From Darkwing Duck to Adventures of the Gummi Bears: my favourite 90s kids’ TV shows (part 1)
by Kim Muntinga
In the second best-of list of my favourite 90s children’s TV series, I’d like to introduce a few more gems, from well-known franchises like Batman and the Hero Turtles to more off-the-radar tips.
Good things come to those who wait. It’s been a while since I published the first part of my favourite children’s series from the 90s. But I haven’t forgotten about it. With a fresh perspective – yes, I actually re-watched some episodes of individual series – I’d like to introduce you to seven more series.
Seven? Well, there may be a bonus, seasonally-appropriate tip at the end. Thematically, I’ve been a little broader this time, even though there’s at least one Disney series that can’t be missed. I’m curious to find out whether you know all the series.
I’d like to start with one of the most underrated children’s series ever. The Animals of Farthing Wood is a European animated series based on the book series by Colin Dann.
Farthing Wood, home to many different animals, is being destroyed by people and their machines, so they have to look for a new home. On their long journey they swear an «Oath of Mutual Protection», promising to protect one another and not succumb to their natural instincts. The fox is appointed leader of the journey. This vow runs like a connecting thread through the plot right until the end of the series, a total of 39 episodes across three series.
The animals include a red fox, a badger and a toad. Not everyone survives the perilous journey to White Deer Park, our protagonists’ new home. The second series is more centred on the family life of the animals in White Deer Park. There is also conflict with the original residents of the park.
The series touched me both as a child and as an adult. The characters are well written, the loss of an important figure is always a threat and very emotional. The seriousness of death isn’t glossed over. I also think the German dubbing is great: I remember some East German dialect and distinctive voices like those of Martin Semmelrogge, Otto Sander and Manfred Lehmann, the frequent German voice of Bruce Willis.
It’s not just any Batman series. It’s THE Batman series that changed the franchise forever. From the captivating titles to the look to the changes in the story, Batman – The Animated Series impressed. Above all, the unique, iconic look made the series so special for me. The colour scheme, art deco style and minimalist costumes set the tone for the entire series. Batman’s costume was slim and simple. The Joker embodied a classic – if crazy – gangster feel (with a terrific laugh in the original by «Luke Skywalker», Mark Hamill), wearing a pressed purple suit with slicked-back hair and a flower on his collar. The vision of Gotham was a dark, alternative America.
It was a series for children and adults that also showed courage in other ways. It managed to do what many other series and films fail to do: significantly change the canon. For example, Mr. Freeze’s origin story was tinkered with and actually became part of the official DC canon. The same applied to Renee Montoya and Harley Quinn. Neither character even existed before the animated series was released. They were created by series developers Bruce Timm, Paul Dini and Mitch Brian. Now, though, you can hardly imagine the Batman or DC universes without Harley Quinn.
The drawing of the characters immediately captivated me back then, and it still does. Almost every character has meaning. The villains in the comics aren’t flat; they’re three-dimensional people who’ve been driven to madness and/or crime by tragedy or random bad luck. Wouldn’t it be nice if new films and series could do that? Unfortunately, 99 per cent of what we get is the usual Marvel or DC rubbish.
When Earl Sinclair shouts «Honey, I’m home!», I break out in a big grin because I know Dinosaurs is on. The focus of the series is the humanised Sinclair family of dinosaurs. Similar to the Flintstones, the Sinclairs live in a fictional Stone Age world. The plot mainly focuses on the everyday events and problems that the individual characters or the family as a whole have to contend with. The dinosaurs are usually portrayed in a satirical, naive way. They’re always in the context of reality, usually designed to be socially critical and mixed with slapstick elements.
The highlight of the series for me was the cheeky baby. This character provided the most slapstick in the series. «I’m the baby, gotta love me!» The makers played with the innocence of the baby and the simultaneous contrast of evil/naughty. As a father, Earl was always just «not the mama!» and there was often a long drawn-out «aaaagain!» with pure glee at the pain of others. I also always liked the eldest son, Robbie. With his often-progressive views, he provided contrast with his more conservative father. He was also very good-natured.
Strictly speaking, Kickers isn’t a series from the 90s, but at second glance it’s debatable from a European perspective. The anime only premiered in German-speaking countries in May 1992. As a 90s child and an enthusiastic football fan, I grew up with Kickers and Mario, Gregor, Kevin, Sascha, Tino, Tommy and Co. At the time, I found them even more interesting than the better-known Captain Tsubasa.
Kickers created a lot of heart for the viewer in just one season and 26 episodes. With the arrival of talented young footballer Gregor, an extremely poor student team became an increasingly better team that was gradually able to achieve success. The players have one thing in common: their passion for football.
