Film and TV

5 Memorable Foods Advertised During Saturday Morning Cartoons

If only they'd been edible, Madballs would have been the perfect product.

It's difficult for me to believe that I used to set my alarm to get up on Saturday morning, but I did. If there was a show I wanted to see that was on before sunrise, sometimes I would even set it for earlier than I did on a school day. I really can't imagine such a thing now. As I got older, I came to treasure sleeping in late more and more, to the point that if Jenny Lewis and Emily Haines were going to drop by my house at eight a.m. one Saturday for a collaboration in which their songwriting method consisted of writing lyrics on each others' naked bodies, I honestly might think to myself, "God, eight a.m. is so early. Maybe I'll just wait for another day when Jenny and Emily are naked in my house at a more reasonable hour."

Anyway, I watched cartoons every Saturday morning from the time when I was so little I had to haul a chair from the dinner table over to the pantry so I could reach my breakfast cereal, until I entered my tween years when suddenly sleeping in became so much more important (probably because I was no longer going to bed immediately after sundown). In that time, I saw many, many advertisements for many, many kid-oriented products. Even when the cartoons were lame - and I am of the time period when both Macaulay Culkin and MC Hammer were briefly given their own dreadful Saturday morning cartoons -- the advertisements were hypnotizing. Join me as I take a look at some of the products that were most successful in stamping themselves onto my impressionable young brain.

5. Kid Cuisine Ah, Kid Cuisine. I couldn't find any of the commercials for their line of breakfasts, but that's what I remember most. I had a short-lived infatuation with Kid Cuisine in the late '80s / early '90s when I grew bored with cereal, an infatuation that didn't last very long for one reason: Kid Cuisine kind of sucked. My parents were grudgingly willing to buy me a couple a week for breakfast, but they needn't have bothered, as I soon discovered that, in addition to being expensive and sort of bland, there just wasn't much food, and I would wind up hungry in class hours before lunch. Maybe it was my spry youthful metabolism - in addition to youthful energy I was also a soccer player, which meant I burned calories like a hummingbird - but really, I think it was simply a lackluster product. Imagine that, a beige heap of microwaveable preservatives being mass-produced without any enthusiasm or imagination. And to think, I trusted that skateboarding polar bear. (That was their mascot back then, right? Or was that every mascot back then?)

4. Pop Tarts "So hot, they're cool; so cool, they're hot!" was my generation's "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." Pop Tarts, however, were one commercial product that delivered. Generic "Toaster Pastries" tried their damnedest to replicate their flavors, but they never could quite get it, especially when the generic tarts were only available in strawberry and grape, while the genuine Kellogg's article had flavors like Marshmallow Caramel Choc-O-Splosion and Frosted Spazzleberry Milkshake with Sprinkles. Pop Tarts were the go-to toaster breakfast food until the Communists developed Toaster Strudel, curse their evil Red genius.

3. Trix, Lucky Charms, and Cocoa Puffs Cereal commercials were messed up in the '80s, man. You had Lucky the Leprechaun, who was relentlessly pursued by hyperactive brats intent on stealing his cereal, and they had no problem committing kidnapping or aggravated assault in order to do so. You get the feeling they'd have killed the poor little guy if he'd held out on them much longer, or at least started hacking off fingers. Then you had Sonny, the Cocoa Puffs cuckoo, who was so hopelessly addicted to his drug of choice - essentially Calvin's chocolate frosted sugar bombs - that he did nothing else besides chase after the object of his desire, only to erupt into orgasmic lunacy upon the first bite. The Trainspotting characters weren't this enthusiastic about heroin. But the worst had to be the Trix rabbit, who could only plead with the children to share their cereal with him, being repeatedly turned away on the grounds that "silly rabbit, Trix are for kids!" Basically every commercial went like this: Rabbit: Hey, those look really good. Can I try some? Kids: Fuck you, you're different. Rabbit: Wait, what? I thought we were friends! Kids: Ha ha! Hell no! What part of "fuck you, you're different" did you not understand?

So between these three cereals alone we had racism, addiction, and theft, often accompanied by violence. Christ, was this cereal or crack? Don't think we kids never caught on, either; eventually, our outcry became loud enough that General Mills was forced to let Rabbit have some of his own cereal in a commercial which, sadly, does not appear to be on YouTube.

2. Bonkers I don't know for sure why I had such a fondness for these commercials and hence the candies themselves - which were pretty much just binary Starburst - but I did, and still do. Maybe I just love the idea that the commercials' creators would even attempt to make the idea of getting crushed by fruit the size of a Toyota into such an enjoyable experience that it inspires peals of joyous laughter. Of course now that I'm older I realize that the huge chunks of fruit are a metaphor for the huge, face-smashing flavor of the candy, but as kids, we had no idea. Most of us couldn't consume a pack of Bonkers without one nervous eye on the sky. Look, You Can't Do That On Television taught us that certain phrases could summon water and slime; giant fruit wasn't that much more of a stretch.

1. Kool-Aid The idea of the Kool-Aid Man, a character who smashes through a wall in your home, causing thousands of dollars of property damage, and then begs you to partake of his head juice, is so balls-to-the-wall insane that it's hard to believe that the commercials could get any crazier, but this was the '80s, so you bet your ass they figured out a way. It's like the writers for these commercials stayed up too late trying to come up with a concept, couldn't think of anything, mixed an eight-ball in with some Kool-Aid, and then completely lost their goddamn minds. The scripts for these commercials were no doubt constantly being pulled out from under piles of overdosed copywriters. They probably came pretty close to filming this, too. Don't you DARE skip to the end of that.

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
John Seaborn Gray