Netflix series Stranger Things. Remember the game that the kids were playing at the very start? That’s what inspired this original animated video production series by Marvel Productions, and a resurgence in the popularity of the Dungeons and Dragons genre.
A group of normal young whippersnappers enter the Dungeons & Dragons ride at a theme park and are thrown into the world of swords and sorcery. With the help of the Dungeon Master, an array of magic weapons frankly too dangerous for kids to wield and their unicorn Uni, they have to find their way back home. This series gripped their audience, thanks in no small part to the clever mixture of personalities given to each of the cast, and the classic "voyage and return" quest theme running through the series.
Each week, Hank, a 'Deepthinker' personality, led the gang through episodic adventures exploring friendship, courage, sacrifice, trust, and hope, while battling the returning villain, Venger.
The love continues right up until 2023, with the Chris Pine and Michelle Rodriguez movie, "Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves" which knocked "John Wick 4" off the top spot when it grossed $72m in it's first week at the box office. My personal favourite was Presto the magician, a 'Harmonyseeker' character. check out what these personality types mean on our CharactaMap page
Big love to our Welsh neighbours for this one: SuperTed is the story of a teddy bear who was rejected from his factory for being defective. Once he was thrown out like a worthless piece of rubbish, Mother Nature blessed him with a magic word which would allow him to become SuperTed. He’s super in more ways than one too - his original creation in Mike Young’s children’s book series was intended as a way for him to help his son overcome his fear of the dark.
We think SuperTed was a Deepthinker personality too - since outside of being the superhero, he was quite shy and introverted, but guided by his feelings to always do the right thing. He always has a plan when tackling his villains, and can see the bigger picture of justice in everything he does. Deepthinkers are inspirational, seeking new knowledge, and want to be recognised and appreciated. Which is just what this rejected little bear became!
Before becoming a cartoon, Warner Brothers made an offer of £250,000 for the film rights. Mike was determined to keep SuperTed Welsh, as he wanted to help create local jobs and prove that places outside London had talent. Such an inspiring bloke. SuperTed became the first ever British made animation to be broadcast by Disney, and has now been digitally remastered and re-released in 2023 by Mike! Top Teddy!
Something that’s intensely difficult to do is a spin-off. Many of them are absolute stinkers, yet here’s an animated cartoon series that followed the hit movie with remarkable success of its own. Given that the team catch ghosts every week, the clear story type being followed is the classic "Overcoming the Monster" plot structure, with rising tension, a struggle, and a win for the team every time the chased a wayward ghost.
The only major difference here is that Slimer has apparently ended his days of sliming the good guys - he’s joined the ‘busters as their benevolent helper/mascot. We think he felt the need to switch teams because of his 'Showstopper' personality type, and the connections he formed with the 'busters. Slimer inherently wants to feel the exhilaration of living in the moment and making the most out of every moment while connected to the people around him, wanting meaningful relationships, especially with Janine! In the words of Ray Parker Jr.: “Bustin’ makes me feel good!” so who am I to judge Slimer?
It's all in the character development!
Giant robots and beefy battles between the Autobots and Decepticons made this cartoon a big winner on Saturday mornings. The character designs were well-varied and the transformation animation was always slick and satisfying.
The main strategic battle between Megatron and Optimus Prime made the series iconic. Megatron with his 'Rainmaker' personality is a decisively villanous leader with a clear vision of to dominate the world and eliminate the Autobots. He's strategic, organized, and assertive, valuing power, and control.
Optimus Prime on the other hand embodies the qualities of a visionary leader, with a deep sense of moral integrity, always striving to do what's right for the well-being of all Autobots and humanity. He's often insightful and wise, often compassionate and always inspiring.
Back in the '80's this could have been called a thinly-veiled attempt to sell toys to kids but does that really make the series any less meritorious? The Starscream sitting on my desk says “no.”
With a cracking soundtrack and a wacky James Bond-y sort of vibe, this was one of my faves. Danger Mouse is the world’s greatest secret agent and a bit of a badass: He's definitely a 'Rainmaker' personality, always on a mission, likes to take charge, and isn't ever afraid of situations or danger. Danger Mouse is very confident, well organised and logical - he’s even got a flippin’ eyepatch for crying out loud.
That being said, I’d just like to say big-up Penfold too, the unsung hero of my heart, as he's much more of a CraftMaster personality; loyal, sensitive, and more sensitive to danger than his companion who he cares for deeply. That's my kind of sidekick!
