Free-For-All Friday: Why Disney Afternoon Was the Best Children’s TV Ever
Last Friday I talked about the new television block on TeenNick called The 90s Are All That, which features the old greats from 90s Nickelodeon programming. This week, I want to talk that other great 90s block of television programming, which was in my opinion even better than Nickelodeon: The Disney Afternoon.
For those who may not know, The Disney Afternoon was a 2 hr afternoon programming block on the Disney Channel that aired from 1990 to 1999. It was, for me, one of the defining parts of the 90s in general and my childhood specifically, and it was home to some of the most brilliant children’s programming to this day. These shows were flat-out amazing. They were brilliant, hilarious, perfect for children, fun for adults (which, let’s be honest, not all Nick shows can really claim), and absolutely iconic of the 90s. Also, they all had the best opening sequences/theme songs EVER. My brother and I actually had The Disney Afternoon soundtrack that had some the theme songs on it, and I STILL know most of the words to them.
Many shows made it into the Disney Afternoon block at various points many were made specifically for the block, but several had been made in the 80s and brought back for a stint in the block. I loved almost every single one of the shows that featured Disney Afternoon, especially the earliest ones, and there are too many to talk about here, let me just mention a few.
The Adventures of the Gummi Bears: This is the show that started it all, and seriously, it doesn’t get much better than this. It first aired in 1985, but was the first show brought to the brand new Disney Afternoon block. The Gummi Bears are the exiled remnants of what was once a great civilization destroyed by humans, who now hide in a warren beneath the kingdom of Dunwyn and who befriend a few special humans only after they prove to be civilized. The Gummis: Gruffi, Summi, Grammi, Tummi, Sunni, and Cubbi ran the usual gamut from old and grumpy to young and mischievous. And the show ran the gamut from rather dark to flat-out trippy.
Chip’n’Dale Rescue Rangers: One of the favorite stories my mother loves to tell about my brother was how our grandmother bought a VHS tape of a couple episodes of Rescue Rangers of my brother sat down right in front of the tv, so his little blonde head blocked half the screen, and watched that tape over and over and over and over again for days. Inpsired (loosely) by the two chipmunks who terrorized Donald Duck in the old Disney cartoons, The Rescue Rangers actually included Chip and Dale (the chipmunks), Gadget and Monterey Jack (mice) and Zipper the fly. Together they solved mysteries that the humans couldn’t handle, and often came up against their two main arch-enemies: Mobster-esque Fat Cat, and the mad scientist Norton Nimnul.
DuckTales: Let’s make this clear, DuckTales was awesome. And it had one of the best theme songs EVER. This show followed Scrooge McDuck, the richest Duck in the world who was always looking for new ways to increase his wealth, and his three Great-Nephews (the nephews of Donald Duck): Huey, Dewey, and Louie, as well as Scrooge’s housekeeper/nanny Mrs. Beakley and her granddaughter Webigail. This show was, quite honestly, insane. The inept burglars the Beagle Boys, the evil Magica de Spell, scatter-brained Gyro Gearloose, the ever-hopeless Launchpad McQuack, and superhero Gizmoduck were just a few of the regulars, who were also joined by ghosts, time-travel machines, dinosaurs, and a host of other crazy scenarios, all made the show completely awesome. Also, I still love the DuckTales Movie: Treasure of the Lost Lamp to this day.
TaleSpin: TaleSpin is a strange case. Many of the characters are based/inspired by characters from the Jungle Book — Baloo the Bear, Louie the Orangutan, Shere Kahn the Tiger — but they take on new life as a sea plane pilot, bar owner, and business tycoon respectively, and a enormous host of other characters were brought in, include Kit, Baloo’s young assistant, and my personal favorite: the theatrical air pirate Don Karnage. Baloo flies a cargo plane under the employ of Rebecca Cunningham (a straight-man character if there ever was one), and gets in all sorts of ridiculous trouble. There was some great music in this one too!
Darkwing Duck: This is arguably the best of the bunch (though my brother would say that there is no argument, it’s a simple statement of fact that it is the best). Darkwing Duck is the Batman-parody-esque hero of St. Canard City, a character with some skill, but very bad luck, and a ego the size of Jupiter. To make matters more interesting, in the pilot episode Darkwing Duck (whose alter ego is Drake Mallard) adopts a young and spunky (to say the least, some might say “bratty”) girl named Gosalyn. The show is also a spin-off of DuckTales and features two characters from DuckTales: Launchpad McQuack as Darkwing’s well-meaning but bumbling sidekick, and Gizmoduck as a rival superhero. This show was brilliant and hilarious, with a gallery of villains the likes of which will never be seen again, including Megavolt: whose main goal is to “liberate” lightbulbs and electrical devices, Quackerjack: a toy maker gone stark-raving mad, and the ultimate villain: Negaduck: an evil version of Darkwing Duck whose enormous ego became twisted in an alternate universe (who has some of the funniest damn lines EVER).
I could seriously go on about almost every show that ever aired on The Disney Afternoon. The Little Mermaid Series! Timon and Pumba! The Aladdin Series! GARGOYLES!!! But I’ve probably gone on for too long as it is. So I’m going to direct to you this page: The Disney Afternoon List, which has the open sequences from (I think) every show that ever aired on The Disney Afternoon, and leave you to enjoy the retro splendor.
(Note: you can click on each picture to go to that show’s wikipedia page.)
So, now it’s your turn to chime in! What were your favorites from The Disney Afternoon Block? There are so many to choose from, I know I didn’t get them all!