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?


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.


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.