James’ Shamelessly Nostalgic A-Z Of Cartoon Characters That He Liked As A Child – Part 18: Raphael

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Gosh we’re making progress with this A-Z business now aren’t we? We’re already up to the letter ‘R’. I think that calls for a little celebratory ‘Cowabunga’!

I’m sorry, I don’t know what came over me. I assure you that will never happen again on these pages.

Let’s just try and forget about it and move on to today’s animated hero of choice

R

‘R’ is for Raphael.

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Raphael, as I’m sure we all know, was an Italian Renaissance Painter. As was Michelangelo, who also did a bit of sculpting. Sculpting was a thing that Donatello was also known for, and as for Leonardo, well he was something of a Renaissance polymath, who notably painted the Mona Lisa amongst other things. He was also a pretty good footballer in the 1990s. Although that might have been a different Leonardo. We should probably use full names when talking about these people to avoid confusion.

Certainly my sister got a bit confused when my family visited the Vatican back in 1990. When told that Michelangelo painted the Sistine chapel, she exclaimed her surprise, noting that she thought Michelangelo was a turtle.

Because of course, Raphael, Leonardo, Michelangelo and Donatello were all turtles too. Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles to be precise.

Sorry? What’s that?

Did I mean to write Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?

I mean obviously I’ve heard of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. They were also quite popular back in the day, and, to an extent, have retained a certain level of popularity over the years. Enough popularity for Michael Bay, not satisfied with ruining Transformers for everyone, to also ruin Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles with some more of his awful movies.

But the franchise I loved when I was a child was definitely called Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles.

The main characters of Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles were anthropomorphic turtles who were really good at martial arts and were all named after renaissance artists.

If that sounds similar to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles then so be it, but it must have been a different cartoon because why else would it have had a different name? It can’t have been because British censoring laws in the 1980s meant that the word Ninja couldn’t be used because it might corrupt minors? That would be absolute madness!

James’ Shamelessly Nostalgic A-Z Of Cartoon Characters That He Liked As A Child – Part 17: Quimby

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Right, time for a little Q&A. Except, of course, we’ve already had ‘A’ – that was way back on the 1st April, when I started this whole A-Z of cartoon characters malarkey. So we’ll have to make do with ‘Q’ on its own today. I must admit that, along with ‘X’, ‘Q’ did present me with the most problems. There aren’t a lot of cartoon characters that start with ‘Q’. But I did manage to find one.

Q

‘Q’ is for Quimby

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Chief Quimby as a matter of fact. From 1980’s cartoon classic Inspector Gadget.

Inspector Gadget was a fun show about a hapless law enforcer, who for some reason was cybernetically enhanced with a load of gadgets, that mostly seemed to involve his arms and legs extending, although I do recall helicopter blades coming out of his hat. Despite all of the gadgets at his disposal, Inspector Gadget was largely useless, and more often than not, if he did save the day, it was entirely by accident. Fortunately his niece, Penny and their dog Brains (who was really a marvellously talented canine) were a bit more savvy and solved most of the crimes on his behalf, only for him to get all of the credit.

There were nods to a lot of pop-culture within the show – Inspector Gadget was quite a lot like Inspector Clouseau (albeit Peter Sellers iconic bumbling detective did not have extending arms) while the primary antagonist, Dr Claw, who was never seen on screen apart from his gaunteletted hands, which were often stroking a cat, was very much like Blofeld in the early Bond films. As for Quimby, well he was the guy that always recruited Gadget for his missions and there was a definite Mission Impossible vibe to the whole thing, with the messages always self-destructing after Gadget had read them. Unfortunately for poor Quimby, they always exploded in his face due to Gadget’s ineptitude and ignorance.

Inspector Gadget was a fun show. The plot was largely the same each week, but it didn’t really matter too much. It was always twenty minutes well-spent.

James’ Shamelessly Nostalgic A-Z Of Cartoon Characters That He Liked As A Child – Part 16: Panthro

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“I’ll have a ‘P’ please Bob” was something that was said a lot to the late great Bob Holness, presenter of the seminal 80s quiz show Blockbusters. It was a joke we never tired of (though I’m sure poor Bob did a little). Well now it’s my turn to have a ‘P’. For indeed that is the letter that we’re up to in the A-Z Blogging Challenge. But just who is the cartoon character that is hiding behind the letter today?

