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Everything 80s is awesome again, thanks to the Netflix smash hit Stranger Things. The series is loaded with pop culture references from the era of New Coke and mall rats, but it’s seriously lacking in homages to beloved 80s cartoons. During Season 3, all viewers got was Dustin coming out as a Brony long before it was a thing by explaining to Erica that she’s a nerd just like him for loving My Little Pony. The only animation that viewers actually saw came in the form of the old Woody Woodpecker cartoons that Slurpee-obsessed Soviet scientist Alexei, aka “Smirnoff,” found so hilarious.
I know the Stranger Things gang is getting a little too old for cartoons, but I’m sure Eleven would enjoy binge watching a bunch of them after losing most of her childhood to the evil masterminds who only cared about what she could do with her mind. It’s just a shame that she doesn’t have access to a service that would allow her to watch as many cartoons as she wants.
There were many animated series during the 80s that catered to a male audience by giving them lots of action and explosions, but there were also a lot of great female cartoon characters on TV. I’ve picked seven that I think Eleven would love to see in action.
Rainbow Brite from 'Rainbow Brite' (1984)
Unfortunately, rainbows don’t exactly evoke happy memories for Eleven. When she sees the colorful symbol, it gives her flashbacks to the depressing “rainbow room” in the lab where she grew up. Maybe watching the adventures of cheery, cherub-cheeked Rainbow Brite and her crayon box of friends would make seeing rainbows a little less traumatizing for El. I mean, how can she not think it's awesome to see Brite riding a majestic white horse with a rainbow-colored mane across a rainbow in the sky?
El also has something in common with Rainbow Brite: Both girls keep having to team up with their pals to save their bright and colorful worlds from forces of darkness.
Smurfette of 'The Smurfs' (1981)
Smurfette and Eleven also have a few things in common. For one thing, they’re both women of a few words. However, while El doesn’t say much at all on Stranger Things, Smurfette simply replaces adjectives, adverbs, verbs, and nouns with the word “smurf" (It would have been hilarious to see El doing this in earlier episodes of the show after getting a TV vocabulary lesson from the little blue beings).
Like El, Smurfette is also the result of a madman’s experiments. The evil wizard Gargamel created Smurfette to infiltrate the idyllic forest home of his small sworn enemies, while El’s superpowers are partly the result of MK-Ultra experiments conducted on her mother.
El eventually escaped the gloomy lab where she was raised, becoming the only female member of the Stranger Things squad until Max showed up to provide her with a much-needed girlfriend to talk to. Brunette Smurfette also became the only female member of the Smurfs’ mushroom-dwelling society, but only after Papa Smurf turned her into the smurfalicious blonde cutie that we all recognize today. However, another female Smurf named Sassette was eventually created so that Smurfette would have her own gal pal to smurf around with.
Penny of 'Inspector Gadget' (1983)
Penny and Eleven both have guardians who are in the crime-fighting business. However, while Penny is the brains behind her uncle's crazy escapades, El uses her brain to help Hopper fling enemies around whenever his brawn isn’t enough to get the job done. Penny and El are also both tasked with outsmarting similar powerful enemies, the M.A.D. criminal organization led by Dr. Claw in Inspector Gadget and the evil Russians beneath the mall in Stranger Things.
I think Eleven would be pretty impressed with Penny’s skills, as well as her cool computer book and Gadget’s fancy gear. Maybe watching this cartoon would also inspire her to get a smart dog like Penny’s pet pooch, Brain. But if El is like me, one thing will annoy her about this cartoon: Penny never gets to be the hero, and her incompetent uncle always gets to take credit for solving the case. This trope is so irritating that one YouTuber has removed Gadget from episodes of the show, allowing Penny to shine.
Wonder Woman from 'Super Friends' (1980)
Max introduced El to Wonder Woman comics during season 3, so surely she’d love to see the Amazonian warrior in action on the small screen. Telling the truth is important to El, as evidenced by her “friends don’t lie” mantra, so I think she’d be a big fan of the superhero’s lasso of truth. Wonder Woman can also control the golden rope telepathically in Super Friends, and I’m sure El would find this ability appealing.
However, El’s friends should be concerned if she ever becomes a fan of this beloved 80s show. Seeing Wonder Woman surrounded by powerful heroes like Batman, Aquaman, and Superman might make her wish that she had a super squad of her own to rely on for backup instead of a bunch of bickering boys. Maybe some of her fellow lab rats could help her out with this.
She-Ra of 'She-Ra: Princess of Power' (1985)
Here’s another kickass female cartoon character that El would likely be in awe of. Like El, She-Ra was kidnapped at birth, but it was a magic sword, not a cocktail of drugs, that gave He-man’s sister her incredible powers. She-Ra was a fierce, intelligent leader of a group of freedom fighters, and she was the princess that girls wanted to be before Disney introduced them to The Little Mermaid in 1989.
A modern reboot of this 80s series is currently streaming on Netflix, so I wouldn’t be shocked to see a She-Ra reference in a future episode of Stranger Things. Perhaps El could use her old blonde wig, a white dress, and a golden crown to dress up like the character for Halloween. But where will she find a winged unicorn? Maybe there's another dimension called the Downside Up inhabited by creatures that are beautiful and helpful, not hideous and horrible.
Jem from 'Jem' (1985)
"Showtime synergy!" With its storylines that are slightly more adult than your average 80s cartoon, this animated series might appeal to an older El. I can also see her really digging Jem’s neon rocker chic look now that she’s gotten more into fashion and embraced a colorful, wild style.
If she gets more into the synth-infused pop tunes of her time, El might enjoy watching Jem and the Holograms rock out in their flashy one-minute music videos. Maybe the cool cartoon would also inspire El to come up with her own fun alter-ego that she could use to escape the stresses of being the world’s savior. It would be awesome if that alter-ego turned out to be a rock star with pink hair whose only diva demand is a freezer full of Eggo waffles in her trailer.
The girls of 'Beverly Hills Teens' (1987)
El is about to be high school-aged, but it’s possible that she’ll never be allowed to go to school. Perhaps this animated stepping stone to Beverly Hills, 90210 would help her get a small taste of the high school experience, especially encounters with teen girls who aren’t like her tomboy pal Max. Beverly Hills Teens would introduce her to Bianca the scheming brat, Jett the rocker, Larke the model, and Nikki the actress. Of course, the show is all about their lives and loves of rich kids, so it might be a bit difficult for a Hawkins teen whose homes have been a shack in the woods and a lab to relate to their characters.
If Stranger Things follows El and the gang through the end of the 80s, who knows? Maybe we’ll get to eventually see her munching on Lucky Charms while she marvels over Marge Simpson’s tower of blue hair in The Simpsons. The first episode aired in December 1989, and it would be pretty cool for Stranger Things to reciprocate the shout-out that it’s about to get from America's longest-running sitcom. The much younger Netflix series may never reference any of the cartoons on this list, but The Simpsons is giving animation fans a Stranger Things-themed Treehouse of Horror episode. The Halloween special will air October 20th on FOX, so be sure to check it out. If an Eleven approaching her fifties is out there somewhere, you know she'll be watching it.