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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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  • I get the feeling that I must be the only Disney fan in the world who didn't care for the Disney Afternoon cartoons.  For whatever reason, I was never all that impressed by any of them - I don't know why, but I just wasn't.

    I'm surprised some suit at WDP&R and pulled out that Magic Kingdom Show concept and dusted it off yet, especially since the current marketing campaign is so dependent on that "castle in the clouds" concept. Sounds like a Playhouse Disney show just waiting to happen...  

    "Disney Bunnies"? Somebody please, make the bad marketing people go away - they scare me...

  • The Horace Horsecollar sci-fi thing sounds rather similar in concept to the live action "Galaxy Quest" starring Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver et al.  I wonder which was thought up first?

  • When your cartoon competition is fecal soup like "Happy Tree Friends"  it's clear that Disney could throw any old thing together and dominate the market. I'm glad they're being selective, however. "Few, but ripe"!

  • I would seriously like all of those shows, if they were done right. And why is nobody remembering how awesome TaleSpin was?? The best cartoon block in the afternoon was DEFINITELY with Disney, first with Gummi Bears, then Ducktales, Tale Spin, Darkwing Duck, and Gargoyles.

    I love the Magical Kingdom idea.. Id totally love to see that. The bunnies, would seem like it's more for little children, but Id watch that one too.. I think it could be well done.. sort of like Peter Cottontail type stories.. and the trouble that bunnies get into (anyone else remember and miss Fables of the Green Forest? *sigh*).  The Horace Horsecollar show would RULE, since I ALWAYS wondered why that character never had many roles.. and that picture of the puzzle.. Goofy is Dippy Dog? Thats OOOOLD SCHOOOOL! Love it!

    Is there already a show about the faeries and tink? I dont have cable and I wasnt sure if there was... I just love tinkerbell!

  • I had that "Magic Kingdom" TV series idea when I was a kid (except for the "up in the clouds" part), so I would have watched.

    They actually did an episode of "Ducktales" with Launchpad as a spy. Perhaps they were trying to launch the "Double-O-Ducks" series from that, like Sherwood Shwartz did with the "Brady Bunch" episode "Kelly's Kids" (which attempted to launch another series by that title.)

    MY memories of the episode are vague, but I remember that Launchpad wore a wig, there was a femme fatale who switched from the bad guys' side to the good guys', and there was a joke about Launchpad accidentally going to New Dehli, when he was only supposed to go to the "new deli" across the street.

  • I had that "Magic Kingdom" TV series idea when I was a kid (except for the "up in the clouds" part), so I would have watched.

    They actually did an episode of "Ducktales" with Launchpad as a spy. Perhaps they were trying to launch the "Double-O-Ducks" series from that, like Sherwood Shwartz did with the "Brady Bunch" episode "Kelly's Kids" (which attempted to launch another series by that title.)

    MY memories of the episode are vague, but I remember that Launchpad wore a wig, there was a femme fatale who switched from the bad guys' side to the good guys', and there was a joke about Launchpad accidentally going to New Dehli, when he was only supposed to go to the "new deli" across the street.

  • I'm totally sold on Critter Country. Disney should whip that sucker up pronto. But without Winnie the Pooh.

  • =3 Aw. I remember watching Disney Afternoon's when I was in primary school...Gummi Bears, Recue Rangers, and Darkwing Duck were always my favorites. I also have a memory of watching TaleSpin, but I can't remember if that was set in the Afternoon block or not.

    I really hate these Disney sequels. I really, truly do. Frankly, I don't care about Thumper at all. I care about Bambi though, for he is the main character. I care about Mulan, but not her cricket. I care about Cinderella, but not her mice. I care about Alice, but not the White Rabbit. Do we have to make seperate shows and movies for those extras too?

    I do think the Magic Kingdom show sounds great though. Most definitely.  

  • IMO, "Darkwing Duck" was easily the best part of the Disney Afternoon. I loved it and I think our fine-feathered hero is way overdue for a comeback.

