The Disney Channel has been a prominent fixture on most TV screens since the ’80s, but the original network was a far cry away from the one that gave us Gravity Falls and High School Musical. The decade was certainly a strange period for the channel, but it did result in some memorable programs, shows, and specials.
To understand the origins of the Disney Channel, we have to take a trip back to 1983, a tumultuous time in TV history. The rapidly changing culture resulted in what many thought was an excess of violence and unsettling imagery on the airwaves. Enter Disney with the concept to create an entire network focused on family-friendly programming. On April 18th of 1983, The Disney Channel was launched for the very first time with its own original shows and projects mixed in with classic Disney specials and cartoons. While there will always be a place for vintage shorts featuring Mickey and the gang, some of the channel’s debut programming ventured into some strange territory. For every Good Morning, Mickey or You and Me, Kid, There’s a Mousercise or Welcome to Pooh Corner.
On one hand, this can all be chalked up to that maxim of “it was the ’80s,” but some of the early Disney Channel series seem outright bizarre. Two of the most notable examples were the shows that utilized animatronic puppets and suits to create live-action versions of animated characters, Welcome To Pooh Corner and Dumbo’s Circus. While these shows were considered adorable and technological marvels for the decade, there’s a certain Five-Nights-at-Freddy’s-esque flavor to these shows. If articulated puppets and masks weren’t strange enough, the network didn’t stop there.
Mornings began with Good Morning, Mickey, which was shortly followed by the incredibly ridiculous Mousercise. Inspired by the album of the same name (yes, that actually was a thing), the program was a series of 60 episodes that promoted exercise and physical health with a Disney twist. That’s all perfectly fine, but it gets into some weird waters when the Park versions of Mickey, Minnie, and Goofy get in on the act. If the Day-Glo tinted aerobics wasn’t enough, seeing Mickey and his friends in overtly-’80s workout gear might just tip the scale.
Animatronic versions of Dumbo and Minnie Mouse in neon exercise gear might be strange, but there’s one Disney Channel original that went completely over the edge, and that was Adventures in Wonderland. Inspired by the 1951 Alice in Wonderland adaptation by Disney, the show featured Alice, albeit a ’90s incarnation, traveling to Wonderland through an enchanted looking glass to help her friends on the other side with a conflict that mirrors one in her world. That might sound normal enough for a kid’s show, but it takes a sharp right turn with some of its character and design choices. The White Rabbit sports rollerblades, Tweedle-Dum and Tweedle-Dee are a pair of rappers, and the Cheshire Cat is an animatronic acid trip that is purely the stuff of nightmares. “We’re all mad here” takes a totally new meaning.
True, these programs were strange and products of the era, but it also helped make the Disney Channel a network powerhouse of classic and family-friendly entertainment. Some of the shows might have been undeniably weird, but that doesn’t mean they were forgettable.
Did you watch any of these weird Disney shows? Tell us in the comments below!