12.31.2008

Marsupilami (1993)

I’m going to have to take the Internet’s word on this one.

Seriously, I had no idea the Marsupilami shorts from Raw Toonage got spun off into their own series. Upon researching what Disney cartoon to write about next, I was surprised to find there was. But I have no recollection of it at all, and that’s rare for me because I pretty much remember every cartoon I’ve ever seen on television in my lifetime.

There’s also information lacking out there online about this 1993 series. I have no idea if it was a show full of new ideas and animation, or if they just threw some old Marsupilami shorts together from Raw Toonage to make a half hour series. If it was just a compilation of old stories, I more than likely wouldn’t post about it, but since I can find next to nothing about it, I’m just going wing it and mention it anyway.

It may surprise you to know that the Marsupilami character was not created by Disney, but was created in the 1950’s in Europe – a story I’ll save when I will eventually cover European comics. This spin off series premiered on September 18, 1993 on CBS, and was the third series not to be associated with The Disney Afternoon and never aired in the block (a trend with Disney cartoons that aired solely on CBS). It ran for 13 episodes and like Raw Toonage, it was a very short-lived series airing its last episode on December 11, 1993. As far as I know, no Disney comics based on the series were made, nor was any merchandise produced.

The last time this yellow jungle critter was seen in Canada was the last time it ever aired on CBS, because I can’t recall this show ever airing on Family Channel. Its opening theme song is a feisty little musical number, but pails in comparison to the great themes Disney put out only five years before. I sure don’t remember the opening sequence, and don’t remember the ending theme at all.

11.30.2008

Bonkers (1993)

Swing…and a hit! A series about a popular cartoon movie star bobcat turned crime fighting cop was exactly what Disney needed to recover from their last two flops. Hold on tight – I’m about to hit you with some massively detailed notes about how this show came to be and what it’s all about.

Before even premiering as a half-hour program, the character of Bonkers starred in his own cartoon shorts on Raw Toonage called “He’s Bonkers”. In this first incarnation, he was in love with the Marilyn Monroe-ish Fawn Deer and paired up with his sidekick, Jitters A. Dog, often facing the villainy of Grumbles Grizzly. As stated in my previous post, these shorts represent his life as a toon movie star, before becoming a “has been” in Bonkers. The character’s intent for Disney was to have a fully-owned wacky character of their own, without all the licensing restrictions involved with re-using writer Gary Wolf’s and producer Steven Spielberg’s Roger Rabbit. His personality was obviously modeled after Roger Rabbit, and he even hails from “Toontown” and is partnered with a supposedly real-life detective, Lucky Piquel – whose predecessor having been Eddie Valiant from the 1988 feature film Who Framed Roger Rabbit. In this series Bonkers plays an out of work actor, given a second chance and made an official “toon cop”.

Its interesting to note that before Bonkers and Raw Toonage premiered (but were in pre-production and production stages), Bonkers was first seen in an animated short entitled Pedal To The Metal, originally shown in theatres before the film 3 Ninjas in 1992. This short was never included in Raw Toonage. I never saw it, so I have no idea if the animation quality differed from a television to a theatrical production. Bonkers originally premiered on The Disney Channel on February 28, 1993 with a new episode airing every week for several weeks. This was meant as a “preview airing” and showcased the Miranda Wright episodes. Its official debut was on September 4, 1993 with the hour long pilot “Going Bonkers/Gone Bonkers”, which was later spilt into a two-part episode in subsequent airings. Not only was Bonkers syndicated as part of The Disney Afternoon, but it also aired, out of all places, on Fox, and has been the only Disney cartoon to air on that network since. These episodes ushered in the Lucky Piquel era.

As stated, Bonkers originated from an attempt at a television version of the Who Framed Roger Rabbit film, which never reached production due to legal complications. As a result, the series created original characters in a world where “toons” and humans co-exist. Unlike the film that inspired it, however, Bonkers was entirely animated and featured no live action. Bonkers is a toon that fights crime and is paired up with a human partner, just like in the movie. He used to be a cartoon star, appearing in the Raw Toonage shorts which are cannon in the fictional Bonkers universe. The series lasted 65 episodes, airing its last episode on February 23, 1994; however other sources state December 21, 1995.

The chronological order of the series is somewhat complicated to follow. The “Miranda” episodes were produced first (excluding the two-part series premiere which featured Piquel and Bonkers meeting for the first time). This discrepancy becomes evident when observing the look of the main character in early and later stages – it’s easy to see with the clips used in the show’s opening credits. In the Raw Toonage shorts, Bonkers was orange with dark orange spots, golf club-like ears, and an undone tail. The “Miranda” episodes use his original look from that show, and occasionally featured episodes of cartoons from his days as a movie star, plus cameos from the Raw Toonage cast of characters. He was portrayed as a rather clumsy, somewhat foolish character that ended up being the show’s punching bag. When the “Lucky” episodes were made, the character had a major overhaul with skinnier ears, black spots, black Tigger-like stripes on his tail, and a different uniform. The “Lucky” episodes are more closely modeled after a Roger Rabbit style. He’s less of a buffoon and more of an inspector-type in control of himself (though still hyperactive), and carries an extensive knowledge about toons and their behavior (he is a toon himself after all), which is an asset in cases dealing with rogue toons. In these episodes, the Mad Hatter and March Hare from Disney’s 1951 film Alice In Wonderland make occasional appearances.

Are you with me so far? Good. Anyway, the first set of episodes featuring Miranda Wright came back from overseas animation studios looking less than spectacular. This caused the original team to be replaced, and only 19 episodes of this era survived to air. In “official continuity”, these episodes are shown towards the end of the series. When the new crew came in they threw out the premise of the old show and brought in Lucky Piquel – his episodes being revised and established to occur before the original 19 episodes, and 42 episodes of this era were made including “New Partner On The Block” which attempted to bridge the gap between the two somewhat contradictory storylines. That only makes 61 episodes; but other sources say 65 were made. So who is right and who is wrong? “New Partner On The Block” was a transition episode showing how Lucky was given an FBI job in Washington DC, and how Miranda Wright became his newest partner. The episode was much like the pilot episode using CGI rain and bringing back the characters that were associated with Bonkers, those characters being Fawn Deer, Jitters A. Dog, and Grumbles Grizzly and unlike the pilot had more speaking and screen time. Lucky, his wife and daughter and many other characters relocated as well, allowing them to be written out of the show. Remember – even though Wright is supposed to have replaced Piquel, and the episodes featuring her occur after the Piquel ones in the show’s “official chronology”, the Wright episodes were made first. Make sense now? Excellent, you’ve graduated from Bonkers 101.

Bonkers comics appeared in Disney Adventures; it was also one of the last cartoons to be featured in the Marvel-published Disney Afternoon comic book series. There was merchandising in the form of books, coloring books, action figures, pins, and Burger King toys. Three video games were released; Bonkers for Super Nintendo in 1994, and Bonkers for Sega Mega Drive/Genesis and Bonkers Wax Up! for Sega Game Gear/Sega Master System in 1995. While the rise of Bonkers as a Disney star did coincide with the decline of Roger Rabbit, Bonkers made nowhere near the impact Roger Rabbit did, mainly because his show lacked the melding of live action with animation which had audiences glued to their seats when Roger made his debut. Many barred Bonkers as just being a substitute or plain rip-off. While I’m sure this show grew to entertain many, I never saw a huge fandom come out of it, and Bonkers seems to have been forgotten when people think of that “classic” Disney era of television animation.

Bonkers in my eyes is underrated. It’s aged well and is one of my favorites – up there with Darkwing Duck and Goof Troop. One aspect you can’t ignore is the animation – Walt Disney Television Australia, who gained a reputation for bringing quality to their work for the shows they worked on, did a fantastic job with the episodes they animated (the Piquel era), and their style really fit the zany antics of this cartoon and breathed new life into it. Although I really should have known, I was surprised to find that not only did Jim Cummings voice Bonkers, but also voiced Lucky as well. He did a terrific job giving these characters the energy and expression they needed, and you have to give him props for playing two lead roles in one show.

The last time this problem solving duo was seen in Canada was on Family Channel, anywhere between the late 90’s and early 2000’s. I really can’t pinpoint it any closer but it has been many years since it aired here. Youtube doesn’t have much in the way of episodes but there are a few online. Its opening theme song (and ending theme) is a welcome return to form, and while it may not be as memorable as some other titles, it’s sure a catchy tune nonetheless, and was edited well with fast-pasted clips. Maybe it just needs another five years to grow more nostalgic? As the usual case, the singer is again unknown.

10.31.2008

Raw Toonage (1992)

Swing and a miss!

Still falling from their high perch in animation set a few years prior, Disney’s next cartoon to follow the uneventful The Little Mermaid would in fact…well, fair even worse.

