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Tube Thursday : The "Disney Afternoon" shows that you didn't get to see

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Tube Thursday : The "Disney Afternoon" shows that you didn't get to see

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A real treat showed up in the mail today. "Darkwing Duck: Volume 2."

 Copyright 2007 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

I don't know how many of you remember this "Disney Afternoon" show. But "Darkwing Duck" was great fun. A witty spoof of the whole superhero genre, "DD" debuted as part of this syndicated programming block back in September of 1991 and quickly became a fan favorite.

Of course, what's kind of ironic about all this was -- when this "DuckTales" spin-off was being originally developed -- it wasn't supposed to twit action-packed detective comics like "The Green Hornet" and "The Shadow." No, then-Disney Studio head Jeffrey Katzenberg had a very different target in mind when he gave veteran Disney Television Animation producer Tad Stones this assignment.

You see, Katzenberg wanted a show that would send up the world's most famous spy, James Bond. More to the point, Jeffrey thought that he had the perfect title for this new "Disney Afternoon" series: "Double-O Ducks." So after dropping this title and concept in Stones' lap (As well as suggesting that "DuckTales" crash-prone pilot, Launchpad McQuack be the central character in this new animated series), Katzenberg sent this veteran DTA producer on his way.

Albert "Cubby" Broccoli in front of the 007 Stage as it was being constructed
at Pinewood Studios back in 1976.
Copyright MGM / UA

"So what happened to 'Double-O Ducks' ?," you ask. Well, for starters, Disney's attorneys quickly informed Jeffrey & Tad that the Broccoli family (Which has produced 21 James Bond films to date) had the rights to the "Double-O" phrase all locked up. So they were going to need a new name for this still-in-development show.

Then -- try as he might -- Stones couldn't turn McQuack from goofy sidekick to credible leading man. Which is why Tad eventually gave up on trying to hero-fy Launchpad and opted instead to create another leading man for this new "Disney Afternoon" show: Drake Mallard, the not-so-mild-mannered father of Gosalyn, a hyper-active 9-year-old girl. In true comic book fashion, Mallard leads a double life. And whenever his hometown of St. Canard is in trouble, Drake quickly dons a mask, hat and cape and becomes Darkwing Duck.

As for Launchpad ... To honor Katzenberg's original request, Stones lifted McQuack straight out of "DuckTales" (Where he had basically been playing Scrooge McDuck's comic sidekick) and dropped him virtually unchanged down into "Darkwing Duck." So that Launchpad could then trip up all of Drake Mallard's investigations.

Copright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

I know, I know. You're feeling kind of sad that you never got to see "Double-O Ducks." Which genuinely sounds like it could have been the basis for a pretty entertaining "Disney Afternoon" series.

Well, sad as it is to say, this sort of thing happened all the time at Disney Television Animation. Great ideas for new shows were proposed. Only to then be tripped up because executives at the company couldn't warm to the concept and/or didn't think that that particular story idea could support an entire series.

Take -- for example -- "Maximum Horsepower." That sci-fi spoof that Tad deliberately developed to be a starring vehicle for that long-neglected Disney character, Horace Horsecollar.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Stones actually came up with a pretty intriguing premise for this proposed "Disney Afternoon" show. Which would have also answered one of the less-pressing mysteries in animation history. Which is: Why -- after appearing in all of those Disney shorts in the 1920s & 1930s -- did Horace Horsecollar suddenly drop from sight as the 1940s got underway.

Well, as Tad saw this story playing out ... In 1939, Horace Horsecollar was tired of playing bit parts in cartoon shorts. And when he heard that Mickey Mouse was up for a leading role in "Fantasia," Horace got furious. He stormed out of his dressing room and headed straight for Walt's office. Where Mr. Horsecollar was then going to insist that he too be giving a shot at starring in "The Sorcerer's Apprentice."

