There was a decade in recent human history called the “1990s,” and it spawned such great things as Pokemon, pogs, and Crystal Pepsi. It was also a golden age of cable television with channels like Nickelodeon. Gaining popularity and success in the 80s from shows like Double Dare, Mr. Wizard’s World, and You Can’t Do That On Television, the vaunted kid’s-only network began creating its own programming. Series like Pete & Pete, Are You Afraid of the Dark, Clarissa Explains It All, and All That reigned supreme on SNICK, the channel’s Saturday night lineup. But it would be a much different sort of program that ruled the minds of young people in the 1990s and early 2000s. Cartoons… DUH! Here’s the list of the 8 greatest Nicktoons:
Debuting in 1996 and running through 2004, the Hey Arnold! cartoon revolved around fourth grader Arnold (aka Football Head, as his neighborhood bully / secret crush Helga affectionally called him). He lived with his grandparents, and the show chronicled his misadventures growing up in the city with his best friend Gerald. The series spawned a feature film called Hey Arnold! The Movie and ran for five seasons. A new movie entitled Hey Arnold!: The Jungle Movie is set to premiere in November of this year.
If you wanted something new and fresh and different, Invader Zim was your show. The cartoon only ran two seasons and 27 episodes, but it’s considered a cult classic due to its loyal and intense fan base. The show was about an alien named Zim who arrived on Earth from the planet Irk in order to enslave the human race and conquer the planet. He was aided by his quirky robot servant GIR and pestered by Dib, a paranormal investigating kid determined to expose Zim as an alien. Zim went to school in disguise as a human and GIR disguised himself as a green dog. The popularity of this cartoon caused the creation of video games, comics, and a new movie coming very soon to Nickelodeon.
Before Beavis & Butt-Head, before South Park, there was Ren & Stimpy. Not only was the animation extremely different from its peers, but the humor was also quite controversial at times. Ren & Stimpy would often make off-color jokes that would go over most kids’ heads but would make parents double-take if they were walking by the television. It was a cartoon about a chihuahua and a cat that lived together… an age-old Odd Couple TV troupe for kids animation. However, there was a lot of dark humor and violence to be had in every episode. This cartoon was and still is insanely popular with the generation that grew up in the 90s. Ren & Stimpy was one of the three original Nicktoons, along with Rocko’s Modern Life and Doug.
Like Ren & Stimpy, the humor on Rocko’s Modern Life also had a bit of an edge to it. The show revolved around the talking wallaby named Rocko and his friends Heffer, Filburt, and Rocko’s dog Spunky. His neighbor Ed Bighead hated Rocko, but his wife Bev Bighead was extremely compassionate and kind. I think I’ve seen every episode in its run and would love it when Nickelodeon would do marathons of this or Doug on a rainy Saturday. The cartoon felt less kid-ish and more like adults weren’t talking down to us. It was very popular during its four seasons, and I feel like I need to go back and watch some classic episodes right now! I can even hear the B-52’s theme song running in my head.
Nickelodeon’s first major successful cartoon was Rugrats. It was the longest-running cartoon on the network until SpongeBob dethroned it in 2012. I think almost everyone who grew up during the 90s knows what Rugrats was and/or watched it faithfully. There were Rugrats movies, toys, spinoffs, and even a made-for-TV special that featured the babies ten years older. The show was about a group of babies – Tommy, Chuckie, the twins Phil and Lil, and Angelica, who was just a bit older than the rest. Angelica was portrayed as the meaner, spoiled older cousin to Tommy. However, she was often seen doing nice things for the babies and was the only one of the bunch who could speak to both the adults and the kids. Tommy was often aided in his adventures by the family dog, Spike. It’s an understatement to say this show was popular. It was MASSIVE. And its legacy lives on today.
Created by the same team (Arlene Klasky and Gabor Csupo) that created Rugrats, this show was a late 1990s / early 2000s hit for Nick. It centered on four friends who engaged in all sorts of “extreme” sports, such as surfing, rollerblading, skateboarding, and snowboarding. Most of their hijinks happened at the Shore Shack, a snack bar where they spent most of their time, but they would also attend competitions in their extreme sport of choice. Rocket Power ran for four seasons.
This cartoon began when I was just too old to have time for it, but my little brother loved it, so it was always on in our household. The show’s success can hardly be described in words, and its influence and pop culture relevance will be felt forever. It was based on the misadventures of SpongeBob and his friends that lived in the city of Bikini Bottom – his pet snail Gary, his best friend Patrick (a not-so-smart starfish), and his neighbor and coworker Squidward, just to name a few. Like The Simpsons, South Park, and many other successful cartoons, SpongeBob created its own universe of well-known side characters and stories. You can’t go into most toy stores or department stores without seeing some kind of SpongeBob merchandise. Two feature films were made from the series, the second of which featured the animated characters in a live-action setting.
Everyone and I mean EVERYONE, knows the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Feature films, animated series, toys, clothing, video games – you name it – the Turtles had it. So, it makes complete sense that Nickelodeon would get in on the Ninja Turtles craze. In 2012, they acquired the rights to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, including the old syndicated animated series that ran from 1987 through 1996, and created a new animated series that continued for five seasons. It featured the famous Turtles, this time as CGI characters, and again cashed in on the massive popularity of their toys. Since the end of that series, a variety of new TV shows, movies, and toy lines have come out, showing that the Heroes in a Half-Shell are as popular as ever.
Which Nicktoon shows would make your list? How would you rank these 90s cartoons? Take a blast through your past and get all nostalgic with us in the comments section below!