However, while Raw Toonage, which premiered on September 19, 1992 on CBS, didn’t last that long, I found it to still be a decent offering from Disney when I saw episodes of the series years later. Before that, I had almost forgotten the show had even existed, but it sat in the back of my mind for years and I knew there was a show called Raw Toonage but couldn’t quite remember it. Then the reruns started and it all came flooding back to me. It was the second series not to be associated with The Disney Afternoon and never aired in the block.

Raw Toonage was an experimental showcase for several animated shorts, kind of like a sketch show, which were hosted every weekend by a different popular Disney character. The four cartoons which regularly appeared in the show were “He’s Bonkers!”, “Marsupilami”, “Sebastian”, and a variety cartoon called “Totally Tasteless Video”. While an interesting format, Raw Toonage failed to achieve its purpose – but out of its ashes, arose the success of those shorts graduating to their own animated programs. “Marsupilami” and “Sebastian” were combined into Marsupilami, and “He’s Bonkers!” became Bonkers.

The idea for the show had an unusual genesis. At the time Disney was developing Bonkers, about a bobcat living in a “real world” that had once been the star of his own cartoon, and when it was canned became a policeman. The series dealt with his adventures post-stardom. At the same time, Michael Eisner had purchased the rights to the popular Belgian comic strip Marsupilami. At some point, someone had the post-modern initiative to actually make the cartoons that Bonkers would have starred in before becoming a policeman, and that’s how Raw Toonage was born. The additional segment “Totally Tasteless Video” was intended as a satire of popular culture, and not a proving ground for new stars. The host was added to give the series the familiar feel of The Wonderful World Of Disney show. Though it looked like the 1993 Bonkers series was spun off from the shorts, the reverse is actually true. Due to the shorter production schedule, Raw Toonage, with its “He’s Bonkers” shorts, was on the air before the 65 half-hour show, thus adding some credibility to the back story.

Contrary to what I originally wrote here about The Wuzzles, Raw Toonage actually stands with the lowest amount of episodes of any animated television program Disney has put out thus far, with only 12 episodes made – a thirteenth was in production but was never completed. It’s also the shortest run series, airing its last episode on December 5, 1992. There is no merchandise for this show that I know of, although I’m fairly sure it had comics published in Disney Adventures. I never saw a huge fandom grow from this show, but it does have its followers for those who remember it well. The series was nominated for a Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Writing in an Animated Television Production in 1993.

The last time this variety show was seen in Canada was on Family Channel in late 2001. Youtube is currently limited in what clips of the show it has available, a hinting of how forgotten it really is. Raw Toonage was a “strike two” behind The Little Mermaid in terms of performance – it even followed suit and also had a crappy opening theme song which basically had no lyrics and really wasn’t at all catchy or memorable (and is also very much a knockoff of the song “Oh Yeah” by Yello). It’s interesting to note that Webby from DuckTales makes an appearance in the opening credits, but never actually appeared on the show. Disney needed another homerun hit of a cartoon, and fast – because another strike could have put them out of television animation game for good.

9.30.2008

The Little Mermaid (1992)

And…we’ve come down.

Off an extreme animation high, that is. Prior to this series Disney made hit after hit cartoon, and Goof Troop truly was the last great cartoon they managed to pump out during their prime years in television animation. All good things must come to an end though, and every company hits a snag now and then. Disney’s hot streak came to a halt with the premiere of this series.

That’s not to say The Little Mermaid, which premiered on September 11, 1992 on CBS, is a bad series. I just don’t have too much to say about it, and reminds me of The New Adventures Of Winnie The Pooh in the sense that I never really thought much of this program. It doesn’t “fit in” with the rest of the crew – it was the first series not to be associated with The Disney Afternoon and never aired in the block. It was also the first Disney cartoon that was based off a previous successful theatrical film, and acts as a prequel to the movie of the same name which was released in 1989. It follows Ariel’s adventures as a mermaid living under the sea with her father, Sebastian and Flounder. Various episodes highlight her relationships with her friends, father and sisters, and usually involve her foiling the attempts of various enemies that intend to harm her or her kingdom.

The Little Mermaid premiered in prime time with the episode “A Whale Of A Tale” before being moved to Saturday mornings. It ran for a paltry 31 episodes, airing its last episode on November 26, 1994. Whereas many Disney cartoons before had major merchandising and published comics, there was minimal material for this series. I never saw much of a fandom grow from this program, and there’s not too much production information about it anywhere. I’m sure it was enjoyed by some kids back in the day, but personally I can’t recall even watching this series once all the way though.

A notable episode is “Metal Fish”, in which Ariel saves a human character named Hans Christian Andersen who is based on the real life author of the original fairy tale The Little Mermaid. The encounter inspires the character in the episode to “write” the story of The Little Mermaid. A voice-over at the end of the episode talks about the real Hans Christian Andersen, while the image on screen shows Ariel sitting on a rock in the style of the Little Mermaid statue in Copenhagen harbor. If this is to be chronologically accurate, it places the time frame in which this series takes place around 1836 when the story was first written, or shortly before 1837 when the story was actually published.

The last time this red-haired mermaid and her friends were seen in Canada was on Family Channel – when, I have no clue. It’s been a while though; I don’t think it’s aired since the late 90’s. I couldn’t find any episodes up on Youtube, which is another good indication that it wasn’t a really popular series. The Little Mermaid, I think, broke a long line in tradition – every Disney cartoon before had an upbeat, awesome opening and ending theme song, with lyrics. The opening theme song to this show was a combination of the songs “Part Of Your World”, “Under The Sea” and “Kiss The Girl” from the movie. And to make matters worse, it was the first Disney show to have a theme that was just instrumental. Boooooring.

8.31.2008

Goof Troop (1992)

Premiering on September 7, 1992, Goof Troop was Disney’s eight venture into television animation, and the fourth show to revive old classic Disney characters into a new era, whilst adding new characters into the mix. The show is based on several classic 1950’s Goofy cartoon shorts which depicted him as a father to a mischievous, red-haired son. Additionally, prior to this series Goofy had already enjoyed an illustrious career in cartoons, playing many roles over the years, sometimes eclipsing Mickey Mouse with his outwardly loveable and “goofy” personality. In this series Goofy is still true to his old self, with a tinge of modernization for the current time. Producers picked up on the basic themes of his career and put Goofy as a single father, raising his son Maximilian “Max” Goof, who move back to their hometown of Spoonerville where Goofy becomes neighbours with his longtime friend/foe Pete (a classic Disney villain), who is married to his high school sweetheart Peg and have two children, P.J. (Pete Junior) and Pistol (all original characters).

The show establishes itself well with its portrayals of modern suburbanized life, and was pretty much the first Disney cartoon to do so. While shows like DuckTales, Chip ‘N Dale Rescue Rangers and Darkwing Duck were indeed placed in a contemporary time, Goof Troop reflected its timeframe (the early 1990’s) in a truly genuine fashion, and didn’t mix elements of a classic time period or fighting villains into its setting or stories. It was basically a show about working-class people and families in everyday life. The series had a great mix of stories, meaning each and every character got a lot of screen time as different episodes focused on different things. Max and P.J. become the best of friends and do practically everything together. Max is dealing with the early onslaughts of puberty and growing up in the shadow of his goofy father. All the while Goofy reveals many facets of his personality, blissfully enduring Pete’s personal grudge against him. A large portion of humor from Goof Troop comes from Goofy unintentionally screwing up Pete’s plans (usually something to do with money and getting more of it), as well as Max’s relatively normal personality sharply contrasting with that of his father’s.

Goof Troop was a big hit with audiences, so much so that 78 episodes plus one Christmas special (basically 79 episodes) were produced, placing the series in third place behind Darkwing Duck and DuckTales for the most episodes in a Disney cartoon. I have no confirmed date as to when the last episode aired, because some sources state the series aired its last regular episode on December 5, 1992 (oddly enough the same day Darkwing Duck aired its last episode), others say December 5, 1993. The Christmas special was not aired until 1993. Like many Disney cartoons before it, Goof Troop was previewed with an hour long two-part special (serving as the show’s pilot) before the series itself premiered, with the episodes “Everything’s Coming Up Goofy” (Forever Goof Part 1) and “Good Neighbor Goofy” (Forever Goof Part 2) airing on September 5, 1992. The show’s first season, made up of 65 episodes, aired in syndication as part of The Disney Afternoon block. The second season, made up of 13 additional episodes, aired Saturday mornings on ABC (whether it was the fall of 1992 or 1993 I’m not sure at this time). The series was kind of aired like Darkwing Duck, with the next season aired on another network; although with the case of Goof Troop episode order was never messed around with.

