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Monday, March 30, 2020

The Top 10 Disney Deep Cuts I Want to See on Disney+

If there's a booming cottage industry that's popped up in the past 10  years, it's YouTube channels dedicated to dissecting pop culture.  For years, I have watched those and figured I would love to do one myself, as I've got quite a few topics that I'd love to explore.  And now that I'm stuck in self-isolation, I realized that I've still got this blog, so let's do it like how they would have done it 10 years ago.  So I've been picking away at this for the past week, and I figured it would be time to share....

The Top 10 Disney Deep Cuts I Want to See on Disney+

When Disney+ first launched in November of 2019, it was one of the most heavily hyped streaming service launches in recent years.  Disney has such a wealth of material in their Disney Vault that it was pretty much guaranteed to be a game changer.  And while I'm excited for things like the Star Wars series The Mandalorian and all the upcoming Marvel TV shows, there's a ton of rare and obscure stuff in forgotten corners of the Disney Vault that I would love to see and revisit.  They tell us that, in due time, the entirety of the Disney catalog will be on Disney+, so we just might get a chance to see this all someday.  So I thought I'd share my list of some of Disney's overlooked gems that I would love to see pop up on the streaming service.  

10)  Geppetto

Disney bought the ABC Television network in the mid-90s, and resolved to bring back The Wonderful World of Disney as one of their flagship programs.  Many lavish new TV movies were produced, and I remember Geppetto as being one of their most heavily-hyped TV movies of the year 2000.  It also kinda helped usher in this era of live-action remakes of Disney’s classic animated hits, as it was a remake of Pinocchio. 

Geppetto was the story of Pinocchio told from the point of view of Geppetto, the kindly old toymaker who built Pinocchio.  And as we see in this film, when Pinocchio went off to have his adventures, Geppetto went on his own odyssey to find his adoptive son.  I mean, in the original animated film, Pinocchio has to rescue Geppetto from the belly of Monstro the whale.  Didn’t you ever wonder how Geppetto wound up there? 

To play our lead, the ABC network pulled from their stable of contract stars and selected Drew Carey, still on The Drew Carey Show.  Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, fresh off Seinfeld, played the Blue Fairy, and for some reason, decided to do the whole thing as an impression of Glinda the Good Witch from The Wizard of Oz.  And as a huge Trekkie, I was tickled to find two Star Trek alumni in the cast:  Brent “Data” Spiner plays Stromboli, the sinister puppeteer who tricks Pinocchio into being in his show, and Rene “Odo” Auberjoinois as a mad inventor with a machine that makes perfect children.  

I remember it as being pretty good, and a good fit with all the other lavish fantasy miniseries that sprung up in the late-1990s.  Definitely wouldn’t mind revisiting it.

9)  14 Going on 30

So when that Jennifer Garner movie came out, 13 Going on 30, I thought, “Is this a remake of the Disney movie?”  Then when researching this, I learned that what I was thinking of was 14 Going on 30.  Similar concept and similar title.  Body-switching comedies were a Thing in the late-1980s, Tom Hanks’ Big being the one that’s stood the test of time.  And this was Disney’s TV movie knock-off of Big.

14-year old Danny is a shy, quiet kid, who has a crush on his teacher Ms. Noble.  He’s heartbroken when she announces she’s engaged to the a-hole gym teacher, Mr. Kelton.  But, his best friend’s wacky inventor adopted father has invented a “growth accelerator.”  Danny uses it to age himself up to 30, masquerade as the new school principal, and begins to romance Ms. Noble.  

This one sticks out for me because I remember the ending clear as day.  It comes to light that Danny isn’t the new principal, and has to use the machine to go back to being 14 years old.  But, Ms. Noble uses the machine, too, and turns into a 14-year old, so she and Danny can grow up and grow old together.  And Alan Thicke does a gratuitous cameo as the real new principal.  Man, we had some weird stuff in the 1980s. 

8)  Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree

If you’re going for a Muppet Christmas special, the obvious choice would be the beloved A Muppet Family Christmas, but I thought I’d go with this one form 1995 as we are doing deep cuts after all.