P

P is for Panthro

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In terms of 80s cartoons which also had a line of action figures, ThunderCats might have been my third favourite. Star Wars toys don’t count because they were inspired by a live-action movie, so it’s fight between He-Man figures and Transformers for the top sport, with He-Man et al. probably edging out the Cybertron exiles (well he was the most powerful man in  the universe!). But I did like the ThunderCats, partly because they were a reasonable size to be integrated into any games I was playing with my He-Man figures (the ThunderCats were a little taller if I recall, but close enough in size, whereas Star Wars figures were much too small, and had to be played with separately, according to the code I lived by at the time).

The ThunderCats cartoon was also hugely enjoyable. It was a bit of a strange concept, I was never clear if the ThunderCats were people with catlike qualities, or if they were  cats with people like qualities. It doesn’t really matter, they were from an entirely made-up world, which they had to escape from for some reason. Then they went to live on a different made-up world where they were tormented by Mumra. Mumra was, hands down, the most frightening of all the cartoon bad guys of the 1980s. Not as much fun as Skeletor from He-Man, but properly scary.

Panthro was the ThunderCat that was a bit like a Panther. Liono was the leader (and a bit like a lion). There were others that had names which told you which big cat they were a bit like. Panthro was cool because he drove the ThunderTank, which was the toy that everyone wanted back in nineteen-eighty-something. I wanted it anyway. But I wanted a lot of toys. I didn’t get the ThunderTank. But I did have a Millennium Falcon, which, on balance, was probably better, although entirely unsuitable for my ‘ThunderCat/He-Man crossover-inspired’ imaginary play.

James’ Shamelessly Nostalgic A-Z Of Cartoon Characters That He Liked As A Child – Part 15: Optimus Prime

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Another day of blogging about cartoons and today we’re up to letter number 15 in the alphabet, which surprisingly enough is the letter ‘O’. Which is OK. Well half of OK anyway. But what delightful animated personage awaits us today?

O

O is for Optimus Prime

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It had to be really. Well it could have been Orko, but we’re already covered He-Man. And it would have been remiss of me not have paid homage to the mighty Transformers, because , before Michael Bay decided to desecrate my childhood with his really bad movies, I did really like Transformers. The original cartoon felt the need to use the definite article and was therefore called The Transformers. It was, quite clearly, developed in order to sell more of the Transformers toys, but to be fair they were really cool toys. I probably had more in the way of He-Man and Star Wars toys than I did Transformers, and I imagine that was, at least a little bit, down to cost. I expect Transformers were a bit more expensive, but then they did do quite a lot more than your bog standard action figure. I mean they transformed from robots into other things that were not robots.

I did have a few Transformers in my collection, including Optimus Prime, who was the one everyone wanted. Well, we all wanted Soundwave, because he turned into a tape player, and Megatron because he turned into a gun, but they were Decepticons and therefore bad guys. Optimus Prime was the best Autobot (who were the good guys) to own. Bumblebee was also pretty cool, back when he was a VW Beetle, before Michael Bay decided that nothing was precious and turned him into a sports car.

The first Transformers toy I remember owning was a small red Autobot who transformed into a plane. I think he was called Jetfire. He was a ‘gift’ from my newly born baby sister (although I suspect my parents might have actually done the purchasing as my sister, being a newborn, had no discernible income and wasn’t especially mobile at the time). I remember being asked what it was that I’d had, by the nurse, when visiting my sister for the first time. With the benefit of hindsight it now seems clear she was asking whether I had a new baby brother or a new baby sister, but, exciting though the arrival of a new sibling was, I was more excited by the arrival in my hands of Jetfire, so I proudly explained to the nurse that I had a Transformer.

The Transformers was a great cartoon in its original format, but the particular highlight was the 1986 feature film, The Transformers: The Movie. It was pretty dark for a kids film, with Optimus Prime, until that point having always been the untouchable leader of the Autobots, getting killed off pretty early on. Other characters also meet quite their ends in quite brutal ways throughout the movie. It is also particularly notable for the fact that it was Orson Wells’ final film performance. He provided the voice of Unicron, the main antagonist. That’s right, Citizen Kane himself was in The Transformers: The Movie.

