Pop quiz: when's Mom's birthday? (Month, day, and year.)
Now, quick, where do the Gummi Bears bounce?
If you're an average, red-blooded American between the ages of 18 and 30, you most likely just answered, "Um, March-ish?," followed by an almost immediate, tuneful "Here and there and everywhere!"
It's tragic, really. For every math formula forgotten, every anniversary that passes unremembered, and every pet ferret dead from starvation, there's a cartoon theme song from our youth, tenaciously hogging our limited mental hard drive space. In what is perhaps some sort of small attempt to exorcise these demonically persistent tunes from the depths of our consciousness, we've ranked 15 of them through the highly technical and thoroughly researched process of writing down whichever ones we could remember/find on YouTube first. Enjoy.
Nails on chalkboard? A kick to the head? Nope, it's"¦
#15: Tiny Toon Adventures
Even the eight year-olds who are only allowed to use the safety scissors know that rechristening Tom Cruise "Tom Snooze" does not an insightful pop culture reference make, so we can only attribute the (otherwise baffling) success of this show to its theme song. The annoyingly upbeat song is so addictively sugary that it is single-handedly responsible for the ear diabetes epidemic of 1995. Also, we die a little inside every time we remember a song that, at the depths of its brilliance, not only coins the adjective "Toony," but also two lines later, rhymes it with "Cartoony."
#14: Gummy Bears
Maybe you wouldn't be completely ashamed if your fourth grade friends found out you enjoyed "high adventure that's beyond compare," but for a concept that's in the running for "Most Improbable Product Tie-In Ever" (let us not forget "Rubix: The Amazing Cube!"), the show actually featured some halfway decent fantasy-type adventure. Still, did the singer, with his soft and lilting tones, have to make the main characters sound like such damn pussies?
#13: He-Man and the Masters of the Universe
Latent homosexual undertones? Oh, come on, you're overreacting. Just because he's called "He-man""¦ we mean, sure, that's smirk's a little suggestive, and that pageboy haircut doesn't exactly scream, "Come meet my girlfriend" …Oh God, did he just call his powers "fabulous?" Tell me his costume isn't really just glorified S&M gear. Holy crap, He-Man's a madge.
(Side note: We'd completely forgotten that "He-man" was a secret identity, but a leather harness ranks just below the removal of Clark Kent's glasses as the worst superhero disguise ever.)
Oh, don't act so shocked, you knew it was coming. Sure, the lyrics immortalize what we imagine was the greatest product pitch of the late twentieth century ("They're like robots! But, you know, in disguise"), but the music is atonal, screeching and forgettable. Half of the time the lyrics don't even fit. Especially enjoyable is when the songwriters try to squeeze the four syllables of "Decepticons" into a space where only one is available. So sorry, robo-fans. It was a great show, and an unbeatable idea, but amazingly crap-tastic composing.
"Well, boys, we're down to the wire here. The network wants the show tomorrow, and all we're missing is the theme. Animation, this looks great. Top notch art. Music guys, you've done well. The beat is catchy, and I love the searing guitar riffs. Writers, what have you got for me? Wait, are you kidding? This is literally the word "Thundercats" written thirty-odd times in a row. How much are we paying you? Look, I don't care if your wife just left you. Anyway, it's too late now. Just record the damn thing."
Not too shabby, but we'd still rather remember the second half of eighth grade.
#10: Mighty Max
Along with a number of other early '90s shows, Mighty Max was of the school of thought that, while expository lyrics were overwrought and cheesy, horribly generic electronic rock was not. The intro had some cool visuals, and the show as a whole scores points for not taking umbrage when Sliders totally ripped off its premise a mere two years later, but, deep down, Mighty Max harbors a dark, shameful secret Ã¢â‚¬" he's really just "Polly Pocket" for boys.
Look, how many times do we have to explain it? I thought the theme song made it perfectly clear. Animated versions of Michael Jordan, Bo Jackson, and Wayne Gretsky all live together in this place called Mom's Gym, and use high-tech yet wacky sports equipment to save the environment and help kids. Why are you laughing?