On Christmas Eve, a mouse family heads out into the forest to find their Christmas tree, and they find a beautiful gigantic spruce.  They’re just mice, so all they’re going to do is nip the top.  However, before they can, the tree is claimed by lumberjacks working for the billionaire Mr. Willowby, who loves Christmas quite a bit.  The poor mice are stuck hiding in the tree.  Mr. Willowby loves the tree, but it’s too big for his home.  So he has the top cut off and gives it to his boarder, Miss Adelaide, as a tree for her room.  She gazes at the tree and reminisces about Christmas in the old country.  However, the tree is to big for her room, so she has top cut off and thrown out.  The bears claim the tree from the trash for their Christmas tree, but they find it’s too big for their cave, so they cut off the top and throw it out.  Then the owls claim the remaining tree, and find it’s too big for their nest.  So they cut off the top and throw it out.  The mice finally emerge from hiding in the tree, and find the remaining part is perfect for their home.
The Muppets put together quite the all-star cast for this.  Robert Downey Jr plays Mr. Willowby, and this was pretty much the last thing he did before his substance abuse problems sidelined his career until the early 2000s.  Leslie Nielsen is his put-upon butler Baxter, and Stockard Channing is Miss Adelaide.  And being a Muppet production, Kermit the Frog serves as our narrator.
I’m not exactly sure if this belongs to Disney or not.  You see, Disney only bought the Muppet characters, and the Jim Henson Company still exists as a separate corporation.  So I don’t know if this belongs to Disney or the Jim Henson Company.  But surely some deal can be worked out to get it on Disney+.

7)  Ask Max

This is another Wonderful World of Disney original TV movie from the mid-1980s that’s kind of seared into my brain.  It’s notable in that it was pretty much the only other starring role for Jeff Cohen, best remembered as Chunk from The Goonies.  

Cohen plays Max, your typical junior high nerd who frequently gets bullied and has no luck with the ladies.  He’s also an inventor, and his inventions always tend to blow up in his face.  But then, one day, he invents something that works:  a BMX with a turbo boost that can launch itself 50 feet into the air.  He promptly sells it a toy company and becomes an overnight billionaire, but soon finds that money can’t buy happiness.  

Again, I mainly remember it for its big climactic moment that was in all the TV commercials.  He’s got to ride his bike to the big dance or whatever, goes cruising down the football field, and uses the turbo boost to launch himself over the goalposts. 

6)  Davy Crockett (1980s reboot)

So when Michael Eisner took charge of Disney back in the mid-1980s, one of his top priorities was to return the TV show The Wonderful World of Disney back to its former glory.  And what better way than by cranking out some reboots of beloved Disney hits?  There were two big ones that I remember:  the first was a reboot of The Absent Minded Professor, starring Harry Anderson from Night Court as our titular professor.  But the one I was looking forward to was Davy Crockett.  

Disney’s highly fictionalized retelling of the American frontiersman’s life was a full-blown pop culture phenomenon when it was released in the 1950s.  The Davy Crockett episodes of Wonderful World of Disney were reedited into movies.  Those movies were among the first VHS tapes I ever saw, and who couldn’t help but love them?  It was high adventure in the classical sense.  

For the 1980s reboot, Tim Dunigan, fresh from playing Captain Power on Saturday morning, was our new Davy Crockett, and country music legend Johnny Cash played the elder Crockett, narrating stories about his youth.  It never quite captured the magic of the original, though, and only ran for three episodes of The Wonderful World of Disney.  Can’t even find ripped episodes on YouTube.  So I wouldn’t mind revisiting it, if only as a Davy Crockett completest.  

5)  Fluppy Dogs

In the mid-1980s, Disney was one of the biggest names in animation, but there was still one field that they never made a venture into.  And that was Saturday morning cartoons.  So, in 1984, they formed Walt Disney Television Animation to do just that.  Their first product was the smash hit Gummi Bears, and the second was the one-season wonder Wuzzles.  And their third was Fluppy Dogs.

Fluppy Dogs is what’s known in the business as a “backdoor pilot.”  The pilot episode was shown as an episode of The Wonderful World of Disney, and if it were a big enough ratings hit, it would go to series.  It never went to series, but it still got the usual merchandising push, and I do remember seeing Fluppy Dog plushies in the toy section of the Sears Wish Book that year.

The Fluppy Dogs are dogs from another dimension with latent magical abilities.  They’re in possession of a magical key that lets them open hidden doors to other dimensions.  Eventually, they wind up on Earth, where they meet up with a couple of kids, and an evil billionaire who wants the magic of the fluppy dogs for themselves  Couple this with having to do battle with whatever evils from other dimensions they accidentally unleash while exploring these hidden doors.

I still have fond memories of it, and seeing it as an episode of Wonderful World of Disney at least a couple of times.  Who knows?  Maybe in this era of reboots and remakes, a mini-series to continue the story could be commissioned. 

