Welcome to Breaking Geek, a column where uber-geek Nick Doll offers commentary and reactions to the most interesting news of the week (or whatever he feels like), using his expansive knowledge of all things geek!
Are you a ’90s kid? Are you a parent who raised children in the ’90s?
If not, you may have missed the television block from my youth that seems to have greatly influenced my movie tastes as an adult, The Disney Afternoon. My younger employees at work definitely give me blank looks when I sing the DuckTales theme or reference Chip ‘N’ Dale: Rescue Rangers, so don’t be embarrassed if you don’t know what I’m talking about. It was the ’90s. You had to be there…
For those not in the know, The Disney Afternoon was a two-hour animated television block that ran from 1990 to 1999, every afternoon from 3pm to 5pm, on network television (before every network aired ”Dr.” shows). I was born in 1988, so I don’t remember one of the original shows, Adventures of the Gummi Bears, but I was very much into DuckTales, Chip ‘N’ Dale: Rescue Rangers, Tale Spin, Darkwing Duck, and even Bonkers. I also watched Goof Troop, Gargoyles, Aladdin, The Lion King’s Timon & Pumbaa, Quack Pack, and Mighty Ducks (someone at Walt Disney Television Animation was certainly obsessed with ducks). Nearly all of these shows from my formative years have had a giant impact on the types of films and genres I gravitate to today.
Before we go any further, also keep in mind my family was fairly poor – I didn’t have cable until high school, and my parents moved-on from their dial-up internet after I left for college in 2006 – so while a lot of ’90s kids got their shows from Nickelodeon or what-have-you, The Disney Afternoon and Saturday morning cartoons from Warner Bros was all I really had (that and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles). Later, there was Batman: The Animated Series, Spider-Man, and X-Men, but we’ll ignore these titles for reasons that will become evident in just a moment.
You see, of course, those latter shows I listed have a direct correlation with my interest in the superhero genre, but the shows I want to focus on from The Disney Afternoon that I was surprised had a lot in common with current film tastes, upon revisiting them a few months ago, are DuckTales, Darkwing Duck, Chip ‘N’ Dale, and Bonkers.
Now, join me in my Wayback Machine as we jump back in time 27 years, to the age of Disney Afternoons, as I try to force some ‘90s nostalgia into the world.
Just be safe out there. The ’90s were preeeetty crazy.
Just look at the logo for Ducktales. Does it bring to mind a certain ‘80s action franchise? I mean, Uncle Scrooge is not exactly wearing a fedora, but he does have a hat!
Episodes ranged from Scrooge McDuck and his three grandnephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie, thwarting the efforts of villains out to steal Scrooge’s immense fortune (a vault so full of gold coins he could swim in it) or his Number One Dime, to adventures involving seeking out treasure. Seeking out treasure is what I most remember about DuckTales, as in addition to watching the show, the movie I made my mom rent nearly weekly from the grocery store (when grocery stores rented VHS tapes) was DuckTales The Movie: Treasure of the Lost Lamp. Hmmm… that title alone makes me recall one of my Top 5 films of all time…
“Treasure of the LOST Lamp?”
“Raiders of the LOST Ark!”
Come on! How did I not see that one of my favorite franchises, Indiana Jones, was so similar to DuckTales? I suppose it was because this entire part of my childhood was all but forgotten, until one night falling down a YouTube hole of old TV theme songs. Yes, Raiders did come first, but that’s not the order I saw the two films. I feel that my nostalgic feelings for DuckTales, even though I had basically forgotten the show until recently, subconsciously influenced my infatuation with Raiders of the Lost Ark.
It may seem like a stretch at this point, but let’s look at the three other examples that also embody my current favorite genres and characters… but for kids!
“Let’s get dangerous.”
This one has a very obvious correlation with one of my most favorite genres today, a genre that has taken the entire world by storm in the last fifteen years or so.
Darkwing Duck is, of course, a masked superhero/vigilante by night and mild-mannered Drake Mallard by day. He even had a sidekick/support-type character in Launchpad McQuack, who also appeared on DuckTales, though the two rarely (if ever) referenced each-other. Darkwing Duck also had an adopted daughter, Gosalyn. McQuack sometimes served as an Alfred-type with air-support, and Gosalyn, in addition to being a duck pun, instantly makes me think of Grayson… Dick Grayson.
