This one comes loaded with a heavy dose of nostalgia. Putting it out there as we begin, I am a true blue 90s kid: I have seen consoles come and go yet spent more time playing in the out and open, used landlines more than mobile phones, hiked up to cyber cafés to access the internet, witnessed the golden era of indie-pop and on and on. A lot of things have changed: some for the better and some for the worse. Yet there is one thing the millennials won’t ever have on us, and that is quality cartoon shows. A big chunk of the thanks for that may go to two distinctly gifted individuals: William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, founders of the Hanna-Barbera Production Company, and minds behind some of the most instantly recognisable cartoon icons across the world. Those who are older may resent even the 90s kids for it, since a lot of the cartoons in this list came out as early as the 60s, the actual time Hanna-Barbera productions was first active and became a household name.
However, thanks to Cartoon Network, and the absorption of Hanna-Barbera co. into Warner Animation studios, a lot of the shows, even the ones from the 60s were aired again for us 90s kids to be introduced to the awesomeness. The joy at catching these shows after school, till date remains a powerful memory, and the happiness that these shows gave me back then was unparalleled. Toasting to the simpler times, we begin our list of the top Hanna-Barbera cartoons ever. You can watch several of these best Hanna-Barbera cartoon series on YouTube, Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime.
16. Richie Rich
Childhood does justify its moniker as the age of innocence, when the heart is free of any malice. However, the one child I envied beyond any reason or sane amount of sense was a cartoon character. Yes, you heard that right, and I’m sure you did too! While watching the show now would definitely add to my existential crisis, it sure was a treat back then watching ‘the poor little rich boy’ fight his way through infiltrators and trouble creators using his expensive gadgets and equipment. The only one to call him out on his supposed concealing of wealth was his friend Gloria, and their (mis)adventures involving the two of them, Dollar, the family dog, Cadbury, the butler, and Irona, the robotic maid made for good Saturday matinee entertainment.
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15. The Addam’s Family
This show legit spooked me back in the day. Both series based on the American comic books of the same name, produced by Hanna-Barbera were fun interpretations of the characters, and while the first series focussed on the family’s cohorts with offroading across the country, the second with two seasons focussed more on their exploits back home. The series was decidedly the funniest when ‘regular’ humans witnessed the Addam’s family’s twisted interests and deeds. The theme is as iconic as it gets, and this was, quite simply put, a show for the ages.
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14. Jonny Quest
‘Jonny Quest’ was a decided departure from the kind of shows Hanna-Barbera is usually known for, both in terms of the animation, which was much more defined, and in terms of the tone and subject matter, which was evidently more mature in its approach. In a lot of ways, the development of ‘Swat Kats’ in the 90s compared to other 90s cartoons mirrors that of ‘Jonny Quest’, and both these shows shined on their difference of approach and merit from the rest.
The show is about Jonny, who accompanies his scientist father Dr. Benton Quest on exciting adventures across the globe. Having lost his mother at an early age, Jonny has grown up to cope with his father’s profession and the dangers that come with it, and that’s mostly what the show is all about. The action in the show is commendable, and the more defined take on the animation certainly helps its case. The portrayal of Hadji, a native Indian, may be stereotypical and derivative, but the show managed to be fun to my more liberal brain back when I was younger.
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13. The Huckleberry-Hound show
A blue anthropomorphic dog speaking in the native South American tongue, with a fondness for the song ‘Oh my darling, Clementine’, however bad and off-tone his rendition might be. You give me that description, and I am already half sold for watching it. For those interested in trivia, this show was the first animated show ever to win an Emmy for outstanding achievement in the field of Children’s Programming, and that it is. The mild-mannered hound’s calm demeanour in situations he finds his way out of through sheer luck or further mishappenings is sure to tug at your hearts the right way. I might be using that term a lot, but truly an oeuvre from the good old days of cartoons.
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12. The Smurfs
The Smurfs were to the kids of the 80s, what the minions are to the current generation of kids, in my opinion, of course with the difference of comprehension in language. The adventures of these adorable blue creatures inhabiting Smurf village based on simple deeds of kindness (and hilarity), and their trademark replacement of words with ‘Smurf’ had my heart from the word go. It is funny and heartwarming in definitive places, and a complete package all-in-all for kids, with the occasional ‘good message’ slipped right in between.
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11. The Jetsons
I swear if the distant future, however distant it may be, doesn’t look like the space age in The Jetsons, I am going to be bummed out. Meet the Jetsons: George, Jane, Judy and Elroy, a family residing in the hyper futuristic Orbit City, with their dog Astro, and robot maid Rosie, who had precious little to do, given everything in the home was mostly handled by advanced futuristic inventions.
