In April of 1983 Disney launched the Disney Channel. At the time it was a paid for Subscription channel on cable, similar to HBO or Cinemax. The channel primarily broadcasted reruns of classic Disney shows and films as most original material was still being developed.
Around the same time Disney was developing technology for their costumed characters at the parks to make the eyes blink and mouths move, but this was deemed too expensive for the parks. Instead the idea of having a show of costumed characters was proposed for the the launch of the Disney Channel. Thus in April 1983 viewers witnessed the beginning of a weird set of shows for the channel reared their ugly mugs.
1 – Welcome To Pooh Corner (1983 – 1984)
Welcome To Pooh Corner was one of the first original shows for the Disney Channel. The show followed Pooh (Voiced by Hal Smith) and friends on their many adventures. But this time they are in live-action with actors in costume portraying the classic characters. The costumes have remote controlled eyes and mouths, some giving the characters an uncanny look. Pooh suffers the most as his sunken in eyes, as well as seeing the whites of his eyes when they’re normally all black, give off a soul sucking feeling.
Each show begins with the Narrator, perhaps the first and only time we ever see his face, as he introduces that day’s story. Each episode runs at 30 minutes long as the channel originally had no commercials. The episodes usually had a story with a moral so that young children could learn a lesson, that is if they weren’t scared of the costumes. Each episode also concluded with an arts and crafts segment for the more creative viewers.
The show lasted for 120 Episodes and had 5 Holiday Specials and 4 Educational episodes. But this show is perhaps infamous not only for the creepy characters, but also one of the specials, called “Too Smart For Strangers”. The 45 minute special is about teaching children to be aware and look out for strangers. The scene that makes the special infamous is when Pooh talks to Piglet about strangers “Touching your Private Parts” and even does a song and dance number about the subject. This segment has gone down in internet infamy and has been memed several times.
Despite the criticisms the show went on to win a number of children’s programing awards and had grown a cult following. Nearly half of the show’s episodes are considered lost media as no proper way to watch the show, outside a few VHS tapes, currently exists. Perhaps Disney should consider releasing all the episodes and specials on Disney Plus.
The next time Pooh and Friends were featured in a similar fashion was The Book of Pooh, which ran from 2001 – 2004 on Playhouse Disney.
After the show ran its course and gained a sizable viewership for the channel plans for a second were made. This time they chose to go with a much older Disney property, one that wasn’t known for much else besides a film and a popular theme park ride.
2 – Dumbo’s Circus (1985)
The 1941 film Dumbo, the story about a baby elephant who has ears so big he could fly with them, was the property that was chosen to piggy back off of Pooh’s success. The show followed Dumbo (voiced by Katie Leigh) and friends as they travel from town to town in each episode to put on a show for the local townspeople.
Dumbo was the only returning character from the film. Dumbo’s mother, Timothy Mouse, and yes, even the singing crows were left out. Instead a brand new cast of characters was introduced. Lilli, a female tightrope walker cat. Barnaby Bowser, a dog who served as both magician and a circus clown. Fair Dinkum, the Koala ringmaster. Sebastian, a trouble making alley cat who is also a ventriloquist. Q.T., an Orangutan who is the strongman and calliope player. And lastly Lionel, Dumbo’s lion best friend.
Fun Fact, Lionel was voice actor Jim Cummings’ first official gig. At the time Jim worked at a video store and gave his demo tape to a customer who was a Disney executive. He was called in to voice Lionel and the rest is history.
The episodes revolved around Dumbo and friends in their many circus shows as they visited a different town in each episode.
The costumes and animatronics are far less creepy than Pooh Corner so they were definitely improving. Similarly to Pooh Corner most episodes would feature a moral for children such as don’t tell a lie, don’t steal and how to make friends. One fun episode involved the cast getting sucked into a storybook as they would come across various storybook characters. Honestly a missed opportunity for a crossover with Pooh Corner.
The show ran for a total of 115 half hour Episodes and would rerun on the channel until 1997. Despite not being as popular as Pooh Corner the show was remembered fondly amongst viewers, despite some creepy costume designs. No VHS releases were made and only 15 of the 115 episodes have been accounted for. Perhaps Disney should also consider a Disney Plus release for this show.
After that Disney would take a break from this concept. Almost a decade later the Disney Channel would revisit the idea, but this time with less puppets and more makeup & prosthetics.
3 – Adventures in Wonderland (1992 – 1995)
Going down the rabbit hole Disney revisited the Alice in Wonderland story, this time with a different approach. Looking for a show to help teach children about reading and writing skills Producer Andi Copley, known for working on PeeWee’s Playhouse, was approached. The decision was made to adapt Alice in Wonderland with a focus on language learning, with pseudonyms, antonyms and puns all being subjects. Adventures in Wonderland was filmed at the Disney-MGM Studios backlot.
Each episode saw Alice (Played by Elisabeth Harrison) enter her magic mirror and visit her friends in wonderland, all updated to have an early 90s feel to them. Characters like the Red Queen, who was now a African American soul singer. The White Rabbit, the roller skating butler to the Queen. The Mad Hatter, an oddball inventor. Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dumb, the African American hip hoppin’, rapping, cargo pants wearing duo. The March Hare, the resident genius. The Caterpillar, a wise storyteller. And lastly both the Cheshire Cat and Dormouse.
While the Red Queen, Mad Hatter and Tweedles were all “normal” the March Hare, White Rabbit and Caterpillar used heavy amounts of creepy makeup and the Cheshire Cat and Dormouse were puppets.
Alice would usually visit wonderland when she had a problem and would consult her friends. Her friends usually had a similar problem and by the end of each episode both issues would be resolved.
The show also featured many celebrity guests like Gilbert Gottfried and Willie Nelson. The show had 100 episodes but only aired 99 as one episode featured athlete OJ Simpson as a guest as he was the White Rabbit’s hero. Just before the episode was set to air the infamous OJ Simpson murders took place so it was pulled.
Though odd, the show gained a strong following, and even won multiple Emmy awards. Unlike the previous two shows it is now available to watch on Disney Plus.
These shows highlighted an interesting time in Disney television. Though the animatronics and makeups are odd to look at the shows do have a uniqueness to them, which is why it can sometimes be fun to watch them. Whether you legitimately enjoy them or you just watch them to laugh at. Hopefully we might see all three shows available on Disney Plus someday.
Do you remember any of these shows?
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