Sunday, March 30, 2014

Aladdin (the series) 20th anniversary: introduction

As I associate the Aladdin animated TV series with the waning of my childhood and the advent of high school and my teenage years – I was starting seventh grade when its original run on The Disney Afternoon and CBS began – it’s a bit unnerving to consider that this year marks its 20th anniversary. In contrast, DuckTales premiered when I was VERY young (five years old), so having had it turn 20 while I was in my 20’s seemed natural. Aladdin, on the other hand, came into my life at a time when I was, 1), already involved in fandom (WTFB, represent!), 2), learning pre-algebra and how to write a history paper with a bibliography and citations, and, 3), not only knew what sex was, but was thinking about it a (a LOT). I've long accepted that even my undergrad years are long past, but 20 years feels like it's only been 10.

Serendipity saw fit to align Aladdin’s (and simultaneously, Gargoyles’ – not counting Goliath Chronicles) two-season run with my last two years of “middle school” (5th-8th grade) so that my childhood would go out with a bang. Yet, it wasn't just that I'd outgrown cartoons (or thought that I was supposed to ... obviously, that didn't stick) -- after that point, Walt Disney Television Animation would never again produce the kind of show that I'd liked since kindergarten, and still like today! Within a couple of years, adventure series with comedic elements were completely abandoned in favor of teen sitcom-oriented, Nicktoons-influenced approach. That considered, I'm going to make a controversial claim:  Aladdin was the last true, proper Disney Afternoon series. Unfortunately, for innate reasons, it's barely remembered as a Disney Afternoon series at all. Let me put it this way: once the Darkwing Duck comic book revival was a hit, amid the clamor of cries for TaleSpin and Rescue Rangers, I never made out one for an Aladdin comic.

The series was born cursed, the very idea of it alienating two important demographics: 1. As a direct spin-off from the movie, it would always be seen by the general public and fans -- whether they be old-school "traditionalist" animation snobs or little girls -- who preferred Disney's animated fairy tale feature films as a tacky cash grab and of inferior quality. 2. All of the “classic” Disney Afternoon series starred “funny animal” character, not the strapping, athletic young adult human leads in the Aladdin feature film, of the type typical of the Disney "Princess" features (as they were later retroactively branded). DuckTales, Rescue Rangers, TaleSpin, and Darkwing Duck. Thus, Aladdin looked and, on the surface, felt nothing like its furry and feathered predecessors. From my experience, the generation that grow up with the aforementioned series doesn't associate Aladdin with them. I will concede, though surely the perception of Aladdin first and foremost as a movie with a song sung by Robin Williams is a factor, that this rift is in part due to Aladdin having tailed the last of those four series, Darkwing, by two years; I wasn't the only one getting older.

Since I haven’t been derisive enough toward the little girl demographic and those of the parents-with-bad-taste-in-comedy persuasion (wink), I’ll take this opportunity to state that I belong to neither. And knowing who my readers are knowing that they know me, I don’t need to establish the fact that I’m a Disney Afternoon “traditionalist”.  Some of you know that I’ve long resented how the Disney Afternoon series (and the duck and mouse comics) are regarded by Disney, the corporation, as belonging to the lowest possible social class. So, yo might think that it stuck in my craw when one of the hoity-toity, “celebrated” animated feature film musicals first encroached on “our” territory. You might even think that I held something of a grudge over it to this day.

It’d follow, then, that you’d be surprised (in fact, I’m kinda surprised, now that I’m thinking about it) that throughout its run, the series hit just the rights notes for me on a very consistent basis. In fact, I welcomed the very idea of the series in late `93, when I first read announcements in trade magazines like Comics Scene of it being in production. I actually thought, “Hey, that’s a great idea, I bet it’s gonna be really good, and I’m excited about it!” In the run-up to its debut, I never lost faith in what I considered its promise.  In some ways, it more than lived up to my expectations, and I’ve maintained a soft spot for it to this very day.

Aladdin, the series, is the rare – if not the only – instance in which a spinoff or reboot, or whatever, of an existing property was done exactly the way that I would want it done and that I’d envisioned when I first heard news of it. (Sadly, I don’t think that the recently-announced Rescue Rangers CGI theatrical reboot will buck the trend any.) I consider it not a byproduct of the original movie that is remembered only as a blight on the legacy of the latter and of the Disney animated feature film in general, but a proper Disney Afternoon  comedy-adventure series just as good as any of its predecessors. With this series of episode reviews, inspired by Chris Barat’s ongoing DuckTales 25th anniversary project, I hope to do the series justice and give a perspective largely absent from the Internet.

-- Ryan

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