Put your FitBit away, you’re not cool - your tech pales in comparison to this bumbling inspectors’ arsenal. It’s a shame that he’s so hapless, he’d probably have caught Dr. Claw, the evil mastermind behind the M.A.D outfit by now if he could actually get his extendable arms or his propeller hat to work as intended.
Gadget's a nailed-on 'Showstopper' personality; outwardly focused and quite literally 'hands on' while reacting all the time to whatever is in front of him, rather than thinking logically or plan things out - he just 'goes with the flow' while Brain keeps him out of danger.
Lucky that his niece Penny has got her head on straight, she’s the real Sherlock Holmes of the series, a real example of youth empowerment threading through the episodes. She showcases intelligence, resourcefulness, and bravery to solve the real mysteries.
Getting into the realm of the iconic 80s cartoon now. Prince Adam of Eternia could hold up his sword and declare "By the power of Grayskull... I have the power!" thus transforming into the most powerful being in the Universe, with the most recognisable blond bangs in cartoons. The plot premise was quite simple, every week, Skelator would try and capture Castle Grayskull to dominate the Universe, and every week, He-Man and his friends would stop him. I defy any man in their 50's to deny they once said those very words at least once in their childhood - I’ve even been to an 80s themed party where I bumped into a chap dressed as He-Man himself. Something that I could only dream of having the beefcake physique for, until I realised it was a printed t-shirt.
Despite this power, it's Skelator whose cultural influence has lasted best from then until popular internet meme's today. Clearly a Rainmaker, Skelator is all-action and all about control, crafting elaborate schemes to defeat He-Man, so quite logical and analytical with his plans. His characteristics of belittling his minions, speed to anger, and ruthlessness are all classic character flaws of Rainmakers. If I were a villain, I'd not want to be Skelator.
When Donald Duck decides to join the Navy, he leaves his nephews, Hewey, Dewey and Louie, in the care of his cantankerous Uncle Scrooge. With globe-trotting, treasure-hunting and money-making plots that were vibrant, pacy and varied, DuckTales was a classic of the late 80s from day 1.
Typical Disney Fayre, the themes running through this series emphasised the value of hard work and working hard, while reinforcing family bonds between the generations - touching on trust, understanding and growth. The whole series is rich in adventure, discovery, and curiosity with recurring quests for treasure or knowledge.
Scrooge himself is a Rainmaker; a natural leader and planner, driven by wealth and adventure. He's decisive, logical and ambitious. The antagonistic Beagle Boys on the other hand, as opportunists looking to get their hands on Scrooge's money are more Pacesetter in style - energetic but impatient with their scheming short cuts
The series was rebooted in 2017 with more distinct personalities given to Huey, Dewey, and Louie, quite possibly the most famous triplets in the animated video production universe, proving that great stories and great characters can stand the test of time.
Thunder thunder thunder ThunderCaaaaaaaaats, HO! What a theme, what a show.
This is the tale of a group of cat-like aliens who flee their destroyed home planet and seek refuge on ‘third earth.’ They then get followed by evil mutants bent on stealing the ‘cats powers. What follows is an energetic and dynamic series of almost no equal for its time.
We've included it in our list because of the Character Arc for the character Lion-O. through the journey to Third Earth, he develops from childishly impulsive to becoming a wise leader - all wrapped up in a good v evil battle where teamwork is needed as each relies on others to overcome the challenges posed by Mumm-Ra and her evil plans.
With Mumm-Ra being a strong Rainmaker personality, we love that the creators gave each character different personalities in order to battle with her; Lion-O portrayed as a Visiongiver, Tygra as a Blueprinter while Cheetara was a CraftMaster to broody Panthro's Innovator. You can see more details of their personality types here on our CharactaMap page
Say 80s cartoons to someone and I’d bet you a slice of pizza on them thinking of this one before any others. Turtle fever was very real amongst the kids of this era, the lion’s share of them watching Raphael, Michelangelo, Leonardo, and Donatello fight against their arch nemesis Shredder during awesome ninja escapades week after week.
Turtles has been revived and remade many times but no amount of gritty reboots can seem to recapture the essence of this original. It tapped remarkably well into the imagination of the late 80s: skateboards, martial arts and junk food helping to create the teenage frame in which the series was set.
The most recent remake is anticipated in 2023. Let's see what happens.