Obviously those of us who grew up in the 90s might be a little biased, but we feel confident in saying it was a golden age for children’s television. So many great shows from both sides of the Atlantic (and sometimes beyond) became weekly favourites of kids everywhere. As it was around this time that many people were getting cable or satellite TV for the first time, there was more choice than ever. It might be hard to narrow it all down, but here are 20 of our absolute favourite kids’ TV shows from the 90s.
Who didn’t love watching Brum? The concept of a little car with a life of its own was enchanting to youngsters, who were captivated as soon as the opening credits saw Brum sneaking out of the motor museum to trundle around while the clueless museum owner’s back was turned.
The tiny car got into all sorts of adventures, but always returned to the museum with an item from his travels in the back seat. The owner never managed to put two and two together and Brum went to sleep, ready for another day of adventure. Ideal entertainment for young kids which stimulated the imagination.
19. Noddy’s Toyland Adventures
Noddy has been a beloved children’s character ever since he was introduced by author Enid Blyton in 1949. He’s come to TV in many different incarnations over the decades, but in the 90s kids knew him for the BBC’s stop-motion animated series Noddy’s Toyland Adventures.
Like generations of young viewers before and since, the children of the 90s fell in love with the chirpy little chap in his jingly blue hat, following him on his adventures in his little red and yellow car with his best friend Big Ears. Today, Noddy is presented in CG animation, but we’ll take the more tactile stop-motion version any day.
18. Rosie and Jim
Even today, kids who grew up in the 90s can’t help but start singing the Rosie and Jim theme song any time they spy a canal boat! Much like Brum, the two rag dolls (who lived on a canal boat called The Old Rag Doll) come alive when no-one is looking and end up having lots of fun adventures.
They were helped by the little green duck who sat atop the narrowboat and quacked loudly when the coast was clear! A children’s classic with yet another great theme tune to add to our list. It’s clear that adults of today remember them, as satirical T-shirts are now available which reinterpret our old heroes as Rosé and Gin!
17. Tots TV
Who can forget Tots TV with Tilly, Tom, Tiny and their ‘sac magique’?! Although the puppets might look slightly creepy now, this was one of ITV’s most popular kids programmes back in the 90s.
We still don’t understand how three unemployed puppets managed to live in such a large cottage (with a pet donkey to boot!), but we probably shouldn’t over-think things there! Tots TV gave us lots of fond TV memories to look back on.
16. Art Attack
Art Attack was children’s programming at its best. CITV’s answer to CBBC’s Hart Beat, art-based the series was co-created and presented by Neil Buchanan, and it proved so popular with kids in the UK that it ran from 1990 until 2007!
We always got excited waiting to find out what the Big Art Attack was going to be, although The Head kind of freaked us out even back then. The series aired in over 30 countries, including China and Uruguay, and has recently been revamped by Disney Junior.
15. SMTV: Live
Ant McPartlin and Declan Donnelly might rule British TV today with their presenting gigs on seemingly endless reality contests like I’m A Celebrity and Britain’s Got Talent, but 90s kids will remember them best for SMTV: Live, the Saturday morning show they hosted after leaving teen drama Byker Grove. (Let’s just agree not to mention their brief stint as pop stars.)
Ant and Dec hosted the Saturday morning favourite alongside Cat Deeley, and British kids soon fell in love with the mix of sketches, games and competitions featured on the show. Who could forget their Friends parody Chums, the Star Trek-themed SMTV 2099, or perhaps the greatest TV game show slot ever: Wonky Donkey?!
14. Hey Arnold
Anyone who was lucky enough to have satellite or cable probably had access to Nickelodeon, easily the most exciting thing kids in the 90s had ever heard of: a TV channel that showed nothing but cartoons, around the clock! One of the station’s flagship shows was Hey Arnold.
