10 Underrated Movie and TV Cartoons

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There’s a common misconception in the public consciousness that animation films and TV shows, or more commonly known as cartoons, are made for children. This, of course, is not always the case. While it is true that most animations catch on better with kids than adults, it’s only because most children use their imagination better than grown-ups do. This artistic medium is perfect for allowing the designer to express his or hers creativity without many of the restrictions of the real world.

Moreover, if you were to re-watch some of the cartoons you used to when you were younger, it’s a good chance you’ll catch on to more subtle jokes than when you were small. They were written by adults, after all. Here are some classic animated TV shows and movies which, for some reason, didn’t get the attention they deserved.

10. The Rescuers Down Under (1990)

This is one Disney animated film everybody forgets about. It didn’t have any princes, princesses or fairytales and it was a sequel to a mediocre film, but with a lot of effort put into it. This new version of the film is a serious upgrade to the original, with a lot of great animation, great suspense and great, but underrated voice work.

The actors behind the characters are Bob Newhart and Eva Gabor. They voice two top agent mice from the Rescue Aid Society (R.A.S) who head to Australia in order to find a boy and a golden eagle, in order rescue them from a murderous poacher, voiced by George C. Scott.

The eagle scenes from the movie are truly phenomenal, being some of the few onscreen moments which really simulate the illusion of flight. A few critics blame the film for having only two cast members with Australian accents, even though the action takes place there. Nevertheless, The Rescuers Down Under isn’t the only Disney movie to have this drawback. In The Beauty and the Beast for example, only the Candlestick has a French accent and even so, it didn’t affect the feel of the story.

Either way, The Rescuers Down Under is strong, thrilling, and often times, visually beautiful. Compared to the more recent Disney sequels, this one is many times better than the original and worth a watch.

9. Tiny Toon Adventures: How I Spent My Vacation (1992)

Even though it never got a theatrical release, How I Spent My Vacation is a full hour and a half movie, tying together a dozen hilarious storylines. One is about Buster and Babs Bunny heading down a river, another about Elmyra torturing innocent animals, and our personal favorite, about Plucky as he travels with the Hampton Pig family to Happy World (a knockoff of Disney Land). It’s a road trip of horror and insanity for poor Plucky who has to deal with people who won’t ever shut up, rising tensions, and even murderous hitchhikers at some point.

The movie has all the slapstick imagination and jokes characteristic of Tiny Toon animations, especially in their later years. With this much great writing and awesome animation, How I Spent My Vacation should have been released in cinemas, but unfortunately we have to settle for watching it on video. If you can find it, it’s worth to give it a try, especially if you’re into Tiny Toons.

8. Watership Down (1978)

This is a particularly scary cartoon, produced in 1978 by Warner Brothers. This is partly because it’s on the surface of being a fun kids movie about the lives of a bunch of wild rabbits. But going a bit further into it, you wouldn’t expect the extreme horror that ensues.

The story (based on a novel of the same name) is in reality a brilliantly engaging epic. It involves a group of rabbits who, after being warned by a rabbit seer that danger is coming, go on in search for a new place to live, and the many struggles in finding a new life for themselves. The characters are very well developed and are backed by some really strong actors like John Hurt, Richard Briers and Ralph Richardson.

The story wouldn’t be so frightening if it weren’t for the brilliant execution. The amazing use of suspense and tone are what make it particularly scary. Scenes are built up by a crescendo of terror, punctuated by incredibly creepy visual sequences and equally creepy musical scoring. From the burrow they leave behind, to the others they come across, as well as the farm they briefly visit, there are a whole bunch of various suspenseful moments that are played just right to create an unsettling but intriguing tone and atmosphere.

The film has a lot of environmental themes going for it, including man’s treatment of animals and nature, being the principle antagonistic force here. It’s incredibly dark tone helps to bring out in contrast the goodness and likability of the characters if they face adversity, making it on a whole, a really great movie to watch when you’re older.

