By Raquel Stecher
I had so much fun compiling my list of favorite 1980s kids’ TV shows that I thought I’d revisit for the following decade. 1990s television had some great offerings for kids. There was a significant increase in households with cable and satellite subscriptions and the proliferation of channels meant more innovative programs for smaller audiences and specific age groups. Here’s a look at some of my personal favorites from that decade. These TV shows, and many more, are available to rent on DVD Netflix.
“There's no case too big, no case too small. When you need help just call...”
Disney’s chipmunk brothers Chip ‘n Dale have been around since the 1940s, but in 1989, they got their own TV show. While it only ran for three seasons in 1989-1990, it was in syndication for the better part of the early 1990s. The show had a decidedly 1940s film noir feel. Chip ‘n Dale solved mysteries with a detective agency called the Rescue Rangers.
I loved the supporting cast of characters. Gadget was the gorgeous blonde and the brains behind the outfit. She was an inventor and tinkerer and could fly planes. Goals! Then there was Monterey “Monty” Jack, the Australian sidekick who kinda looked like Tom Selleck from Magnum P.I.. He loved cheese so much it was his kryptonite. Zipper the fly was a loyal friend who used his size and his ability to fly to help out the team whenever he could. Chip ‘n Dale were the stars but each adventure was a collaborative effort. I credit my early exposure to this show with my eventual fascination with film noir.
“Friends for life, through thick and thin... with another tale to spin.”
Inspired by characters from The Jungle Book (1967), TaleSpin was a Disney animated series that ran for one season with 65 episodes in 1990. Set in the fictional city of Cape Suzette, Usland, the story follows Baloo, a courier who makes deliveries with his plane the Sea Duck. He’s a daredevil pilot with a heart of gold. The cast of characters included Becky, the rival entrepreneur who takes over Baloo’s failing business, her daughter Molly, Kit Cloudkicker, an orphan whom Baloo takes under his wing, among others.
The title is a play on tailspin (a plane’s rapid downward descent) which sounds scary and there are a LOT of plane crashes in the show but of course they always always turn out okay. The show had a late 1930s, early 1940s setting (inspired by Casablanca!) and there were plenty of classic film references. Parents or grandparents who grew up watching WWII movies, early aviation films and screwball comedies could find much to enjoy watching TaleSpin with their kids.
“It's time for Animaniacs, and we're zany to the max, so just sit back and relax. You'll laugh 'til you collapse. We're Animaniacs!”
Those Animaniacs were indeed zany to the max. This variety show style cartoon was like a younger, hipper and crazier Looney Tunes. Created by Tom Ruegger, the original series ran from 1995-1998. It was inspired by Tiny Toon Adventures which came out a few years earlier. It featured siblings Yakko, Wakko, and Dot who lived in the famous water tower on the Warner Bros. lot. There were a wide range of fun characters and skits. Pinky and the Brain, two lab mice who plot to take over the world, were so popular they got their own spin-off series. This series was wildly popular with kids but maybe even more so with teens and adults. It has an infectious and frenetic theme song and the intro even featured a cartoon Bill Clinton playing the saxophone. So ‘90s! A reboot of the series is planned for 2020.
“Having fun isn’t hard when you’ve got a library card!”
I was far too old to be watching Arthur when it debuted on PBS in 1996 but that didn’t stop me. I loved this show and still do! It currently holds the record for the longest-running animated TV show for children. The series was inspired by author/illustrator Marc Brown’s series of books about Arthur Read, an anthropromorphic aardvark and his adventures. The show has such an amazing supporting cast of characters that for me Arthur wasn’t even the most interesting in the bunch. I’m still a huge fan of D.W., Arthur’s outspoken and sassy younger sister. She can be annoying, but you really can’t help but fall in love with her. Arthur’s friends include the Brain, Buster, Francine, Muffy, Fern and Binky.
It deals with themes such as bullying, friendship, classism, sexism, childhood fears, literacy, etc. Over the years, the show has had some great guest appearances from celebrities such as Mister Rogers, Larry King, Yo-Yo Ma, Alex Trebek, Michelle Kwan, etc. And who could forget that catchy reggae theme song Believe in Yourself performed by Ziggy Marley or the iconic library card music video?!
“We don’t know where he came from. He just showed up one night. What is he?”
Ghostwriter had one of the most bizarre conceits for a kids’ TV show but it just worked! A mysterious spirit, called “Ghostwriter,” used existing letters to form phrases and sentences that helped a group of kids solve mysteries. Each mystery took up a few episodes instead of being neatly wrapped up in just 30 minutes. Ghostwriter ran for 3 seasons from 1992 to 1995.
I’m Latina and grew up very bookish so I was drawn to the literary theme, the diverse cast of kids (who were all around my age), and the urban setting. There were so many kids’ shows about middle-class kids in the suburbs that Ghostwriter really stood out among the pack. The show dealt with all sorts of serious themes, including political corruption, crime, poverty, bullying, dating, hacking, etc. There were plenty of cameos from guest stars such as Salt-n-Pepa, Spike Lee, Samuel L. Jackson, etc.
Raquel Stecher has been writing about classic films for the past decade on her blog Out of the Past. She attends the TCM Classic Film Festival as well as other events where old movie fanatics get together to geek out. Raquel has been a devoted DVD Netflix member since 2002! Follow her on her blog Out of the Past, or find her on Twitter @RaquelStecher and @ClassicFilmRead, Facebook, and Instagram.