Monday, January 26, 2009

IGN's Top 100 Animated TV Series

NOTE: Originally published January 22nd, 2009.

I love arbitrary rankings. No one ever agrees with them and the endless comments, complaints, and arguments that come about are fun and pathetic at the same time. There is absolutely no way to rank something like TV shows, movies, and cartoons. Can't happen. There can't be a consensus "best" or "worst". On average a show may be more popular but to each person these rankings are moot. But they are still fun!

The most recent one I stumbled upon is IGN's Top 100 Animated TV Series. Below are a few excerpts of notable (read: one's I'm interested in) cartoons and their ranks.

97. The Smurfs
Network: NBC
Original Air Date:

Like many of the shows represented on our Top 100, The Smurfs is a cartoon we here at IGN grew up with, and as such it holds a special place in our memories. Based on a Belgian comic strip, the tiny blue-skinned Smurfs became an unstoppable media empire with this popular 1980s Hanna-Barbera animated series. The animation itself wasn't much to speak of, but the stories told over the course of its 256 episodes were kiddie cocaine to those of us who grew up in the '80s. The peaceful Smurfs, led by Papa Smurf and predominantly male (with the sole exception of Smurfette), were often chased by the evil wizard Gargamel and his cat Azrael.

93. Darkwing Duck
Network: Syndicated
Original Air Date: 1991-1992

Disney Afternoon's response to Batman, but with a duck looking more The Shadow than The Dark Knight, is one of the many reasons why after-school cartoons rule. This DuckTales spin-off ran from 1991 to 1995, and during that time the goofy yet thrilling adventures of Drake Mallard never ceased to satisfy. And how could they not: awesome sidekick who was more Han Solo than Dick Grayson? Check, his name's Launchpad and he's about 10 different types of cool. Duck-themed aerial transport? Check. A few homages to Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns? Some nods to James Bond and Marvel for good measure? Double-check. And that theme song makes for a geeky-cool ringtone, which is nice. From DW's misadventures with Gizmoduck to some throw-downs with villain Flintheart Glomgold, our time in the city of St. Canard was more than worthwhile. It was pure fun.
92. Rugrats
Network: Nickelodeon
Original Air Date: 1991-1994 & 1996-2004

Want to know what kids are thinking? Well yer gonna. Rugrats might have had a sort of hideous animation style that transformed a bunch of toddlers into grotesque monstrosities, but it sure was popular. Sure, there were grownups around to let us know exactly what was going on, but the focus of the show was "how kids look at things." How they could see monsters and magic in everyday occurrences simply because they don't understand the world yet. With all the toddlers able to effectively communicate with each other through baby speak, Rugrats took its cues from earlier shows like Muppet Babies and had the kids use their imaginations to create adventures for themselves. The misadventures of Tommy, Chuckie, Phil and Lil, and even Tommy's devilish cousin Angelica ran for 13 years! And not only that, the characters have a new show called All Grown Up, where you can find them...all grown up and in middle school.
89. Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Network: Cartoon Network
Original Air Date: 2008-Present

As we write this list, Star Wars: The Clone Wars is still a very new show, only halfway through its first season, thus it's hard to fully gauge it as yet. What we've seen though shows plenty of promise, and even though there are definitely some issues with the series -- those ever-annoying Battle Droids perhaps chief among them -- the show consistently delivers solid action and fun. More importantly, a couple of the early episodes, especially "Rookies" and "Cloak of Darkness" have been true standouts, telling dark and moody stories in the Star Wars universe that are among the best the Expanded Universe has offered. Guided by talented uber-Star Wars fan Dave Filoni, and using notable writers like Batman: The Animated Series's Paul Dini, The Clone Wars has had to overcome cynicism from older fans and those who feel the 2003 Cone Wars series can't be outdone -- and slowly but surely, it's battling past those obstacles and proving to be a quite entertaining series in its own right.

