Welcome to a new era for Space Castle! We’ve switched from podcast to full-time Youtube channel, and in this inaugural episode, D.T. deep dives into the greatest 1980s cartoon intros! There’s a rich history behind the many cartoons created in this era, even if most of them were developed just to sell toys to kids! Come along as D.T. talks about the likes of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Transformers, Jem, Thundercats and more, and what made their intros so special!
CHECK OUT THE VIDEO HERE! (Transcript down below)
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Some say the 80s was the best time to be a kid. And aside from being a kid who was allergic to cigarette smoke, who couldn’t even escape it in the hallowed ground of McDonald’s, they’re absolutely right. We had the best video games, the best movies, Pizza Hut was still good, and certainly not least of all, we had the best cartoons.
Welcome aboard Space Castle! Our continuing mission is to explore the universe for all things nerdy! And it doesn’t get much more nerdy than a fully-grown man reminiscing about the animated shows he loved as a child!
My name is D.T., and I’ll be your Captain as we take a look back at some of the raddest, most tubular 80s cartoon intros.
If you’re in your 30s or older now, chances are you were hooked on many of the finest animated shows the 80s had to offer. Whether you woke up early every Saturday morning, or you dodged detention and rushed home after school, you were certainly hooked on more than one animated offering, and it played a huge role in your life. You could not miss these shows. You risked not only having them ruined for you by your friends at recess, you also risked being a social pariah! And when you were 6 years old in 1988, you didn’t even know what a Pariah WAS but you didn’t want to be one!
And of it began with an absolutely bangin’ intro sequence, and a theme song that slapped your face and your pre-pubescent ass the same time. I’ve heard rumors that if you use a bad word in the first thirty seconds of a Youtube video, you’ll get demonetized… nope, I think we’re good! That rumor was told to me by the Space Castle’s onboard AI, lovingly referred to as “Goldblum”. Thanks for nothing, Goldblum.
GOLDBLUM: “Ah, yes. Ah, ooh. Yes, ah, if we’re allowed to swear this early in a video then, ah, mm, you can ah, go fuck yourself!”
GOLDBLUM! You were so pre-occupied with whether or not you could, you didn’t stop to think if you SHOULD!
Now I just need to figure out how to get this video monetized!
You can help me do so by clicking the like button and subscribing! We’re gonna have a lot of fun on this channel, and it’s time to get started!
Now, if you’re crafting the intro for an 80s cartoon, you know it has got to be LIT. There was so much competition for the hearts and attention spans of kids in the 80s. We were at an all-time high saturation for shows created to sell toys, lunchboxes, TV trays, sleeping bags, comic books, sexy adult halloween costumes and even video games!
Your cartoon intro had to be incredible. It had to make kids want the merchandise before the show even started. And as such, more time and money was spent on the intro for the show than the episodes themselves! Which kind of makes sense! The intro would be the one part of the show recycled for possibly years, and it would become a piece of marketing to be used in commercials.
So, oftentimes we’d get an insanely cool, anime-esque intro for a show like this… and then the actual show would look like this. If you’re not familiar with this one, you must not be from Earth or aware of its existence, and that’s okay! Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was an animated series based on the comics created by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird. It would go on to become one of the biggest pop culture phenomenons of all time, and the largest drain on my parents’ bank account.
But it didn’t matter that the episodes didn’t look half as good as the intro! We didn’t care that the Ninja Turtles frequently accidentally swapped masks and voices, because our adrenaline was still pumping from that damn theme song!
Which still to this day is the best thing Chuck Lorre has ever done. He may have done some questionable things in his career, but he’ll always be remembered for being the guy who helped pen the timeless Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles theme song.
I mean, look at this intro. I don’t even know what the hell Donatello was riding on in that shot, but I wanted one. The animation is so fluid, so crisp and so badass, and it’s thanks to Toei animation, who would continue on to produce the first two seasons of the show, along with other such favorites as Dragon Ball, Inhumanoids, Muppet Babies, and Jem – another series with an absolute banger of an intro and… somewhat lackluster animation in the episodes themselves.
We all know the animation studios who produced these shows were capable of creating animation on this level all the time. And over in Japan, where animation was much more mature and appealing to people over the age of 13, you’d see a consistency of high quality between a show’s intro and the show itself. The problem over here in the states was the constraints of time and money. These shows had to be cranked out en masse to keep kids coming back each week, so they’d be compelled to pick up the latest and greatest action figures and such.
Make as many episodes of a show for as cheaply as you can, and make nothing but profit back on all the merchandise sales. It was kind of a brilliant business model, even if it was a bit exploitative of kids and their stressed out parents who just wanted to relax with a New Coke and an episode of Quantum Leap, and not get dragged to Toys R Us ever weekend because holy fucking shit, Donatello invented a fan-powered skateboard in the cartoon and it was on store shelves RIGHT NOW.
GOLDBLUM: Oh, ah, yes, ah, are we allowed to fucking swear now?
NO, Goldblum. We’re not swearing in this show. I just got worked up and it slipped out.
GOLDBLUM: That’s how all of this starts. Then later there’s (series of words bleeped out).
[DT incredulous look at camera.]
…and speaking of consistent quality between a show’s opening and the show itself, you also had the likes of He-Man, where… yeah. Look, I love me some He-Man, but they like… they didn’t even try with this intro. The only thing that moves in half of it is He-Man’s mouth.