Where many Disney cartoons failed, Goof Troop proved successful enough to warrant a full-length motion picture, produced by DisneyToon Studios who had worked on DuckTales The Movie: Treasure Of The Lost Lamp. Perhaps centered on the fact it was a modernized cartoon that displayed a good working model of a father/son relationship, Disney picked Goof Troop out of many other cartoons to have a theatrical film, as young viewers and their parents could relate to Goofy and Max. While Goof Troop has the honor of being the second Disney cartoon to be blessed with a theatrical movie (from Disney’s prime days of television animation), it really stands out by itself as unlike the DuckTales movie, this movie features characters from the television series Goof Troop but is not canon to the series. Peg, Pistol, the family pets, Goofy’s old house and car are gone, and it’s not known if they are still living in Spoonerville. A Goofy Movie was released in 1995, and overall was a successful film. So much so that in 2000, a direct-to-video sequel to this film titled An Extremely Goofy Movie was released, and faired good in sales. In these aspects, the Goof Troop franchise ended up being more successful than DuckTales, and to date has not been topped by any other Disney cartoon.

Goof Troop got the standard merchandising – Happy Meal toys, plush figures, books, stickers, coloring books, and videogames. Comic stories were featured in the magazine Disney Adventures from 1992-1996 as well as the Disney Afternoon comic book published by Marvel Comics. It’s worthy to note that the town of Spoonerville was named after layout artist J. Michael Spooner, who designed many of the background layouts for the series. Pete’s wife Peg is a play on “Peg Leg Pete”, one of Pete’s characters in the classic Disney shorts. Likewise, his daughter Pistol is a play on another such name, “Pistol Pete”. The most pressing question in the series however, is what happened to Max’s mother/Goofy’s wife? The fan theory is that she had died; this issue was never touched on in the series (but could be related to Goofy and Max moving back to their hometown at the beginning of the series), leaving many fans to draw their own conclusions. Goof Troop was also the first Disney cartoon to have more original animated clips in its opening credits other than just the title card – prior to this other shows just used clips from the episodes matched to music.

The last this goofy pair were seen in Canada was on Family Channel in September 2005; at time of its removal it was the oldest cartoon airing on the network (13 years), and was the constantly longest running premiering in September 1996 (9 years) airing twice a day. For me, Goof Troop is the one – it is my absolute favorite show from Disney’s classic days of television animation. I love this series, and really like the character of Max and how he was able to grow during the run of the franchise. It was my favorite show as a kid, and when I started regularly watching episodes on Family Channel in my late teens, I liked it even more. It aged well, albeit with it being so modern at the time it’s dated in areas (look at Max’s clothes for example, yikes!) but overall is still a strong performer in 2008. It’s hard not to like a program like this. Moreover, I feel Goof Troop was the ending on an era for Disney – it was their last great show from their superior years where they dominated television animation. Some say it was the last best thing to happen to The Disney Afternoon before it started to go downhill. By 1993 other networks were catching up with them in terms of popular shows, and Disney was slowly going in a different direction with their cartoons.

Another trait I feel Goof Troop had was a strong voice cast; it featured the best names in the business. Bill Farmer, who had been voicing Goofy (and still does) since 1986, Jim Cummings as Pete, Rob Paulsen as P.J., April Winchell as Peg, Nancy Cartwright as Pistol, and Dana Hill as Max. These fantastic voice actors gave much life to their respective characters. Sadly, Max’s distinctive voice would be lost forever come July 1996, as actress Dana Hill died from suffering a massive stroke related to her diabetes.

A DVD of the show was released in 2006 with a paltry three episodes and horrible box art – I don’t even acknowledge its existence, it’s that bad. One Youtube user has uploaded most of the series for viewing online. Of course the opening theme song (and ending theme) are awesome and have a great beat. Another merit to Goof Troop being a “hip for the time” series – the theme song has a heavily influenced hip-hop/rap feel, and back in the early 90’s it seems not even cartoons could escape the explosion of hip-hop/rap during this time. The song, its lyrics and clips are well placed; as usual, the singer is unknown.

7.31.2008

Darkwing Duck (1991)

By this point and time, Disney could do no wrong with their cartoons – many of their shows became hits with viewers and fanbases grew rather quickly. They had created a perfect formula for creating great shows. Disney was on a hot streak of finely produced animation – and this success continued with a crime fighting duck who proclaimed himself to be “the terror that flaps in the night”.

Premiering on September 8, 1991, Darkwing Duck was Disney’s seven venture into television animation, and the third show made up of entirely original characters. It was a spin-off from the massively popular DuckTales series, and like the TaleSpin concept originally, Launchpad McQuack was slated to be the star. For whatever reason this was not meant to be, and he was demoted to the role of siderick for this series.

While the show establishes its own originality, it’s largely regarded as an affectionate satire on superhero mythos and lore. Darkwing’s costume, gas gun, and flashy introductions are all direct references to superheroes such as the Crimson Avenger and The Green Hornet. The fictional city of St. Canard, Darkwing’s rouges gallery, and the relative darkness of Darkwing compared to other Disney heroes reflect Batman and Gotham City. A few James Bond parodies exist as well, such as the villain Steelbeak, whose beak makes him similar to the Bond villain Jaws.

Darkwing Duck was another homerun hit for Disney, so much so that 91 episodes were produced, placing the series in second place to DuckTales for the most episodes in a Disney cartoon. The series aired its last episode on December 5, 1992. The two-part episode “Darkly Dawns The Duck” originally aired as an hour-length special on September 7, 1991, serving as the show’s pilot. After its initial airing the film was edited for time for the launching of the series and aired as the show’s first regular episode the following day. It features Tim Curry, who does an excellent job voicing the super-villain Taurus Bulba. Seasons one and two were aired simultaneously on different networks when the show premiered; season one in syndication as part of The Disney Afternoon block, and season two syndication aired Saturday mornings on ABC. This screwed up the chronological order of the episodes, and I wonder why Disney would choose to confuse fans by airing the series this way.

What’s even more puzzling is for the type of show Darkwing Duck was – why was there never an official conclusion to the series? Surely it was planned; Taurus Bulba’s abrupt exit in the episode “Steerminator” was, indeed, meant to ultimately lead into his return (and inevitable defeat) in a series finale that never came to be with the cancellation of the show following the last season, meaning this plot line would never be resolved. Why was there never a fourth season? Why did episode production stop at 91 episodes, an odd number for any series, and not continue to 100 full half-hours perhaps concluding the series within the last nine episodes? Surely Darkwing Duck deserved a full-length motion picture movie; it would have raised the elements of the show to a whole other plateau and given it much more of an edge. If not this, than a television special structured similar to the pilot so the series could end properly, all neat and tidy with all loose ends tied. All of this however never came to be; I’m not sure if fans every discovered why Darkwing Duck was left basically on a cliffhanger.

Darkwing Duck got the standard merchandising – Happy Meal toys, plush figures, books, stickers, coloring books, videogames, plus a special four issue comic book based on the pilot. Subsequent comic stories were featured in the magazine Disney Adventures from 1991-1995 as well as the Disney Afternoon comic book published by Marvel Comics. The series was also Emmy-nominated as well. The character of Darkwing Duck appeared occasionally in the series Bonkers, and Gosalyn appeared in the series Raw Toonage (although I never remember this happening). It should be noted that Darkwing Duck was the first Disney cartoon, that I can recall, broke the fourth wall where the characters of the show portrayed actors of the show they were in – this was showcased in the episode “A Star Is Scorned”.

The last time this masked crime fighting caped crusader and his crash landing sidekick were seen in Canada was on Family Channel around 1999/2000. Darkwing Duck is one of my favorite shows from Disney’s prime days of television animation. While I watched it a lot as a kid, I came to find I liked it even more with age. I ended up watching many episodes of the series online in late 2007 for the first time in years, and can say Darkwing Duck is a show that has aged well as I still found it plenty entertaining. It has many funny moments and has amusing stories. Darkwing Duck/Drake Mallard is an awesome character; you got to love his over-inflated ego coupled with his lack of common sense, all wrapped together by the lively voicing of Jim Cummings. Gosalyn is another favorite character of mine, always full of sprit and wanting to go on adventures. Christine Cavanaugh did an excellent job voicing her in the series and I don’t think she gets enough credit for that. It makes one wonder why she retired from voice acting and all but disappeared from the industry, as she was a talented actress. DVD’s of the show first started coming out in 2006, but one Youtube user has uploaded the entire series for viewing online. Of course the opening theme song (and the ending theme) is etched in the mind of anyone who watched this show; it has a very early 90’s pop sound to it, matched with good lyrics and clips. As usual, I have no idea who the singer is.

6.26.2008

TaleSpin (1990)

Spin it!

Premiering on September 9, 1990, TaleSpin was Disney’s sixth venture into television animation, and the third show to revive old classic Disney characters into a new era (not technically true as the series is set in the mid to late 1930’s), whilst adding new characters into the mix. The name of the show is a play on “tailspin” meaning “the rapid descent of an aircraft in a steep spiral”. The “tale” in the name originally referred to the series DuckTales because one of its characters, Launchpad McQuack, was originally going to be the main character of the show, but was replaced by Baloo from Disney’s 1967 film The Jungle Book. The series show’s its roots from the movie, having the role of Mowgli the wild boy supplanted by the young bearcub Kit, and features King Louie and Shere Kahn in supporting roles.