Unfortunately, Horace never made it to Walt's office. As he was crossing the Disney lot, this cartoon horse was suddenly abducted by aliens. Who then transport Horsecollar halfway across the galaxy because they desperately need a hero. And that's what they think Horace is.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

And -- from there -- the basic premise of "Maximum Horsepower" was that Horace Horsecollar now has that challenging acting role that he's always wanted. He gets to be the hero. The only problem is ... Horace is light years away from the lights of Hollywood. And more than anything, he wants to get back to Earth and resume his acting career.

That's kind of a nutty idea for a "Disney Afternoon" series, don't you think? Wait. They get better. How about "The Magic Kingdom Show"? Where a little boy & a little girl learn that a magical replica of their favorite Disney theme park exists high up in the clouds. Only in this version of the Magic Kingdom, all of the characters that you see in the rides, shows and attractions are alive. More to the point, they can now intermingle.

Which means that the guards at Cinderella Castle always have to keep an eye out for those villainous Pirates of the Caribbean. Who are always skulking about, looking for ways to raid the Magic Kingdom's treasury. And it's a never-ending struggle to keep all of those 999 happy haunts inside the Haunted Mansion where they really belong.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Does that sound like a rather odd concept for a TV show. Disney executives certainly thought so. Which is why they then refused to allow development of "The Magic Kingdom Show" much beyond its initial scripting phase. On the other hand, I heard that the "Disney's Critter Country" show actually did make it fairly far along in Disney Television Animation's development pipeline.

As you might expect, given this proposed "Disney Afternoon" show's title, "Disney's Critter Country" would have featured the comical back-country adventures of all of those characters that you used to find in the "Critter Country" section of Disneyland Park (Now please note that I used the term "used to." Since this particular project actually predates "Country Bear Playhouse" being gutted to make way for that theme park's new "Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh" dark ride).

Anyway ... As for the premise of this proposed "Disney Afternoon" addition ... It would have had the characters from "Country Bear Jamboree" living right alongside & interacting with the critters that you see as you float through "Splash Mountain." Where everyone in this backwoods community then works together to try & defeat Brer Fox's latest scheme.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Speaking of animals ... Another series that was considered as a possible addition to the "Disney Afternoon" line-up was "Thumper's Thicket." Which was to followed the amusing adventures of Bambi's bunny friend.

Now that may sound like a pretty thin premise to build an entire television series around. But given that -- just last year -- Disney Consumer Products launched its brand-new "Disney Bunnies" franchise.

Copyright 2006 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

So far, all we've seen are a series of books. But there have been some rumblings that -- should sales of this "Disney Bunnies" merchandise remain strong -- the folks over at Playhouse Disney might then consider using these books as the basis for a "Disney Bunnies" TV series. Which would then be aimed at the under-three set.

So -- some 20 years after the "Thumper's Thicket" idea was originally pitched for "The Disney Afternoon" -- now Bambi's buddy may finally be getting his big break. Provided (of course) that sales of that "Disney Bunnies" merch stays strong.

So I guess what they say is true. No good ideas (or should I say lucrative ideas) ever really die at the Walt Disney Company. So maybe there still is hope that Launchpad McQuack will finally get to star in his very own series.

Anyway ... Did any of these developed-then-abandoned "Disney Afternoon" series ideas that I mentioned in today's article sound appealing to you. If so, which ones?

Your thoughts?

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  • Amazing - people were able to come up with shows even lamer than what's on the Disney Channel now. (Insert canned laughter here - we purchase it by the truckload) It's always heartening to hear that if the merchandise made in China sells, there will be some animation ordered up from Korea after the fact. Something about a cart and a horse. Hey, now there's an idea for a show - there's this horse and it's pushing a cart. Let's use that horse from Mulan, and one of the carts from the Agrabah marketplace. Afterall, we don't want to come up with new characters. Let's just keep recycling. If anyone complains, just tell 'em Disney's being green. Walt Disney's Green Adventure - a whole theme park where we just re-hash old ideas in a more fiscally responsible manner.  