7. The Tick (1994–1997)

Among all the super hero shows out there, The Tick was a satire that handled the ludicrous nature of the genre the best. The film was about a big, blue man who comes out of nowhere to fight crime. Nobody knows who he is or where he comes from, not even him, and all he wants to do is to fight bad guys and shout horrible catchphrases like “Evil doers, eat my justice!” or “Sanity, you’re a madman!”

He has a simple mind and little intelligence, but luckily his neurotic sidekick Arthur is there to keep him in line. It is a great show because it did a great job mocking what kids were growing up with at the time. In the show the duo didn’t have a secret lair to solve crimes, but rather an apartment barely big enough for the two of them. The super villains aren’t always super rich and misunderstood madmen. Sometimes they’re children making death-rays in their tree houses.

The strange blend of surrealism and reality made the show very enjoyable to watch. More than half the time The Tick was aimed at adults as opposed to kids. Granted, the animation wasn’t always top notch, but it more than made up for it through great writing and a bizarre sense of humor.

6. SWAT Kats: The Radical Squadron (1993–1995)

Created by Yvon and Christian Tremblay, SWAT Kats is one of the coolest animation series of its day, starring a couple of badass felines. Razor Clawson (Barry Gordon) and T-Bone Furlong (Charles Adler) were two law enforcement officers who were demoted by their corrupt boss. That’s when they decide to secretly build a cool fighter jet and fight crime and evil doers, as vigilantes.

It has a 1990’s comic book feel to it, with season two improving dramatically in terms of design and visuals. Even though it only lasted for two seasons, each episode was packed with action and adventure, all the while not forgetting to have an intriguing story and well developed characters. The reason for it being booted off the air was its violence. While not that excessive, Cartoon Network (the channel on which it aired) was only one year old, and in order to avoid any unwanted controversy for a channel barely starting out, executives decided to end SWAT Kats in 1995.

5. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993)

For someone who considers themselves a Batman fan, the Mask of the Phantasm is a definite must see. This is the one Batman cartoon that was released in cinemas. It came around the same time as Joel Schumacher’s Batman Forever and in many respects, the animated film was more mature, and treated us more as grown-ups than the actual adult movie did.

The story takes us into Bruce Wayne’s past as we discover that actually he almost had a normal life before becoming Batman. And as typical to the cartoon series, it pulled us into the tough choices and gothic storyline that Batman was best known for. The new villain here is the Phantasm who can appear and disappear in a puff of smoke. Joker also makes an appearance as part of a murder mystery which is quite detailed and interesting.

As always, the animated Batman is dark and epic, mixing the dreams of hopeful lives with the darkness of reality. Even though it bombed at the Box Office when it first came out, it’s now making a comeback on DVD. This is great since it’s actually a very slick and well-constructed thriller. It’s intense, adventurous and dripping with that brooding gloom we’ve come to know the real Batman.


4. The Prince of Egypt (1998)

This film actually was a hit when it first came out in 1998 and even won an Oscar for best music. But ever since then, it seems like it vanished out of people’s minds and is extremely rarely brought up into conversation as a memorable DreamWorks Animations movie. And it’s a very impressive movie. Here, as compared to The Ten Commandments movie, directed by Cecil B. DeMille, Moses and Ramses don’t just declare they’re enemies, they’re brothers first, and who are forced to battle each other for the good of their people, but who only just want to be a family again.

Some people discredit this movie because of its songs and some of the celebrities that make an appearance, like Steve Martin and Martin Short. The truth is that they’re not in it for very long and the songs themselves are really not that bad, which makes sense considering they are done by the same guy who did Wicked. But most of all, this film is epic and everything it does is huge; from big uplifting songs, to big emotions, to big eye pleasing visuals. Even the acting is good, especially from Ralph Fiennes, who plays a chilling Ramses.

This film really wants to capture the human emotion of the story and combine it with the sheer scope of its Biblical scale. Even though it did well, it’s never regarded as anything great, but it truly is. The Prince of Egypt should not only be acknowledged as its own creation, but certainly as a great one.