The original concept of the series was embodied in the introductory television movie (or pilot) “Plunder And Lightning” which was nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Animated Program in 1991, and later was edited into four half-hour episodes for syndication. Many of the show’s concepts seem to be based on the 1982 ABC series Tales Of The Gold Monkey, including the main concept of a cocky flying boat cargo pilot and his rocky relationship with his girlfriend, his scatterbrained mechanic sidekick, the era and designs of the aircraft and costumes, the Pacific Islands setting, the secondary character relationships, and even the visual appearance of the lagoon. The protagonists of both series fly planes named for waterfowl (Cutter’s Goose and Sea Duck) and are regular denizens of taverns named “Louie’s”. The relationship between Baloo and Rebecca is closely patterned after the television sitcom Cheers – in both shows, a buttoned-down businesswoman named Rebecca takes the reins of a struggling company, then hires its previous owner (a fun-loving but irresponsible slacker) to do most of the work for her.

TaleSpin became another hit show for Disney, running the standard 65 episode amount. Its premiere also marked the launching of Disney’s new block The Disney Afternoon and was the first series to debut in the block (the three prior series had all debuted years before). I can’t give an exact date for an ending episode, as two different sources state two different things. One states the series aired its last episode on August 8, 1994; for whatever reason new episodes stopped airing in 1991 and didn’t resume until the end of 1993, which therefore stretched the actual length of the show despite its standard amount of episodes. Why Disney would have delayed new episodes for almost three years is unknown, but in reality the show would have more than likely ended new episodes in 1991 or 1992 if it had continued normally. The other states this in fact was the case, and the show aired its last episode on August 8, 1991. So who’s right and who’s wrong? The show’s last new episode, “Flying Dupes”, was not intended to be the last episode; a second season was rumored but never happened. Also, that same episode was banned in the US for its terrorist theme and was never re-aired following its original broadcast, although it was always aired in Canada (the show was off the air here before the 9/11 attacks, and if still airing that episode more than likely would have been banned here as well). There were also issues with the episode “Last Horizons” due to its World War II satire.

TaleSpin got some merchandising as well, such as Happy Meal toys, a board game, plush figures, books, stickers, coloring books, and videogames. A monthly comic book based on the show was published by Disney Comics in 1991 that ran for seven issues (eleven if you count a four-issue mini-series based on the series premiere). The comic’s early cancellation, which is unknown, terminated several planned stories that would have revealed pieces of background for the main characters. Issue seven even had a preview for the eighth, never printed comic. Subsequent comic stories were featured in the magazine Disney Adventures from 1990-1995 as well as the Disney Afternoon comic book published by Marvel Comics. Like other Disney cartoons at the time, TaleSpin was a deserving candidate for a feature length film, but it was never proposed. It’s worthy to note TaleSpin was the first Disney cartoon to have major use of CGI to create the perspectives of the planes and 3-D backgrounds. Oddly enough I couldn’t find any good production art from the series.

The last time these high flying bears were seen in Canada was on Family Channel around 1999/2000 – that’s a guess mind you, it’s been a very long time since I’ve seen any of the episodes. I don’t remember much of it, but I know I did watch it a lot as a kid, and I wonder if I sat down and watched the series now would I still like it or have grown out of it? It looks more watchable and exciting than Chip ‘N Dale Rescue Rangers, and I like the character of Don Karnage – his voice actor Jim Cummings makes him a joy to watch. DVD’s of the show first started coming out in 2006, but one Youtube user has uploaded the entire series for viewing online. Of course the opening theme song (and the ending theme) is unforgettable, and this mambo/Latin jazz flavored tune makes you want to get up and dance. I found the various action scenes and editing very face paced for this theme and matched up with the music well – it keeps your attention all the way through. Again, I have no idea who the singer is.

5.31.2008

Chip ‘N Dale Rescue Rangers (1989)

Premiering on March 5, 1989, Chip ‘N Dale Rescue Rangers was Disney’s fifth venture into television animation, and the second show to revive old classic Disney characters into a new era, whilst adding new characters into the mix. Its concept was loosely based on the feature films The Rescuers and The Rescuers Down Under, and featured Chip ‘n Dale who were originally created in the 1940’s as troublemakers for Donald Duck and Pluto in Disney’s classic cartoon shorts.

Initially though, it wasn’t planned like that. When the idea first came up for the Rescue Rangers series, Chip ‘n Dale were not part of the show. The original idea centered around a group of animals as a team, which included a chameleon, an earlier draft of Gadget, and Monterey Jack (with a different name). The main character was an Indiana Jones type mouse named Kit Colby who sported a fedora and a fluffy collared leather jacket. When the show was proposed in a meeting with Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg, the idea was well received except for the character of Kit Colby. At Eisner’s suggestion, he was replaced with the chipmunk duo to give the show some established Disney characters to work with. While Chip ‘n Dale were well-known characters, to bring them into the series only their general appearance and broad personality traits were kept. Unlike their appearances in Disney shorts, in the Rescue Rangers the chipmunk duo are very verbal – audio processing was used to speed up the voice recordings and give the voices a higher pitch, particularly Dale’s. The pair were also given clothes, with Chip given Kit’s original concept clothing, while the goofier Dale was incidentally modeled on Magnum, P.I. with his Hawaiian shirt.

Chip ‘N Dale Rescue Rangers became a huge success for Disney, despite only running 65 episodes. It eventually became syndicated and became part of the Disney Afternoon line-up, and aired its last episode on November 19, 1990. It’s no surprise that when Disney first started to release DVD’s of their old cartoons in 2005 that Chip ‘N Dale Rescue Rangers and DuckTales were the first ones out of the gate. They are arguably their most successful shows with the biggest fandoms. But out of the two, and all the other old classic Disney cartoons, I’ve never quite seen such a long lasting fandom than what I’ve seen from Chip ‘N Dale Rescue Rangers. Numerous websites, fanart, fanfiction, articles, and music videos (thanks to Youtube) have been posted over the years. Nearly twenty years after premiering the show still has an active forum called The Acorn Cafe (which itself is already ten years old) where fans, who like to call themselves “Rangerphiles” can reminisce and discuss this old program. There’s even a RangerWiki for cryin out loud!

And why did the fandom for this show grow to be so huge? I’d say its the show’s characters and group dynamics – Disney gave a great set of characters to work with, but as with usual kids programming they were limited to tell certain, more mature stories. This is where fanfiction comes in, and how many fans built off what they were given from Disney to create more intense and satisfying stories. One character in particular was the main reason to write about, a trait some cartoons have where a single character becomes so fascinating with fans they nearly take over the entire fandom (a topic I’ll cover later on). Gadget Hackwrench – a cute, blond, smart, female mouse. People love to add layers and layers onto her background and make romance stories between her and Chip ‘n Dale. One of the most electrifying fan comics I ever came across was Chris Fischer’s Of Mice And Mayhem. Makes me wish other cartoon fandoms had a dedicated fan like this – because the time spent on the artwork and story are phenomenal.

Chip ‘N Dale Rescue Rangers spawned perhaps the most merchandise for any Disney cartoon I’ve ever seen thus far. Videogames, puzzles, a line of McDonald’s Happy Meal toys, coloring books, a board game, stickers, stamps, posters, plus many other items. A monthly comic based on the show was published by Disney Comics in 1990 that ran for 19 issues, as well as comic stories featured in the magazine Disney Adventures from 1990-1995. In 1990 in was reported that a theatrical feature film based on the series was planned for a 1991 release, however the film never happened possibly due to the lackluster performance of DuckTales The Movie: Treasure Of The Lost Lamp. The show also has the honor of having the most production art I’ve ever come across for a Disney cartoon series. And it’s not cheap looking either – it’s of high quality, something you never see anymore in production artwork.

The last time these problem solving critters were seen in Canada was on Family Channel in the spring of 2004. I watched this show when I was younger, and I remember trying out some episodes when it was last on. I don’t know how well this show has aged, but for me the characters and some storylines came off as boring. Gadget’s consistent use of the word “golly” becomes and annoyance after a while. Various episodes are up on Youtube if you want to watch them. Of course the opening theme song (and the ending theme) is timeless in their glossy 80’s fashion, and in fact two themes exist both for the opening and ending credits, while the opening credits have two difference arrangements of visuals. I’ve linked the one that I remember seeing the most and was the best, sound effects included. Its known that 80’s pop group The Jets sang the opening theme song as you can see in the show’s official promo music video (don’t you wish all your favorite cartoons had these?). But the arrangement of the song and vocals sound different from what is actually played in the program. So it could still be left to wonder who sings on the original one minute version.