  • The Disney Afternoon was a daily ritual for me; every day, after school, I made my way home in order to watch it.  In fact, I think I still have a Megavolt action figure somewhere.  As a fan of that programming block, honestly, I don't think something like "Thumper's Thicket" would have been a proper fit for the Disney Afternoon.  Playhouse Disney, sure, but Disney Afternoon?  Not quite.

    After all, this was a block that, at one time or another, featured shows such as Darkwing Duck, DuckTales, Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers, Tale Spin, Goof Troop, Gargoyles, Bonkers, Aladdin, Mighty Ducks, and Quack Pack.  (There might be more...that's what I recall from memory.)  Generally speaking, these shows seem to be aimed more at the post-Playhouse Disney, pre-high school age bracket, and with the number of shows that are at least somewhat action oriented, there seems to be a distinct appeal towards male viewers.

    This, I suspect, would not have been an ideal home for "Thumper's Thicket."  I could have seen that show popping up alongside Dumbo's Circus and Welcome to Pooh Corner before school on the Disney Channel, but it would have been odd seeing it between Rescue Rangers and Tale Spin after school.

    Critter Country possibly could have worked; if Gummi Bears can work, I don't see why the Country Bears couldn't.

    The Magic Kingdom Show, though interesting, sounds like it could have played like an infomercial for Disney Theme Parks.  If they revisited something like this, it would be more interesting as, like, a straight-to-DVD film, with some mystery in the Magic Kingdom, and it's up to the Disney characters (who all live in their distinct lands...Mickey's in Toontown, the princesses are in Fantasyland, etc.) to travel across these lands to try to solve it.  Make it direct to DVD, theme park exclusive, and it could be a fun little thing.

    Maximum Horsepower seems...well...too high-concept, really, what with the business with Walt and everything.

    As for Double-O Ducks, I loved Darkwing Duck, so I'm happy with how that all turned out.

    (Nice article, Jim...it really got me nostalgic!)

  • Hey, I thought they stopped with the fake sequels! The Thumper show sounds too cutesy, so it would fit with Playhouse Disney. Yet, I don't want to see such a show because it sounds like an extended "cheapquel".

  • I like the Magic Kingdom Show.

  • Good article, Jim.  Thanks!  I too was also raised on the Disney Afternoon.  My all time favorites were Gummi Bears, Duck Tales, the Rescue Rangers.  Then later on, I think the Gargoyles came on, but I think this was much later than when those shows were at their peak.

    I didn't love Darkwing Duck as much as those, but I thought it was fine as it was.  Double O Ducks...  Not sure how that would have turned out.  

    Also, does anybody remember the Wuzzles?  Why did this get canned so fast?  I thought this could have done well next to Gummi Bears but I don't think it got much airtime.  Plus, this would have been working with original characters and wouldn't be recycling classic characters like Baloo (though I have to admit that at the time, I had no concept of "bastardizing" classic Disney characters.  "Ooh, look, there's the bear from The Jungle Book flying a plane.  Cool.").

    I agree with everyone saying Thumper's Thicket would have been a little out of place in the Disney Afternoon.

    Maximum Horsepower sounds like a great concept.  I like the idea of bringing back a classic Disney character and updating him.  Maybe they can still bring him back along with Oswalt at some point?

    I think I would have liked the Magic Kingdom show much better than that Aladdin series...  Though I wonder if they started that show and it became a hit, would it have that lasting power via DVD sales?  I suppose it could serve as sort of a time capsule and it would be interesting to see what the park was like back in the day before Pirates of the Carribean was updated to incorporate the characters from movie and before the Pixar characters took over the park.

  • I've read about Double O Ducks somewhere before. But personally, I'm a big Darkwing fan, and parodies of 007 has been done so often....

    No, I like Darkwing just the way he is!