But, He-Man was like the epitome of cartoon shows created to move merchandise. The merchandise existed before the cartoon even did – the idea was to try and sell toys that told a story. Originally, the action figures came with comic books in the blister pack that told you the story of the characters, and got kids invested.
But they brilliantly took it a step further, and created a cartoon series to maximize the intended effect, and boy howdy did it work. In the franchise’s first year, it sold $38 million of merchandise. He-Man was outselling Barbie. That’s insane. That’s fucking crazy.
He-Man and the Masters of the Universe was also produced by Filmation – an American animation company, so… even more corners were cut. Kinda obviously. Instead of a staggering Japanese-animated intro, we got what we got. And much of the series was traced over footage of human stand-ins, in a method called rotoscoping. Sometimes the rotoscoping looked phenomenal, and other times… not so much. But the show had a great catchphrase, a menagerie of heroes and villains that translated into super fun toys, so we ate it up.
There really was no match for Japanese animation in the 80s, unless you were Disney. The intro to DuckTales is only marginally better than the animation in the series itself, because Disney does not mess around. Everything from Gummi Bears to TaleSpin to Chip N’ Dale’s Rescue Rangers is wonderfully, richly animated. And man, if you were a kid in the 80s and you were into Disney, between all the animated features and the various high-quality cartoon shows, you were EATING.
But getting back to Japanese superiority in 80s cartoon intros, it’s time to talk about what I personally think is the king of them all. And… sorry, it’s not Transformers. Look, I love Transformers. Optimus Prime taught me just as many life lessons as my parents, and that is no slight against my parents! But… Transformers doesn’t really have that bangin’ of an intro. Aside from this opening shot of the Autobots and Decepticons logos flying into frame, it’s just kinda okay.
No, friends… I’m talking about Thundercats! Now, hear me out. If you didn’t watch the show in the 80s, here’s a quick recap: it’s about a bunch of cat people who are the sole survivors of the destruction of their home planet, and their ship crash lands on a mysterious planet inhabited by all kinds of creatures and monsters — most notably the villain, Mum-Ra, who’s a mummy guy who turns into a… pharaoh guy to fight the Thundercats.
There’s Lion-O, who has inherited the title of Lord of the Thundercats, whose sleeping pod on the journey to this new planet malfunctioned, so he aged considerably into an adult. But he’s still a child in his mind. There’s Panthro, who is the battle master and mechanic and was understandably the most difficult action figure to find in the mid-80s, and I had that shit. My parents were the coolest.
And then there was Cheetara, who sent millions of kids into early puberty, and whom herself had the hots for Lion-O, even though she knew he was like still only 9 years old, mentally.
It was a weird show.
But the point is, the theme song – written by Bernard Hoffer is so pulse-soundingly badass, and the intro sequence was animated by – hang on, this is gonna blow your mind. You didn’t even know this shit, and I’m gonna give you a minute to prepare.
[Interlude to prepare]
First up, you’ve got Tsuguyuki Kubo – the guy who designed the Thundercats. Now, this guy also did the design for Bilbo Baggins in the 1977 Rankin/Bass adaptation of The Hobbit. So, he already had a relationship with the people developing and producing Thundercats. This madman also did the opening animation for Speed Racer.
Like… this sequence still blows my mind.
He would go on to be the animation director for Bleach and Naruto – two of the most beloved anime series of all time. Masayuki Yamaguchi, who worked on the Evangelion movies. And several other animators went on to join Studio Ghibli, and work on movies with Hayao Motherfucking Miyazaki.
So like… some of the best Japanese animators of all time had hands on this silly 80s cartoon intro, designed to sell toys to me as a 4 year old.
The fluidity of the animation, the attention to detail.
The use of lighting and contrast as Lion-O powers up the Sword of Omens.
There is no reason why the mutants on the ground there should be as well animated as they are. The blink and you’ll miss it shot of Tygra zipping back into the Thundertank, and he and Panthro exchange smiles.
[Lion-O flip reaction.]
This is INCREDIBLE animation. The Thundercats intro is the absolute pinnacle of kicks 80s cartoon intros. It’s undisputed. Sorry, Ghostbusters with your awesome mash cut to the ECTO-1 blazing out of the firehouse. Too bad, Silverhawks with your really neat shot of Bluegrass playing the guitar — and I don’t know how to play guitar, so I’m going to just assume that riff is completely accurately animated.
No, it’s Thundercats. The culmination of that theme song, world-class animators just splashing their passion across the TV screen (sorry, that sounded way less gross in my head), it comes together in a distillation of everything I love about classic 80s cartoons that I think even topples Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on its way to the top of the mountain.
It just fucking rules. And it took that much talent and flexing to be the best in an era where we were blessed and inundated with the greatest cartoons to ever grace a television screen. We really and truly had it great in the 80s, and I’m grateful for all those massive corporations carefully and cunningly marketing their cheap plastic toys to my impressionable young mind in such spectacular fashion!
And that’s gonna do it for this episode of Space Castle! My name is D.T., and I’m your captain in this ongoing mission to explore the universe for all things nerdy! Space fuel is expensive in this economy, so be sure and like and subscribe to the channel, and ring that bell so you know when a new video drops! It keeps this Space Castle drifting through the cosmos!
Thanks so much for watching, and please check out SpaceCastlePod.com for more content! This is D.T., signing off!
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