4.29.2008

The New Adventures Of Winnie The Pooh (1988)

Premiering September 10, 1988 on ABC, The New Adventures Of Winnie The Pooh was Disney’s fourth venture into television animation. Inspired by A. A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh stories, the cartoon is a continuation of the series of “Pooh” short films released from Disney from the 1960’s till the 1980’s.

For whatever reason, I never really thought much of this program. It kind of stands out in what Disney was putting out at the time. While other shows were reviving old characters with a modern twist, this series was more of an extension of the previous “Pooh” films and therefore involved a different type of storyline. I always thought of this show to be more preschool-ish than anything else, and that’s why it stands out in Disney’s list of animated television programs (excluding the list of shows intentionally aimed at preschoolers). While Pooh merchandise has always sold well for Disney, I never saw a big fandom surrounding this show. This is more than likely why I can’t find too much production information about it. Nonetheless, it was enjoyed by many kids for many years. Personally, I never really got into this program and didn’t watch it that often. Perhaps its storylines in the 100 Acre Wood set in a classic time just didn’t interest me. I haven’t watched the show in years and have more than likely grown out of it now. Despite this, the series boasted quality animation with original songs and scores.

The New Adventures Of Winnie The Pooh ran for 83 episodes, the last one airing on October 7, 1991. A Christmas special entitled Winnie The Pooh And Christmas Too based on the series aired on December 14, 1991. Oddly enough reruns of the show continued to air on Saturday mornings on ABC until the fall of 2002 – therefore The New Adventures Of Winnie The Pooh holds a record for being the longest Disney series to be broadcasted in reruns on the original network it premiered on, and no other Disney cartoon since then has come close to airing that long on its original network of debut. Winnie-the-Pooh and Tigger also appeared in the 1990 drug prevention video Cartoon All-Stars To The Rescue.

The last time Winnie-the-Pooh and his friends were seen in Canada was on Family Channel in the summer of 2007; at the time of its removal from the network it was the oldest Disney cartoon airing on the channel. No episodes are currently on Youtube and the series has no DVD releases as of yet. It goes without saying – the opening theme song (and the ending theme) from this show is flawlessly crafted to sing along with and will surly evoke childhood memories within seconds of listing to it. The singer kind of sounds the same from the DuckTales theme but I can’t say that for sure. These oldschool Disney themes are a mystery when it comes to who the singers are.

4.28.2008

DuckTales (1987)

If the success of Adventures Of The Gummi Bears was any indication of what Disney could accomplish in an animated television series, than their next series about Scrooge McDuck and his nephews in Duckburg surely wiped away any doubt in what they could achieve.

DuckTales, which premiered on September 18, 1987, was a straight shot out of the park for Disney and much like Adventures Of The Gummi Bears, set the standard for what a cartoon at the time could really accomplish. Entertainingly funny with interesting characters and rich storylines, tied together with good animation – DuckTales was a step up from most other boring cartoons offered at the time. It was also the first show to revive an old, classic Disney character and catapult them into a new era, whilst adding new characters into the mix. This template would be exercised in many more Disney productions to come. The series was loosely based on Carl Barks’ comics, and has been a unique vehicle for bringing many comic-related characters to the small screen such as Gyro, Magica, Gladstone, the Beagle Boys, and the Phantom Blot which successfully translated from comics to the cartoon, albeit with some modifications.

DuckTales is notable for being the first Disney cartoon to be produced in syndication, and paved the way for many future Disney productions. If not for its success it would be hard to question where Disney would have gone with their television animation department. DuckTales was successful in an attempt to create high quality animation for a television series, and Disney invested a far greater amount of money into the series than had previously been spent on animated shows of the time. It was considered a risky move because at the time animated television shows were generally considered low-budget investments. In the end it was a risk that paid off well. Disney gambled on the idea that a larger investment into quality animation could be made back through syndication – a concept that worked well with live-action television reruns, but which had only been used with inexpensive cartoon shows that either recycled theatrical shorts from decades past or only featured limited, low-budget animation.

Disney has yet to top the success of DuckTales after its premiere two decades ago, and it still holds the record for the largest amount of episodes of any Disney cartoon at 100 half-hours. The first season consisted of 65 episodes, the standard length for a Disney television cartoon. The second season included 35 episodes adding new characters such as Bubba Duck and Fenton Crackshell a.k.a. GizmoDuck. Along with them came stories that generally shifted away from the globetrotting plots of the first season, and revolved primarily in the contemporary setting of Duckburg. The final episode of the series is disputed to have aired either on March 11 or May 6, 1990.

The popularity of the show even launched a full-length motion picture in 1990 called DuckTales The Movie: Treasure Of The Lost Lamp – a somewhat rare occurrence back then to have a feature-length theatrical film based on a current cartoon series. This gamble however did not pay off as hoped and the film was not a success finically, which more than likely caused other proposed feature films based on current and future television cartoons to be scrapped. There were plans for there to be several DuckTales movies following this film, but these were all shelved as well. I have a feeling if this franchise had been around in current times, the movie would have been a hit. Several television cartoons now adays have made great transitions over to film. But in 1990 animated movies weren’t the big money makers they are today.

Not only does DuckTales hold the title for most episodes and the only television production to have a feature-length film thus far, it also spun off two other series – Darkwing Duck and Quack Pack. In 1989 Chip ‘N Dale Rescue Rangers was paired with DuckTales in an hour long syndicated block through the 1989-90 television season, and in 1990-91 the block was expanded another hour to create The Disney Afternoon which would see success for many years to come. DuckTales therefore has another merit of being one of the early flagship cartoons in the block. Huey, Dewey, and Louie all appeared in the 1990 drug prevention video Cartoon All-Stars To The Rescue, while Scrooge and Launchpad appeared in Disney’s short-lived series Raw Toonage. As for merchandise, there were two series of comic books (one ran 13 issues from 1988-1990, the other 18 issues from 1990-1991), as well as comic stories featured in the magazine Disney Adventures from 1990-1996.

The last time Scrooge McDuck and his nephews were seen in Canada was on Family Channel in the summer of 2003. I watched this show when I was younger, and I remember trying out some episodes when it was last on – at the time I was 18. It didn’t really capture me to stick with watching it, or maybe I just needed to give it a chance. Or maybe I had grown out of its characters and stories? In any case episodes are currently up on Youtube if you want to relive those childhood days without paying for the DVD’s. Of course the opening theme song (and the ending theme) from DuckTales is one of the most remembered cartoon themes not only from the Disney catalogue, but from the 1980’s as well. As stated in my previous post, anyone got any leads on who the singer is?

3.28.2008

Adventures Of The Gummi Bears (1985)

Disney’s second venture into television animation ended up doing much better than their previous offering that only lasted one season. Although by premise the show sounded as weird as The Wuzzles was – a bunch of brightly colored anthropomorphic bears living beneath a pond, guarding a secret recipe for a juice that makes them jump higher. Adding to that, it also took place in medieval times.

Luckily for them, Disney’s Adventures Of The Gummi Bears was just what the newly founded television animation department needed – a hit show. It premiered alongside The Wuzzles on September 14, 1985 on NBC. The idea for the show again came from Michael Eisner, and was based on a popular European candy called, of course, gummi bears. Oddly enough he sourced the idea after his son asked him one day for some gummi bear candies, which I guess was enough to convince him he could make an animated program loosely based on them. With better stories, better characters, and better animation, the show lasted five years and 65 half hour episodes – 30 of which were made up of two smaller cartoons, therefore totaling 95 individual episodes. Why the format was changed I have no idea; it’s an odd trait as most cartoons usually stay with one type of episode format for their entire run. The show was also produced by seasons and not in syndication (meaning all the episodes were made first and then all aired), and ran on NBC from 1985-1989, and for what ever reason moved to ABC in 1990 where it aired its final episode on December 8, 1990. I wasn’t aware of this until researching the show for this post, but the series actually had a proper series finale – the last two episodes marking the only time a single storyline followed throughout. For an animated cartoon, it’s a rare thing to have an ending episode, even today. The fact an 80’s cartoon like this ended properly is an extreme rareness, as a lot of cartoons back then were mass produced for a line of toys, and writers could care less about making an “ending” episode to make viewers happy. While the show was popular it didn’t spawn an overly large amount of merchandise; a few comics and books, buttons, and some figurines were about it.

Adventures Of The Gummi Bears exceeded many animated television shows at the time, and with the passage of time is now looked back upon as a show that jump started the massive boom of television animation in the late 80’s and throughout the 90’s. Disney would not only find the same type of success in their next series, but it would grow to overcome Adventures Of The Gummi Bears to become their biggest series ever. The longevity of the show could be attributed to the extremely rich universe it portrays – one which is clearly anchored in a Medieval Europe similar to Earth history, but whose pre-history is underlined not by men, but by the Ancient Gummis. The series also became the forerunner for Disney’s popular Disney Afternoon block when it premiered in 1990. It holds the record for the most seasons of any Walt Disney Television Animation production at six – seasons did not overlap into the following year, but rather each year had its own season. This can be disputed though with Disney’s release of the first three seasons on DVD and the amount of episodes included – I’ll leave you readers to work out the details.

