Now that anime has its own international genre, streaming services have gone global, and everything is subtitled, animated movies and TV shows are a mainstream medium that isn’t just for kids anymore. A few decades ago, however, cartoons were regulated to Saturday morning, after-school shows, or holiday specials, and as a result, there are some great vintage shows and movies that have fallen down the memory hole.
It was the 1980s when the public finally started to get a mix of domestic and international cartoons and the genre got some real traction in pop culture. There are several great cartoons from that halcyon decade that have all but been forgotten to time, and some of them are still readily available on that all-knowing entity that never forgets, the almighty internet.
Updated April 9, 2022, by Kristy Ambrose: Vintage cartoons, including the music and artistic style, are still making a comeback. A few streaming services are attracting viewers by putting these forgotten ’80s cartoons in their libraries and sometimes even updating them for modern audiences. This mean something as simple as a digital remaster, or something more complicated like a spin-off or a sequel. With this revival, there are a few more members to add to the list of cartoons from the 1980s.
13 Danger Mouse (1981-1992)
Danger Mouse was a British series that was popular enough to have a spinoff, Count Duckula, and enjoyed a resurgence a few years ago with a reboot in 2015. It was a clever satire on the whole “posh British spy” concept that was also popular in live-action shows like Get Smart, but it was a clever cartoon with lovable characters instead.
Danger Mouse was extremely popular in its time, which is partly why it had a successful comeback just a few years ago. The iconic mouse can also be found in comic books, video games, and all kinds of vintage pop-culture merchandise related to forgotten ’80s cartoons.
12 Richie Rich (1980-1984)
There were so many Hanna-Barbara cartoons floating around back in the day it was easy to lose track of them. Richie Rich was one of many productions that were often aired together, and kids saw it as part of The Futuristic World of Hanna Barbara, which also included shows like Scooby-Doo and Scrappy-Doo and The Little Rascals.
Despite his vast wealth, Richie was always portrayed as a likable character, and he and his friends have a variety of adventures that would include fighting master criminals and thwarting plots to the Rich family name. This forgotten cartoon series has a lot of jokes that only grown-ups would understand, like finding out that Richie’s mother was formerly a “Van Dough,” so it’s worth a rewatch.
11 The Wuzzles (1985)
Anyone who has seen Avatar: The Last Airbender remembers some of the oddly familiar crossover animals, like a bison that resembled a flying insect and other weird critters, like a platypus bear. It was always just a fan theory, but this might have been a callback to a forgotten 1980s Disney cartoon show called The Wuzzles.
Each Wuzzle was two animals combined into one and had clever names to match, like Bumblelion and Butterbear, but everything else on the Isle of Wuz had a similar nature. Their diet was made up mostly of “appleberries” and the characters could use a telephonograph to call each other. The show was popular, but it got lost in a market saturated with adorable animals at the time and was canceled after only 13 episodes.
10 Willo The Wisp (1981)
Willo The Wisp was a BBC show that was designed to entertain both adults and children in the time between children’s after-school shows, which explains why it had a wider appeal and some smart, mature humor. It barely made it across the pond, and although a French dub made it to Canada at some point, it was a 1980s cartoon confined to relative obscurity.
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The characters were actually borrowed from educational cartoons used to promote the national energy interest, British Gas PLC, and were set in a real place, Doyley Woods, a location near the director’s home. The charming story and unique animation stayed in kids’ memories, and the series was reprised for another season in 2005.
9 The Raccoons (1985-1992)
One of the most Canadian things ever, The Raccoons was produced by the CBC and was syndicated by Disney, and it looks like it could take place in Ontario’s cottage country. The unspecified Evergreen Forest that hosts this show is inhabited by Bert Raccoon and his various animal friends. The antagonist that often tried to ruin their fun, the greedy tree-feller and dam-builder Cyril Sneer, eventually evolved into more of an antihero as the series progressed. Another villain, an eagle named Milton Midas, eventually took his place.
