One of the perks of being an Italian kid in the 90s is definitely the outrageous amount of cartoons we were exposed to. Anything coming from the US has always been very popular, of course, but we also prided ourselves with the broadcast of pretty much any Japanese animation we could put our hands on – and sometimes it ended in a complete disaster, but that’s a story for another time. The 90s were a magical moment in time where we were simultaneously receiving all the new cool stuff while still replaying all the animes from the 80s. That wasn’t all. Italy often partnered with the nearby France (and occasionally other countries) to create a different genre of cartoons, whose more gentle lines quickly became easy to recognise, even for someone who has never been able to draw as much as a stick figure – like myself. My hometown, in particular, is very close to the French border; it was not unusual to take a trip to the other side or to study French in school, therefore I grew especially frond of some Italian-French productions and I used to read the respective comics. Still, French or not, there were so many beautiful stories out there, which I am sure many will remember, too. This is why I would like to share 5 of my favourite European cartoons you might not remember.
5. Billy the cat, dans la peau d’un chat a.k.a. Billy The Cat (France/Belgium)
Every time I come across the sentence ‘the comic is darker’, I take a moment to remember that 6-year-old (spoiler alert, me) who was equally fascinated and terrified by this poor kitten’s adventures. That’s not accurate, though: the title character, Billy, is actually a mean child with a passion for tormenting small animals, who is turned into a cat by a magician as punishment. Life as a street cat kinda sucks, but then again, this is supposed to be the happier version of the original story.
4. Les Énigmes de Providence a.k.a. The Mysteries of Providence (France)
Something in-between a very spooky episode of Midsomer Murders and a monster-of-the-week case from an older season of Supernatural, this has been one of my favourite cartoons for ages. I can’t give away almost anything, because the series is very short – only 26 episodes – but then again, that’s what allows it to have a tight plot and no fillers.
3. Les Fils de Rome (France)
As confusing as it might sound, ‘The Children of Rome’ is a French cartoon settled in Italy. I would describe it as a gripping historical thriller, although targeted for kids, that follows two brothers who join what I always referred to as ‘Ancient Rome Secret Services’. Imagine the same rush of adrenaline an adult gets by watching Homeland – that’s what this carton was to me when I was six or seven. In Italy, however, it is mostly remembered for the epic opening theme sung by our national treasure Cristina d’Avena.
2. Jolanda, La figlia del Corsaro Nero (Italy/Spain)
Never dubbed in English, it shares the exact same title of the novel it is based off – Yolanda, the Black Corsair’s Daughter. It features a fearless pirate queen with a pet hamster, a dancing skeleton singing “we love our flag, our pirate flag!” during the credits, and what I promise is the cutest love story ever drawn by human hand. I daresay, although her cousin Sandokan is by far the most famous animated adaptation of Emilio Salgari’s books, Jolanda is the one the gets people my age all warm and fuzzy inside.
1. The Legends of Treasure Island (United Kingdom)
Hands down one of my favourite cartoons ever, this is loosely based on Treasure Island, but it features anthropomorphic animals. The main difference from typical adaptations is probably the oversimplification of Long John Silver’s moral ambiguity, although, considering the target, I have a vivid memory of the characters being extremely well-written and the plot absolutely mind-blowing. Not to mention I have been having nightmares of Captain Flint’s ghost up to this day (I watched the whole episode settled in the cemetery literally hiding behind the sofa).