Many modern TV shows have lousy introductions. I understand that as the demand to add more commercials to every hour of TV has increased, some parts of the actual show itself need to be decreased. But the introduction is important to pull potential audiences into the show. Older shows had elaborate intros and slick theme songs. More modern ones have a 30-second bit of music and some relevant shots. Kind of lame. If the premise is a bit odd, I think an intro should try to inform the audience of that premise. And if the premise is pretty typical (like yet another sitcom), then the intro should at least be memorable.
Cartoons in general have not forgotten the importance of a good intro. This may be because a lot of cartoon producers think children are stupid and/or easily drawn to bright flashy lights. Even if the reason may be condescending, some of those intros still stick with me.
Honorable mention – Sailor Moon. I’m going to stick with traditional Western animated shows for the rest of this list because anime has its own introduction conventions. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least mention this because “Moonlight Densetsu” as performed for “Sailor Moon S” (third intro) is my favorite introduction(s) (this song had a lot of iterations). While I had a lot of issues with “Sailor Moon Crystal,” I did like “Moon Pride” a lot as well. I am a sucker for electric guitar.
10) Thundercats – This show is in the unique position of not only having a kick-ass introduction, but having an introduction that is ten times better than the show ever was. Like many shows of the ’80s, the production values of the opening animation were better than that of the show. With a rapid ’80s backbeat, we are introduced to each character via a few seconds of seeing them in action and see some of the villains. Gets the blood pumping for the show, which sadly could not live up to the intro.
9) Scooby Doo, Where are You? – Anyone who didn’t see this entry coming is obviously new to my blog, so welcome! While this show has had several iterations as well, I prefer the original song from the original show (Season 1 and 2 both work for me; incidentally, the video of all intros is a trip through musical history as well). I didn’t welcome having Shaggy sing parts of the intro in later versions, and “Scooby Doo Movies” had little going for the intro anyway. But I like the peppy ’60s pop beat and the fast-paced montage of series scenes which at least gave some idea of what was going on (although not the most thorough explanation of the premise).
8) The Real Ghostbusters – This intro benefits from the cinematic theme song sung by Ray Parker. It’s ’80s pop but damn catchy. The first intro of the series (my favorite) briefly shows a day in the life of the Ghostbusters: Janine gets the phone call, rings the bell, Slimer is obnoxious, and the guys get to show off the relevant parts of the show (Ecto 1, the packs, the traps, and a whole bunch of ghosts).
7) Beetlejuice – I don’t know who thought this movie was something to adapt to a kids show, but it was the ’80s and this seemed to be a popular thing to do. This is another that benefits from using the movie’s theme (by Danny Elfman) as the music. I like both intros, because they are both absolutely insane. The idea of Lydia being taken on this wild rollercoaster ride/crazy circus tour through the afterlife is conveyed perfectly and the characters are quickly introduced as part of this crazy ride. It sure builds up energy and makes the viewer excited to see the show.
6) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – The original ’80s intro. Like Thundercats, the animation of the intro was much smoother and better than the show itself. With fast ’80s pop and a frentic pace, the lyrics introduced the turtles and Splinter by name and with a little description before closing on that synthetic and oddly catchy “Heroes in a Half-Shell” tagline. Unlike the Thundercats, the actual show was as good as its introduction except for the animation quality. For those who are curious about the answer to life’s most important question, I’m Raphael. This should surprise nobody.
5) X-men – Fox wasn’t about to miss out on opportunities to sell kids stuff they didn’t need in the afternoons, so they tried a bit of a superhero line-up (and once upon a time, Fox handled its Marvel properties pretty well). This was my first introduction to comic books, no pun intended. The way the intro ramped up and increased pace combined with the name of each character and a quick demonstration of their power all leading up to a confrontation with all the bad guys was just really well done. I had no clue what this show was about, but I knew I definitely wanted to find out.
4) Ducktales – When Disney decided to get back into the afternoon animation game, Disney did not pull its punches. This theme is insanely catchy (whoo-ooo!). The intro features mostly scenes from the five pilot episodes (which are a much better Indiana Jones-esque romp than “Crystal Skull“) but also shows other scenes from the show including Scrooge leaping into the Money Bin and some of the villains that would plague them. Whoo-ooo indeed.
3) Tiny Toon Adventures – Disney’s competition for the afternoon animation game came from Warner Brothers, who attempted to revive their classic cartoon characters with younger characters that were similar but not quite the same. Babs and Buster Bunny (no relation) sing the introduction song which explains not only the premise (they are in school learning from the original characters) but also introduces pretty much every character that shows up. In a bit of a meta-twist, it’s clear the characters know they’re singing the theme song to their own show.
2) Animaniacs – Perhaps the best WB cartoon to come out in the modern age. The amount of talent assembled was fantastic. “Tiny Toons” was good, to be sure, but by the time this show came around, the good from “Tiny Toons” was made better and the bad (not that there was much) had been worked out. Like “Tiny Toons,” the introduction of Animaniacs explains the premise (via a narrator; which I cannot find a clip of), introduces the main characters, and then goes into the actual song, which introduces many of the other characters. And again, because the creative teams likes meta-humor, at one point the Warners look directly into the camera and sing, “and now you know the plot.”
1) Batman: the Animated Series – This one is kind of a ringer because the theme music is taken directly from Danny Elfman’s cinematic composition. But the animation helps make this theme so memorable. The intro is essentially a night in Gotham City; it’s dark, it’s gritty, it introduces the main character, captures the essence of the show and Batman perfectly, and not a word is spoken. Amazing. This is absolutely my favorite intro.
Of course, there may be other amazing introductions in the future. I hope so. Some of the cartoons are getting a bit lackluster in the introduction department as well. But I hold out hope there will be more investment in the part of the show specifically designed to draw viewers in.