Published on January 4th, 2011 | by Colin Ballsmonkey Hill1
Extreme Inbetweens – Disney Afternoon Part 2
A Fond Look Back at a Cherished Portion of the Childhood of a 90’s Youth. Or, The Disney Afternoon: A Retrospective
Part 2: Camera, Action, Lights! You Wont Believe the Sounds and Sights!
Sorry it’s been a while. Finals and holidays and all. But here is part 2 of my Disney Afternoon retrospective. Last time I gave a brief introduction to this block of shows and talked about the first four cartoons in the line up. After TaleSpin, the Disney Afternoon continued to gain more original shows, shows stylistically different than what Disney had been doing previously, reflecting the change that was gong on in the animation world at that time.
Let’s not waster anymore time and get back into action with perhaps the most popular show of the Disney Afternoon…
Darkwing Duck(1991): In my opinion, the best show of the Disney Afternoon, and one of the best cartoons of all time. Darkwing Duck was a departure from the other shows before it. The emphasis was now placed on more superhero action as opposed to adventure. The color scheme of this show, unlike the muted schemes of the previous shows, was vibrant and comic book-like. Also unique was the animation style. Rather than being very conservative and low key, Darkwing Duck had more of a eccentric and cartoony style, with more emphasis being placed on slapstick action.Jim Cummings played the main character of Drake Mallard, who protected the city of St. Canard as his alter-ego Darkwing Duck. At times he was stubborn, egotistcal, and an attention hog, but above all else he was competent and effective crime fighter who genuinely cared about helping people. The core of the show focused on Darkwing balancing his superhero duties with his duties as a father to his adopted daughter, the high spirited and impulsive Gosylin Mallard. Darkwing is also aided by his sidekick, Ducktales’ own Launchpad McQuack, placing the two shows in the same universe. This show was just great. The show had all the best elements of a superhero comi, with a ton of great tounge-and-cheek jabs at the genre. DWD had a cast of relatable and fun character and Darkwing himself had one of the best rogues galleries of all time. Negaduck, Megavolt, Quackerjack, Liquidator, Bushroot, Steelbeak, Taurus Baulba, his villains were larger than life and could’ve supported their own series. The show’s writing was incredibly strong, it knew exactly what kind of show it was an played to it. The stories were clever and engaging and genuinely funny. The show also had an amazing voice cast. In addition to Cummings; Christina Cavanaugh, Terry McGovern, Tino Insano, Rob Paulsen, Dan Castellanetta, Jack Angel, and Michael Bell rounded out this cast who gave great performances every episode. Darkwing Duck was a true hallmark of the 90’s. Everything you could want in a cartoon, it had action, it had humor, it had heart. The new comic series by Ian Brill that continues Darkwing’s adventures is a worthy successor to this great series.
Goof Troop(1992): Like Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers, Goof Troop breathed new life into two longtime Disney mainstays, Goofy and Pete. This show was like one of those TGIF sitcoms, but with cartoons and with less cheesiness. The show central focus was on the above mentioned characters and their son’s, Max Goof and P.J.(as well as Pete’s wife Peg and hyperactive daughter Pistol). Episodes tended to revolve around Pete coming up with some money-making scheme and Goofy being his unknowing but well meaning pawn, or Max coming up with some scheme and PJ being his weary sidekick. The show featured a strong set of characters, bursting with personality and keeping each other balanced. The show had all the slapstick elements of a classic Goofy cartoon, but characters like Max and PJ gave the show a more modern sensibility. Like TaleSpin the show had a strong emphasis on family, specifically the relationship between fathers and sons, showing that while it seems they may be polar opposites, deep down they’re really similar. In 1995, A Goofy Movie was released. The movie was based on the Goof Troop series, but with key differences. Pete’s wife Peg, daughter Pistol, and dog Chainsaw were removed, and the characters received a stylistic overhaul hankering back to their classic look. Another key difference was that the characters were considerably older, with Max and PJ now being in High School, aging in real time. The movie still managed to capture the charm and heart of the TV Show and developed the relationship between Max an Goofy very well. While not that successful financially, the movie remains a fan favorite, and notable for it’s soundtrack with songs by then teen star Tevin Campbell. A direct-to-DVD sequel, An Extremely Goofy Movie was released in 2000 which was…well….let’s move on to the next show.
Bonkers(1993): This is a very underrated show. Bonkers was originally intended as a Roger Rabbit animated series, and it’s easy to see the influence. The show takes place in a world where humans and toons co-exist. Due to legal troubles, the character of Roger Rabbit was unable to be used and they instead used a character from an earlier show called Raw Toonage named Bonkers D. Bobcat. In the series, Bonkers is a former cartoon star turned police detective. He’s partnered with Detective Lucky Piquel(sometimes mispronounced “Pickle”), a fat, toon-hating, curmudgeon who serves as the straight man opposite the wacky and energetic Bonkers, their relationship mirrors the Roger Rabbit/Eddie Valiant relationship from the aforementioned movie. Each episode took place in Hollywood and revolved around Bonkers and Lucky solving crimes as part of the “Toon Division” of the Police Department. The show, like Darkwing and Goof Troop is heavy on slapstick comedy, and it definitely works here. Bonkers and Lucky make for a great double act, like a cartoon Laurel and Hardy. While toned down from Roger Rabbit the basic humor is still there. Interesting to note, Jim Cummings who voiced Pete in Goof Troop, King Louie and Don Karnage in TaleSpin, Fat Cat and Professor Nimnul in Chip n Dale Rescue Rangers, Razoul in Aladdin, and of course the title character in Darkwing Duck, returns yet again (Disney loves this guy), to play not just Bonkers, but Lucky as well. Cummings does such an excellent job creating unique voices for both characters that it’s hard to believe it’s just one guy. The show had a great, whimsical atmosphere where almost anything could happen. I love how expansive the cartoon world was, it felt like Disney meets Fleischer Studios. It didn’t feel like a traditional Disney cartoon, instead taking on a bit more of a gritty tone, but not Dirty Harry-gritty by any means. 65 episodes were produced but only 42 featured Lucky. Originally Bonkers was too be partnered with a female officer named Miranda Wright(get it?). 19 of these episodes were produced but were thrown out due to Disney not being satisfied with the final product. The Lucky Piquel episodes were aired instead. Strangely enough, the 19 Miranda episodes were aired later with the explanation that they took place after the Lucky ones, despite chronologically being before them. Personally, I prefer the Lucky episodes, the two characters just had the better dynamic, Miranda was just too boring a character. Overall, it was fun show that doesn’t get the praise it deserves.
