Monday, August 10, 2009

Let The Show Begin: The Best Animated TV Show Intros

The opening titles are possibly the most important piece of animation created for an animated television show. Not only does it need to be able to run in front of every episode of the show without the audience getting sick of it, an intro has to sell the show to potential viewers in roughly one minute. A successful intro grabs the attention of the viewers, makes them pause in their channel surfing. It showcases the characters and concepts at their most exciting and doles out just enough information to get its intended audience interested and leave them hungry for more. Like the cover of a book, the intro is a quick and direct advertisement for the show.

Some animated TV series put their openings together from existing clips from the show, combined with a catchy or compelling theme song. These can make for really fun and exciting intros, but the ones I am going to be talking about today feature original animation created specifically for the openings of their respective shows. With this method, the show’s creators don’t have to rely on available clip and can construct all new animation that highlights all of the strengths of the series. The following are some – though by no means all – of the very best opening titles in television animation, in no particular order.

The Ink and Pixel Club will not be held responsible for any theme songs that get stuck in your head as a result of viewing these clips.


This one is so obvious that I almost feel silly including it. Thundercats is an action cartoon and is widely recognized as having one of the best openings ever. With dramatic camera angles, energy bursts and explosions all over the place, and pretty much everyone and everything in near constant motion, this intro barely gives you a second to catch your breath as it introduces you to the heroes and villains of the show. The theme song has become a little dated and there are a few sounds effects that strike me as cheesy. But just watch as the camera follows the crack of Tigra’s whip or the Thunder Tank comes crashing through a wall of stone and tell me you aren’t pumped for the next adventure of Lion-O and his friends.

Bionic Six

What do you get when you cross Fantastic Four with The Six Million Dollar Man? Evidently, you get Bionic Six, the story of a family given bionic superpowers which they use to battle evil. I think I’ve only seen one episode of the show which I barely remember, and I can’t decide if I want to see any more because I would be really disappointed if the actual show isn’t as good as the intro. Theme songs are always a matter of personal taste, but for me, this one has a lot of charm. The animation is full of dynamic action and promises the viewer plenty of exciting adventures with the six very appealing (and very consistently drawn) members of this “super future family.”


Speaking of shows that didn’t live up to the promise of their intros, C.O.P.S. - Central Organization of Police Specialists – had a really fun intro that used fast action and stylish animation to get viewers ready for some good old fashioned cops and robbers stories in a futuristic setting. Unfortunately, the animation in the show never came near the quality seen in the intro and the writing just didn’t capture the potential and fun of the core concept. But the opening remains one of the best examples of 80s cartoon intros.

Batman: The Animated Series

Another no-brainer, this one practically rewrote the rules for what an animated intro could be. Rather than presenting numerous quick vignettes of Batman doing what he does best, the series kicks off every episode with a short, self-contained story of our hero saving the day, er, night. The heavy black shadows, blood red sky, and moody music borrowed from the live-action “Batman” films sets viewers up for both the look and tone of the show to come. Unlike most openings, the beginning of Batman never actually displays the name of the show. As the creators of the series have pointed out, it would have been redundant. No matter what language you may speak, the visuals of the intro say “Batman.” After such a strong start, it’s a pity that none of the subsequent animated shows set in the DC universe featured intros that really measured up to the granddaddy of them all.

Men In Black: The Series

Based on the movie of the same name, Men In Black: The Series followed Agents J and K as they worked to keep humanity unaware of the aliens in their midst. The intro reflects the show’s focus on the world of the most secret of agents with its whispery instrumental theme and shots of J and K donning their shades and looking ready to take on any intergalactic menace that comes their way. Though many intros rely on fast action and quick cuts to cram the maximum amount of information and impact into their short running time, the Men In Black intro takes it time with shots focusing on various aspects of each scene, reflecting the laid back, smooth pace of the music. The combined effect strikes the exact right note for the series, including just a touch of humor.

Cowboy Bebop

Another vision of cool, with the pace kicked up a bit, the opening to Cowboy Bebop takes a page from Saul Bass and other film title designers of the 50s and 60s. The result is a fast paced mix of text elements, geometric graphics, stark color fields, and monochromatic figures moving in and out of silhouette. The show’s theme music – “Tank!” - is certainly up there among the best and most immediately recognizable pieces of opening music for any TV show, with its jazzy bass leading into driving horns. Rather than really introducing viewers to the spacefaring cast of the show and their world of planet hopping bounty hunting, this intro whets your appetite for stories and animation that just about define “cool.”

That’s my list, though it is by no means complete and it grows constantly as I see more and more animated TV shows. So what do you think? Do you agree with my picks? Are there favorites of yours that I left out? I’m waiting eagerly to hear your choices for the all time best animated TV intros, so let me know what’s on your list.

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