The two-hour Walt Disney TV Animation programming block was introduced to syndication in 1990, bringing three existing series, a premiere and a new album.
THE DISNEY AFTERNOON
Original Music from the Four Hit Disney TV Shows
Walt Disney Records 60810-2 (Compact Disc / Stereo)
Reissued on iTunes as The Disney Afternoon Songbook
Released in 1990. An Overboard Music Production. Producer: Robert Kraft. Co-Producer: Michael Silversher. Engineer/Mixer: Dave McNair. Associate Producer: Dan Stein. Production Coordinator: Chere Carlyon. Assistant Engineers: Andrew Ballard, Martin Schmeizle. Mastered by Brian Gardner at Bernie Grundman Mastering. Art Direction: Linda Mikkleson. Recorded and Mixed at Master Control, Burbank. Running Time: 34 minutes.
Performers include: Frank Welker, Noelle North, Chuck McCann, Ed Gilbert, Jim Cummings, Pat Musick, Joey Scarbury, Jeff Pescetto, Jim Gilstrap, The Jets.
Shows and Songs:
“Disney Afternoon Theme” by Tom Snow, Dean Pitchford.
Disney’s Adventures of the Gummi Bears:
“Gummi Bears Theme,” “Gummiberry Juice,” “Rough, Tough Burly Sailor Song,” by Michael Silversher, Patty Silversher.
Disney’s Duck Tales:
“Duck Tales Theme” by Mark Mueller; “Boogie Beagle Blues” by Michael Silversher, Patty Silversher.
Chip ‘N Dale Rescue Rangers:
“Chip ‘N Dale’s Rescue Rangers Theme Song” by Mark Mueller
“TaleSpin Theme,” “Home is Where the Heart Is,” “Friends for Life,” “I’m Gone” by Michael Silversher, Patty Silversher; “Monkey in Your Tank” by Niet Bekend.
The Disney Afternoon evolved as TV animation evolved in the 1980’s. Cartoons produced for off-network syndication to local stations had existed as far back in TV history as Crusader Rabbit in 1949. The syndicated cartoons of the ‘60s and ‘70s might be shorts produced in huge quantities (King Features’ Popeye, The New Three Stooges) or half hours with a dozen or so episodes that initially premiered each week (Magilla Gorilla, Peter Potamus).
When Filmation created He-Man and the Masters of the Universe in partnership with Mattel in 1982, suddenly there were 65 half hours. That meant every weekday afternoon for thirteen weeks, kids could see a different, network-quality (for then) episode. With the massive promotion and merchandise campaigns, the experiment led to another 65 episodes, a spinoff series (She-Ra, Princess of Power) and other hit shows using the same formula (Rankin/Bass’ ThunderCats).
Two years later, the Disney organization was experiencing the entrance of new leadership. Among the mandates CEO Michael Eisner had outlined to revitalize what they renamed the Walt Disney Company was to bring Disney animation to TV. When Michael Eisner was head of programming at ABC in the early ‘70s, he became savvy at bringing to Saturday morning what was popular with kids at the time (greenlighting the Rankin/Bass series Jackson 5ive, snapping up Scooby-Doo once CBS let it lapse).
Just as important, Eisner also mined the popular—and often underutilized—backlog properties and either brought them to ABC (like The Bugs Bunny-Road Runner Show) or reunited classic characters in new series. One of the most popular was Hanna-Barbera and DC’s Super Friends, taking the Justice League in several directions over its 13-year run.
The weekly one-hour animated anthology, ABC’s Saturday Superstar Movie, was essentially proving ground for new and classic characters and shows, the most successful being Yogi Ark Lark. As a series, Yogi’s Gang was first time classic Hanna-Barbera characters co-starred together within the same cartoon context (with the exception of comics, storybooks and record albums that did it all the time).
It should have been no surprise that Eisner was going to make lightning strike again at Disney, and it did. By the time The Disney Afternoon premiered on local stations on Monday, September 10, 1990, there had already been four animated Disney series on television: DuckTales, Chip ‘N Dale Rescue Rangers, Adventures of the Gummi Bears and The Wuzzles (the last two being network series). Rescue Rangers was the first Disney animated TV series with classic characters (albeit in a different “universe”).
DuckTales, Chip ‘N Dale Rescue Rangers and Gummi Bears made up three quarters of The Disney Afternoon two-hour block. The fourth show was new. It was also the first series to reintroduce characters from a Disney animated feature (Baloo, Louie, Shere Khan from The Jungle Book) into a TV premise: TaleSpin.
In time-honored Disney tradition, no small part of this success was due to music. The shows offered an original song or two within occasional episodes and each had its own memorable, catchy theme song.
The songwriting team with the greatest number of themes and original songs on the shows were Michael and Patty Silversher, who had been prolific in their work for Disneyland Records. They had collaborated with Disney TV Animation story editor Jymn Magon when he was an award-winning producer at the record label (Disney TV animation executive Gary Krisel had previously headed the record division).
The TV version of the Silversher’s Gummi Bears theme was sung by Joseph Williams of the band Toto. His parents are Star Wars composer John Williams and the late musical comedy star Barbara Ruick (Carousel, Cinderella). Perhaps because of his Toto contract, he does not sing the Gummi Bears theme on the album—but is replaced by Joey Scarbury, who sang another memorable theme, “Believe it or Not” from The Greatest American Hero, which hit #2 on the Billboard charts.
The music for The Disney Afternoon album was re-recorded in order for each song to be presented in a full-length format and also to alter the arrangements based on the album budgets (synth instead of strings, etc.). The actual soundtracks must not have been cleared specifically for records, but even if they were, using them would have resulted in shorter, or even partial versions. “Gummiberry Juice,” for example, was an a capella tune by Sunni Gummi intermittently while the album version is a fully realized song.
Another Silversher theme, TaleSpin, is sung on the show and the album by top session singer Jim Gilstrap, whom you have likely heard hundreds of times. He sings the theme to the Norman Lear sitcom Good Times with Blinky Williams, and can even be heard singing the first two lines in Stevie Wonder’s hit, “You Are the Sunshine of My Life.”
The music and characters of The Disney Afternoon were quickly incorporated into the Disney theme parks. On the east coast, Mickey’s Birthdayland (an area behind Fantasyland that was originally supposed to exist only 18 months that specific celebration but survived over 20 years under various iterations), was changed to “Mickey’s Starland” to incorporate the new TV characters. A live stage show was presented, in which a stylized computer “programmed” the singing of all the theme songs. Many of the new characters were available for in-person greetings. These were also part of Disneyland’s “mini-land” in California, called “Disney Afternoon Avenue,” where existing attractions were redressed (Autopia became Rescue Rangers Raceway and the Motor Boat Cruise sailed to Gummi Glen). As a nod to Mickey Mouse’s first filmed cartoon, the Disney Afternoon live show was titled “Plane Crazy.”
When the new DuckTales series was rolled out, Mark Mueller’s iconic theme song was adapted for the new version. As part of the new show’s publicity, one of the things that made Hamilton’s Lyn Manuel Miranda such a Disney fan was The Disney Afternoon, especially the theme music.