The last time these bouncing bears were seen in Canada was on Family Channel around 1999/2000 – that’s a guess mind you, it’s been a very long time since I’ve seen any of the episodes. I remember finding out the show was back airing, but only on weekends at like 6:30 in the morning. I wasn’t quite old enough to care to program the VCR and I remember getting up early just to watch this show. Of course that was a long time ago, I wonder if I really sat down and watched the series now – would I still like it, or would I have grown out of it? If only I had the time to prove that theory – one Youtube user has taken the time to upload the entire series (among other great Disney titles) for viewing online. Of course the opening theme song (and the ending theme) for this show was nothing short of awesome and is irresistible to sing along with (I couldn’t find a good quality video of just the opening so I linked a random episode). They sure don’t make them like his anymore. The only thing about this opening theme and the other Disney themes to follow is that the singer is unknown – at least to me. Anyone got any leads?

3.17.2008

The Wuzzles (1985)

“The hell is this?” That was my first reaction when I came to discover this program. For the longest time when I was younger, I always had the notion that Adventures Of The Gummi Bears was Disney’s first animated cartoon. I was pretty surprised to find a show had been produced prior to that one, as I knew a lot of Disney titles but never heard of this show up until that point I found out about it.

It was more than likely because The Wuzzles was a flop. With only 13 episodes made, it still stands with the lowest amount of episodes of any animated television program Disney has put out thus far. That, and with a long passage of time, has made a show like this almost forgettable. I can’t recall this show ever airing in Canada, and this is the only Disney series I have never laid eyes on. Truth be told, I never even saw the opening credits until I searched for the show on Youtube while writing this entry. I can kind of see why it wasn’t a big hit – because it looks weird. Of course readers who actually saw this series could prove me wrong, as I can’t base any real opinion on it since I’ve never seen any of the episodes.

The Wuzzles premiered the same day as Adventures Of The Gummi Bears on September 14, 1985, with one show airing on CBS and the other on NBC. It was Disney’s first venture into animated television for kids. From what I’ve researched the idea of the show came from then CEO of the Walt Disney Company Michael Eisner, in association with toy manufacturer Hasbro, to create a group of animal characters with a roughly even and colorful mix of two different species of animals. Yes, it’s really that weird. And the theme song mentions “livin’ with a split personality” as a reference to this, which sounds even weirder. And they all have wings on their backs…no I’m not making this up. It gets better…all of the Wuzzles live on the Isle of Wuz. Is this meant to mean “Wuztf?”, because that’s basically all I can say about this cracked “what were they smoking?” type of cartoon. Another reason it failed: while Disney later on would become known for making shows about entertaining kids first with good stories and characters, this series was the opposite. It carried with it the standard marketing ploy of the time to get products to sell, and The Wuzzles were marketed extensively with books, plush toys and a board game, among other things. And while not a huge factor as voice actors can be replaced, one of them who voiced one of the main characters died, which only nailed another nail into the coffin for the series.

While The Wuzzles was not successful here, it did fairly better in the UK where its pilot episode aired as a theatrical feature. What the show did have was a catchy opening theme, which would become a trademark of many Disney cartoons to follow. There are some random clips of the show on Youtube. I quickly viewed them, and just shook my head at lameness.

3.10.2008

Walt Disney Television Animation

I’ve decided to kick off my reviewing of cartoons with the long and vast collection of shows Disney has been pumping out for the past 20 years. You should note that for these reviews and future ones for other shows, I’m going to assume you know a little bit about them to begin with. If you want specific information about characters, setting, and plot, you can find most of that stuff on Wikipedia and fansites. I’d like to hope my readers are well prepared and know their stuff before coming here. It would just take a longer time for me to name off all important characters, where the series takes place, and what the stories usually involve. That being said, for more lesser known cartoons and more so ones that are from Canada that don’t get much exposure anyplace else, I’ll shed more light on those. Who knows, I may just go back on all what I’ve said here if there is enough demand from people wanting to know more about characters/setting/plot for the more popular shows.

Television animation was in a dark state in the first half of the 1980’s. It was mostly used for pushing a popular brand of toys. Stories were drab, animation was horrible, and most of these shows haven’t aged well. The tide started to change by the middle of the decade with Disney – a company that brought us shows based on good stories, solid characters, imagination, and better animation. It wasn’t about pushing a product; it was about characters and their adventures, and entertaining kids first. Walt Disney Television Animation was launched in 1984 and a year later would premiere its first venture into television animation with The Wuzzles.

Since then Disney has come to produce and air a wealthy line of cartoons; to which they could and should be separated into categories. There was an explosion of syndicated television animation from 1985-1992 that revived all the old classic Disney characters with a modern twist. Shows like Chip ‘N Dale Rescue Rangers, TaleSpin, and DuckTales – these shows brought to life old favorites while ushering new characters into the mix, while other shows from this time like Darkwing Duck and Adventures Of The Gummi Bears were totally original, new ideas. All these shows in this time period followed a strict likeness to each other. Each had a catchy opening sequence that clicked in at a minute long, each used the exact same font in the ending credits text, and the ending credits themselves always had a background picture of scenery to that show’s setting and/or character’s residence. It can be argued, however, that not all of these programs were syndicated and that some were produced by seasons – a trend of back and fourth-ness that has continued to his day with Disney. While I never thought of it to be a separate section, what Disney put out between 1993-1996 differs slightly from what was produced prior, but in some ways you could still consider it a good couple years where they still made decent programs. These years saw more productions based on recent movies like Aladdin and Timon & Pumbaa, while still churning out innovative shows like Gargoyles and The Schnookums & Meat Funny Cartoon Show.

By 1997 Disney had used up all their old characters, and changed direction with making more original, tween-oriented shows no longer featuring anthropomorphic critters but with “real” people – shows like Pepper Ann, Recess, and The Weekenders. I’d incase 1997-2002 as another chapter in Disney’s animated television history, as some of these shows in this timeframe have grown to become modern classics of their own. They were also part of the popular Disney’s One Saturday Morning block as well. The newest chapter of Disney’s television animation stems from 2003 to current time, which features a mix of anthropomorphic animal characters (Brandy & Mr. Whiskers), humans (The Replacements), and series based on recent movies (The Emperor’s New School).

I’d have to put the golden age of Walt Disney Television Animation between 1987 and 1992, as they put out hit after hit of (now classic) cartoons, and it was a very popular time for their animation block known as The Disney Afternoon. Sure they had shows before 1987, but they didn’t hit their stride until DuckTales became a huge success; which still stands as their longest running series with 100 half-hour episodes. Many of the cartoons during this time were heavily merchandised as well. Animation improved slowly, but it faltered here and there with Disney outsourcing their animation to other companies (a topic to cover for a later date). Between 1993 and 2001 while not in their prime, Disney still managed to make some good cartoons, although not heavily merchandised as the previous ones were (or in some cases not at all). It seems after 2001 the quality of many Disney programs fell fast and hard. No merchandise or hardly anything of value to really buy, boring ideas and repetitive scenarios, ugly character design and average animation, and no popular block to air them in anymore (lets face it, the current ABC Kids sucks and is mostly live-action programming now). This all leads to series closing up shop pretty quickly after beginning, and none of their recent efforts have made it past two years of production.

It’s hard to signify exactly where Disney jumped the shark, as even through a sea of tiresome cartoons they can still come out with a good show once in a while. What Disney currently has in production now is utter crap to what they used to put out; even their shows five years ago were of somewhat better quality. The Emperor’s New School, The Replacements, Phineas And Ferb – these shows just don’t compare. From being a cartoon making powerhouse to not knowing what the hell they are doing, Disney sure has fallen from its once high perch as a great network that made enjoyable animated programs.

2.29.2008

The Buzz On Chowder

Hungry for something new and refreshing to satisfy your animation appetite? Look no further – Chowder is here. Originally I was going to wait until I would eventually cover this program when going through a review of Cartoon Network’s programming, but at the current pace this blog is set at that could take me a year or more. And blogs, in one view, are used to keep up with current news and events. I just couldn’t keep quiet about Chowder, so here are my two cents about it thus far.