A coming-of-age classic, Hey Arnold followed the adventures of a young man with a rugby ball-shaped head who lives with his grandparents and hangs out with friends Gerald and Helga. It was fun for kids, but had plenty of sly wit for older viewers too. A Hey Arnold movie followed in 2002, which got a belated sequel in 2017.
Rugrats was another American import that eventually spawned a whole series of films and merchandise. Tommy Pickles was a courageous one year old baby who was highly developed for his age – he hung around with Chucky, twins Phil and Lil, as well as his brother Dil (gotta love that rhyme scheme!)
Angelica was the series antagonist, with the scrapes between her and the babies providing much of the show’s entertainment. Rugrats ended up running from 1991 until 2004, making it the eighth-longest running animated series of all time. It also spawned sequel All Growed Up in the 2000s, and was recently rebooted in a CG-animated series.
12. The Worst Witch
Long before there was Harry Potter, we already had the misadventures of another magical youngster-in-training in The Worst Witch. Starting life as a book series in the 70s, the story first came to the screen in a 1986 TV movie with Fairuza Balk, before finally becoming a TV series in 1998.
The Worst Witch series (which co-starred future Rogue One actress Felicity Jones) ran for three seasons, ultimately spawning spin-off series Weirdsister College which followed the characters to university. More recently, the property was rebooted by CBBC with Game of Thrones actress Bella Ramsey in the lead.
11. Bananas in Pyjamas
The old song Bananas in Pyjamas has been a playground favourite for time immemorial, but it wasn’t until 1992 that some bright sparks in Australia decided it was worth putting those characters centre-stage in their own TV show. The all-singing, all-dancing extravaganza quickly became essential viewing for young ‘uns.
The simple show followed the daily lives of banana-shaped duo B1 and B2, plus their friends Amy, Lulu, Morgan (the three teddy bears) and the aptly-named Rat in a Hat. This original live-action/puppet show ran from 1992 to 2001, but younger viewers today are more likely to be familiar with the CG-animated version which began in 2011.
Following the Antarctic adventures of an innocent young penguin and his friends and family, Pingu was great fun for kids and adults alike. We couldn’t understand a word they were saying, since the penguins only spoke in ‘Pinguish’ or ‘Penguinese,’ a rudimentary language which consisted of the sounds “noot” “neet” “nute” and “nit”.
It might look a bit lo-fi compared to subsequent penguin-based animations like the Happy Feet movies, but Pingu has a simple charm that makes it timeless entertainment, every bit as much fun today as it ever was. The property was recently revived with 2017 Japanese production Pingu in the City.
We couldn’t possibly look back on the 90s era of children’s television without mentioning one of the most iconic double acts in TV history: Barry and Paul Elliot, or, as we knew them, Barry and Paul Chuckle. An old school comedy duo, The Chuckle Brothers presented their classic act to 90s kids on Chucklevision.
In an age when so many kids’ TV presenters tend to be pretty young themselves, it may be surprising that we couldn’t get enough of two old blokes with thick moustaches, but the Chuckle Brothers are still beloved by young and old alike. Hearts broke far and wide when Barry Elliot passed away in 2018.
8. Jungle Run
Who remembers this classic gameshow, which aired on CITV from 10th September 1999 to 29th November 2006? Similar in style to Fort Boyard and The Crystal Maze, Jungle Run had three presenters during its run, referred to as the “Jungle Guide.” These were Dominic Wood from 1999 to 2000, Chris Jarvis from 2001 to 2002 and Michael Underwood from 2003 to 2006.
A team of kids would complete five jungle challenges where they would originally win bananas which would give them time in the final challenge. In the later series, the bananas were replaced with silver monkey statues, giving them ten seconds inside The Temple Of The Jungle King. How much we would have loved to give those jungle challenges a go ourselves!
7. Thomas & Friends
Thomas the talking train is another character who has enjoyed a long life. Starting out in children’s book series The Railway Series, the character originally came to TV in the 80s as Thomas the Tank Engine, but (because nobody thinks ‘tank engine’ means train anymore) the show was renamed Thomas & Friends in the 90s.