The memory of The Raccoons endures partly because of the rockin’ 80’s cartoon theme song and the enduring environmental message that still resonates with audiences.
8 Jem and the Holograms (1985-1988)
Also known simply as Jem, this show was about more than Jerrica Benton and her alter ego, the lead singer of The Holograms. This alone would have been enough to carry the show, but it also had an interesting science fiction twist with the holographic computer, Synergy.
The computer was built by Jem’s father, and Jem can sync it with her earrings to change her appearance and project realistic images around her. It would be years before the concept of a “virtuoid,” or an AI pop star, would become a real possibility, which makes this forgotten ’80s cartoon series even more fun in hindsight.
7 Lucky Luke (1983–1984)
For those that are fans of vintage comics, or animated cartoons with an impressive historic pedigree, there’s Lucky Luke. The franchise includes comics, films, animation, and other media, and it all started with Belgian cartoonist Morris in 1946.
Morris passed away in 2001, but the comic book series he created still continues into the present under a variety of other writers. The animated series was originally in French, and although it’s available in various languages, it’s not well known outside of Europe.
6 Muppet Babies (1984)
Part of the cute animal wave that took the animated TV series world by storm in the early 1980s, Muppet Babies was a nice fit in a schedule that include shows like Care Bears. The series followed the adventures of the baby versions of the most popular Muppets from other live-action properties, like The Muppet Show and Sesame Street.
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The 107 episodes that made up the show were produced by Marvel Productions and Jim Hensen Productions and were aired by CBS. Today Walt Disney owns the rights and made a reboot of the series in 2018.
5 SilverHawks (1986)
A Rankin-Bass production as opposed to something from Disney or Hanna-Barbara, SilverHawks was designed and intended to be an outer-space version of the wildly successful ThunderCats. There was also a Marvel comic book series that was released the same time the show was running.
The series takes place in the galaxy of Limbo, which has a unique set of planets and a central white star. The main characters are essentially a galactic police force with bionic implants and metal suits that augment their powers. The show never reached the heights of popularity as its predecessor, but the mecha and science fiction themes stand up to the test of time.
4 Dungeons & Dragons (1983–1985)
When it comes to Dungeons & Dragons adaptations, this is one of the best there is, although that’s not exactly a high bar. It was drawn by Toei Animation and produced by Marvel Productions and TSR, making it one of the early examples of a show that mixed Japanese animation with a western script and setting.
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The premise, of a group of friends who get sucked into their own RP module and have to play their way out, could have inspired all kinds of modern animated shows including Sword Art Online and even live-action movies like the Jumanji franchise. Too bad it’s a concept that TSR never thought to use for some reason.
3 The Great Mouse Detective (1986)
A product of a dark time in the history of the House of Mouse, The Great Mouse detective never got the attention it deserved until much later. Even then it was part of the clamshell VHS library that was a popular fixture of middle-class living rooms.
The show was obviously based on the stories of Sherlock Holmes, featuring characters that fit all the pertinent archetypes and taking place in Victorian London. It was the first box office success that the studio had after the failure of The Black Cauldron almost shut down Disney’s animation wing.
2 The Littles (1983-1985)
A story that could only work in a kid’s animated feature, The Littles still had a lot going for it when it came to interesting characters and fun storytelling. It was produced by DIC Audiovisuel for distribution on ABC and was based on the work of an American author, John Peterson.
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The show took on serious issues for the time before it was a cool thing to do, including running away and substance abuse as part of early storylines. The series never really exploded in popularity, remaining a forgotten 1980s cartoon, but it was still in syndication as late as 2003.
1 The Flight of Dragons (1982)
A very early sample of Rankin Bass animation, the same production studio that brought us The Hobbit in 1978. The reason it’s so obscure is that it’s a full-length animated feature made for adults, which was almost completely unheard of in North America at the time.
Beneath the generic story and stereotypical characters, there’s a lot to like in this forgotten gem. The animation, although early, is still pretty great, the story revolves around questions like how science and magic can co-exist, and 1980s icon John Ritter takes on the voice of the leading role.