88. The Woody Woodpecker Show
Network: None
Original Air Date:
Syndicated theatrical shorts

Like several of the classic cartoons on this list, that irascible, nervous-breakdown-prone Woody Woodpecker started life in a series of theatrical shorts that date back as early as 1940. Years later, he would find renewed vigor when the shorts were packaged for television viewing...delighting generations of after-school kiddies. And maybe, just maybe, driving a few of them to nervous breakdowns all their own.
81. TaleSpin
Network: Syndicated
Original Air Date: 1990-1994

There is no way for us to hide it, we here at IGN loved the Disney Afternoon line-up, and TaleSpin was one of our favorites. On the surface the series looked like an easy way to cash in on an older Disney film property (The Jungle Book), but after watching the television movie -- which later went on to become the first four episodes -- "Plunder and Lightning," we knew that Disney had found something special. From the creative plotlines to the infinitely catchy theme song, we were hooked.

80. Alvin and the Chipmunks
Network: NBC
Original Air Date: 1983-1990

There's nothing funnier than an adult losing his mind. It's the core of most children's programming. Kids are allowed to run rampant and inflict pain and misery and grownups just have to take it and love the kids anyway. There's no discipline. There's no law and order. And thus, a show like Alvin and the Chipmunks was born. Incorporating the singing Chipmunk hit-makers from the 1960s, Alvin and the Chipmunks brought the scamps into the '80s and gave them a bunch of cover songs to maul with their little tiny voices. "Beat It," "Born in the USA," and "Uptown Girl" all got the treatment as poor Dave Seville became the adopted father for jerky, smarty and fatty -- otherwise known as Alvin, Simon and Theodore. The three of those little rodents never missed an opportunity to make Dave's life a living hell. But all was forgiven since they managed to sell a buttload of records and wound up becoming insanely popular. And just when we thought we might be done with them, they had a huge hit movie in 2007 that's got a sequel in production as we speak.

68. Popeye
Network: None
Original Air Date:
Syndicated theatrical shorts

Today, Popeye might be merely seen as the greatest endorsement of one of the most lackluster vegetables of all time. But "back in the day" this malformed, one-eyed, corncob pipe-smokin' sailor was the complete franchise. In 1929, Popeye appeared as a supporting character in the comic strip Thimble Theater, which was originally a venue for Olive Oyl and her kin. He quickly stole the hearts and minds of America. Soon the comic strip was focused on him, and Olive even dumped her longtime boyfriend Ham Gravy to become Popeye's main squeeze. Sounds a bit like an "ole timey" Urkel if you ask us. In 1932, Popeye got his own animated series, which usually found him getting pounded to a pulp by nogoodniks until he finally ingested canned spinach and fought back with superhuman strength. Popeye was an icon that spawned movies, lunchboxes, pinball machines and even his own line of frozen food. And yes, the Popeye cartoon did give a much needed shot in the arm to the U.S. spinach industry, which is not only fascinating, but might also constitute a high crime.
66. Tom and Jerry
Network: None
Original Air Date:
Syndicated theatrical shorts

This long-lived cat and mouse team (or anti-team, as the case might be) began life courtesy of William Hanna and Joseph Barbera for MGM in a series of theatrical shorts back in 1940. Telling the age-old tale of the feline and rodent who quite simply can't get along, Tom and Jerry eventually made its way to TV as did many of its movie-house peers. And there, on the small screen, the duo has thrived for generations, continuing to churn out new material to this day.
60. Chip 'N Dale Rescue Rangers
Network: Disney Channel
Original Air Date: 1989-1990

We're not saying that a catchy theme song guarantees admission on the list, but it sure helps. Rescue Rangers' opening music is catchy in that stuck-in-your-head-for-days, foot-tapping sorta way, so much so that 15 years since it went off the air, we still hear it. Its inclusion on our Best Ever list is in some small part our way to address the special guilty pleasure we have for this show. Part of the Disney Afternoon line-up, Chip and Dale did their best impression of Indiana Jones and Magnum P.I., respectively, solving crimes too small for the full-sized police to handle. That's right, chipmunks playing CSI before there was CSI; and in some cases they made Indy look like Regarding Henry. Pals Gadget, Monterey Jack and Zipper were on hand for back-up, and then there's that damn song again. "Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Chip 'N Dale, Rescue Rangers..." Somebody stop us. Actually, don't. We're too busy having fun watching C and D take care of Fat Cat.

55. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Network: Syndicated
Original Air Date: 1987-1996

They, are the world's most fearsome fighting team. They, are heroes in a half-shell and they're green. And you know what? When the evil Shredder attacks, these turtle boys don't cut him no slack. Welcome to the world of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

54. Inspector Gadget
Network: Syndicated
Original Air Date: 1983-1986

Forgive us if we reference yet another theme song, but it seems that the title music for so many of these shows has done much to make them permanent residents of our collective psyches. In the case of this DIC Entertainment produced cartoon (huh, huh, huh, we said DIC!), the absentminded adventures of the cyborg (or was he a full-on robot?) Inspector Gadget were certainly made all the more exciting by the unforgettable "Go, Gadget, go!" music. Throw in the far superior intellectual abilities of Gadget's "niece" Penny, the master of disguise canine Brain, and the villainous (and barely glimpsed) Dr. Claw and his M.A.D. Cat, and untold hours of afternoon TV addiction were to be had. That Maxwell Smart himself, Don Adams, lent his voice to the title character -- a fact we as kids were probably not even aware of on a conscious level -- well, that was just icing on the bumbling cyborg detective cake, wasn't it?

46. The Jetsons
Network: ABC
Original Air Date: 1962-1963

Have you met George Jetson? His boy, Elroy? Daughter Judy? Jane, his wife?! Of course you have, thanks to good old Hanna-Barbera, who first gave us the adventures of this futuristic nuclear family all the way back in 1962 -- on primetime no less. Animation during evening viewing times just didn't happen back in the day, until fellow HB series The Flintstones arrived in 1960 and started a mini revolution. Several other cartoons followed, but The Jetsons, along with its Stone Age brother, proved to be the most enduring of these primetime shows... at least until The Simpsons completely changed the playing field in the late 1980s.

33. Schoolhouse Rock
Network: ABC
Original Air Date: 1972-2001

Not a TV show as much as an ongoing series of shorts that made the Saturday morning circuit for almost 30 years, Schoolhouse Rock! is a touchstone cartoon for most of us who grew up anywhere during that three-decade stretch. While new episodes weren't particularly the norm throughout that long period, the series' lessons about history and English and science and all that other good stuff were more than worthy of the many repeat airings they were given, especially as they were couched in the fun and instantly appealing (for kids and adults) world of music. The catchy ditty "Conjunction Junction," the conservationist-minded "The Energy Blues," and of course the how-it-works classic "I'm Just a Bill" are just a few of the classics from this series, though a quick search on YouTube reveals a ton of more Schoolhouse rock-outs that have been laying dormant in our minds for decades now, just waiting to burst out in song and teach us an enjoyable lesson once again.

31. Muppet Babies
Network: CBS
Original Air Date: 1984-1990

First introduced via an imaginary sequence in The Muppets Take Manhattan, the cute and fuzzy Muppet Babies proved so popular that an animated spin-off was quickly launched. Focusing on baby versions of Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy and their friends, episodes revolved around the vivid imaginations of the characters, which allowed them to have globetrotting, otherworldly adventures without ever leaving their nursery. Obviously aimed at a very young audience, this was a legitimately charming series that involved some clever ideas, such as having every visual be from the perspective of the children, meaning objects above them loomed in the distance -- and of course the face of their beloved nanny was never seen.

25. Robot Chicken
Network: Cartoon Network
Original Air Date: 2005-Present

Seth Green and Matt Senreich never stopped loving toys, and guess what? Neither did we. Tapping into the collective geek memory its creators and audience share, Green and Senreich's Adult Swim series delivers fast-paced comedy via segments lasting anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes. Using stop-motion animation and toys (and a bevy of notable voice actors), the targets here run a wide pop-culture gamut, from the Olsen Twins to He-Man. When it comes to the toys, movies and cartoons Robot Chicken has parodied, there is obviously a lot of knowledge and love at work -- you have to remember Turbo Teen well to make such a twisted, hysterical send-up as the one seen on Robot Chicken. From Mario driving his Kart into Vice City, to the Saved by the Bell gang meeting Saw's Jigsaw, to Emperor Palpatine dealing with a phone call from a whining Darth Vader, Robot Chicken constantly keeps us laughing.

