While all things old are made new again when they reach vintage status there is has not been a astonishing amount of remakes of cartoons and franchises from the 1960s and 1970s or years prior other than a few notable exceptions such as Scooby-Doo which is constantly refreshed along with a few other timeless cartoon franchises. You do not often see remakes of action cartoons from the sixties or seventies for instance. The eighties on the hand just keeps coming back. Transformers like Scooby-Doo get more or less constant refreshes but even beyond that several other eighties series seem to keep coming back into style with vintage centered merchandise, DVD releases and modern re-imaginings.
In the 1990s there were a few revamps and rehashes of 1980s material with a not very memorable CGI animated follow-up to Voltron called Voltron the 3rd Dimension, The Real Ghost Busters got Extreme in a short-lived series that ran in syndication and Transformers returned as Beast Wars one of the franchises best series according to many fans among a few other eighties revamps. Toonami on Cartoon Network also brought back ThunderCats, Voltron and Robotech for a new generation. This however was only the tip of the ice burg.
In the 2000s numerous eighties franchises returned starting with He-Man in 2002 along with a new Transformers series which more or less ushered in the eighties revival period that would follow with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in 2003 and GI-Joe animated features throughout the 2000s and later an animated series animated by Gonzo best known for their work on Afro Samurai. Many of these remakes attempted to presented a darker and edgier side of the various franchises. Probably most successful in this was He-Man which took a downright laughable 80s cartoon and made it a great deal more serious making Skeletor an actual threat. Likewise Ninja Turtles from the 2000s was a considerably darker cartoon than the eighties counter-part but the truth was it was just taking more from the comics than the eighties cartoon ever did. These differences were made all the more apparent in the cross-over feature Turtles Forever which was a team-up of the 1980s Turtles and the modern Turtles along with the original comic counter-parts. A nostalgic fangasm in every way.
Though Transformers on television remained generally light-hearted it later hit the big screen ushering in the age of PG-13 eighties franchise movies to be followed suit by GI-Joe and potentially others in the future. There have been rumors of movies being in the works for He-Man, Voltron, ThunderCats and even Robotech. Speaking of Robotech there was a follow-up movie for Macross in these years as well.
There were three other key players in keeping the eighties alive in the 2000s. Comedic references to the material in shows such as Robot Chicken and Family Guy, “old skool” merchandise in specialty stores such as Spencers and Hot Topic and a massive boom in DVD releases. Media Blasters brought back Voltron both Lion Force and Vehicle Force using remastered Go-Lion and Dairugger footage that they recut to match the original dub audio. I have never heard of such effort being put toward re-butchering a Japanese cartoon. Thankfully they also finally released both series uncut for the first time in the US. Likewise Robotech was re-released and redubbed uncut under its’ original name Macross. He-Man, She-Ra, Gem, GI-Joe, Transformers Generation 1, Ninja Turtles, ThunderCats and numerous other 80s cartoons from the US saw extensive DVD releases. In the case of Transformers and GI-Joe more releases under other labels were to come. Eighties revival plans have not ended yet however. In fact there is yet another eighties revival phase upon us for this decade.
Michael Bay’s Transformers movie really kicked up the eighties nostalgia and got toy makers thinking they could bring back other successful series again or for the first time. Transformers is again leading the charge as it always is with another new animated series and this one ties directly to the movies. There is also the new War for Cybertron game heading to the current generation of video game consoles which will finally allow fans new and old to experience the war that brought the Autobots and Decepticons to earth. Peter Cullen is once again reprising the role of Optimus Prime in both the game and the new cartoon launching on the new network The Hub in October of this year. The Hub with Hasbro in their corner is one of the major players in the next 80s revival with this new Transformers cartoon along with a new series for GI-Joe, My Little Pony and there may even be new series for Gem and other 80s series coming to The Hub in the future. Nickelodeon is doing their part to bring back the 80s as well with a new Voltron series bowing in 2011 on Nicktoons Network and with their recent purchase of the franchise, Nickelodeon is currently working on a new Ninja Turtles movie and animated series for 2012. Cartoon Network has an 80s franchise revival on the horizon as well with Warner Bros. Animation’s recent announcement of a new ThunderCats animated series coming to the network in 2011.
So here we have another substantial eighties revival on our hands. What is it about the eighties that has cartoon producers and toy makers returning to it to find their cash cows for this generation? Fact of the matter is many of these franchises getting revived came from cartoons that do not really hold up all that well outside of nostalgia. Perhaps creators of the eighties just had a good sense of what kids would enjoy watching. Many of the series were rooted in fantasy or science fiction and told epic adventures of good battling evil. Those kinds of stories work well for retellings because with better technology there is potential for a better cartoon due to less limitations from the media. Comics over the years have often been used to expand on the stories these cartoons told. Though probably the real secret to the success was massive marketing in the eighties because as we all know each and every cartoon in the eighties was a toy commercial. It is hard to completely recreate that kind of marketing success but many have tried already and from the looks of it they wont be the last.