Frankly, I don’t think a project like this involving a vision of fantasy that far into the future would have been done justice via any other medium except animation, and with the kind of inventions and progressions that the makers came up with to inhabit the future, including the signature flying cars, the buildings high up in the sky resting on ridiculously thin pillars, and wildly different robots doing half the chores, I think it was quite warranted, at least in the 60s. What we got was a hilarious, fantastic peek into probably an improbable future, and that in my opinion was exactly what cartoons are supposed to do. Sure, it was no Wall-E, and neither did it intend to comment on the excesses of human lives. I consider it simply as a family show that was like a futuristic counterpart to another Hanna-Barbera show set in the stone age, because why the hell not!
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10. Johnny Bravo
Who doesn’t remember this muscular, eccentric, narcissistic yet extremely dumb witted womaniser? His futile yet unrelenting efforts to flirt with and date women even in situations of extreme peril were absolutely hilarious, as were the times when he was beaten up for his efforts in approaching people. The Presley vibe around him was unmistakable and on point, while I especially enjoyed his relations and banters with Momma Bravo, Suzy and Carl. The ‘Woah Mama!’ and Johnny’s arm-shaking dance move are things that still, somehow find an inclusion in my efforts to make conversations, something I am also unapologetic for. The show still is a very endearing memory, especially the crossover bits with other characters from the Hannah-Barbera universe.
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9. The New Adventures of Captain Planet
I am especially appreciative of what this cartoon series represented as an ‘edutainment’ series on issues affecting the environment till date, and that, conversely also makes me lament over the lack of such a series today, wherein cartoons might just prove an efficient medium for educating kids over such a pining issue in the present. While the series remained under Hanna-Barbera for only three years, stemming from the original ‘Captain Planet and the Planeteers’, it scores because the essence of it was retained, and if anything, ‘The New Adventures’ used it to build upon the backstory of each planeteer, and give the series a more polished, mature tone.
What made the series so popular was that it also delivered on the second half of the word ‘edutainment’. While it may not have aged as well as other 90s cartoons, case in point Batman: The Animated Series, it was still successful as a relevant show of the times shedding light on issues including drug abuse, even racism, and environmental pollution among others that directly affect the youth, without excessively sermonising.
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8. Top Cat
‘Top Cat’ was exactly as funny, sleazy and socially aligned as you’d expect a show based on the lives of some Manhattan back alley cats and their continuous attempts at getting rich to be. The show assembled some of the best known comic voice talent in the form of actual comedians back then for the voices of Top Cat, Fancy-Fancy, Spook, Benny the Ball, Brain, and Choo Cho, and incidentally modelled some of the cats after them. One of the definite plus points of the show apart from the voice acting ofcourse is how all six cats have been imbued with distinctly different yet subtly similar characteristics, something that is visible in their moments idling away in the alley. Easily one of the most definitive Hanna-Barbera shows that the company produced with all the usual tropes and more present, Top Cat is indeed, tip top.
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7. Powerpuff Girls
The last official Hanna-Barbera cartoon production for TV, and a special one. ‘Powerpuff Girls’ lasted over a course of seven long years, and made us fall in love with girls that came to be when the mysterious ‘Chemical X’ fell into a mix of sugar, spice and everything nice! The distinct personalities of Blossom, Buttercup and Bubbles were what formed the premise for the most interesting episodes of the series, and the rest of it were crazy villains including Mojo Jojo, Gangreen Gang, Amoeba Boys, Sedusa, Fuzzy Lumpkins, and ‘HIM’ (always gave me the creepy-jeebies) attacking Townsville, the Mayor calling the girls on a dedicated hotline, and the trio jumping in to save the day. Weekday afternoons sorted, back in the day.
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6. The Yogi Bear Show
One of the first and most important breakout stars from the stable of Hanna-Barbera, Yogi found himself as the face of H-B before the starting of every cartoon even for several years after it aired. The cohorts of Yogi Bear and Boo Boo Bear as they tried to steal picnic baskets in Yellowstone national park, to be almost always thwarted by Ranger Smith is the stuff of cartoon legends now, and close to six decades hence, people who watched the show then have grown up to tell their grandkids of it. Its iconicity is well established as a show, and Yogi’s popularity as a character too would not be described in a just manner through my words.
