Published on December 9th, 2010 | by Colin Ballsmonkey Hill0
Extreme Inbetweens – Disney Afternoon Part 1
A Fond Look Back at a Cherished Portion of the Childhood of a 90’s Youth. Or, The Disney Afternoon: A Retrospective
By Colin “Ballsmonkey” Hill”
Part 1: Step right up and come on in, here’s where the fun begins.
Those were the words that introduced a block of cartoons that never failed to enlighten and entertain every kid in the 1990’s, The Disney Afternoon. The Disney Afternoon ran from 1990 to 1997, and featured a myriad of cartoons that delivered all the action, adventure, and comedy we needed growing up. This group of shows re- invented such classic Disney characters as Uncle Scrooge, Goofy, and Chip ‘n Dale, as well as introducing us to a whole cast of new ones like Launchpad McQuack, Max Goof, and Gadget Hackwrench. If you’re like me, this block of shows helped define your childhood. The DA was just as big a part of my developing years as Ninja Turtles, Batman, and Power Rangers. It was both kick ass and family friendly, proof that studio driven cartoons can be good when done right. Today in this article, I’m bringing you a Disney Afternoon.
The Disney Afternoon officially came into being on September 10, 1990, though three of its shows (Adventures of the Gummi Bears, DuckTales, and Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers), had debuted some years prior. The three already popular cartoons were repackaged and grouped with TaleSpin, the first cartoon original to the block, and thus the legend was born. The Animation was done by the Australia-based studio Disney Toon Studios (now Walt Disney Television Animation and relocated to Burbank, California). The first four DA shows featured more conservative and soft traditional Disney animation, though later series would be more energetic and cartoony. Also notable among the shows were their incredible theme songs. Each was very catchy, they fit the tone of the show, and did what every theme song should do, get you pumped for the actual show. From Gummi Bears’ majestic and harmonious score, to the jazzy and noir-feel of Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers’ theme, to the mind-bogglingly quirky and freakishly addictive theme that preceded DuckTales, these songs were well constructed and made sure these shows stuck with you for a long while. Also common among the shows was their robust and incredibly talented voice casts. Such greats as Jim Cummings, Bill Farmer, Tress MacNeille, Christine Cavanaugh, Russi Taylor, Rob Paulsen, Jeff Bennett, Corey Burton, and late, greats like Paul Winchell and Dana Hill gave life to the amazing and loveable characters.
In 1991, Darkwing Duck made its debut, pushing Gummi Bears off the line-up. This would become a common practice in this line-up, whenever a new show was added, the oldest show would be bumped off and the rest would be moved up one, a system that looking back was very fair and logical. Goof Troop’s addition in ’92 would move DuckTales off, and 93’s Bonkers would go on to replace Rescue Rangers. Other shows to make their way onto the line-up in one form or another included Gargoyles, Aladdin the Series, Quack Pack, Timon and Pumbaa, The Schnookums and Meat Funny Cartoon Show, Mighty Ducks, and 101 Dalmatians the Series. The Disney Afternoon would continue to air in syndication until the Fall of 1997 when it was removed from the air and its shows played sporadically on Toon Disney. In its run, the block’s individual shows spawned toys, video games, and soundtracks, two feature films, and even a whole attraction and rides at Disneyland.
With that bit of history aside, let’s now look at the individual shows themselves and what made them so damn good.
The Adventures of the Gummi Bears (1985): The first of the DA shows before DA even existed. Gummi Bears, indeed inspired by the candy of the same name, told the story of a group of mystical and anthropomorphic bears called Gummies who drank a special elixir known as Gummiberry Juice that gave them the ability to bounce like rubber, as well as giving super strength to any human that drank it. Thought extinct, a group of seven Gummi Bears (Zummi, Gruffi, Grammi, Sunni, Cubby, Tummy and later Gusto) live in secret and protect the medieval kingdom of Dunwyn from the evil Duke Igthorn and his army of Ogres. Gummi Bears was a breath of fresh air in the dark decade of animation known as the 80’s. It featured an engaging and surprisingly deep story with believable characters. The Gummi’s themselves talked and acted like real people, and had their own unique quirks. Gusto Gummi was my favorite. He was wacky, quick witted, and hilarious, thanks in part to the vocal stylings of Rob Paulsen. The show was rich in fantasy and created a world of wizardry and gadgetry, a world where anything was possible, and served as the inspiration for another show on this block that we’ll get to later. It even had a proper series finale, which sent the series out on a hopeful note. Why this show never spawned a movie I’ll never know.