Optimus Prime was resurrected for subsequent The Transformers TV series. He had to be, he was just too popular and awesome to be dead for too long. Plus, presumably because he was a robot, he could just be repaired?

Obviously Transformers are still very much a thing, and as well as the awful live action films, there have been plenty of reboots of the cartoon over the years. None of them have had anyone of the calibre of Orson Wells linked with them but maybe some of them are OK? My nephew is really into something called Rescue Bots which appears to be a Transformers cartoon aimed at smaller children. I bought him the Rescue Bots version of Optimus Prime for Christmas.

It seemed like the right thing to do.

James’ Shamelessly Nostalgic A-Z Of Cartoon Characters That He Liked As A Child – Part 14: Nanny

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It’s April 16th and we’re now halfway through this most glorious of months. And it’s no coincidence that we’re very much into the second half of the alphabet in the A-Z Blogging Challenge. Which brings us up to ‘N’. ‘N’ is a sometimes regarded as a negative letter. Its associations with the word ‘no’ are hard to ignore. Some people claim that ‘N’ gives us nothing. But we wouldn’t have any news without ‘N’, or any nougat for that matter.

But on to cartoons and what delightful animation awaits us today?

N

N is for Nanny

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Nanny was a slightly deranged and surprisingly robust hen who was responsible for the well-being of Count Duckula. Brought to us by the same people who gave us Danger Mouse, (indeed a version of Count Duckula first appeared  as a recurring villain in Danger Mouse, though he was a little different to eponymous hero of the spin-off show) Count Duckula told the tales of a vampire duck, who, due to a mix-up between blood and ketchup during his latest reincarnation, is also a vegetarian. A cartoon about a vegetarian vampire duck is as mad as it sounds, and very funny. Voiced by national treasure David Jason (who also voiced Danger Mouse, as well as the brilliant 1989 cartoon version of the BFG, not to be confused with the equally brilliant 2016 live action version) Duckula is one of the more memorable cartoon characters of my youth. Not quite as good as Danger Mouse, but still not a bad way to pass 20 minutes.

James’ Shamelessly Nostalgic A-Z Of Cartoon Characters That He Liked As A Child – Part 12: Launchpad McQuack

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You want ‘L’? I’ll give you ‘L’! We’re all going to have an ‘L’ of a time!
Because ‘L’ is the letter of the day for the A-Z Blogging Challenge, in which I am currently participating. But which cartoon character of my youth is going to experience ‘L’ today?

L

‘L’ is for Launchpad McQuack

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Launchpad was a duck who appeared in two regular animated series back in the day. He was a main character on the 90s cartoon, Darkwing Duck, which was pretty good when all is said and done. Before that though, he was on the truly awesome series DuckTales, which centred around the adventures of Donald Duck’s rich but miserly uncle, Scrooge McDuck alongside Donald’s’ three nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie. Donald, himself, appeared in a  few episodes, but he was not a regular character. It was something of a game-changing move for Disney in terms of output and paved the way for many other popular shows, such as Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers (which I’ve already written about), the aforementioned Darkwing Duck, TaleSpin and numerous others.

But even alongside those shows, which all had their merits, DuckTales was a bit special. And as for the theme tune, well it might just be the best of all time.

 

James’ Shamelessly Nostalgic A-Z Of Cartoon Characters That He Liked As A Child – Part 11: Kermit

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Day 11 of the A-Z challenge and we’re up to ‘K’. I like ‘K’, it’s not a letter that likes to show off too much. There’d be no ‘knowledge’ without ‘K’ but rather than boasting about this, ‘K’ just stays silent. But don’t mistake this silence as weakness. That’s a mistake that could result in ‘K’ giving you a bit of kicking.

But which cartoon character is going to represent this most komplex of letters?

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K is for Kermit

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I’ve always been a fan of Kermit the Frog. I first came across his work through Sesame Street, where he performed admirably alongside the likes of Big Bird, Oscar the Grouch and, of course, the Cookie Monster. But while the majority of the aforementioned characters earned their living on that famous street, Kermit was merely moonlighting. His main job was as de facto leader of the Muppets. I discovered The Muppet Show when I was a bit older, and of course I spent many a happy hour watching the various Muppet movies (including The Muppet Movie). But one of my earliest memories of the Muppets was not in their guise as puppets, but rather the cartoon version of their junior selves in The Muppet Babies.

