For almost as long as there has been television, cartoons have had a home on it on Saturday morningsbut at the height of cable TV’s popularity in the late 90’s, animated shows were able to find room in newer venues that catered most their entire day’s schedule to animation and children’s programming, such as Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network and of course The Disney Channel. The presence cartoons had in curated local network blocks was starting to lose its prestige and relevance in the cable-dominated landscape.
Disney’s One Saturday Morning, which celebrated its 25th anniversary this year, served as the ABC network’s “five hours of Summer once a week” and one of the last hoorahs of Saturday morning toons, alongside Fox Kids and Kids WB, before the turn of the millennium. One Saturday Morning was jam packed with animated series that expanded the identity of Disney TV animation beyond the likes of Mickey and friends through more relatable stories and creator-driven artistry.
Here are the top eight best animated series of “illuminating television” to ever come out of One Saturday Morning!
Teamo Supremo (2002-2004)
Teamo Supremo perfectly encapsulates the feel of a classic Saturday morning cartoon. Created by Phil Walsh, the series follows a trio of superhero kids who fight off outlandishly gimmicky super villains and monsters with their schoolyard playthings. The show’s visual style is heavily inspired by the cartoons of Jay Ward (George of the Jungle, The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle), implementing saturated colors and geometrically graphic design to emulate the look of an old school cartoon and the layout of silver age comic books. With an all-star cast of veteran voice talent and snappy dialogue, Teamo Supremo is a nearly forgotten great of the One Saturday Morning line-up.
Lloyd in Space (2001-2004)
Made along the same spirit as Futurama gold The Jetsons, Lloyd in Space oddly enough works as an effective piece of science fiction satire for young viewers. Created by Recess co-creators Paul Germain and Joe Ansolabeherecommonly shortened to just “Paul and Joe”, this sci-fi sitcom stars the titular alien teen, voiced by Courtland Mead, as he lives day-to-day on a colossal space station where species from all over the galaxy have come to co-exist after the ninth World War. While an interstellar sitcom is hardly new, what makes Lloyd in Space great sci-fi for kids is that it demonstrates scenarios and themes that are identifiable to a coming-of-age audience and paints them against the backdrop of out-of-this-world communities. Much like star trekthe series utilized the scale and variety of its setting and time period to explore very human and earthly issues like bullying, puberty and even fluid gender identity.
101 Dalmatians: The Series (1997-1998)
Adjusted for inflation, the original 101 Dalmatians from 1961 has remained not only one of the most successful Disney animated films, but one of the highest grossing films of all time at the global box office. The film’s popularity exploded in the 90’s and 2000’s with the live-action adaptations starring Glenn Close, a direct-to-video sequel and a fully animated TV series. The show serves as a hybrid continuation of the original animated film and the live-action remake, combining characterizations and plot elements of both films while also building its own identity as a zany, slapstick cartoon. The show indulged in parody and surrealist 90’s humor as it followed three spotted pups as they went up against suburban dilemmas, personality clashes with their dozens of siblings and of course the stylishly villainous Cruella De Vil (april winchell). Out of the main spin-offs of Disney’s Dalmatian Domination, this series continues to be one of the most charmingly bizarre.
Hercules: The Animated Series (1998-1999)
Out of all the series to spin-off from popular Disney animated features, Herculesdeveloped by Tad Stones, had perhaps the greatest advantage jumping from the big-screen to the small. Set while he is still in training to go from zero-to-hero, the series follows Herc (Tate Donovan) as he navigates high-school with his friends Icarus (French Stewart) and Cassandra (Sandra Bernhard) while battling monsters and the minions of Hades, lord of the underworld (James Woods). Despite taking very liberal creative leeway with the canon of the film, the series’ greatest asset was its ability to ironically pull from Greek mythology for its stories with sincerity, incorporating a pantheon of gods and legends to tell a relatable coming-of-age sitcom . On top of anything else, it gave us the ultimate crossover battle of Hercules teaming up with Aladdin (Scott Weinger) to take down their respective foes!
Disney’s Doug (1997-1999)
Years before buying Marvel gold Star WarsDisney picked up Dougone of the inaugural Nicktoons, after Nickelodeon declined to extend their deal with creator Jim Jenkins and Jumbo Pictures. What was resulted Disney’s “Brand Spanking New!” Doug, which found a home on Disney’s One Saturday Morning for a longer run of episodes than on Nickelodeon. Featuring slightly re-cast voice talent and a minor time-skip from the original series, Doug kept true to its roots as a cerebral fusion of daydreams and reality from the point of view of Doug Funnie (Tom McHugh) as he struggles with insecurity and other typical adolescent troubles in the town of Bluffington. What greatly differentiated Disney’s Doug from the original was its openness to discuss issues that the kids who grew up with Nickelodeon’s Doug can relate to, giving it a slightly mature edge while still maintaining its quiet and vibrant charm.
Pepper Ann (1997-2000)
Created Sue Rose and designed by Codename: Kids Next Door creator Tom Warburton, Pepper Ann leaned farther towards the teenaged audience than arguably any other Disney animated show before or since. The series was the first Disney show to be created by a woman and paints a quirky, yet earnest look at young womanhood through the eyes of precocious Pepper Ann (Kathleen Wilhoite). Unlike the other YA sitcoms that had aired on the block, Pepper Ann didn’t rely on a lot of embellishments or high-concept setting to tell its stories and played itself as a fairly grounded show about adolescence, even going as far as addressing racism, social justice and even women’s hygiene a good couple of decades before Pixar’s Turning Red.
Creators Paul and Joe first cut their teeth on TV animation on Nickelodeon’s hugely successful Rugratswhich aggrandized the humdrum lives of babies into epic dramas and adventures. Recess works in the same philosophy as Rugrats, but with a narrowed focus to the prison-like environment of public elementary school. Following a group of friends of various skills and temperaments, the series paints the schoolyard as a harsh caste system and the administrators as prison guards, making a typical day at recess a high-stakes sociopolitical war drama or prison escape movie. This irony has propelled the series as one of the most popular and fondly remembered of the block for how it balanced melodramatic, overblown drama with low-stakes mundanity in ways that were resonant and hilarious
Teacher’s Pet (2000-2002)
Some of Disney’s most treasured classics have shown the transformative power of dreams, whether it is for a wooden puppet to become a real boy or the heart of a beast purified by the love. Teacher’s Petcreated by the team of illustrator Gary Baseman, Bill and Cheri Steinkelner, brings the allure of becoming a “real human boy” to a bizarre and often hallucinogenic place. The tells the story of eager house-dog Spot, voiced eloquently by Nathan Lane, whose dreams of becoming a real boy propel him into the world of elementary school as his human alter ego “Scott”. The theatrically melodramatic Spot becomes top of the class and the most popular kid in the neighborhood among a community of gross-classmates, snarky fellow pets and overbearing teachers. What makes the series a landmark for Disney TV animation is in how unapologetically weird it is in how its wide range of humor and wildly expressive animation, culminating in a series that is indulgently strange episode to episode, a far cry from the typically polished Disney image .