Created in the 80s, the Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles came to German-speaking countries for the first time in July 1990. Strangely, the second series was broadcast first. It was only a few years later, when the fourth series was broadcast, that RTL broadcast the five episodes of the first series. The show spanned a total of ten seasons and 193 episodes.
Its creators, who also previously wrote the comic, weren’t too happy with the end product. They had to agree to a lot of creative changes to adapt the series to the zeitgeist in children’s programming at the time. The atmosphere in the comics was much more adult: there was blood and swearing in the fights. Co-creator Peter Laird describes his vision for the Turtles as an adventure story with a pinch of humour.
From today’s perspective, it’d be fascinating to see what a series in line with his vision would have looked like. In any case, the animated series enthralled me as a child. The four turtles were my idols. Pizza eaters, cool fighters, super smart. Whether it was Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael or Michelangelo, I thought all four turtles were great and Master Splinter had a great aura as the wise Sensei that always fascinated me.
Since the series, the Turtles have undergone several adaptations as live-action films or animated series and films. Unfortunately, I haven’t yet seen this year’s latest instalment, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem.
This is one children’s series that I couldn’t leave out. The titular little yellow orphan duck is raised by Henk the mole after the loss of his parents. Alfred is full of enthusiasm. He’s characterised by his courage, always concerned about the wellbeing of others and repeatedly putting himself and his foster father Henk in danger. Henk is a very good-natured and brave mole with great calm and composure. His thoughtful, wise advice always helps Alfred in the most dangerous situations or with the most difficult questions.
Dutch series creator Herman van Veen tackled difficult concepts with Alfred. It was always important to him to take children seriously and to pack serious topics into a series like this. In an interview with the Süddeutsche Zeitung (in German) a few years ago, he explained how his own children’s curious question «What is leukaemia?» developed into three episodes.
Van Veen also incorporated historical themes such as the Third Reich into his children’s series. Alfred’s enemy is the raven Kra. In the series he founded the National Crows Party. The allusions to Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party are obvious here.
Hot bikes, cool mice. The Biker Mice have their own style and are seriously cool. What child doesn’t want to have a hot ride like this and cruise around on it? Well, later, when they grow up. In any case, I always thought the mice were great and wanted to be part of their adventures.
After an attack by the Plutarkians – an overweight, fish-like species – the three Biker Mice were the only ones of their kind to escape from Mars in a spaceship. However, they’re shot down above Earth by the Plutarkians and have to make an emergency landing in Chicago. There they meet the mechanic Charley Davidson and learn that the main villain Lawrence Lactavius Limburger and the Plutarkians are already on Earth and want to attack it too. Their goal? To exploit the earth’s natural resources. The Biker Mice want to prevent this and defeat the evil Plutarkians.
At the end of July this year, there was big news for many fans: Ryan Reynolds and his production company Maximum Effort are working with Nacelle to make a new edition of the cult series. Brian Volk-Weiss is directing the pilot episode. There’s no word on a first broadcast date yet, nor on when and how the series will come to Europe. However, it’s not the first attempt to revive the original series. There was a sequel back in 2006, which was set a few years after the events of the original, but the series was cancelled after just 28 episodes. What’s interesting is that the original voice cast slipped back into their roles. That could happen again this time.
I’ve reached the end of my original series list. But, as a little bonus, I’ve thought of another animated series to coincide with the festive season. I hope it brings back memories for you too.
Here we go again. Every year at Christmas time, the animated series The Secret World of Santa Claus about the jolly fat man and his three elves Thoren, Jordi and Guilfi is broadcast. They live together at the North Pole and use their toy machine to diligently make toys for all the children. The goal is clear: Santa Claus and his helpers want to deliver the presents just in time for Christmas. But the evil Gruzzlebeard and his assistant Dudley stand in their way. They keep coming up with new evil plans to prevent Santa Claus from delivering the presents on time.
The series is suitable for children. Santa Claus is a nice, friendly and, above all, jovial and fair man. He’s strictly against violence. His three elves are clever and some have special abilities. Thoren can fly or make herself invisible and understand and speak all languages. Reindeer Rudolph, Donner and Blitzen and polar bear Balbo also support Santa Claus. Balbo is often a bit clumsy and occasionally causes small disasters.
The series is currently running in German-speaking countries on Super RTL and Toggo (website in German).
So, those were my pick of children’s series from the 90s. If you missed the first part, you can catch up here:
Do you also have childhood memories of the series I mentioned? Which ones have you watched or are still watching with your kids? Let me know in the comments.Header image: Warner Bros. Animation