Arguably the greatest cartoons ever to be produced were in the 1980s. Although this post will focus mainly on those produced after 1982 — BraveStarr specifically — there are a few favorites that came before I was born. The New Scooby-Doo Movies is the best of the Scooby-Doo cartoons, with the likes of Batman & Robin and most famously the Harlem Globetrotters making appearances, was released in 1972 and Samson & Goliath or Young Samson released in 1967.
A very brief rundown (because the blog will go on for years if it not briefed): Thundarr the Barbarian and the Super Friends (1980); The Smurfs (1981); The Incredible Hulk (1982); Bananaman (1983); Heathcliff and The Transformers (1984); M.A.S.K. and ThunderCats (1985); Ghostbusters and The Real Ghostbusters (two different cartoons, 1986); Dinosaucers, Ducktales and Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987); COPS (1988) and The Simpsons and Captain N: The Game Master (1989).
Two of the perennial cartoons from the decade were Transformers, which has already been mentioned, and Voltron which came out in ’84. When mentioning ’80s cartoons, those two will normally be the first two out of peoples mouths, along with ThunderCats a close second and He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (1983) and SilverHawks (1986) nipping close behind.
I love Voltron and I’m a big Transformers fan as well. But … BraveStarr is the best ’80s cartoon (not including Japanese anime) that was produced in a decade that produced legendary animation.
BraveStarr began its run in September of 1987. It came at the beginning of TMNT’s ascent and on the tail end of both Transformers and ThunderCats so understandably it got submerged in the undercurrent. BraveStarr was also the last production of Filmation, which also gave us He-Man, his sister She-Ra and Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids (not to mention many of the early DC Comics cartoons from the ’60s through ’80s). BraveStarr‘s run ended five months later after 65 episodes.
As far as action and animation is concerned, BraveStarr doesn’t do anything different from its Filmation counterparts of the time such as He-Man, even giving you moral lessons at the end of each episode like the one from the episode titled: ‘The Price’ (will return to this episode in a few):
Drugs. Every year they claim thousands of lives. Each year, more young people like yourself become involved with drugs and each year many of those young people end up like this. Drugs are dangerous. Drugs can kill; don’t mess with them. At best, you’ll live to regret it. At worst, you won’t live.
But what made BraveStarr great (besides having a antagonist named ‘Tex Hex’ reminding me of another great villain name Dukes of Hazzard’s Boss Hogg and a cyborg stallion sidekick named ‘Thirty/Thirty’ whose blunderbuss he named “Sarah Jane”) was the cultural significance of the show.
New Texas, the fictional planet where the cartoon takes place, has a mineral called Kerium that is reminiscent of the very real oil that made the nation’s 28th state economy grow (or more specifically like gold during the ‘Gold Rush’ of the 1850s). It also incorporated the world’s greatest detective Sherlock Holmes (in a two part episode where Holmes goes forward in time), a transnational figure (Holmes even visits a museum dedicated to himself).
And … Marshall BraveStarr. BraveStarr is a Native American. Of all of the cartoons mentioned in this piece, BraveStarr is the only one in which the primary protagonist is a minority. The cartoon focused on the Native American culture — BraveStarr was groomed by a Shaman (a Native American) and BraveStarr called upon ‘animal spirits’ to give him strength (or superhuman powers if you want to use it that way), a part of the Native American culture that had yet to be explored in cartoons up to that point. BraveStarr even featured an African American doctor — Doc Clayton — 25 years before the arrival of ‘Doc McStuffins.’
Finally, BraveStarr’s storytelling. Earlier, I mentioned the episode ‘The Price.‘ The episode dealt with drug addiction, showing the death of an adolescent. The three most powerful scenes of the episode occurred at the end: the boy’s casket being floated away, the Shaman looking down on the procession crying and BraveStarr giving the episode’s moral lesson standing next to Jay’s headstone.
There were cartoons that were more popular and will go down as having a more nostalgia ’80s presence, but none are more greater than BraveStarr.