In reality, the show drew from pulp heroes and Golden Age superheroes like The Shadow (Kent Allard is The Shadow’s alter-ego, which sounds like Drake Mallard), The Sandman, Doc Savage, The Green Hornet, The Lone Ranger, Zorro, and, of course, Batman. The fictional city Darkwing protects, St. Canard, is a very obvious parody of Gotham City. In the end, I guess these cartoons were not simply child versions of adult stories, but parodies as well.
Darkwing Duck did more than just get me into Batman and later superhero films — a love that started in 2002 with Spider-Man and has continued through Infinity (War)… and beyond – as plots also parodied super-spy fiction.
So, one could argue (which I am), that in addition to superheroes, The Disney Afternoon also influenced my love of 007 and Mission: Impossible.
I’ll also note that Darkwing Duck had the best rogues gallery of all these cartoons, much like my future heroes Spider-Man and Batman.
Chip ‘N’ Dale: Rescue Rangers
In addition to having the best opening theme of any show to grace The Disney Afternoon (though rivaled by that catchy DuckTales tune), Chip ‘N’ Dale was about the two title characters starting a detective agency. They are joined by Gadget, Monterrey Jack, and Zipper. Taking on crimes that are “too small” for the police to handle.
Now, no one thinks detectives without Sherlock Holmes, which the show was, in a way. In fact, the world’s greatest detective and his famous sidekick are mentioned by name in the opening theme. Other influences are also apparent, seeing as how Chip and Dale are dressed like Tom Selleck from Magnum P.I. and Harrison Ford from Indiana Jones. The TV show was surely based on the two animated Rescuers feature films, which found two mice helping in human investigations, including a dark kidnapping in the second film, Rescuers Down Under.
With the larger team, I think comparisons to Mission: Impossible and even The A-Team are also justified. Against all odds, no matter how impossible the mission, you can count on Chip and Dale!
Do I love Sherlock Holmes films and TV series? Yes. Do I love team dynamics like Mission: Impossible? Also yes! Did Chip ‘N’ Dale really have an influence on me taking so quickly to these favorite stories as an adult? Well, that’s the thesis of this Breaking Geek, though I’m sure Disney’s The Great Mouse Detective feature film didn’t hurt my interest in “Watson and Mr. Holmes…”
Like Chip ‘N’ Dale: Rescue Rangers, Bonkers feels like it was inspired by an older Disney film, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, with a bobcat who was a washed-up popular cartoon star who decided to become a police officer. He became junior partner to Detective Lucky Piquel, a cynical human cop who hates Toons. Sound familiar?
The pair solved crimes in Hollywood and Los Angeles as a whole.
You know what one of my favorite genres is? The buddy cop genre. Often set in Los Angeles, films like Lethal Weapon and Rush Hour define my taste in action-buddy films. And what happens in all those movies? A cop is paired up with another cop who wants nothing to do with him. But, in the end, they realize they need the other to be effective and a delicate bond forms.
Otherwise, Bonkers is fairly forgettable, especially compared to the main four shows that made up The Disney Afternoon for nine years: DuckTales, Chip N’ Dale: Rescue Rangers, Darkwing Duck, and Tale Spin. But I did not discuss Tale Spin, as it doesn’t seem as relevant to my current taste in film and television as Bonkers.
In summary, I feel DuckTales laid the groundwork for my love of Indiana Jones, Darkwing Duck was a gateway drug to superhero films, Chip ‘N’ Dale: Rescue Rangers shaped my love of Sherlock Holmes, and Bonkers gave birth to my Buddy Cop obsession.
Obviously, what we see and encounter as children has a great impact on who we are later in life, for better or worse. Being a cinephile, I can’t help but recognize this pattern in my only option in shows leading to my current tastes in film, where I can choose nearly anything. Hopefully, the version of new DuckTales started recently, can give kids today the same love of film’s greatest genres that The Disney Afternoon brought me two decades ago.