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5. Dexter’s Laboratory
This one still brings a smile to my face. I think one of the fundamental reasons why cartoons are made in the first place and appeal to the senses of all age groups can squarely be found in the premise of this show. A boy genius with a laboratory in his basement his parents are oblivious to, despite the fact that he spends most of his time in there, but is not hidden from his sister who frequently wrecks his inventions and no manner of security is ever able to stop her? That’s what I am talking about.
Especially entertaining were the parts where the seemingly dim-witted DeeDee outsmarted Dexter and made him look like a complete fool, which of course Dexter could not take to. However, like all sibling rivalries, this one too had its moments of endearment, when one displayed considerable affection or protectiveness for the other. Special mention for the two mid-show segments, ‘Dial “M” for Monkey’ showing the escapades of Dexter’s lab monkey, named (wait for it) Monkey as a secret superhero, and ‘The Justice Friends’, about the lives of three superheroes, Major Glory, Valhallen, and Krunk sharing an apartment and their absolute inability to get along well with each other. Also, how can I ever forget Mandark’s ‘evil’ laugh?
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4. Scooby Doo, Where Are You?
A not so recent meme trend related to the show that showed Fred unmasking a monster caught my eye. It said that Scooby Doo showed us that the real monsters were always humans. While I fathom whether that depth was quite what the show aimed for or even meant to achieve, I’ll wait for you to show me one modern cartoon that could even unintentionally conjure up that level of depth behind its premise.
Scooby and the rest of Mystery, Inc. including Shaggy, Fred, Velma and Daphne in their hip mobile van, The Mystery Machine, solving supposedly supernatural crimes used to be primetime darlings back in the day. Scooby and Shaggy’s reactions on running into the supernatural perpetrator were among the show’s many moments of inspired lunacy between the duo, which then ended in either of them carrying the other in their arms and running off. An added favourite to the gang was Scooby’s nephew, Scrappy and his ‘puppy power’ that had me in splits every time he folded those paws and formed the punching stance.
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3. SWAT Kats: The Radical Squadron
A show that looked great, felt great to watch, redefined ‘cool’ in cartoons, and had a bunch of smarts to deliver: in short, the perfect package for the evening slot fix. I used to flip out at the electronic guitar in the opening theme, best in the day (after DBZ ofcourse) and most of the tech and vehicles the duo of Razor and T-Bone devised from salvaging parts at their day job were severely cool for me to handle as a kid. The Turbojet, the cyclotron and the SWAT Kats facing off against Dark Kat is the stuff of epic, undying legends the cartoon world can swear by, even today. Agreed, this show was mature and arguably more violent than some of the other shows in Hanna-Barbera’s kitty, but I think becoming one of the coolest shows with the best action, rivlling even Batman: The Animated Series, in the 90s required suspending some convention, and that it did. Kids or not, this is one badass cartoon show, an adjective I would rarely use for a Hanna-Barbera cartoon.
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2. The Flintstones
I can’t stop guffawing while writing this one. You can sure count on H-B when you expect cartoons taking insane amounts of flights of fancy. With this show, the fancy lands in the stone-age, where dinosaurs, sabre-toothed felines and primitive men co-exist in a fully formed settlement. The show’s basic premise was lifting a typical 20th-century family and their lives and transporting them to the stone-age, forming fertile ground for mining a lot of laughs around their predicaments. With characters like Fred, Wilma, Pebbles, Barney, Betty, Dino, and Bamm Bamm, characters who have made a rock (pun intended) in our hearts by now, the show made sure it became one of the best and most watched shows of all time. I mean, which other recent show do you remember allowed its characters to run automobiles in the stone-age? Doesn’t matter that the wheels were large cylindrical masses of stone, and that one had to physically run inside them to make them go places.
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1. Tom and Jerry
The definitive cartoon for at least three generations now. For most kids, Tom and Jerry was their first brush with cartoons, and boy, was it the absolute best. No dialogues from the main characters, yet entertainment in its purest form. Laughs and gags, all mined from a cat’s undying struggle to chase and capture a mouse. The quintessential rivals, yet each would feel for the other when something went down; those genuine moments of friendship between them were absolutely precious as pearls! Remember the babysitter animated short, where Tom and Jerry formed an unlikely alliance to take care of the baby while the babysitter was busy chatting on the phone? And here I am, left to wonder what exactly went wrong with the cartoons being aired today.
I wouldn’t be wrong in calling it one of the most re-watchable cartoons of all time and for all ages. Even its spinoffs, especially the ones with Droopy, Dripple, Spike and Tyke always had me in front of the screen with giddy excitement. A fond, fond part of my childhood, and quite simply, one of the greatest cartoons ever made.
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