When I was but a young lad, I had always looked forward to some of my favorite cartoons that ranged from the usual Saturday morning schedule on major networks to series produced for syndication distribution, mostly aired through local stations such as NYC’s WPIX.
The first thing that would often catch my eye would be the opening of a series or as it is now referred to as an intro (short for introduction of course). What got my attention during an intro was most likely the art direction, storyboards and of course the icing on the cake; the theme song. If it’s catchy, it gets my vote. Besides the aforementioned reasons, I must point out that I also favor small segments that provide a modicum of explanation detailing the series protagonist(s)’ background or motives.
Although less than 30 seconds on average, the intro serves its purpose to both pitch and draw unsuspecting viewers into the show. And for the most part, it worked, because I got hooked instantly!
Without further delay, here are but a small sampling of memorable animated openings that to me stood out the most. Here goes:
Great use of dramatic camera angles, impressive aesthetics accompanied by a cool theme song that gets me going from the beginning: “Thunder, Thunder, Thundercats; Hoooooo!” TC was a phenomenal hit and despite its good use of outsourced animation, the series complied with FCC’s standards and practices to tone down the violence to the extent of jumping and, maybe if you’re lucky, a little shove here and there.
The recent Cartoon Network based series had taken a darker tone, but didn’t make it past a second season. But back to the intro, Lion-el flashes the iconic ‘cats signal and when the team is assembled, it’s nonstop action. Panthro driving the tankesque vehicle then jumps out to do a flying dive kick and soon after Cheetaro zips past Mumra’s lackeys and of course there’s the twins; wily Kat and wily Kit (Kit Kat??) kicking ass Gatchaman style. Go to 0:55 on the YouTube link. Now that’s how you do an intro “Justice League Unlimited”!
2. Mighty Orbots:
Ha ha, I know this probably came out of left field to many of you (wait till you see what my pick is for Number 3) but this pick might be based on nostalgic reasons. Well actually, because it’s a damn good intro.
Short but right to the point as it introduces a group of comical looking robots that form into one powerful weapon of justice; “Go, Mighty Orbots!” Despite the series achieving a minimal amount of success, Orbots was cancelled due to a lawsuit filed by Tonka who claimed that the series ripped off their now defunct Go Bots toyline. Needless to say that the Go Bots were discontinued due to a certain transforming competitor who ended up buying the toy company. Karma is a bitch, Tonka. Orbots deserves props not only for its anime style influenced aesthetics (courtesy of TMS) but during the final episode, Umbra is destroyed once and for all. Sadly, the series has not made the jump to DVD format. That being said, it retains a cult following to this very day. Orbots, forever! *sniff*sniff*
3. Mega Man:
Now this is a situation that asks: What happens when you have an intro that is so much better than the entire series? Mega Man, based on Capcom’s once flagship videogame character, finally gets his own animated series and does just that.
I chose this intro due to the theme’s catchy verse; “The fighting Robot, Mega Man!” and of course the awesome animated sequence in which there is an endoskeleton view of Megs as he is being assembled (Pinocchio meets The Terminator would often come to mind). There’s also a jaw dropping scene in which one of Dr. Wily’s minions wages chaos on an unsuspecting populace and said minion robot tosses a bomb that nukes an entire city (my friends and I were like “Holy shit they actually aired this for Saturday Morning Television?”). And Mega Man has that look that’s like “OK, it’s on Motherfucker!!” followed by taking down the bots and diving toward Protoman while Roll is anticipating the outcome of the clash.
Now afterwards, the show begins and what I have seen is far different than what was presented in the intro. Watered down art. Piss poor voiceovers and lame stories with no plot, direction or action. What the fuck happened? Was most of the studio’s budget used for the Japanese animated intro and as a result we’re left with this?!? Once again, Capcom made another poor decision when promoting their intellectual properties (I’m looking at YOU Street Fighter and Darkstalkers!!).
4. Batman TAS (The Animated Series)
Immersive Danny Elfman score which is reminiscent of the 1989 live action Film, Batman. Danny was approached by Bruce Timm to provide the score for the opening, but he turned down the offer until composer Shirley Walker was given the assignment of creating the theme. Elfman all of the sudden had a “change of heart” and created the score for the intro we all know and love.
In the intro’s scenario, we are witness to two shady gentlemen who make off after blowing up some bank. The criminals flee from the pursuit of the Gotham Police only to run into someone…something worse. A shadowy figure appears before them and when confronted, there is a squint within his eyes. Despite the hoodlums best efforts to take down the mysterious “apparition” with firearms, they are quickly dispatched. As the police catch up with the criminals, who are now bound, they look up only to see the silhouette revealed via lightning. No title card needed at all.
5. G.I. Joe A Real American Hero
From the miniseries to the 1986 animated feature film, The Joes’ intros have always been nothing short of spectacular and I’m not really saying this out of some bias, instead it’s mainly because of the overall presentation courtesy of Marvel Productions who were perhaps the first to outsource their animation chores to Japan’s Toei Animation company exclusively for syndication.
The breathtaking visuals provide plenty of action, while the infamous theme song courtesy of Ford Kindler and Spencer Michelin is playing in the background. There’s also the narration break within the intro voiced by Jackson Beck; “G.I. Joe is the code name for a Special Missions Force, their purpose: to defend human freedom from Cobra, a ruthless terrorist organization who’s determined to rule the World!” (damn, I still get Geekpimples whenever I hear that theme. It’s that fucking cool!). What’s also brilliant about G.I. Joe’s intro is how there are small segments that focus on various characters during the 1 minute opening from Alpine leading the assault atop the Terror Drome to Flint throwing the Cobra Commander through a red tinted windshield. The Joes get the Jojob done when all else fails. And of course there’s the traditional title card.
The series had a decent two season run followed by the aforementioned 1986 feature film. However, when a third season was proposed with even better ideas, such as a new organization called The COIL that served as a vital threat to both Joe and Cobra and an introduction of a futuristic fighting force called Battleforce 2000, Hasbro no longer wanted to finance the series. Thus the 2nd season was the final when it came to the Hasbro/Sunbow/Marvel collaboration for G.I. Joe. Ah, what could have been.
Honorable mention goes to…
There you have it. Agree with my list? What are your favorite intros? Feel free to