    And dang if I don't love the premise behind "Maximum Horsepower". Especially if Horace - and everything else in the cartoon - were rendered in the old retro Disney style. That could totally totally kick butt. You could have retro-spaceships a la Tomorrowland...it could be a visually fun feast.

    And I think the Magic Kingdom show is a great idea too. In fact both it and "Horsepower" are light years ahead of the junk that's on Disney now. "The Replacements" is terrible - boring, ugly and pointless. Even worse is "Yin Yang Yo", a loud stupid mess.

    Jim, you would be doing both us and Disney a favor if you could let them know that at least some of us fans would like to see both those ideas put back intro pre-production. I think they're inspired, and best of all, they're based on Disney properties, not on one of Disney's acquisitions, like the Power Rangers or the Muppets. It's time Disney made better use of its own creations. Well, actually, at least one Disney character is making a comeback -  I'm a big fan of the new "Mickey Mouse Clubhouse". Finally a CGI Mickey that's as appealing as the 2-D original. I love it, and I'd love to see other Disney characters be brought back to life too in a similar inspired fashion.

  • Just wanted to expand on Livergap's idea about Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, now that he's back in the Disney fold...how about teaming him up with Horace in that "Horsepower" show? I think that'd rock!

  • I LIVED for that Disney Afternoon Block when I was a kid.  And I'd like to offer

    some perspective on that stuff, too.  

    Darkwing Duck actually did have a lot of Double-Oh-Beak concepts worked right  

    into it.  There was Steelbeak, and F.O.W.L. and SHUSH and all the assorted Q-like gadgetry.  These were actually myleast favorite episodes, and none of my friends cared for "James Bond Junior", so I'm kinda glad Double-Oh-Duck never took off.  

    Tale-Spin was a favorite among me and mine, so I think Critter Country would've done well, surprisingly enough.

    Bunnies would have flopped.  Like many have already stated, it's just way to cutesy  to make it on Disney Afternoon.

    And "The Magic Kingdom" show WAS revived.  Ridley Pearson's book "Keepers of the Kingdom" (which, btw, is pretty awful) has the basic concept of the characters in the park being alive.  It was poorly done, but maybe we'll get lucky and someone will do a sequel to blow this out of the water!

    I actually think the Horace Horsepower bit would've been awesome.  You could maybe skip all the internal Disney references (it would be a little awkward, since those cartoons aren't often shown on TV anymore) and just go for Galaxy Quest Junior.

  • There's one show idea missing! Jymn Magon developed the "B players" idea for a long while, but it was ultimately rejected. There was a deadline coming, and that's when Jymn and Mark found the (awesome) ideas for TaleSpin!

  • If you want the full details of Darkwing's creation, pick up either the first Darkwing trade collection from BOOM! Studios or the annual.  I wrote a three page article explaining it all... except they wouldn't refer to Jeffrey Katzenberg by name.

    Thumper's Thicket, The Magic Kingdom and Critter Country were never meant for the Disney Afternoon.  They were for ABC Saturday morning.  Ultimately, instead of Magic Kingdom, they took Winnie the Pooh which was a landmark show which I feel is responsible for the huge surge in Pooh merchandise, enough to challenge Mickey.

    Horace Horsecollar's Disney backstory would only be covered in the title sequence.  It was just an excuse to do a science fiction show with a Disney character with no baggage attached.  It was pitched years before Galaxy Quest (an awesome movie).

  • Right now, I'm wondering if Warren Spectre would look into this stuff for ideas for Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two.  Don't know about the shows themselves, but the Cartoon Wasteland is basically what "The Magic Kingdom Show" was meant to be, only it's set in a model of The Magic Kingdom instead of the sky, and populated by forgotten Disney Toons and rejected ideas instead of the more famous well-known Toons.  Anyway, perhaps the concepts for The Magic Kingdom Show could be used in the Epic Mickey games.  Perhaps a guard in Dark Beauty Castle could ask you to look in on what they thought was a pirate from Tortooga sneaking around in the courtyard.

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