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Toon Up: When Real People Became Cartoons

Back in the glory days of Saturday morning cartoons, there was a wide berth as to what can be made into a cartoon. Movies, toys, TV shows were all game for a possible half-hour toon up when it came to filling the Saturday morning slate.

In the ‘60s thru the ‘90s a popular trend was to take a popular celebrity and give them an animated makeover.

In fact, getting your own terrible cartoon in which a celebrity was grouped with curious kids and possibly a talking animal use to be a tell-tale sign that you made it in Tinseltown.

Now that Saturday morning cartoons are a thing of the past, so is the trend up churning out mediocre kiddie shows to ride the coattails of whatever celeb is hot in that moment.

But never fear! Thanks to YouTube, their recycled animation goodness lives on.

Here a quick look at a few of the standouts…

(Please note: Going to exclude entries based on movies and TV, but rather individuals who got their own cartoon show. So no Ghostbusters, Laverne & Shirley in the Army or animated Rambos).


The Beatles (1965-67)

The show centered on the shenanigans of the Brit pop group as they visit new countries and attempt to outrun fans.

While adorable, the real Beatles hated the show so much they refused to take part in The Yellow Submarine in fear it would resemble their earlier toon outing.


Will the Real Jerry Lewis Please Sit Down (1970)

A Saturday morning miss that shined a spotlight on all of Lewis’ characters. While the opening credits are memorable, the rest of the show will go down in history as a second-rate cartoon with slightly racist undertones.

Hey, at least there wasn’t the animated adventures of The Day The Clown Cried.
Fun fact: The main character of Jerry was actually voiced by David “Squiggy” Lander of Laverne & Shirley fame.


Harlem Globetrotters (1970-71)

Brought to you by Filmmation, the half hour laffer was not only the first toon to feature a black cast, but also featured the vocal talents of the legendary Scatman Crothers.

Each week, our heroes who settle conflict, neighborhood issues and general problems in their neighborhood using possibly shady basketball technics that were in no way regulated by any basketball association.

The best of the show was easily the super funky theme song that is my current earworm.


The Jackson 5ive (1971-72)

A super groovy set of musical brothers offer an “alternative facts” history lesson on the backstory of the famous Motown singing group. In the pilot episode, the gang save Diana Ross’ pet snake and opts to mentor the boys as they try to break into the music industry.

Fun factor: The voice of their producer (an unnamed cartoon version of Barry Gordy) was Paul Frees, best known for his work as the Ghost Host in Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion and the voice of Boris Badenov.


The Osmond Brothers (1972)

And because we can’t have nice things without immediately destroying it, the Jackson 5ive cartoon quickly gave way to a slightly terrifying version of the Mormon singing sensations. Featuring five identical figures with the same hairstyle and toothy grin.


Mister T (1983 – 86)

Based on the greatest former bouncer that ever lived, Mister T followed the heroic antics of Laurence Tureaud’s alter ego as he steered a gymnastic team through life’s problems. Each adventure ended on a cute little life lesson like the dangers of strangers and how why you should tattle on your uncle if he is also a cat burglar.

Fun fact: Taught me the phrase “Oh my stars and garters.”


Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n’ Wrestling (1985-86)

Starring Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant, Junkyard Dog and all your favorite wrestling superstars from WWF in the ‘80s, this show pitted the “good” wrestlers against the “bad” wrestlers in everyday antics outside of the ring.

It also featured music videos because every six-year-old needs to hear Captain Lou Albano attempt to hit a high note.


Camp Candy (1989-91)

John Candy was so beloved in the late ‘80s that NBC gave him his own cartoon. The toon followed the fun antics of the larger-than-life camp counselor as he teaches kids about nature while battling land developers and other counselors.


Kid n’ Play (1990-91)

If you loved the movie House Party, you’ll tolerate this cartoon. Follow the adventures of the hip-hop duo as nobody is trying to get laid and everyone raps about how to live a better life through manners and good decisions.


Hammerman (1991)

Running for only a single season, the animated adventures of MC Hammer did little to capture the minds and hearts of the ‘90s kids. The show centered around youth center counciler Stanley Burrell and his pair of magical dancing shoes that turned him into a superhero.

Also, the shoes can talk.

Cocaine is a hell of a drug.


ProStars (1991)

Iconic athletes Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky and Bo Jackson starred in this mediocre oddball toon about sports stars who can turn into superheroes to keep mad scientists from stealing the Stanley Cup.

Reread that last sentence and take it all in. It happened.


Jackie Chan Adventures (2000 – 2005)

One of the few real person toon shows to survive outside of the ‘80s, this adorable animated action show featured Chan as he used martial arts to battle bullies and thieves. An adorable niece sidekick and grumpy family elder rounded out the show, which managed to stay on the air for five year.


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