22. The Real Ghostbusters
Network: ABC
Original Air Date: 1986-1991

There's a part of us that actually appreciates The Real Ghostbusters more than the actual Ghostbusters movies. Well, certainly the second movie anyway. Don't get us wrong, the first movie was classically hilarious, but The Real Ghostbusters just told some really mean and nasty supernatural stories. Their take on The Boogeyman -- and we all know that everyone has their own take on that creature -- was the best we've ever seen. This show had a notably darker tone than other cartoons on at the time, and did well in its research of creature myths and folklore. Most of the time, like on the CW show Supernatural, Venkman, Stantz, Spengler and Winston could often be found thwarting famously diabolical creatures. Samhain, Grundel, Tiamat, Marduk, Russian Domovois and even the freakin' Lovecraft beast Cthulhu! They all fell to the power of the real Ghostbusters! Interesting note: The original voice of Venkman was old Rhoda voice actor Lorenzo Music, who was also the voice of Garfield for 12 years. And who did they get to do the voice for Garfield in the movies in order to echo the old Lorenzo Music dry tone? Bill Murray.

21. Star Wars: Clone Wars
Network: Cartoon Network
Original Air Date: 2003-2005

Not to be confused with the new CGI series which has a "The" in front of the title, Clone Wars debuted in 2003 on Cartoon Network as a series of three-minute shorts (eventually extended to 12-15 minute segments). The goal of this unique format was to delve into the specifics of those famous titular battles, first mentioned in the original Star Wars, long dreamed about and imagined by fans worldwide, and finally seen on film at the end of Attack of the Clones in 2002. Or at least, the very beginning of the Clone Wars was depicted in that film. It would be up to animator Genndy Tartakovsky (Samurai Jack) and his team to really show us what was going on during the most famous conflict in Star Wars history.

19. G.I. Joe
Network: Syndicated
Original Air Date: 1985-1986 & 1989-1991

"Yo Joe!" "Cobra!" "Now I know... and knowing is half the battle!" If nothing else, this series gave all children of the '80s plenty of iconic battle cries and proclamations. One of several toy-inspired animated series of the era, G.I. Joe was the most entertaining of the bunch, thanks to the many fun characters the toy line provided. Even the things that are silly about it -- wow, those Cobras sure could parachute out of any plane they were in that was shot down, huh? -- are somewhat endearing. And while this isn't a show known for its gritty realism, there were some blissfully strange and interesting occurrences, as we followed the Joes and Cobras through weather domination, the creation of the clone emperor Serpentor, a trippy journey to an alternate reality (Baroness and Steeler in love!), and of course, the musical bliss of Cold Slither.

18. DuckTales
Network: Syndicated
Original Air Date: 1987-1990

We all know that Scottish people are cheap, right? Well so are Scottish ducks. And due to their spendthrift ways, they’re able to amass great fortunes and swim around in their vaults filled with gold coins. And even though they have miserly names like Scrooge, their hearts are still big enough to take in their great-nephews when the nephews’ other uncle, Donald, heads off to join the Navy. This was Disney’s first syndicated animated TV series and it paved the way for other hugely successful shows like TaleSpin and Chip n’ Dale Rescue Rangers. It even created two spin-offs, Darkwing Duck and Quack Pack. Disney made the smart movie of taking classic characters like Scrooge McDuck and Baloo from The Jungle Book and giving them a late ’80s reboot. All this only leaves us with one question: Where were Huey, Dewey and Louie’s parents and why did they keep getting bounced around from uncle to uncle?

12. The Ren and Stimpy Show
Network: Nickelodeon
Original Air Date: 1991-1996

Who would’ve thought that a series featuring an asthmatic Chihuahua and a mental midget of a manx cat could provide so many gut-ripping laughs? Well, anyone, actually, who is familiar with animation’s long relationship with antrophomorphic animals. Created by John Kricfalusi for his Spumco International cartoon studio, the show began life on MTV before being sold to Nickelodeon, where Kricfalusi and the network soon came to loggerheads over the series’ violence as well as (reportedly) the animator’s many missed deadlines. But the show’s subversive humor appealed to audiences, and even after Kricfalusi was fired from his own show, Ren and Stimpy continued for three more seasons. Eventually the creator of the pair returned for Spike TV’s Ren and Stimpy Adult Party Cartoon in 2003, which featured a more overtly adult edge, but the series was canceled a month after it debuted, with Kricfalusi’s deadline problems again coming into play. A shame, really, because we always loved to see some serious Ren violence...

