The Influence of 80s Cartoons

Recently on the  Reddit r/Fantasy page, a member posed a simple question, “What got you into Fantasy?”.  My first thought was, “The Hobbit.”  I read it when I was 12 and it opened the door for my reading of fantasy novels.  Then I realized that by the age of 12, I was already a huge fantasy fan.  The Hobbit was only the first true fantasy novel I’d read.  So I started thinking further back, searching for what exactly was the origin point for my love of the genre.

The answer I decided was cartoons.  While movies like Robin Hood, Last Unicorn, Sword and the Stone, and plenty of others certainly had their influences, my biggest ones were either every Saturday morning or every day after school.

The Smurfs (1981)

Yeah, the Smurfs is cheesy. But we have magic, castles, and all the foundations of fantasy right there.  The Smurfs was a weekly ritual for kids of my generation and certainly had its influence on us. It also had the catchiest and stupidest theme song ever, composed of only the words, La la la la la la.


He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (1983)

He-Man was awesome.  It was some sci-fi/fantasy hybrid where characters were just as likely to use a broadsword and magic as they were a laser gun.  I owned all the toys and watched the show religiously.  I even watched She-Ra which was the spin-off show aimed at girls and that 8-year olds like myself were’t supposed to admit that they watched (now that I’m in my 30’s I can openly confess that I freakin loved She-Ra).  There’s a debunked rumor that the toy line was originally meant to be for the Conan movie before Mattel realized how much violence and sex was in it, but that was only a rumor. However, He-Man’s inspiration is still obviously from old pulp stories and art for Conan and John Carter.


Thundarr The Barbarian (1980)

It amazes me how many of my friends don’t remember this show.  It kicked so much ass.  We have a post-apocalyptic fantasy setting where every week they somehow work some famous monument into the background.  One week Thundarr is battling in front of a chipped and overgrown Mount Rushmore, next week he’s stomping heads in front of the Eiffel Tower. While my sense of geography was certainly thrown off by the show, I loved it every time it came on. Thundarr was probably the most original and purest pulp of all the cartoons from my childhood.


ThunderCats (1985)

Probably one of the best made of the lot.  Thundercats was awesome and the art was great.  It was in the same Sword & Laser or Sword & Planet genre as He-Man, but was about freakin cat people.  An entire generation fell in love with Cheetara (myself totally included).  This was unquestionably Pulp-era inspired.  Years later, when I finally did read R.E. Howard’s Conan tales, I had the strangest deja vu when the story ‘The Devil in Iron’ started out exactly like an old ThunderCats episode I remembered from years before. And while I could remember episodes with such detail for years, I had also somehow completely wiped out any memory of Snarf.  When Cartoon Network first started carrying ThunderCats I first thought that they had somehow added the horribly annoying creature because my memory had perfectly removed him.


Dungeons & Dragons (1983)

When I was little, I had no clue that Dungeons & Dragons was a role-playing game. I thought it was a roller coaster.  No clue why the show’s creators took the roller coaster route, but they did.  The cartoon follows a group of kids that are magically transported to a D&D world. Each of the kids fills one of the classic D&D archetypes as they set out on adventure to make their way home.  They show was fun, but very short-lived.


Dragon’s Lair (1984)

I never played the video game from which the cartoon was based and didn’t even know it was a video game for several years later.  What I most loved about it was that before commercial breaks our hero, Dirk the Daring, was confronted with a choice on how to proceed (like fight the mud-men or battle the tentacle monster). After the break, we would see the results if Dirk chose incorrectly (i.e. how he dies) and then show Dirk choosing the correct path and then the story continues.  The Choose Your Own Adventure aspect was very cool. It was also the only show that stressed the danger our hero was in because things like death was a real possibility for him.


Adventures of the Gummi Bears (1985)

Gummi Bears followed a group of adorable bear people in a classic European fantasy setting.  While considered nothing but myth to all but a few humans, the Gummi Bears go around using magic and helping people.  When they find themselves in some kind of bind they’d down a bottle of their super-secret gummiberry juice which would make then bounce around like rubber (a superpower that you wouldn’t think would be as useful as they make it out to be).  The villain, Duke Igthorn, is always seeking for the secret of the gummi bears’ magic, especially the juice because when humans drink it they don’t become bouncy flubber, but gain super-human strength.  I’ve heard some criticism of the show because the gummiberry juice promotes drug use.  Honestly, I suspect that anyone who came up with that idea was either stoned themselves or were some fantasy-hating troll that can’t understand the idea of awesome.


Super Bonus Show

The Pirates of Dark Water (1991)

OK, so this one isn’t 1980’s, but it came out prior to my reading of The Hobbit and was also so awesome that I’m counting it.  Pirates of Dark Water was freaking fantastic.  Here we follow a young pirate that is trying to save the world from a substance known as Dark Water.  Unlike the other shows, this cartoon followed a linear narrative and singular quest.  Of course they had to throw in an annoying Jar-Jar character, but unlike Snarf or Scrappy Doo, Monkey Bird was tolerable.  Sadly, Pirates of Dark Water was cancelled before the heroes’ quest was completed, so we’ll never know if they succeeded in saving the world.

Of course saying that these shows were specifically what got me into fantasy or if my love of fantasy is what got me into these shows is debatable as a chicken versus egg argument.  Maybe I’m just hard-wired to like genre fiction. But if I am, the doors were definitely opened a bit wider by these cartoons.  Either way, to answer the r/Fantasy question, it definitely wasn’t The Hobbit.