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Monday, April 28, 2014

The Disney Afternoon Story (Part 1)

by Sam Vlas



How many of you, dear readers, came out of school after a long day and tuned in for the Disney Afternoon? Who else grew up with such classics as “DuckTales”, “Rescue Rangers” and “Darkwing Duck”? I certainly did and I was one happy bloke!  Want to know a little bit more about your favorite shows? Let’s get dangerous and continue after the page break…


I remember the shows of the Disney Afternoon fondly (even the shows that came after) and I find it sad that nothing really took its place. I mean, sure, there are some good animated series (like “Phineas and Ferb” and “Gravity Falls”), but wannabe funny, irritating, annoying pre-teen sitcoms are not a good replacement. The Disney Afternoon had something special, something that I can’t quite determine what it is. Were they genuinely funnier, more exciting, more adventurous or just plain better? Let’s take a look at the Disney Afternoon and its shows.
 
 

 
 

Disney wasn’t exactly a newcomer to the television medium when the Disney Afternoon was launched. We all know the famous “One Hour in Wonderland”, “The Wonderful World of Disney” and “The Mickey Mouse Club”. Television animation, however, didn’t start until 1984. It was in this year when under then CEO of Disney Michael Eisner, The Walt Disney Pictures Television Animation Group was formed. Remember, this was a hard time for the Disney Company. Michael Eisner and Frank Wells just came in, the Animation department had hit rock bottom (The Black Cauldron was set to release) and the overall popularity of the Company was in great danger. Animated television series, at that time, were considered risky, because of the hard work that’s put into these series and the uncertainty of actually making your money back. Eisner saw that a larger budgeted (and therefore better in quality) cartoons would have a bigger chance of succeeding with the large broadcasting companies.
 

 

 

The first “real” show that would later be included in the Disney Afternoon block was “Disney’s Adventures of the Gummi Bears”, loosely based on the famous fruit-flavored candy bears, released in 1985. Quite an odd setting, isn’t it? There’s not really much plot going on in this series, just the Bears going on some crazy adventures, fighting off bad guys as they try to harvest their craved Gummiberries. Even with all this nonsense going on, this was the series that made the Television Animation department of Disney skyrocket, as it did fairly well on television with positive feedback and good ratings.

“DuckTales” was the next in the Disney Afternoon canon, released in 1987. It follows the rollicking adventures of Scrooge McDuck (who is called Dagobert Duck in Dutch, fun fact!) and the nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie (Kwik, Kwek and Kwak in ye olde Dutch), as they fight off the evil Magica De Spell, the Beagle Boys and Flintheart Glomgold. A classic adventure series, which did so well that it received not one, but two spinoff series, both of which ended up in the Disney Afternoon. Those series were “Quack Pack” and, one of my all-time favorites “Darkwing Duck”!
 

 


He is the terror who flaps in the night, the parking meter that expires while you’re shopping, the old lady in front of you in traffic… You get it. “Darkwing Duck” follows the egocentric alter-ego of Drake Mallard, as he fights the evil Fearsome Five and his own struggles to be a good father to his adopted daughter Gosalin, of course aided by his companion Launchpad McQuack. The show first aired in 1991 and quickly became a fan favorite. It was one of my own favorites as well; the quick pacing, genuinely funny humor and the sometimes very relatable problems made it a personal hit.

One particularly strange show, which for some reason I really liked, was “TaleSpin”. Who did ever come up with this idea? Let’s take some characters from “Jungle Book”, make them air cargo freight pilots and make them fight air pirates! So much bizarreness, yet so enjoyable. How is it possible? How weird (and bad) the premise sounds, for some reason it actually worked. The series was fun, the stories were at least trying to be a little bit different and the villain Don Karnage… o, Don… was absolutely hilarious. First released in 1990, its pilot (ha!) episode “Plunder and Lightning” even was nominated for an Emmy Award! Quite the achievement, if you ask me.

Please tune in next time as I take on the second half of the Disney Afternoon saga, with such classics as “Chip and Dale Rescue Rangers”, “Goof Troop”, “Gargoyles” and the ones based on Disney Classics such as “The Little Mermaid”, “Winnie the Pooh”, “Aladdin” and “Timon and Pumbaa”. Hope to see you then!
 
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We are still looking for a couple more writers to join Disney Avenue. If you too are passionate about Disney and the theme parks and have an interest in sharing your thoughts then Disney Avenue would love to have you join our team. You can contact us at [email protected].

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