Gargoyles(1994) – Disney’s answer to Batman the Animated Series. Gargoyles was a drastic change for Disney. While their previous shows were light-hearted, wacky, and were primarily targeted at kids, Gargoyles was dark, emotional, and very story-driven. The show was about a clan of mythical beings known as Gargoyles. Once a thriving species of warriors led by the mighty Goliath(voiced by the amazing Keith David), they were betrayed by the humans they protected and were nearly rendered extinct, laving all but six alive, including Goliath. The surviving Gargoyles, thanks to a misunderstanding, were placed under a magic sleep spell, only to awaken in 1994 tanks to billionaire David Xanatos(voiced by the equally amazing Jonathan Frakes), who planned to use the Gargoyles for his own means. The Gargoyles, after foiling the schemes of Xanatos ,and another surviving Gargoyle, Goliath’s former love and second-in-command turned evil Demona(voiced by threequally amazing Marina Sirtis) ,swore to protect their new home of Manhattan alongside their new friend and ally, NYPD detective Elisa Maza. Gargoyles was true masterpiece. Show creator Greg Wiseman carefully crafted a deep and compelling mythos for the show taking elements from comic books, Shakespearean lore, sci-fi, and folklore and mythology from all over the world. Some episodes had the characters battling robots, clones, mercenaries, and mutants. Others had them encountering such figures as King Arthur, Anubis, Odin, Oberon, Puck, Coyote the Trickster, and the Banshee. It was a show that kept you guessing what they would tackle next. It could be grounded in reality in one episode, and deep in magic and mysticism the next. The show featured an amazing cast, a lot of whom being Star Trek alumni. Keith David played the lead character Goliath, giving him the deep, booming, powerful voice the character needed. Goliath was tragic hero, though powerful still carried the deaths of his clan on his shoulders, and you could just feel it in his voice. While most leaders in action cartoons were for the most part bland, Goliath was well developed. He was logical and compassionate, yet stubborn and at times quick to anger. He was well-read and intellectual yet in battle he was fierce and deadly. A major element of the show was Goliath’s relationship with Elisa Maza, reminiscent of Beauty and the Beast(they even made a great reference to that in one episode). It never felt forced, instead it naturally grew over the course of the series as the two learned more about each other. It was handled very intelligently and with a strong maturity not seen in most cartoons of the time. Rounding out the good guys there was Hudson, the elder of the clan, and Goliath’s mentor, Brooklyn(my favorite), the cool and collected second-in-comand, Lexington, the gadget-loving member of the clan, Broadway, the gentle giant, and Bronx the loyal guard dog-gargoyle-beast-thing. Later on Angela, Goliath and Demona’s daughter, revealed to have survived the original massacre as an egg, is added to the cast.
The villains made this show. David Xanatos was unlike previous villains. He was cool and calculating, never losing his cool or letting his ego get the better of him. He always had a plan, and back-up plan, and a back-up for the back-up. He would always find some way to win, sometimes even losing to achieve victory, the guy has a whole system named after him. (seriously, look up “Xanatos Gambit” on TV Tropes). He was like Tony Stark, complete with battle armor. Xanatos was never a mustache-twirling villain, and he wasn’t evil, just a schemer with is own agenda. If Goliath was a tragic hero, Demona was a tragic villain. Turned better by centuries of hatred towards humans, Demona was cold, lethal, and truly genocidal. She frequently tried to destroy the human race, blaming them for the near extinction of their species, when in reality she herself was at fault. She masked her loneliness and grief with bigotry and anger. She clearly still loved Goliath, but her own spiteful nature, as well as Elisa’s presence kept them for being together again. She was hands down one of the greatest villains of all time, and Marina Sirtis delivered an amazing performance, a far cry form her previous role as the benevolent and caring Deanna Troi on Star Trek the Next Generation.
The show tackled many issues, form gun violence, to environmentalism, to betrayal, to love and loss, as well as an overall theme of discrimination with the Gargoyles being feared for their monstrous appearance despite their peaceful nature. The show was also very pro-literacy, with one episode in particular, “Lighthouse int he Sea of Time”, dealing with the power of the written word and it’s impact on society. While the animation wasn’t as strong as Batman’s, it was passable, making up for it with the amazing score and complex storytelling. Stories were interconnected with minimal elements from some episodes becoming major factors in later episodes. They were very emotional, some episodes could be down right heartbreaking. It never talked down to kids watching, and offered enough action and fun to keep them satisfied, while keeping older audiences hooked with it’s strong storytelling and complex character development. Gargoyles was truly ahead of the curve and managed to stand out among the other shows of it’s type. Truly a work of art.
Next time, I finish my retrospective by looking at the remaining DA shows and it’s lasting legacy.