3. Clone High (2002-2003)

What would it look like if Cleopatra, Abe Lincoln, Gandhi, Joan of Arc, Elvis, JFK and Julius Caesar lived today and all went to the same high-school? This is what Clone High is all about. It’s a comedy / teen drama from the early 2000’s. Starting on the premise that a mad scientist has cloned these and other famous people, the series took this idea and ran with it in absurd, outlandish, and sometimes even tasteless directions.

It only lasted for one season, but its 13 episodes contain some of the funniest and even offensive moments ever animated for the small screen. It really has pretty good jokes, especially the historic ones. Nevertheless, there’s even a guest appearance at some point by Marilyn Manson, who sings a folk song about the food pyramid and which is pretty funny. Overall, Clone High is an amusing animated TV series and it’s definitely worth a screening, especially since it only ran for one season.

2. The Secret of NIMH (1982)

This is one animated film that really treated us like adults, and is actually cleverer than it looks at first glance. Even though it was about mice going on big adventures, The Secret of NIMH had a sort of sophistication to it that only a few animated films had.

Its hero, Mrs. Brisby, is just a mouse mother trying to save her son’s life and is not a heroic warrior fighting bad guys as we are accustomed to. Her adventures and fears are in fact ours and her bravery gives us the courage to stay with her and face the many perils. Besides this, The Secret of NIMH is a three way battle between the evolution of nature, science, and the unknown. This results in extreme ideas and uncertain decisions.

The rats of NIMH have been genetically altered through medical experiments and have evolved into creatures, probably smarter than even mankind. They discovered electricity and light, and even some mystical elements which can’t be explained. Because of this, the rats have a responsibility to their gifts and decide what choices must be made in order to survive and continue to grow. In the end, all three play an important role into going forward and evolving as a species.

The settings are harsh and uninviting, but it’s the main character that pulls us through. The Secret of NIMH is powerful and intense, creating a world of nature, technology and magic, combining perfectly all three.

1. The Thief and the Cobbler: The Recobbled Cut (2006)

If you’re an animation fan, then there’s a pretty good chance you’ve heard about The Thief and the Cobbler. It an independent film made by the animation director of the movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Richard Williams, and which took about 30 years to make. Williams started working on it as early as 1964, but got kicked out of his own project and the film ended up becoming an unoriginal Aladdin rip-off in 1993, when it first aired under Miramax. Now which film ripped-off which is a matter of debate, but The Thief and the Cobbler definitely got the short end of the stick on this one.

Then, back in 2006, a huge Richard Williams fan by the name of Garrett Gilchrist, made a fan edited version of the film. He did this with the help of many film animators who once worked on the original movie. He tried thus to capture the original version Williams had in mind for this movie. Since 2006, several revisions have been made to the film and maybe others will come in the future. This fan edited version is The Recobbled Cut.

Even though the story seems to have many things happening at once, the plot is pretty much a strait forward one. Like in Aladdin and many others, the story is about “the boy” who meets “the girl” and then the boy has to save the day. This simplistic view works to the film’s advantage since the writing and character development are put in second place, in favor of the animation itself. A huge risk for any movie, but this time it really paid off.

Even though it may seem an overstatement to some, we believe that The Thief and the Cobbler has some of the greatest hand-drawn animations in movie history. For starters, the background animation has so much detail in it that it can show the entirety of the Golden City in just one view. This is one of the main reasons it took so long to create. The characters are drawn equally as well and work together with the background to even create optical illusions. But given the fact that this is a fan version of the movie, there are moments when the fantastic illusion is broken by rough sketches or story boarding. They don’t necessarily ruin the experience, but these moments come in suddenly and drastically change the look of the film.

The Recobbled Cut of the movie gives us an opportunity to see how Richard Williams would have envisioned his masterpiece if he was allowed to finish it. Even though it may look incomplete in some parts, it does tell the story in an amazing way, with some of the greatest animation out there.


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