#8: Sonic the Hedgehog
More astute scholars of the early- to mid-'90s may correctly recall that there were two Sonic cartoons — the one that was basically a series of second rate Road Runner shorts and the one that had Urkel as the voice of the titular spiky blue rodent. Believe it or not, it was the one starring a Family Matters alum that wasn't a total suckfest. This catchy little intro also gives privy to the great "attitude" surplus of the early '90s. We don't know why "attitude" was suddenly needed in such mass quantities to sell us sugary cereal and sneakers with pumps in them, but damn, that shit was everywhere.
#7: Power Rangers
It wasn't a cartoon, but it might have well as been. We'll pass over, for the time being, the fact that the differences between the footage with American actors and the effects shots imported from Japan were jarringly obvious, even to our young eyes. We think most telling is the opening exchange between powerful inter-dimensional floating head Zordon and robotic comic relief/token homosexual Alpha:
ZORDON: Alpha! Rita Repulsa, a being of infinite power and evil, has escaped imprisonment. I need five teenagers. With "attitude." (See above)
ALPHA: How about five desperate twentysomething actors with limited martial arts experience?
ZORDON: Eh, close enough.
As high concept pitches go, this one's a doozy. Characters from The Jungle Book and other classic Disney films are re-imagined in an alternate universe as 1930s era bush pilots and other early twentieth century archetypes. Although the faux-Rasta beats seem watered down and cloying in retrospect, they were funky as hell at the time. Also, it is one of the great injustices of this modern world that "sky-surfing" still remains physically possible only if one is a small, pants-impaired animated bear cub.
If CPR was as fun to remember as these, Dad might still be alive.
#5: G.I. Joe
Oh man. America kicks SO MUCH ASS. Anybody who could watch this intro at age eight and think otherwise should have their pulse checked. Of course, four years at a pinko Northeastern academic institution with the ivory tower elite may have clouded our heads with words like "military industrial complex" and "jingoism", but what the hell do those Cobra-loving bleeding hearts know anyway? G. I. JOOOOOOOEE!
#4: Duck Tales
The third line - "Racecars, lasers, airplanes!" Ã¢â‚¬" pretty much says it all. The show might not have been edgy or hip (no "attitude," so to speak), but it never made any attempt to be, and was just a whole lot of fun. Also, unbeknownst to most, the show did do some groundbreaking work in the field of plutocratic economics, and the "Keeping A Giant Vault Of Gold Coins And Swimming In It" investment strategy is now a basic component of any national level MBA program.
Had Tiny Toons been smarter, funnier and not a total affront to animated comedy everywhere, it would have been Animaniacs. The shining, redemptive realization of the writers of this and most every other quality show on this list was that kids aren't stupid — they're sharp enough to catch most jokes, and, unlike some people, may even grow up to be smart enough not to pursue a career in the entertainment industry. A mix of classic cartoon shtick and post-modern irony, how could you not love a show whose theme contains a reference to "pay or play contracts?"
#2: Batman: The Animated Series
After a decade of Care Bears and Super Friends, this 1992 Batman show was a kick in the teeth to the cartoon status quo. Dark and moody, here finally was a superhero cartoon that wasn't afraid to bust some heads. As kids, the words "cinematic," "film noir," and "chiaroscuro" weren't available to us, but the art school vocabulary still doesn't seem as apt a description as our first, pre-adolescent appraisal — that this show was "freakin' awesome."
#1: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Just like the idea for the series as a whole, there's no logical rationale why the theme for this show should work. Clumsy lyrics ("When the evil Shredder attacks/The turtle boys don't cut him no slack"), overblown electronic rock, and random, unbelievably square shout-outs from the Turtles themselves, ("We're really hip!" one turtle reassures the audience) don't exactly seem like the ingredients for an engrossing, addictively catchy theme. But damn it all if the whole thing doesn't work somehow, and has permanently ingrained itself into the American pop culture subconscious possibly deeper than any other song on this list. Experiment: Go into any college bar across the country and drop the opening lyrics to this song. We guarantee the whole crowd will be singing along in Pavlovian unison by the end of the first verse.