Set on the fictitious island of Sodor, Thomas & Friends follows the adventures of the sentient steam engines including James, Edward, Gordon and Henry, all under the watchful eye of the controller, Sir Topham Hatt (no longer officially referred to by his original, somewhat insensitive nickname The Fat Controller).
6. Barney & Friends
Who better to teach pre-school age children about kindness, sharing and sensitivity than a purple anthropomorphic Tyrannosaurus Rex? Many 90s kids may have grown up in awe of dinosaurs thanks to Jurassic Park, but Barney & Friends presented us with an altogether different kind of prehistoric beast.
Sneered at by older kids but beloved by tiny tots, Barney & Friends began in 1992 and kept on going all the way to 2010. The franchise still lives on in re-runs with a marketing empire that’s as fierce as ever, and it spawned a bunch of direct-to-video specials as well as 1998 theatrical film Barney’s Great Adventure.
Such is the size and scope of the Pokémon franchise these days, it can be hard to imagine a time when Pokémon didn’t rule the world. However, back when the Japanese animated series first hit TV screens in the West at the tail end of the 90s, kids had never seen anything quite like it.
The combination of the TV series and trading card game quickly made Pokémon a global obsession, and somehow the shocked news reports of the one particular episode which caused seizures all over Japan only made us more anxious to see it (of course, this episode was never broadcast again). Soon, everyone was anxious to ‘catch ’em all,’ especially the adorable Pikachu.
4. Mighty Morphin Power Rangers
Another long-running media franchise that got off the ground in the 90s was Power Rangers, which started life with flagship show Mighty Morphin Power Rangers in 1993. Kids everywhere were enthralled to see five ‘teenagers with attitudes’ suddenly turn into bright-suited martial arts masters battling colourful alien monsters who threatened the Earth.
Despite the low production values and the fact that most of the fight scenes were obviously recycled from old Japanese TV show Super Sentai, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers blew the minds of 90s kids and kept us tuning in for every new adventure. The Power Rangers franchise has lived on with three motion pictures and a staggering 25 further small screen incarnations.
Few kids shows became the source of so much debate worldwide back in the 90s as BBC production Teletubbies. Specifically designed to appeal to pre-verbal infants, the show left older viewers aghast with its seemingly incoherent spectacle of four colourful, inarticulate entities with TV screens on their stomachs, living in a bizarre semi-sci-fi utopia.
For something so harmless in tone and content, Teletubbies prompted all kinds of controversy, most notoriously when a US religious fundamentalist declared the character of Tinky-Winky was intended to indoctrinate children towards homosexuality. Kids at the time couldn’t have cared less; they were too busy enjoying the show.
2. Pinky and the Brain
Early 90s animated series Animaniacs was plenty of fun, but arguably the greatest impact was made by two of the show’s minor supporting characters: hyper-intelligent mouse The Brain, and his dim-witted assistant Pinky. When they proved popular enough to get their own spin-off show in 1995, kids everywhere rejoiced.
Every episode followed the same essential premise: Pinky and the Brain would attempt to take over the world, despite the fact that they were two white mice in a science lab. Sometimes their schemes came pretty close to succeeding, too. 66 episodes were made in total, and the characters have since returned on the 2020 Animaniacs revival series.
1. The Powerpuff Girls
They might not have arrived until near the decade’s end in 1998, but it’s hard to think about children’s television in the 90s without thinking of The Powerpuff Girls. One of the first original Cartoon Network creations to really take off with audiences worldwide, the show presented three adorable youngsters with formidable super-powers.
The adventures of pint-sized powerhouses Blossom, Bubbles and Buttercup captured the hearts of viewers young and old. The initial series ran until 2005, spawning a theatrical film in 2002. An animated Powerpuff Girls reboot series ran on Cartoon Network from 2016 to 2019, and a live-action series was at one point in development.