Nostalgia has a powerful effect on most people. When you think back to the best parts of your childhood, of the greatest movies, cartoons, and video games, you revel in how much fun you had. If you were to take those pieces of classic entertainment and put them in front of a 10 year old of today’s generation, they’d likely tell you how much your favorite show from 1984 sucks.
It’s with that in mind that I remember fondly the days of Disney Afternoons and the cartoons of my childhood. It’s been at least a decade since any of those shows has been on network television, in a place where I could readily watch the greatest after school cartoons ever made.
From the time of my first year at school back in the 80s, I remember coming home and watching Duck Tales or Chip and Dale’s Rescue Rangers. The memories are still crisp and when the DVDs were released a little over a year ago, I was the first in line to catch up on the times of old.
The results of course are anything but what I’d remembered. Those two classics along with Darkwing Duck and Tailspin were the first four of the venerable Disney Afternoons classics released on DVD and though I remember all of them fondly and still enjoy watching them today, it’s interesting to look back on something that I thought was so clever 15 years ago to see that it is in fact a cartoon for children.
That said, these are still much better cartoons for children than anything on the air today. Were you to place Darkwing Duck alongside Ed, Edd, and Eddy I can’t imagine anyone choosing the latter as a better program. It’s just not. However, the times have changed and those are the shows kids are interested in these days.
Disney had it right though, at least for a while. They made good solid shows, with good writing, full orchestration, and funny characters that kids would love and parents wouldn’t gag on whenever they came on. These were good shows and the days of hand drawn animation that doesn’t look like a 12 year old was given a box of sharpies are dead along with them.
Join me then as I remember fondly the best of the years of Disney Afternoons:
Duck Tales was already around when I started watching television (that I remember anyways) and was a precursor to the entire Disney Afternoon phenomenon. It aired with The Adventures of the Gummi Bears and Chip and Dale’s Rescue Rangers for a couple of years before Disney Afternoon kicked into full gear, but it remained in the lineup for the entire run of the after school cartoon block.
Starring Scrooge McDuck, the rich uncle of Donald and the trio of Huey, Dewey, and Lewey, the show ran the gammot of far off treasure hunts to hi tech break ins and battles with the local criminals. The result was a well written, fun show for all ages that 10 years later was still airing reruns and was the first of the many Disney shows to see a proper season released on DVD.
Chip and Dale’s Rescues Rangers
Based on the popular chipmunk characters known for their antics with Mickey and Donald, Chip and Dale’s Rescue Rangers was an amalgamation of a lot of ideas, including Sherlock Holmes, Disney’s own The Rescuer films and a slew of private eye novels.
The show stared Chip, Dale, Monty, and Gadget as a team of crime solvers who went up against mad scientists, evil cats, and mechanical house pets. It was a goofy, over the top affair with simple cases, and corny jokes, but the production values were high and the writing consistent, often carrying stories from multiple episodes onward. A perfect successor and startup for the Disney Afternoon.
The first true Disney Afternoon created show, Talespin was yet another mash up of Disney past to create an entirely new, creative franchise. In this case, it was The Jungle Book that saw the switcheroo in time and place, putting the familiar cast in a 1930s port city with a couple of pilots and the whole Jungle Book cast of characters redistributed accordingly.
Baloo is of course the main character, and Mogali is gone in lieu of a younger, bear character, Kit. The show is made up entirely of animals, putting Looey, the king of the apes in the sky with a refueling station and Tiki bar, and Sher Kahn as the sinister businessman who over seas the city. The show was a perfect chance to make small jokes based on a successful franchise and be as creative as Disney’s writers wanted to be.
One of my personal favorites in the Disney Afternoon lineup was Darkwing Duck. The show starred yet another relative of the Donald Duck family in far of St. Canard, the up and coming superhero duck, Darkwing Duck.
The first episodes pair him up with Launchpad of Duck Tales fame and Goslin, his soon to be adopted daughter. The show pans out like a classic super hero story, complete with multiple super villains, catch phrases, special planes, and sidekicks. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Duck story if Darkwing wasn’t goofy and prone to accidents.
The show makes a lot of corny jokes, and Darkwing’s constant alliteration is hilarious even more now as I’ve aged, something I never even realized as a child. It’s a classic for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is its inspired writing.
Goof Troop was the first Disney Afternoon show to take on a classic Disney character directly with Goofy. The story is that Goofy is a single dad in suburbia, struggling to get by, whose neighbor happens to be Pete of infamy.
Pete has a family with two kids and runs a used car lot (appropriately). He constantly seeks ways to humiliate and ruin Goofy, who more or less gets on his nerves a hair too much.
The show wasn’t the best of the lineup, but it managed to spinoff a fully fledged feature film in The Goofy Movie and a sequel. Each episode was a trip down memory lane, showing not only Goofy’s antics and pratfalls, but now the effects of all that bumbling on his embarrassed son and angry neighbor.
Gargoyles was a complete departure from the standard, comedic formula of Disney Afternoons. It was a completely original idea, drawn up without much if any comedic fall back and involving serious storylines.
A group of gargoyles whose job it is protect the Scottish castle on which they roost, are put under a spell that turns them to stone for hundreds of years. When an enterprising entrepreneur has the castle moved to the top of his big city high rise, they awaken and are forced to get involved with and fight the modern dark forces that be.
Enter an energetic young detective and a fairly mature storyline, complete with Macbeth references, and you have a very different show that was really something special. Only a couple of seasons aired, but the show was very popular and has found even more success with DVD release in the last couple of years.
Aladdin was the first of many direct film off shots. Unlike Talespin, Aladdin was a show about all of the characters from Aladdin in their film setting, directly after the events of the first film. The show featured Dan Castallaneta (of Simpsons fame) as the genie and most of the original voice cast reprising their roles for the other characters.
Basically, it was your standard ensemble, single episode quest show, complete with genie humor, abu antics, and iago’s squawking. I might be biased, as I was an immense fan of the film and the only alternative to watching this show was Power Rangers when it first aired (an argument that flared up almost every day between me and my brother), but it was the best direct translation and probably the last good show to premier on Disney Afternoon.
The Disney Afternoon two hour block is a classic programming choice from my childhood. It was original, well written, and littered with classic characters that millions already knew and loved. The shows that Disney put out from the mid 1980s until the mid 1990s were good, solid children’s shows, something that’s harder and harder to find on the cable networks these days.