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Pulp Corner: The Disney Afternoon

Growing up as a child of the late 80’s/early 90’s my household was living in a George Lucas haze. My older brother and I couldn’t get enough Star Wars and Indiana Jones. In my mind heroes didn’t come much greater than Henry Jones Jr.

So when I started to think about what kind of pulp sensibility infiltrated my brain at such a young age it only made sense that I linked it to Indiana Jones. That movie series intentionally had all the hallmarks of what pulp is and what it does. I just left it at that for a long time believing that to be the only catalyst for my love of the genre. It wasn’t until the other day though that that all that changed.

Come back in time with me to 1990, will you?

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A new TV block of programming debuted called The Disney Afternoon. It was after school required viewing. You see Disney was at the beginning of what would be their renaissance period with Little Mermaid being released in theatres in 1989 and bringing their brand back to family’s across the globe. Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King were all on the horizon. Disney wanted to capitalize on their new resurgence and take some of their existing properties and explore the TV medium and thus The Disney Afternoon was born. The original line up consisted of 4 shows. The first was Gummi Bears already in its 6th season and was considered the block’s anchor along with DuckTales which was in its 4th season. Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers while already established lived on and gained a wider audience here in it’s syndicated format. Only TaleSpin was specifically created for inclusion in the original Disney Afternoon. After the inaugural season when Gummi Bears ended it was replaced by Darkwing Duck.

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I didn’t realize until recently, but that era of Disney programming was steeped in the past and chuck full of pulp. Gummi Bears aside, let’s take a look at these shows. DuckTales was easily my favorite as a child, we’ve already spoken a lot about the show and I’ve detailed my love of Uncle Scrooge. It took the Carl Barks comics from the 1940’s and 50’s and translated them to the small screen. It’s full of globetrotting exotic adventures and ancient artifacts, the kind I find so intoxicating. Scrooge was willing to risk his own life and his great nephews for his own personal glory and wealth.

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TaleSpin was another show that I couldn’t live without. After re-releasing the Jungle Book in theatres the year before this show took the cast and put them in a 1930’s adventure movie serial. It’s like Casablanca meets Only Angels Have Wings or even another Bogart classic, To Have And Have Not. A big inspiration was the short-lived live action tv show, Tales Of The Gold Monkey which itself was made to capitalize on the fame of Raiders Of The Lost Ark. TaleSpin was a no brainer for me, I wasn’t the biggest Jungle Book fan, but I did love Baloo in that as well as his turn as Little John in Disney’s Robin Hood. Turn him into a loaner freighter pilot, toss in air pirates, lots of planes, gangsters and adventure and you’ve sold me. The Rocketeer movie was coming out at roughly the same time too focusing on a similar period. Disney was definitely pushing the pulp nostalgia vibe in a very heavy way. You even have Shere Khan here as a dark Kingpin esque noir businessman operating from the upper echelon of the shadows. Unfortunately, he’s not voiced by the great George Sanders as he was in the Jungle Book but Tony Jay does a very good facsimile.

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The most overt reference to source material may be in Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers. The show is about the loveable chipmunk rascals Chip & Dale who start a detective agency to help out other animals. Dale dressed himself like Tom Selleck’s Magnum PI and Chip stole Indiana Jones’ outfit. We’re talking bomber jacket, fedora and occasionally using a rope as a stand in for the whip. This was the only reference to the genre and the character that I was able to pick up on at the time. I only needed one look at him to know I was interested in the show.

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Darkwing Duck took the pulp influence in the other direction. This was a show firmly rooted in the superhero tradition, but shared a lot in common with the dark proto vigilante heroes like The Shadow. Self described as “the terror that flaps in the night!” he mainly tangled with a rogue’s gallery on par with any classic comic book character as he tried to keep his civilian identity a secret. In a stroke of genius by Disney, Launch Pad made the jump from Scrooge McDuck’s personal pilot on DuckTales to Darkwing Duck’s sidekick.

As I connected all these dots now it made a lot of sense. Disney seemed to be pushing a very specific form of adventure in their product at the time. I’m not sure if such a weird stylistic detour would work in mass today like it did back then but in retrospect I’m pretty thankful it did.

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About Biff Tannen

Film Noir, Pulp, Comic Books and Hitchcock.

Posted on July 16, 2015, in Cartoons, Features, Pulp Corner, TV and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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