DuckTales (1987): Life is like a hurricane, here in Duckburg. All it takes is those words to get that horribly addictive theme song stuck in your head. DuckTales was based off the Uncle Scrooge comics by Carl Barks. It told the adventures of Scrooge McDuck, the richest Duck in the world, as he hunted for treasures and such with his nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie, and his pilot Launchpad McQuack. DuckTales combined the spirit of Indiana Jones with the whimsy of Disney. Scrooge was a great lead character, crusty and greedy, but honorable and fair. Huey, Dewy, and Louie served as very resourceful sidekicks. But the clear breakout star of the show was Launchpad. A jack-of-all-trades with a million dollar heart and nickel head, with the ability to crash any plane he flies, a skill which he was proud of. DuckTales took us all around the world from African jungles, to the deserts of Egypt, to European country sides. The show was unintentionally teaching us geography while thrilling us with adventures. The show featured a great cast of supporting characters like the inventor, Gyro Gearloose, the superhero Gizmoduck, the bumbling burglars the Beagle Boys, and the nefarious Magica DeSpell and was a staple of kids programming, even spawning the excellent movie Treasure of the Lost Lamp. If the show had one failing, it was that during the final season Launchpad was removed (then starring on Darkwing Duck), and the focus was moved to Scrooge’s accountant Fenton Crackshell and his heroic alter- ego Gizmoduck. The show really lost what made it so good and sadly ended on a low note. Thankfully, the adventures of Scrooge and company continue in the Uncle Scrooge comics which have been rebranded to incorporate the whole DuckTales universe. Everything comes full circle.
Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers (1989): Disney’s chipmunk duo had until then been pretty bland and one-note. Who knew that the key to revamping Chip ‘n Dale was to stick them in a fedora and Hawaiian shirt respectively? CDRR grouped the chipmunk duo with three new characters; Gadget, the bubbly and absent-minded inventor of the group, Monterey Jack, the boastful and seasoned adventurer with a cheese addiction (who was voiced by Optimus Prime himself, Peter Cullen), and Zipper, Monty’s loyal fly sidekick. Together they served as detectives who helped any animal in need, and on occasion came up against Fat Cat, a kitty crime boss, and Professor Nimul, a mad scientist as well as their only human enemy. Rescue Rangers was a fun show all around. The characters all had a great dynamic and played off each other perfectly. Chip ‘n Dale made a great duo, with the former as the serious and straightforward leader and the latter being the playful goofball and the resident comic relief. Also great was the duo competing for the attention of Gadget who was always comically unaware of their affections. The show was great at combining the feel of a 40’s noir detective movie with a 70’s TV cop drama, granted the stories were for kids, but they never felt dumbed down. Another quirk was due to the Rescue Rangers being chipmunks/mice, they used common household items like thimbles, detergent bottles, and rubber bands to make things like planes, televisions, and cars. It was creative and always fun to see, and it was that little quirk that inspired the Gadget Go-Coaster at Disneyland, which, as of time of me writing this, is still there today. CDRR was recently revived in comic book form, its first issue debuting this week. It remains to be seen how well the series will stay true to the source, but I have high hopes.
TaleSpin (1990): TaleSpin was originally conceived as a starring vehicle for DuckTales’ star Launchpad McQuack, but was quickly retooled to feature the characters of the Disney movie The Jungle Book set in the 1930’s with an aeronautical theme. The end result as a show filled with adventure and heart. The show centered on the adventures of Baloo, an ace pilot who works for the air cargo service “Higher for Higher”. Each episode would feature Baloo and his sidekick Kit getting into various adventures, discovering new worlds, and eluding the sky pirates led by the evil Don Karnage, all while trying to deliver their cargo. The show was like DuckTales, with the emphasis on travel and adventure, though the tone of this show was very different, more reminiscent of a 30’s and 40’s adventure serials that came before the movies. It did a good job of utilizing the Jungle Book characters in new roles. King Louie was now just Louie, the owner of a tiki bar/pit stop for pilots and Baloo’s best friend. Shere Khan went from being a ruthless killer to a ruthless, yet somewhat honorable, businessman. Mowgli was replaced by Kit as Baloo’s young companion and surrogate son. Baloo himself remained largely unchanged, still laid back and fun loving. The show also had a strong family aspect with the main characters (Baloo, Kit, Rebecca, and Molly) having a strong bond that gave the show a certain charm the previous shows didn’t have. Not the best show of the line-up, but still genuinely fun and exciting.
Since this one is running long, I’ll continue my look back next time with Darkwing Duck, Goof Troop, Bonkers, Gargoyles, and the rest. Until next time kids…