4)  Condorman

Early-80s Disney is some of the strangest Disney.  Disney was trying to be all grown-up and edgy and grow beyond being known for family entertainment.  As such, they got more experimental.  This is where we got Tron and thrillers such as The Watcher in the Woods and Something Wicked This Way Comes.  But the one that tried to have their cake and eat it too was the superhero film/James Bond spoof Condorman.

Woody Wilkins is a comic book artist who’s going through a bit of a creative block.  His friend Harry, a CIA agent, decides Woody needs a break, and drafts him to go Istanbul for a civilian paper swap with a Russian spy.  Infatuated with this spy, Woody spins her a wild tale of how he’s a secret agent code-named “Condorman.”  Turns out our female agent is quite taken with Woody’s story and decides to defect, but says that Condorman is the agent who must get her out of Russia.  Woody agrees to the job, and starts outsmarting the Russian spies, using gimmicks from his comic books.

Condorman has picked up a bit of a cult following in recent years, and for its cult status alone it needs to be on Disney+.  I remember the early days of VHS.  The trailer for this seemed to be on every Disney VHS tape back then, and it became a mainstay at sleepovers when I was a kid.  And with superhero films being more popular than ever, I think it’s primed for a reboot.

3)  The Love Bug (1997 version)

So when Disney bought the ABC Network back in the mid-1990s, one of Michael Eisner’s top priorities was to bring back the TV show The Wonderful World of Disney, and bring it back to its former glory.  And what better way than by cranking out reboots of beloved Disney hits?  It’s déjà vu all over again.  Thus began a string of TV movie remakes of some of Disney’s beloved slapstick comedies from the 60s and 70s.  I remember The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes, starring Kirk Cameron in old Kurt Russel role, and Freaky Friday starring Shelly Long as the mom.  But as a lifelong Herbie the Love Bug fan, I was looking forward to their remake of The Love Bug.

B-movie icon Bruce Campbell takes the lead as Hank Cooper, a washed-up race car driver who becomes Herbie’s latest owner, and soon grows resentful that Herbie’s getting all the credit for his recent race victory.  Comedienne Ali Wentworth is Alex, a race writer and old flame of Hank’s whom Herbie decides to try to get back together.  And John Hannah is Simon Moore III, a disgraced F1 driver who become obsessed with learning Herbie’s secrets, resulting in the creation of Herbie’s evil counterpart, Horace the Hate Bug.
It was released on VHS in the late 1990s, and I dug it up on YouTube and just watched it.  Being in self-isolation, I decided to watch every Herbie movie  It kinda drags in the middle, but the climactic race is pure gold.  Herbie’s antics and Campbell’s classic one-liners make a great combo.  I was also pleased to discover it was one of the earliest directorial efforts from Peyton Reed, who’s now kicking ass in Marvel Cinematic Universe as the director of the Ant-Man movies.  It’s a lot of fun, and definitely deserves a place of honour with the rest of the Herbie franchise. 

2)  “Weird Al” Yankovic: (There’s No) Going Home

In the late 1990s, the Disney Channel did a series of concert specials under the banner Going Home, in which a pop star would take the camera crew on a tour of their hometown, interspersed with concert footage.  I have vague memories of Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera doing such specials, as they were just starting to become famous at the time.  But, being the massive Weird Al fan that I am, my heart was all aflutter when they did one with Weird Al entitled “Weird Al” Yankovic: (There’s No) Going Home.  

For those of us who were deprived of seeing Weird Al in concert, this was the closest we ever got to seeing him perform beloved live versions of Fat and Dare to be Stupid.  And for the “touring of the hometown” segments, we were treated to typical Weird Al comedy, as his parents (played by his real life parents) had forgotten all about him, and had begun renting out his room to Ed McMahon.  We also met his grandfather, blues legend “Blind Melon” Yankovic, who’s known for writing the world’s shortest blues song.  (It's a harmonic riff followed by the line "I didn't get up this morning.")

The comedy bits were released as a 15-minute short film that was available only as an Easter Egg on Weird Al’s album Running with Scissors.  But pirated version can be found on the YouTubes.  

1)  The Muppets at Walt Disney World

Disney was finally successful in buying the Muppets in 2004, but the truth is they had been working for years to buy Jim Henson’s beloved characters.  The closest the came before 2004 was in 1990, but the deal fell apart with Henson’s untimely death.  But, in the time, Disney and the Muppets did forge a close partnership for most of the 1990s, which gave us the films The Muppet Christmas Carol and Muppet Treasure Island.  Which brings us to the 1990 episode of The Wonderful World of Disney called The Muppets at Walt Disney World, as it was meant to be the thing that welcomed the Muppets into the Disney family. 