From what I can recall, the show was absolutely bonkers, but relentlessly feelgood. I know I continued to enjoy it when I was older than the specified target audience, which is generally the hallmark of a good cartoon in my humble opinion.

James’ Shamelessly Nostalgic A-Z Of Cartoon Characters That He Liked As A Child – Part 10: Joker

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It’s day 10 of the A-Z challenge, which brings us up to the letter ‘J’, I had to resist my natural urges to go with a cartoon character called James. There is no shortage of them either, and I kind of did like a lot of them. Indeed, it would be remiss of me not to at least give some of them a nostalgic nod, so before we move on to the main focus of today’s post, let’s hear it for all of the cartoon Jameses out there. In no particular order, here are a few of the best:

James the Cat

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James the Red Engine off of Thomas the Tank Engine (I’m not sure if stop-motion animation counts as a cartoon but it’s close enough for my purposes)

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Jimbo  off of Jimbo and the Jet Set

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Jimbo off of The Simpsons

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Jamie off of Jamie and the Magic Torch

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And, lest we forget, the inimitable James T Kirk off of Star Trek: the Animated Series.

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The cartoon, which is the focus of today’s entry, also had a character called James, who was reasonably important – Commissioner James Gordon.

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But there was another ‘J’ character who was a touch more memorable:

J

‘J’ is for Joker

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I touched upon the high quality of superhero cartoons in the 1990s in yesterday’s post, but even by the high standards of the era, Batman: The Animated Series was particularly strong. Partially inspired by the Tim Burton movies that preceded it, Batman: The Animated Series was darker in tone that your average cartoon, and dealt with more complex themes and ideas. It was visually very stylish, noiresque and slightly offbeat – the animated Gotham City was a skewed, surreal reflection of reality, which served the narrative well. The stories, were for the most part, pretty well written, but it was the vocal talent that gave the show it’s edge over other animated shows. Listen to Kevin Conroy as Batman, and every other actor who has ever portrayed him just sounds wrong. However it’s the episodes which feature the Joker which really elevate the show above pretty much every other superhero cartoon, and the majority of live-action movies. Voiced by none-other than Luke Skywalker himself, Mark Hamill, the Joker is beyond superlatives. Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the villain is often seen as the definitive version of Batman’s arch-nemesis, Jack Nicholson’s performance has its advocates, and I’ve always had a soft spot for Cesar Romero’s incarnation in the sixties TV show. But though he only lends his voice to the character, Hamill’s performance has to be considered among the best. He’s just so unhinged and manic, and it’s never really clear why he does any of the things he does, which is, I suppose, the essence of the character.

Without Hamill’s performance as the Joker, Batman: The Animated Series would probably still be virtually peerless as animated series go,  but with it, the bar is raised considerably higher.

James’ Shamelessly Nostalgic A-Z Of Cartoon Characters That He Liked As A Child – Part 8: He-Man and Hordak

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Right, this is the point when it all gets a bit confusing with the whole A-Z Challenge malarkey. Yesterday, being a Sunday, was an officially designated day off. That’s why I posted a poem instead of piece about my choice of cartoon character to represent the letter ‘H’. I’ll be doing ‘H’ today instead. Which is where the confusion comes in, because previously the numerical position of the letters in the alphabet corresponded with the date. But today is the 9th April and ‘H’ is only the 8th letter. We’re all intelligent people, I’m sure we’ll all be able to work with the situation, but it feels like we may have descended into anarchy a little here…

H

H is for He-Man

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Star Wars figures made up the bulk of my toys as a child, but if there was one franchise that came close to shifting Luke Skywalker et al. from their coveted status as the greatest  thing ever, then it was He-Man and The Masters of the Universe. Predominantly this was within the sphere of action figures. But I did love the cartoon series too. A lot. As far as after-school cartoon shows went, He-Man was my absolute favourite. I watched it again recently and while it has, in no way, stood the test of time particularly well, I can definitely see why I liked it. Obviously it’s all a bit stupid, and frankly it’s not as if Prince Adam doesn’t already have enough going for him (what with being the heir to throne of Eternia) without being given the additional privileges of becoming ‘the most powerful man in the universe’ (Apparently Donald Trump has taken issue with that claim and is currently engaged in a Twitter war with He-Man). Also, why can’t any of the other characters work out that He-Man and Prince Adam are the same person? Literally all he does is remove most of his clothing, and don some kind of strange fetish gear. He doesn’t even change his hairstyle. And that is quite a hairstyle, even by the dubious standards of the 1980s.

