One of the more interesting and elaborate of the almighty Disney marketing machine’s endless efforts to squeeze every single possible cent out of their films is the animated TV spinoff. In other words, turning your animated movie into a syndicated TV cartoon.
This seems to be a relatively recent development – it didn’t appear, to my knowledge, ‘til round about the early ‘90’s. However, when it hit, it hit hard. There are at least ten Disney films that have gotten this treatment, and some of them have gotten it more than once – adaptation of The Jungle Book, for instance, has resulted in both TaleSpin (a debatable example, but many of the characters are clearly named and patterned after ones in the film) and Jungle Cubs (which gives the characters the ‘Muppet Babies’ treatment).
Despite the obvious fact that they are inspired solely by a desire for the mighty dollar, some of these cartoons turn out to be pretty fun. I was pretty much obsessed with The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh for a good chunk of my childhood, for example (expect a review of it one of these days), and the Aladdin show is regarded by many as a bit of a classic. These things can work, even if their whole reason for existence is to make a quick buck.
So without further ado, I present my Top Five Disney Films that should get TV spinoffs (and what I’d do with ‘em).
A few ground rules first – I am restricting my choices to the animated films, as opposed to Disney’s live-action efforts (which tend to be a bit spotty, anyway). I’m also excluding those that have already gotten shows of their own, as well as the Pixar films (not that several of the latter don’t deserve shows – an Incredibles show, for instance, would be great – but they’re not really Disney, so they don’t apply here). And as always, these are in no particular order.
The film: In Victorian London, Basil of Baker Street, the mouse version of a certain famous detective, battles evil in the form of the nefarious Professor Ratigan, while accompanied by his friend and sidekick Dr. Dawson.
The pitch: The main strength of GMD, it is generally agreed, is its cast of characters, and personally I think they would lend themselves well to a series. The fact that Basil is first and foremost a Sherlock Holmes expy gives you your basic framework right there – do adaptations of the original Conan Doyle stories, mixed in with original tales of derring-do in the shadowy London streets. Basil is, after all, a detective, and a detective is never shy of cases to solve or enemies to outwit (provided, of course, by Ratigan and his various ne’er-do-wells).
However, it wouldn’t be just another version of Holmes. Remember, this is set in the miniaturized world of mice and similar tiny creatures, which opens up all sorts of potential for exciting chases and battles of the sort that made the original so gripping. Furthermore, there are some dynamic story possibilities present in the form of the Flavershams, father and daughter. If you expanded the role of the former from toymaker to generalized inventor, he could be the Q to Basil’s James Bond, outfitting him with all sorts of improbable gadgets reverse-engineered from period technology. This would allow a steampunk element to creep in, along with the humorous consequences of the occasional misfiring prototype. Meanwhile, his daughter Olivia would be ever-eager to tag along on Basil’s cases, bringing him no end of frustration while at the same time allowing him to indulge his softer side by playing ‘Uncle Basil’, a thing that he would secretly enjoy (although he’d never admit it).
This is not to say that the transition would be perfect. The darker, more adult side of the movie would inevitably get toned down a bit (Basil’s pipe, for instance, would likely vanish altogether – that or he’d replace it with a bubble pipe or some such). Overall, though, I’d say Great Mouse Detective could make for a thoroughly enjoyable series, introducing younger viewers to the world of Sherlock Holmes while providing plenty of action, adventure and humor that would appeal to all ages. Don’t you think I’m right? I think I’m right.
The film: Donald Duck hangs around two other anthropomorphic birds and lots and lots of weird stuff happens.
The pitch: OK, I plan to review this movie before too very long, so you’ll pardon me if I’m a little… scant on the description. I’m savin’ it for later. Suffice it to say, The Three Caballeros is not a film that leaves many plots waiting to be continued. Basically, the Caballeros in question are Donald, a Brazilian parrot by the name of Jose Carioca, and Panchito, a Mexican rooster, and they… well… do stuff. Details to be found at a later date.
So if the movie is not one that inherently screams ‘adapt me!’, why am I putting it on this list?
Basically, the Three Cabs have great chemistry together, and while I enjoyed it in the movie as well, said enjoyment was kicked up a notch when I encountered the two comic book stories that feature them (three, if you count the movie adaptation). In the right hands, the trio are a key to pure undiluted adventure, with a healthy dose of fun mixed in. (If you’re interested in reading the rest of this comic, as well as its predecessor, go here:
I haven’t linked directly to them, but they’re easy enough to find if you snoop around a bit. Look in the Don Rosa section.)