It’s hard to write a review about this show – because most of what I could say has been said by many fans already. Chowder, which made its premiere on Cartoon Network in November 2007, stands out so far from everything else in animation these days that it’s on another planet. It’s uniquely original in all aspects. It’s set up in a whimsical world of exotic locale, where you never know what will happen next. It’s styled so much more differently and doesn’t feel as it’s ever limited by what it can do. It has a funky soundtrack that keeps characters in tune. It’s creatively written and jumps from being very funny and cute, too being totally gross but not in an excessive way. It’s full of random moments that make it interesting to watch, and is scripted to be unscripted with many funny “in-between” moments. The characters are designed well and have distinctive personalities, and let’s just face it – Chowder is downright adorable to watch as he’s such an innocent and energetic character that feels real. Adding to the winning formula, Chowder has an excellent voice cast and all characters interact well. One of its best traits is its dialogue – it’s written to be amusing for kids, but has such widespread appeal older viewers can enjoy the show as well. At 22 I found the show to come off very entertaining, sometimes thinking to myself, “Is this really just meant for kids ages 9-12?” It’s got hilarious moments that would wholly go over many young viewers’ heads, and yet it still retains a playfulness and charm I can’t recall ever seeing in a cartoon before.

Chowder for me was a series of firsts. It was the first time I ever noticed voice acting before anything else, and that’s rare. I was very surprised to look up Chowder’s voice actor on the net, and to find he has little to no previous acting credits – and he voice acts like a pro! He brings such a youthful exuberance to his character and as a good voice actor should, makes the character come alive. I can’t imagine anyone ever replacing Chowder’s voice, so lets hope his young voice actor Nicky Jones can hold off puberty for as long as possible. Panini’s voice actress Liliana Mumy was an excellent choice, I love the persona she gives her character. Add that she has a long acting resume, minus that I’m sure puberty won’t effect her as much so she can voice Panini for as long as possible.

Chowder was also the first time I realized it’s been far too long since a cartoon was traditionally animated, something I thought I’d never see again. Could it really be the lost art of making cartoons is making a comeback? In a world of flat Flash and cheap 3-D CGI, the show racks up more points with me just for that fact its animated in traditional 2-D, but from what I know it’s in a digital format (Someone want to clear up what the exact difference is? Will cells exist? Or is it all done by computer?). The animation is fantastic. It has a large palette of colors that really gives your eyes a visual treat; its backgrounds are textured and extensively detailed to wrap the show in its own jokingly quirky universe. It also has good flow and motion as well, a trait I often search but fail to find in other shows that offer jerky and stiff character movements. Lips move well to the voices, and facial expressions are nicely exaggerated when need be, all the more adding to a character’s personality.

Chowder was also the very first time I went out of my way to see a new cartoon. And that really says something, moreover the fact because I’m out of the prime age range they are trying to reach. Cartoon Network’s productions eventually make it to air on Teletoon here in Canada, but it takes months for them to finally get here and by then we are so far behind our viewers in the US. But I just couldn’t wait. After seeing short clips of it on Youtube, I actively looked and found a download of the first four episodes. The picture and sound quality weren’t all the great, but the series was as good as I thought it would be, and it made me wonder where a show like this has been hiding for all these years. Comparing a show like this to anything else is almost criminal, but I’d put Chowder between a cross of SpongeBob Squarepants and The Ren & Stimpy Show.

Chowder is one hot dish of a cartoon right now. Since my discovery of it towards the end of 2007, I’ve seen its online fandom rapidly flourish in a short time in forms of fanart, websites, and various fan-made videos on Youtube – some of which have over 100,000 views already. What a handy marketing trick to get the show noticed even more. The show had high expectations when it came to premiere, and has already quickly become one of the network’s headlining series. I can only hope it continues to have the success its having this early on, as sometimes victory too early can result in expectations becoming too high far too soon. I sincerely hope Chowder doesn’t jump the shark that quickly, and that it lives every episode like it was its first. The worst thing that could happen to an original show like this is repetition in stories and character behavior, and I hope “Chowder/Panini” episodes don’t take over the series just to satisfy fans that want to see a couple together.

Chowder leaps out of the creative mind of C.H. Greenblatt, whose blog is linked here. You can find up-to-date information and media on the series there. A good review of the series from Toon Zone can be found here, as well as a cool fan-made flash video here. And please flame this reviewer off the face of the earth for stating the cartoon is a “throw away series”. It’s the exact opposite – Chowder has a winning recipe behind it, and when all mixed together creates a scrumches delicacy that will satisfy the taste buds and cravings for the true animation connoisseur. I hope to get my fill of Chowder when it lands on the menu here in Canada. Let’s hope it’s soon – because I’m starving.

2.28.2008

Networks In The United States – Part 5

To wrap up this segment – I’ll cover the rest of the networks that air, or used to air, cartoons and live action kids shows in the US. Mind you I’m doing this to the best of my knowledge as I don’t live there, so if I have made any errors don’t hesitate to leave a comment.

MTV – Known more for their music videos than cartoons, although these days that wouldn’t even be true in relating to the music videos, the network has produced and aired many popular and cult classic teen/adult oriented shows. This first started in 1991 with the premiere of Liquid Television, an animation showcase of creator-driven short cartoons. The show served as a launching point for several high-profile cartoons like Beavis And Butt-head and Æon Flux. In the years to follow they would produce many more shows, many gaining a cult following long after their cancellation such as Downtown, underGRADS, and Daria. They don’t seem to be doing much these days with animation; as far as I know they haven’t produced anything new for at least five years.

UPN – Don’t know much about this network, only for the fact it had the exact same life span as The WB at 11 years, and would end up shutting down in 2006 and merging with it to form The CW Television Network. When the station launched they aired cartoons on weekends in a lineup known as UPN Kids – some affiliates airing the block on Sundays instead of Saturdays. It mostly aired old anime like Dragon Ball Z and Samurai Pizza Cats. In 1999 the network made a deal with Disney to air select programming from Disney’s One Saturday Morning block; the new lineup would be called Disney’s One Too. Many station affiliates were already airing the syndicated Disney Afternoon block to begin with, and with the new block Disney’s cartoons were no longer syndicated but aired on UPN stations – some markets running it on weekday mornings, others weekday afternoons. After eight years of airing animated shows, the network dropped out in airing children’s programming in September 2003 when their contract with Disney came to an end.

USA Network – Had a popular animation block called USA Cartoon Express which ran from 1982 to 1996. It has the honor of being the first structured animation block on cable television, predating Nickelodeon’s animation blocks by half a decade and Cartoon Network by more than a decade. Its initial setup was comprised mostly of reruns from the Hanna-Barbera library, but by the end of the 80’s a more diverse lineup of cartoons aired in the block including The Real Ghostbusters, G.I. Joe, and Alvin & The Chipmunks. Turner Broadcasting purchased Hanna-Barbera and launched Cartoon Network in 1992, thus taking a chunk of Cartoon Express programming with it. In 1994 the block was moved from weekday afternoons to weekday mornings, in addition to its Sunday morning lineup, and revamped the entire look of the block. The block even launched original shows – the first two Cartoon Express series The Itsy-Bitsy Spider and Problem Child didn’t catch on with viewers. The network briefly acquired the broadcast rights to Terrytoons shorts and DC Comics related cartoons. Eventually the block was revamped into a weekday morning “all-action” block named USA Action Extreme Team with programs like Mighty Max, Sailor Moon, and Gargoyles. By the summer of 1996, USA Network ended all animation blocks on all its outlets after a 14 year run.

ABC Family – This network came to be after Fox Family was sold to ABC in 2001. Even though I never got the channel, I do remember promos for Fox Family Channel, and while I’d like to expand more on the network there isn’t much info about it. All I know is that it premiered sometime in the 90’s and aired much of what Fox Kids was airing at the time in an assigned children’s programming block. The network would also come to air many older shows and Saturday morning “classics” like Bobby’s World, Camp Candy, and Dennis The Menace, meanwhile ushering in various Canadian produced shows like Braceface and Mega Babies. ABC Family’s Jetix block made its debut on the network in 2002 airing anime such as Medabots, Beyblade, and Digimon: Digital Monsters. The block ran until August 2006 when it was switched to air on Toon Disney, leaving the network without an animation block they have yet to replace.

More information about these networks can be found on Wikipedia. If there is one trend that is evident after compiling this post – its that these major networks with small blocks dedicated to children’s programming all eventually fell victim to cable networks that were solely dedicated to children’s programming all the time (with the exception of MTV). Therefore with losing an audience who would rather watch Nickelodeon or Cartoon Network, these networks lose interest in hosting a block with cartoons as they don’t see it profitable, and they eventually fade away – much like the classic Saturday morning blocks of my time. It goes back to what I mentioned at the end of this post, and that only networks that air cartoons 24/7 are the places to really find your animation fix these days – as major networks have abandoned their small blocks of animation because no one is paying attention to them anymore. As with the case of MTV – adult animation has always been a hard market to be really successful in, and I think perhaps they just gave up on making anymore animated shows as most of them only lasted one season.