Kermit the Frog has invited all his fellow Muppets down to his Florida swamp for his family reunion.  But when the Muppets discover that Kermit’s swamp borders on Walt Disney World, they all decide to skip out on the reunion, hop the fence, and go to Disney World.  Kermit soon follows to try to round up his friends, and all kinds of Muppet shenangins ensue.  The one that I remember the most is Miss Piggy trying to dethrone Cinderella to become a Disney princess herself.  They’re relentlessly pursued by a security guard played by Charles Grodin, and it all ends in the offices of the big guy himself, Mickey Mouse.  

Of course, this is a very notable chapter in Muppet history as it’s the last Muppet production that was released within Jim Henson’s lifetime.  He passed away within days of its airing.  His final talk show appearance was on The Arsinio Hall Show to plug this special.  So for that historical fact alone, I would love to revisit it.  And because Disney now owns the Muppets...what the hell is keeping it from being released?  

So please, Disney.  Put The Muppets at Walt Disney World on Disney+.  Heck, more Muppet stuff in general.  Let us binge The Muppet Show.  Let’s ring in the holidays with A Muppet Family Christmas.  Start digging into the Muppet back catalog!  

Honorable Mentions

These are some other ones that sprung to mind when I was putting together this list, so I thought I’d tack them on here at the end. 

The Last Electric Knight / Sidekicks

Disney’s Karate Kid knock-off from the mid-1980s.  A young Japanese-American boy who’s the last practitioner of a karate dojo know as the Electric Knights teams up with an LAPD detective to track down the murderer of his grandfather/karate mentor.  Ernie Reyes Jr, star of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II and Surf Ninjas, was the kid, and Buck Rogers himself Gil Gerard was the detective.  The Last Electric Knight was the original Disney TV movie in which the grandfather’s murderer was brought to justice, and it spawned the TV series Sidekicks in which Reyes and Gerard continued fighting crime.  The series ran for one season. 


Right before he hit it big as the star of Quantum Leap, Scott Bakula did this Disney TV movie, which was no doubt another backdoor pilot for a TV series.  Bakula is an everyman cab driver who gets exposed to an alien substance, and it gifts him with a healing factor, not unlike Wolverine’s.  With this new superpower, he’s quickly drafted to be a secret agent.  His son was exposed to the alien substance, too, and is also rendered indestructible, and becomes his sidekick.  Typical 1980s action fare. 

Zorro and Son

Disney had great success with their Zorro TV series back in the 1950s.  Their 1980s comedy reboot...not so much.  Zorro is gettin’ too old for this shit, and figures the time is right to pass the mantle onto his son, who’s just returned from university in Spain.  However, the junior Zorro is more scientifically-minded, and keeps whipping up new James Bond and Batman style gadgets to aid in their quest for justice.  Daddy Zorro doesn’t care much for these newfangled methods, and decides to keep doing things his way.  Generation gap comedy ensues.  I’ve got fuzzy memories of this series, as it was actually my first exposure to Zorro. 

Bride of Boogedy

When Disney+ launched, the 1980s TV movie Mr. Boogedy made a lot of lists as one of the streaming services strangest offerings, as I guess not a lot of people remembered this haunted house tale.  I, however, have clearer memories of its sequel, Bride of Boogedy, which for some reason became a Halloween mainstay on the CBC in the late-1980s.  


Another one of Disney's heavily-hyped reboots from the late-1980s.  This remake of the Disney classic Pollyanna moved the action to a town in the Deep South in the 1950s, and featured an African American cast.  Cosby Show alumni Keisha Knight Pulliam and Phylicia Rashad played Polly and her stern old aunt.  Legendary choreographer Debbie Allen was the director.  It was popular enough that it spawned a sequel, Polly:  Comin' Home!, which was on a year later.  

Ernest Goes to Splash Mountain

When Disneyland opened up Splash Mountain in the late-1980s, it was one of the most heavily-hyped new rides at Disneyland in ages.  This was also the same era in which Ernest P. Worrell had become a beloved icon thanks to being in hundreds of TV commercials, and Disney just happened to be cranking out the Ernest movies.  Quicker than you can say "corporate synergy", an episode of The Wonderful World of Disney was cranked out, in which Ernest went to Disneyland to be the first on Splash Mountain.  I want to see this just because I’m an Ernest completest.

And there you have it!  My list of all the forgotten treasures in the Disney Vault.  As I said at the beginning, they tell us that, eventually, absolutely everything Disney owns will be on Disney+.  So all we have to do now is play the waiting game.  Well, you can play the waiting game. I'm gonna go binge DuckTales

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