Besides, the fact that the Cabs are a bit of a blank slate plot-wise leaves things open for a somewhat more traditional Disney TV show in the vein of Ducktales. In fact, the concept I have in mind is more or less a sequel to Ducktales, taking place after Donald has left the Navy. What is that concept? I’M GLAD YOU ASKED!
Here’s what it is – the Caballeros are a singing group who travel the world, going on tour and getting in lots of adventures in the process. Their travels are bankrolled by Scrooge McDuck, who in turn expects them to be his agents in the field whenever one of his foreign businesses needs to be rescued from crooks – and is constantly exasperated by the amount of expenses the three inevitably wind up incurring in the process. They frequently cross swords with classic Disney bad guy the Phantom Blot (why? ‘Cause he’s one of my favorite characters, that’s why!), whose plots they inevitably foil.
The idea is to make the show reflect the evolution that the characters have gone through in the comics. Comics-Donald is far from the brash hothead depicted in the classic shorts – he has that side to him, true, but he also has a heroic, adventurous side that would shine through here. Similarly, Jose Carioca is a fairly big name in Brazilian comics, and we’d get to see a little bit of the evolution his character has gone through in those.
As you can probably tell, I’ve put a fair amount of thought into this one. In fact, it’s this idea that more or less gave me the inspiration for this article – I’ve been turning it over in my head for quite a while now. So whaddaya think? You like?
#3: Robin Hood
The film: In a version of Merrie Olde England populated by cartoon animals, Robin Hood does what he does best – rob from the rich, give to the poor, and tweak the nose of that mean ol’ Prince John.
The pitch: The things about the Disney Robin Hood that make it perfectly suited to TV adaptation (to my mind, anyway) are its open-endedness and relaxed story structure. Most transitions from plot point to plot point go something like this – the first scene ends, then we shift to somewhere else with the Rooster going “yep, Prince John sure was mad about that,” or the like. We never find out just how much time has passed in the meantime, and that is an ideal hook for a series – all you’ve got to do is extend the movie’s general situation indefinitely, and you’ve got room for an endless amount of tales involving our vulpine rogue.
Mind you, while you could just leave it at that, there’s also room for a good deal more. Like GMD, Robin Hood has an inherent advantage series-wise in that it is based on, well, the Robin Hood stories, which are A: a rich source of material to draw from in terms of plots, and B: full of all sorts of characters that could expand Robin’s supporting cast. I mean, we never got to see, say, Much the Miller’s Son in the movie, or Will Scarlet, or any number of other Merry Men that could be introduced into the general cast. And then there are the villains – sure, Prince John and Sir Hiss would obviously be constants, but there’s also characters such as Sir Guy of Gisborne. He’s often seen as a sort of rival to Robin Hood, so perhaps he could be a gray fox in contrast to Robin’s red. And then there’s greedy abbots, haughty noblemen, etc. For that matter, it seems to have become a tradition in recent years to include a Muslim in the Merries, often one who starts out as a villain but sees the light and joins Robin in his fight against injustice. This would be a nice touch of diversity, and allow a slightly more exotic sort of animal than the usual Euro-American or African ones – a jackal, perhaps.
Basically, Robin Hood is essentially a snippet of a series as it already stands, and could easily be extended into a TV format without straining disbelief in the slightest. There have already been plenty of other shows featuring Robin, and this one would feature a good deal more fun in the general mix than we’ve often seen, countering the recent obsession with period stories being all drab and gray and historical. Bring on the swashbuckling and the wisecracks! It can be done, Disney; heed my words!
#2: The Rescuers/Rescuers Down Under
The movie: Deep in the bowels of the UN Building there is a similarly international gathering; a group of mice from all over the world. This is the Rescue Aid Society, and their mission is to aid those in need – in most cases, human children. The everymouse Bernard and elegant Miss Bianca are two of the Society’s agents, and they form the titular duo.
The pitch: Actually, I’m fairly certain that at one point Disney really did have plans to feature the Rescuers in their own show. Why they ultimately chose to shelve them is beyond me, because honestly, have you ever heard of a concept more tailor-made for a series?
