In the long history of animated TV shows, the 1990s represented a time when they suddenly seemed to grow up and talk to their audience rather than at them. It was as though a mass awakening had taken place within the networks where everyone suddenly realized that the audience out there was much savvier than they had ever realized or given them credit for being.
In the years leading up to that, cartoons, to be honest, were fairly dopey, with plots that made little sense, characters whose behavior was so far removed from reality as to be unbelievable, morality lessons bludgeoning the viewer over the head, and action that never truly involved action.
What started to happen in the ‘90s is that the shows began to get a little bit more of an edge, whether that edge was dramatic or comedic. The characters, if not three-dimensional, had at least entered the second dimension. There could be genuine conflict between them, some of which would be resolved with fist-fights. In some instances there were even weapons used!
On the humor front, in between making mega-blockbusters, Steven Spielberg helped shepherd his love letters to the classic Warner Bros. Looney Tunes cartoons of the 1940s and ‘50s in the form of Tiny Toons Adventures and Animaniacs; Nickelodeon captured the minds of kids everywhere with shows like Doug, Rugrats and Hey Arnold!, and blew other minds with the more surreal, adult-oriented Ren & Stimpy and Rocko’s Modern Life. And then there were the superheroes, thanks to the success of Batman: The Animated Series, which saw the Dark Knight joined by the likes of Spider-Man, the X-Men and Superman. And taking a more humorous approach to superheroes, there was Disney’s parody Darkwing Duck.
Those are just a handful of shows introduced to viewers throughout the 1990s. There were a lot more, and what follows is our trip back in time to take a closer look at 15 of them.