  • My fave Disney Afternoon shows were Gargoyles, Darkwing Duck, and Rescue Rangers. I think Critter Country definitely would have fit in the DA block, but not Thumper's. Maximum Horsepower sounds fascinating, but like Anonymouse mentioned, I think the high-concept elements of meeting Walt and Horace's "absence" would have flown over kids' heads. It's wacky enough that it might have worked on Nickelodeon (not that Disney would allow that), but not on the DA block.

  • Not all discarded ideas are unsung masterpieces.

    The Horace show, in particular, would probably have looked a lot like Animaniacs in execution. It would need a heavy dose of irony to get a flattering comparison, and irony isn't where Disney shines.

  • I really like the sound of "The Magic Kingdom Show"- it sounds like "House of Mouse", but set in a theme park instead of a club.

    I think that "Maximum Horsepower" sounds kind of strange...I mean, I probably would've watched it, but it sounds strange.  I think that "Thumper's Thicket" could've worked, if it wasn't about learning numbers and letters and things like that- it could be Thumper and his sisters on adventures.  Sure, boys wouldn't have appreciated it, but I would've...I probably would've prefered that over "Gargoyles".

    "Critter Country" would be such a great cartoon- bringing back the SOTS characters and adding the Country Bears...that's like a dream come true!  That would've been a funny show.  I'm actually hoping now that a show along those lines will air one day.

  • Anonymouse-

    I disagree about The Magic Kingdom coming off like a commercial. It all depends on the execution and in that period, the Disney afternoon shows were all top of the heap when it came to quality writing and animation. If you consider that 90% of the afternoon cartoon shows of the 80s and 90s actually WERE just poorly written and poorly animated commercials for toys (from He-Man to Transformers to Ninja Turtles... OK, so the TMNT series had some good work done on it from time to time... but still) I don't think anyone would have even noticed any sort of marketing tie enough to be bothered with it- as long as the quality was up there with Duck Tales and Rescue Rangers.

    That said, I think as a concept, it actually lends itself to some seriously imaginative stories... Imagine African explorers coming into contact with characters from the future (Tomorrowland... Hey... they could have had the elusive TOM MORROW be the main character)... or the POTC pirates facing down cowboys from Frontierland- I just think it would have been a great way to mix genres and cull endless story possibilites.

  • Maximum Horsepower sounds like it could have been a fun show.  After the pilot episode, the whole backstory could have (probably would have) been told in 90 seconds, while the opening credits ran.  Almost sounds like Galaxy Quest for kids.

    And the Magic Kingdom show... that one's a toss up.  An intriguiging idea, but if done incorrectly...  Could have been great, could have been really, really bad.  Of course it could have been merely mediocre, just like the Kingdom Keepers novel, whose concept sounds like it started back here, in the Disney Afternoon.

    The ideas don't die...

  • So who exactly pitched these shows? IIRC, anyone at the company could pitch a DA show. I think any show's quality would depend on its execution first and foremost. I wonder if any of these shows made it to the Leica Reel test like the scrapped Bad Guys (one of several Gargoyles spinoffs pitched) or this show about a wrestler's take on fairy tales. I assume if any made to animation, we would have seen it as part of a DTV like Cinderella 2 or Atlantis 2.

  • I think that the Magic Kingdom show would have been great.  I loved the Disney Afternoon.  I could care less about the Thumper show.  Does not interest me at all.  The critter country show could have been good though.

  • Frankly, I can see why these ideas were all killed.  They seem perfectly awful to me.

    My favorite Disney Afternoon show was Goof Troop.

  • Interesting article, but I don't get why it blames "double-oh-duck" not happening on the suits?

    The name was nixed by copyright violation, that's outside of anyone at disney's control.

    And not using the McQuack character was a decision by the show's creative guy because he couldn't make it work.

    So why does this article make it sound like "double-oh-duck" would have happened but some executive killed it?  And why lament that it didn't happen while at the same time praising the show that it turned into?

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