Think about this. The Rescuers have the same reason for regularly getting into danger as a policeman or fireman does – it’s their job. Just as the protagonist of a cop show can generally be counted on to bust crooks, the Rescuers can be counted on to rescue people. Said people needn’t have anything to do with each other – or, in other words, there doesn’t need to be any particular theme to the rescues; they just have to be carried out. You can therefore have a bunch of different rescues in rapid succession that needn’t be related in any way and can be set anywhere in pretty much any circumstances – what could be better for a series? Disney clearly understood this principle, as it’s basically the reasoning behind Rescuers Down Under – and, if you want to go back to the source material, the reasoning behind the series of books by Margery Sharp (which are pretty good, incidentally, if you have an appreciation for older children’s literature).
So why’d they back out? Beats me. It’s never too late for them to change their minds, though, and I kind of wish they would, because seriously, Rescuers would make for an awesome series. Take the same basic concept as Great Mouse Detective, plonk it down in a modern-day setting and replace mystery with international adventure, and you’d have a rough blueprint for what the Rescuers series would be like. Just put Bernard and Miss Bianca into repeated situations where they need to go rescue someone, and the series practically writes itself. (They needn’t always be rescuing human children, either – mix it up a little bit. They could rescue kids, adults, stray pets, lab rats, you name it.)
There would have to be a few changes, of course. Bernard would need to be made a little more assertive and sure of himself, and they’d need a bit more of a supporting cast – maybe some of the other Society agents could team up with them once in a while. Other than that? Smooth sailing.
The film: Set in Jazz-age New Orleans, the film stars Tiana, a young waitress wanting to start her own restaurant, and Prince Naveen, a penniless member of the Maldonian royal family who’s out to replenish his fortunes through marriage to a rich heiress. They both get turned into frogs (long story), and have to get themselves turned back into humans again while avoiding the clutches of the evil Dr. Facilier and coming to grips with their mutual attraction for each other.
The pitch: This one, admittedly, would be a tad more sedate than the others on this list, as the basic concept doesn’t really lend itself to high adventure. But that’s not bad – there’s room in this world for other types of entertainment; not everything has to be adventurous.
The Princess and the Frog Show would have to be set just following the movie, after (spoilers – sorta; this is a Disney flick) Tiana and Naveen have settled down to run the restaurant, which provides a good launching point for wacky shenanigans – after all, lots of people go in and out of a restaurant every day, yes? Some of them the sorts of people who might kick off a plot, yes? Especially since (and here is where my own ideas kick in) both of them are suffering residual effects from Facilier’s spell, so that whenever either of them gets kissed by anyone other than their paramour – bam! They’re back to being slimy and green again, and only a kiss by the other one will return them to their normal selves. And naturally, they constantly encounter people who want to kiss ‘em – over-affectionate relatives, flirtatious flappers, ebullient French diplomats, etc. And, equally naturally, Facilier’s (somehow) back to plague them, so they have to deal with his various schemings as well. Gosh, how tough the life of a restauranteur can be!
This would provide the supporting cast as well – I mean, they can’t be running the place all by themselves; they’ve got to have cooks and waitresses and whatnot. Not to mention, of course, Tiana’s ditzy friend Charlotte and an assortment of swamp critters from the bayou. And if even those don’t suffice, hey, it’s New Orleans – I think having it set in the middle of a city should provide more than enough colorful characters.
Really, I think PatF would make for an interesting change, since we haven’t really had any Disney shows about the life of a young couple in love. They’re mostly about kids, or characters who are technically grown-ups but have nothing but the vaguest possible versions of romantic relationships – a more mature version of things would make for a nice change. Of course, to draw in boys as well as girls you’d want to avoid emphasizing the lovey-dovey aspect as much as possible, but that could be done – treat them as really good friends who just happen to be married, which is more or less what an ideal marriage is anyway. (The fact that it’s also an interracial marriage is icing on the cake.) They’re a sort of Odd Couple, really – Naveen is carefree and fun-loving, while Tiana is practical and a workaholic. Let the characters bounce off each other the way they did in the movie, and you’d have a classic situation comedy, only with bouts of voodoo and 1920’s culture thrown into the mix. Seriously, doesn’t that sound cool? I’d watch it.