Plenty of old-school shows like Underdog and Rocky and Bullwinkle made the list but I didn't grow up watching them and do not yearn to have them on DVD so I neglected them here. You'll have to check out the list in its entirety at IGN to find out where they ranked. Be warned, it's not so much a list but a rank-for-every-click-of-the-mouse... have fun with that.

The top 10 is yet to be announced. I'll update this as they're revealed over the coming days. I'd be willing to bet I know 3 of the top 10 (South Park, Family Guy, and The Simpsons, which could be numero uno). Stay tuned.

9. The Flintstones
Network: ABC
Original Air Date: 1960-1966

In 1960, Hanna-Barbera Productions broke the animation mold and launched the cartoon into primetime glory -- the toon previously occupied only the realm of kiddie programming hours. With the arrival of The Flintstones, however, the path was paved for such eventual success stories as The Simpsons and Family Guy.

8. Futurama
Network: Comedy Central
Original Air Date: 1999-2003 & 2008-Present

The redheaded stepchild of Simpsons creator Matt Groening, Futurama nonetheless remains near and dear to the hearts of several of IGN's editors. A futuristic sitcom that was a cross between The Jetsons and The Simpsons, the adventures of the dimwitted Fry, mono-eyed Leela, drunk and disorderly robot Bender, and all the rest of the Planet Express crew aren't just often hilarious -- they're also loaded with references that will make the average sci-fi and genre fan feel smart. And isn't that what life is all about in the end? Feeling smart?

7. Family Guy
Network: FOX
Original Air Date: 1999-2002 & 2005-Present

This reminds me of the time IGN was making a Top 100 Animated Series list and didn't give Family Guy #1. Yeah, that happened, but you can't complain with making the Top 10. Surpassing animated comedies such as Futurama, The Flintstones and Scooby-Doo Where Are You! is a hell of a feat and Family Guy guru Seth MacFarlane deserves all the credit in the world for making it happen.

4. South Park
Network: Comedy Central
Original Air Date: 1997-Present

Very few shows -- animated or not -- have been on for 12 seasons and still retain the relevance and entertainment value of South Park. Episodes alternate between sharp satirical looks at society to pop culture parodies to scatological humor, sometimes all within the same half-hour. Seemingly unafraid to take on any subject, Matt Stone and Trey Parker have created a forum for their opinions that's unfiltered and raw, making some of the freshest comedy currently on the air.

3. Looney Tunes
Network: None
Original Air Date:
Syndicated theatrical shorts

We debated this one a bit because, yes, it's kind of a cheat. After all, the content of this show was originally produced as shorts for movie theaters. However, several generations have since been introduced to these truly wonderful animated segments as part of a television program. Whether it was simply called Looney Tunes or The Bugs Bunny Show (or the many variations, such as The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Hour) didn't matter, because what was offered was cartoon bliss for children and adults alike -- hysterical and highly imaginative adventures starring iconic characters like Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, created by amazingly talented men like Friz Freleng and Chuck Jones. From Bugs and Daffy arguing over whether it was duck season or rabbit season, to Elmer Fudd declaring "Kill the wabbit!", to Michigan J. Frog singing "Hello! Ma Baby" to a surprised construction worker, there is one memorable moment after another delivered here that have truly stood the test of time and continue to entertain decades after they were first created.
1. The Simpsons
Network: FOX
Original Air Date: 1989-Present

Currently airing its landmark 20th season, The Simpsons is a veritable pop culture icon. The Simpsons is not only the longest running American animated program, it's also the longest running American sitcom, and is currently tied with Gunsmoke for the longest running American primetime series. Those records alone don't earn it the top place on our list, however. The Simpsons is also an incredibly funny show that's produced more amusing characters and situations than the vast majority of all other American sitcoms.

So there you have it! IGN's Top 100 Animated Series is complete. No surprise that one of the greatest TV shows ever is #1.

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