On the plus side, Skeletor is possibly the greatest antagonist of all time.

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He’s genuinely hilarious and for a skeleton, he’s in pretty good shape – we know this because he adopts a similar fashion strategy to He-Man and wears next to nothing. In fact a lot of the characters prefer to conduct most of their business wearing very little. Eternia is obviously quite an open-minded community,

The animation was pretty poor in truth, if a lot of the action looks repetitive then it’s because the same animations were used in multiple sequences to save money. Drawings of characters that appear in one-off episodes, are reused as different characters in later episodes. It’s obvious when re-watching the series as an adult but to be fair to the animators I’m certain I never really noticed this as a kid.

One thing that has always puzzled me though, is why, in the opening credits, after He-Man has explained to the viewer who he is, (and he is talking directly to the ‘camera’), does he then seemingly punch the viewer in the face? Seriously, watch the video below – it’s at 50 seconds in.

‘H’ is also for Hordak

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Hordak was the primary antagonist in She-Ra: Princess of Power, a spin-off of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, in which we meet He-Man’s twin sister, She-Ra. Quite why we had never heard of He-Man’s sister in the original series is explained in the opening episodes of the series. Indeed the first five episodes of the show were combined and released as a feature length animation called The Secret of the Sword. I was so excited when that movie came out. It’s not brilliant, but it’s still a billion times better than the live action Masters of the Universe movie which starred Dolph Lundgren as He-Man (and also features a young, pre-Friends Courtney Cox, who, alas, does nothing to redeem the film).

Hordak was nowhere near as good a villain as Skeletor, but, in the main, She-Ra: Princess of Power  was every bit as good a cartoon as it’s precursor, and She-Ra herself, dare I say it, might even have been a bit better than He-Man. Certainly she seemed to have a lot more powers than He-Man. His main power was being really strong, whereas she was just as strong and could talk to animals, and her sword could turn into basically anything she wanted it to (including an ‘ice-making machine’ at one point…)

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If my last entry, the Care Bears, was a show predominantly marketed towards girls then I’m not sure who She-Ra: Princess of Power was aimed at. It seemed to be aimed at girls but I definitely watched She-Ra and so did all of my male friends, and in a much less secretive way than we might all have watched Care Bears. The toys were marketed in a strange way, with all the female characters sold almost as if they were Barbie Dolls, but all the male characters were packaged differently and actually sold as He-Man toys, even though they weren’t ever in He-Man. It was all very confusing, Thank goodness that toys don’t come with such obvious gender-marketing  bias these days.

Oh wait…

James’ Shamelessly Nostalgic A-Z Of Cartoon Characters That He Liked As A Child – Part 2: Bananaman

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It’s Day 2 of the month of April and by sheer coincidence, it’s also Day 2 of the A-Z Blogging Challenge. If I’m not mistaken (and I rarely am) the second letter of the alphabet is ‘B’

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‘B’ is for Bananaman.

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I used to read the Beano as a kid. I did not read the Dandy. You couldn’t read both. It wasn’t allowed. You had to pick a side and I opted for Dennis the Menace, Minnie the Minx and The Bash Street Kids, over Desperate Dan, Korky the Cat and Winker Watson. Because they were much much better.

But the Dandy did have one character that might have persuaded me to change sides. And that was the incomparable Bananaman.

Fortunately there was a TV adaptation of Bananaman so I was able to have my banana cake and eat it, getting to enjoy the Beano in comic book form and Bananaman as a televised cartoon.

Without Bananaman it is distinctly possible that I would never have eaten fruit as a child. But to this day, whenever I eat a banana I retain the hope that it will give me superpowers.