The big problem I see with the GMD:TAS is the lack of Ratigan, both canon-wise and voice actor-wise. Both the character and Vincent Price’s portrayal are the main source of appeal to me and many others (and that was true when I first watched it, when I was like 6).
Even if they did a retcon and brought Ratigan back, my brain would not accept a surrogate Vincent Price voice.
You have a point, but to me it’s more the TENOR of Ratigan’s voice that makes the movie, if you know what I mean. Price did a wonderful job of making him a memorable character, but now that the character’s out there, a talented vocal impersonator would probably be able to do justice to the original. Heck, I can do a decent impression of him. It might not be able to fully capture the brilliance of the initial portrayal, but there are plenty of voice actors out there who could have some fun with the role nonetheless – Jim Cummings, perhaps.
As for it requiring a retcon – shoot, there are plenty of spinoff TV shows that bring back the villain; that ain’t nothin’. And after all, rats can survive an awful lot…
Unfortunately, Disney likes to pretend nowadays that DuckTales – and pretty much every other Disney Afternoon cartoon – never even existed (well, save maybe for the recent comic book revival, but even that doesn’t make up for the lack of the fourth and final DVD volume, not to mention fan outcry for a DuckTales soundtrack collection continuing to fall on deaf ears), so even if you were on the Disney staff, your idea for a Three Caballeros series would probably be voted down.
Well, it wouldn’t have to LITERALLY be a sequel to DuckTales – it wouldn’t have to fit into any particular slot in the Disney Afternoon canon. That’s just more or less how I was envisioning it, not anything set in stone. There’s nothing in the concept that requires it being placed after DuckTales in terms of story; it’s just that Disney nerds (like me) would inevitably start wondering just where Three Caballeros would fit – and ‘just following the events of DuckTales’ would probably be my answer. It needn’t be official.
As for Disney pretending that the DA stuff never existed, I’m not quite sure that’s true. I mean, there ARE DVD collections of most of the shows out, even if they’re not complete, and the characters show up at the parks and so forth. They’re certainly not EMPHASIZED, but… yeah.
I was going to suggest The Little Mermaid, and a TV series about her adventures under the sea before the events of the film.
Then I vaguely remembered… I think Disney already did that.
Then I thought of the Lion King, but then remembered they had some whole spinoff with Timon and Pumbaa.
Wow, they really did milk every succesful film for all they’re worth, huh? Maybe Pocahontas? Her adventures with her wacky animal sidekicks before the English arrived? Jumping off high cliffs and waterfalls that obviously do NOT exist in coastal Virginia? Eh, I’m grasping for straws here.
One moment, please. *looks on Wikipedia* Nope, no series for Pocahontas yet. I can’t really say I’m surprised, though – there’s only one story we know of involving Pocahontas, and that’s the one about her and John Smith. Take away that, and… well, what DOES she do in that movie? Frolic around the woodlands that never actually existed and commune with nature while the technicolor leaves swirled around her. Nope, can’t see a series in that. In order to get one, you’d need to introduce conflict, and conflict means enemies, and since I can’t really see Disney wanting to deal with the outrage being stirred up by the vilification of rival tribes, that means you’d have to invent specifically Pocahontas-related ones – and since she’s all about nature, that would mean nature-related villains. And since we can’t possibly imply that anything that’s directly a part of nature might be NEGATIVE in any way – that’s way too complex for America’s young’uns; it might warp their tiny minds – that means we have to delve into mythology. So that means we’d have Pocahontas fighting bogus Native American monsters and such with the power of swirly leaves, which would make her a Magical Native American. SO, in conclusion, the only way to make a Pocahontas series work even a little bit would be to make her even more of a stereotype. I think I’ll pass.
You’re absolutely correct, I had forgotten Disney’s laws of political correctness:
1)Native Americans cannot show any negative characteristics in any way (so no ‘savage’ rival tribes).
2)Nature is perfect and good (so no ‘evil’ magical willow trees).
3)Give Native Americans stereotypical nature-related superpowers (like the ability to “read the wind”) without going overboard (like calling upon their Guardian Wind Spirit to smite their foes)!
Which would be awesome, but yeah. I’m now picturing a sort of Native American-themed fighting anime; what about you?
“Tirahache, Greatspirit of Wolves, I choose YOU!”
“I counter with Raven, Bringer of Fire to the Madeupica Tribe – who SHOOTS FIREBALLS from under his WINGS!” *forest explodes*