In pertaining to the three previous children’s networks I covered (Nick, Disney and CN), there is another trend I’ve come to realize – is that they all more or less share the same progression as they age. They have an early stage where the network develops its identity with viewers, and during this time they will import shows from various other networks and countries. They will eventually enter a golden age where the network is very popular with viewers, and during this time original productions commence. Of course you can only appreciate a golden age once many years have been put behind it and you finally realize it was a golden age, but back then it was just the network improving on itself. These networks (moreover the older ones) seem to have a good first ten years, but then they reach a point of jumping the shark. They improved so much, did so many things, released so many great shows – and suddenly the winning formula is lost due to the changes of time and shifts in viewership to a new generation of audience. They begin to falter, over and over again, lose their status as the network they were once known for, and worst of all start to get compared to how they used to be years ago. During this time these networks will make sister/spin-off channels because they have such a large catalogue of programming they can’t fit it all on their current network, therefore many older shows see the light of day again – this being more of a treat to older viewers. It’s not enough though, and the network just isn’t putting out the same greatness it once was. Was it the audience? Or the changes in animation itself that cause some networks to miss the mark with almost every new show they put out? Has every story from every point of view been told? Is nothing truly new anymore? From what I’ve examined in the lifespan of a children’s network, and how most of them aren’t what they used to be, I think it’s time we got a new animation station so the process of a fresh and new network that airs great cartoons can once again be celebrated.

2.27.2008

Networks In The United States – Part 4

The WB Television Network – Launched January 11, 1995 / Dissolved September 17, 2006
Usually referred to as The WB; while it was not a full fledged children’s network, Warner Bros. Animation’s biggest hit shows would eventually find a home there. The WB launched the Kids’ WB programming block in September 1995 which mixed Warners’ biggest hit shows (like Tiny Toon Adventures and Animaniacs that originated on Fox Kids or in syndication) with new productions and original shows.

After the Turner-Time Warner merger in 1996 Kids’ WB formed an alliance with Cartoon Network, and overtime they shared more and more programming. In 1999 they acquired from syndication the American version of the popular anime Pokémon that became a widespread hit with viewers. Eventually the weekday version of the block dissolved by 2006 along with the network, but retained a Saturday morning lineup on the new CW Television Network under the same name. However by late 2007 the network stated the Kids’ WB block will end in September 2008, selling the programming to (I hope you’re sitting down for this, as my jaw hit the floor when I found this out) 4Kids Entertainment – the same crap factory that ruined the old Fox Saturday morning lineup of cartoons.

If that wasn’t enough to make Warner Brothers jump the shark in relation to animation, its also the fact that they haven’t produced a decent hit show since 1998’s Histeria!, the last good Tom Ruegger produced show for Warner Bros. Animation. So if you are asking has Warner Brothers jumped the shark with its viewing audience and current programming – they have. A show like Animaniacs has aged well and is still as fresh as ever to watch; you sure won’t be able to say that for any of the current (forgettable) cartoons they’ve made recently. The WB network never expanded to Canada – most likely because YTV, Fox, Global, and Teletoon aired most of their programming. Youtube has lots of WB Network related stuff and Kids’ WB related stuff so check that out as well. You can view their network sign off here.

2.09.2008

Networks In The United States – Part 3

Cartoon Network – Launched October 1, 1992
Created by Turner Broadcasting; in 1990 the company purchased animation studio Hanna-Barbera Productions and acquired its large library of cartoons. Cartoon Network was created as an outlet for their huge library of animation, and initial programming on the network consisted exclusively of reruns of classic cartoons from Warner Bros., MGM, and Hanna-Barbera.

H-B started production on What-A-Cartoon! Show which was a series of creator-driven short cartoons (much like Nickelodeon’s Oh Yeah! Cartoons series) that premiered in 1995. This show spun-off several successful series and gave birth to CN’s first set of originally produced shows such as Dexter’s Laboratory, Johnny Bravo, and Cow & Chicken. By 1998 the Hanna-Barbera name began to disappear from the newer shows from the studio in favor of the Cartoon Network Studios name – The Powerpuff Girls being the last cartoon to end with H-B’s trademark swirling star logo in the ending credits. In 1996 Time Warner purchased Turner Broadcasting and with it Cartoon Network, who gained access to the complete Warner Bros. cartoon library. Along with this they focused on creating new material for Cartoon Network, which came in perfect timing with the What-A-Cartoon! Show mentioned above that premiered a year earlier.

Eventually the classic cartoons were replaced with current Cartoon Network Studios shows (and other cartoons sourced from other networks and other countries), which therefore led to the spin-off sister channel Boomerang making its debut in April 2000. Starting in 2004, as like The Disney Channel started to do with their own in house shows, CN started to take off the more “recent classics” they produced from the 90’s. The network has had a series of very successful programming blocks as well, such as Cartoon Cartoons (used to be a collective name for Cartoon Network’s original shows). The action-oriented Toonami block has been running since 1997, and is known for showing a large impressive list of Japanese anime and movies. Another claim to fame is its Adult Swim block that ultimately turned into CN’s adult sister network of the same name, which premiered in September 2001. The block plays American animated comedy and animes and OVA’s intended for audiences 18 and older, generally with minimal or no editing for content – and like CN’s normal programming, this block has aired a noteworthy amount of shows. A good portion of the Adult Swim block is made up of original programming produced by Cartoon Network in association with its network division Williams Street, which produces and programs Adult Swim. Cartoon Network has expanded all over the world, but Canada remains one of the few places where it hasn’t – most likely because YTV and Teletoon have aired most of their programming.

Has Cartoon Network jumped the shark with its viewing audience and current programming? As far as I see it, no they haven’t. CN was a latecomer in producing its own shows (compared to Nick and WB), and it wasn’t until the mid 90’s where that ball starting rolling. I think they are still in their prime. Where other networks have continued to falter over the years with failing cartoon shows, CN is the only notable network I see still pumping out good shows. Personally, I saw this proved over and over again first starting in 2004 with Foster’s Home For Imaginary Friends, and then The Life & Times Of Juniper Lee made its debut in 2005 – both are solid shows. Out of all the new offerings for animated shows from (major) networks in the US in 2006, their series Squirrel Boy was the only one that stood out over a cavalcade of bland offerings. They struck gold again with their new series Chowder which premiered in November 2007 – a show that hasn’t even made it here yet but already looks like a fantastic series. It’s just further proof that this network hasn’t lost their touch. They also have a knack for making animated shows live long lives – Codename: Kids Next Door just recently aired its last episode in January after premiering in December 2002. At the time of its premiere I didn’t think nothing of it, but only now realize as with the shows mentioned above that it proves CN makes good, entertaining animation. It illustrates this in its current fleet of programming, and its back catalogue full of great, long running shows. Never has a network been so deserving and true to its name – Cartoon Network truly is an excellent network for cartoons. Youtube has lots of Cartoon Network related stuff so check that out as well. The network has a parade of original animated bumpers, like this one. Too bad other networks didn’t celebrate their anniversaries with cool ads like this.

1.30.2008

Networks In The United States – Part 2

The Disney Channel – Launched April 18, 1983
Based in Burbank, California; early on they used to air some live action kids programming along with various half hour compilations of old Disney shorts. Again, like most networks from this period do early on – they aired several foreign animated shows and movies including Asterix (this was English dubbed at some point?), the original stop motion Paddington Bear series, and The Raccoons.

By the mid 80’s however, the network started to produce their own brand of television animation starting with the short-lived series The Wuzzles in 1985. Disney became a king of Saturday morning cartoons in its own right, as not only did their productions air on their network, but also aired on major networks like NBC, CBS, ABC, and even Fox. DuckTales, Chip ‘N Dale Rescue Rangers, TaleSpin, Darkwing Duck, Goof Troop, etc, are now considered contemporary classics. They had many programming blocks over the years, the most notable being The Disney Afternoon which began in 1990 to house all their television animation. Its name was shortened to TDA in 1994, and by 1997 started getting phased out and replaced by Disney’s One Saturday Morning block solely on the ABC network. This block had a short-lived spin-off starting in 1999 called Disney’s One Too that aired on weekends and weekdays. Both blocks were eventually phased out in the fall of 2002, as Disney’s One Saturday Morning simply became ABC Kids. In April 1998 the network spun-off a sister channel called Toon Disney; meant to air older Disney cartoons and other shows from The Disney Afternoon, which saw many older cartoons jump ship off The Disney Channel and onto this network. However starting in 2004 with the addition of the Jetix block on Toon Disney, most of the older programs vanished (Canadian counterpart Family Channel followed suit as well), although currently some older shows have made their way back on the network.

The Disney Channel/Toon Disney networks have expanded all over the world, but Canada remains one of the few places where it hasn’t – most likely because Family Channel has aired most of their programming. Has Disney Channel jumped the shark with its viewing audience and current programming? Absolutely – their pre-teen lineup of shows has taken over the network, the focus doesn’t even seem to be on animation anymore. They may have ruled Saturday mornings in the 80’s and 90’s, but these days their cartoons are garbage compared to the quality offerings they used to put out. Youtube has lots of Disney related stuff so check that out as well.