Cartoons only have a few moments to hook kids and convince them to stick around for the rest of the runtime—and more importantly, to come back the next time another episode airs.
One of the most important elements in doing this is the cartoon theme song. Not only is a cartoon theme song the first thing a viewer sees, and not only is it a glimpse into what the show is like, but it’s an opportunity to get lodged in the viewer’s brain as an earworm.
With cartoon theme songs being so important to the success of an animated series, a lot of work goes into making them as exciting and memorable as possible. And sometimes the result is so good that it outshines the actual cartoon itself.
When that happens, the show ends up being forgotten while the theme song lives on. Here are the best cartoon theme songs that were significantly better than their respective cartoons.
4. Denver, The Last Dinosaur
Denver, The Last Dinosaur was created to cash in on the popularity of dinosaurs following the release of The Land Before Time. It takes place in a world where putting on a trench coat and hat is enough to stop most adults from realizing that Denver is a ten-foot-tall dinosaur.
The opening theme song and visuals make a lot of promises in Denver, The Last Dinosaur. It features a rock-and-roll dinosaur, some skateboarding, and a whole lot of volcanos (only some of which actually appear in the show itself).
In fact, most of the plots in Denver, The Last Dinosaur centered on conservation efforts and ecology, making it significantly ahead of its time in 1988—but still not exactly what the theme song promised.
But the opening is catchy and fun, with a chorus that still rattles around in my head after nearly three decades—something that the rest of the show hasn’t managed to do.
3. Jem and the Holograms
Jem and the Holograms is a classic 80s cartoon about a young woman who uses her late father’s scientific invention to create holographic costumes, thus becoming an international pop star while also running an orphanage out of her mansion.
It’s a silly premise, but one that somehow got stretched out into 65 episodes over three seasons, along with an ill-advised live-action animated movie in 2015.
Most of its success is rooted in the impressive art direction and surprisingly catchy musical numbers, but what’s remarkable about Jem and the Holograms is the cartoon’s opening theme song.
The animation—provided by legendary Japanese studio Toei Animation—perfectly captures the 80s aesthetic. With nonsensical transitions, pastel colors, and heavy synthesizer sounds, few things sum up the look and sound of the era better than this opening sequence.
I have fond memories of Freakazoid from when it first aired in the mid-90s. Born of similar DNA to Animaniacs, the show was filled with random, off-the-wall humor without devolving completely into chaos.
Unlike its predecessor, however, Freakazoid didn’t have as much cultural impact beyond having Steven Spielberg’s name attached to it—as well as its addictively catchy theme song.
The Freakazoid theme is entertaining because it manages to explain the central premise of the show while incorporating all kinds of nonsense words and breaking the fourth wall multiple times.
It embodies the chaos and weirdness of the show surprisingly well, feeling like a classic cartoon theme song all the while lampooning classic cartoon theme songs.
While Freakazoid itself is mostly forgettable for its lukewarm take on the superhero genre, this cartoon theme song will always be a classic.
1. Extreme Dinosaurs
Cartoon spin-offs seldom do as well as the original, and Extreme Dinosaurs is certainly proof of that. This late-90s spin-off of Street Sharks only lasted a single season despite having a synopsis that reads like a 10-year-old’s dream.
Extreme Dinosaurs is remarkable for how it took an amazing premise and failed to make it work. The show centered on anthropomorphic dinosaurs from outer space, who all had special powers. If that doesn’t sound like a recipe for cartoon success, then nothing is.
And Extreme Dinosaurs even had one of the best cartoon theme songs. Voice actor Garry Chalk—best known as the voice of Optimus Primal in Beast Wars: Transformers—put more effort into that song than the show’s writers put into the show, belting out lyrics like “veloci-tossing to the max” and “a colossal fossil feud.”
Extreme Dinosaurs wasn’t the hit that the creators might have intended, but it did leave a lasting impression in the form of a highly memorable theme song. That has to count for something, right?