The weird and bizarre live-action Disney Channel shows
In April 1983, Disney launched the Disney Channel. At the time, it was a pay-per-view cable channel, similar to HBO or Cinemax. The channel primarily aired reruns of classic Disney shows and movies, as most of the original content was still in development.
Around the same time, Disney was developing technology for its costumed characters in parks to blink their eyes and move their mouths, but it was deemed too expensive for the parks. Instead, the idea of having a costumed character show was proposed for the Disney Channel launch. So, in April 1983, viewers witnessed the start of a series of weird shows for the channel and raised their ugly cups.
1 – Welcome to the bear’s corner (1983 – 1984)
Welcome To Pooh Corner was one of the first original Disney Channel shows. The show followed Pooh (Voiced by Hal Smith) and his friends on their many adventures. But this time, they’re in live-action with costumed actors portraying the classic characters. The costumes have remote-controlled eyes and mouths, some giving the characters an eerie look. The cub suffers the most because its sunken eyes, as well as seeing the whites of its eyes when they are normally all black, gives off a feeling of soul sucking.
Each show begins with the narrator, perhaps the first and only time we see his face, as he presents the story of that day. Each episode lasts 30 minutes because the channel originally had no commercials. The episodes usually had a story with a moral so that young children could learn a lesson i.e. if they weren’t afraid of costumes. Each episode also ended with an arts and crafts segment for the most creative viewers.
The show ran for 120 episodes and had 5 holiday specials and 4 educational episodes. But this show is perhaps infamous not only for the spooky characters, but also for one of the specials, called “Too Smart For Strangers”. The 45-minute special is about teaching children to be aware of and watch out for strangers. The scene that makes the special infamous is the one where Pooh talks to Piglet about strangers “Touching your Private Parts” and even does a song and dance number about it. This segment has fallen into the infamy of the Internet and has been remembered many times.
Despite criticism, the show has won a number of children’s programming awards and has grown into a cult following. Almost half of the show’s episodes are considered lost media as there is currently no proper way to watch the show other than a few VHS tapes. Maybe Disney should consider releasing all episodes and specials on Disney Plus.
The next time Pooh and his friends were introduced the same way, it was The teddy bear book, which ran from 2001 to 2004 on Playhouse Disney.
After the show ran its course and gained a massive number of viewers, the channel’s plans were made for a second. This time, they chose to go with a much older Disney property, which wasn’t known for much else other than a movie and a ride to a popular theme park.
2 – Dumbo circus (1985)
The 1941 cinema Dumbo, the story of a baby elephant who has ears so large he could fly with them, was the property that was chosen to capitalize on Pooh’s success. The show followed Dumbo (voiced by Katie Leigh) and his friends as they traveled from town to town in each episode to bring a show to the townspeople.
Dumbo was the only returning character from the film. Dumbo’s mother, Timothy Mouse, and yes, even the Singing Crows were left out. Instead, a whole new cast of characters was introduced. Lilli, a tightrope walker cat. Barnaby Bowser, a dog who served as both a magician and a circus clown. Fair Dinkum, the Koala trail master. Sebastian, an alley cat who hurts and is also ventriloquist. QT, an orangutan who is the strongman and calliope player. And finally Lionel, Dumbo’s best lion friend.
Fun fact, Lionel was vocal actor Jim Cummings’ first official gig. At the time, Jim was working in a video store and gave his demo tape to a customer who was a Disney executive. He was called out to voice Lionel and the rest is history.
The episodes revolved around Dumbo and his friends in their many circus shows as they visited a different city in each episode.
Costumes and animatronics are a lot less scary than The bear’s corner so they were definitely improving. Similar to The bear’s corner most of the episodes would have moral for children such as not to lie, not to steal and how to make friends. One fun episode involved the actors being sucked into a storybook as they encountered various storybook characters. Honestly, a missed opportunity for a crossover with Pooh Corner.
The show ran for a total of 115 half-hour episodes and was rerun on the channel until 1997. Although not as popular as Pooh Corner, the show has been remembered by locals. viewers, despite some spooky costumes. No VHS release was made and only 15 of the 115 episodes were counted. Maybe Disney should consider a Disney Plus outing for this show as well.
After that, Disney would take a break from this concept. Almost a decade later, the Disney Channel would revisit the idea, but this time with fewer puppets and more makeup and prosthetics.
3 – Adventures in Wonderland (1992 – 1995)
Descending the Rabbit Hole, Disney revisited the Alice in Wonderland story, this time with a different approach. Seeking a Show to Help Teach Children Reading and Writing Skills Producer Andi Copley, known for working on PeeWee’s Playhouse, has been approached. The decision was made to adapt Alice in Wonderland with an emphasis on language learning, with pseudonyms, antonyms, and puns all being topics. Adventures in Wonderland was filmed in the backlot of the Disney-MGM studios.
Each episode saw Alice (played by Elisabeth Harrison) step into her magic mirror and visit her friends in Wonderland, all updated to have an early ’90s feel to them. Characters like the Red Queen, who was now an African-American soul singer. The white rabbit, the queen’s butler in roller skating. The Mad Hatter, an eccentric inventor. Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dumb, the African-American hip hop, rap, cargo pants duo. The March Hare, the resident genie. The caterpillar, a shrewd storyteller. And finally both the Cheshire cat and the dormouse.
While the Red Queen, Mad Hatter, and Tweedles were all “normal,” the March Hare, White Rabbit, and Caterpillar used copious amounts of spooky makeup, and the Cheshire Cat and Dormouse were puppets.
Alice usually visited Wonderland when she had a problem and consulted her friends. Her friends usually had a similar issue and by the end of each episode both issues were resolved.
The show also featured many famous guests like Gilbert Gottfried and Willie Nelson. The show had 100 episodes but only aired 99 because one episode featured athlete OJ Simpson as a guest as he was the hero of the White Rabbit. Right before the episode aired, the infamous OJ Simpson murders took place, so it was pulled.
Although bizarre, the series has gained a lot of followers and even won several Emmy awards. Unlike the previous two shows, it is now available to watch on Disney Plus.
These shows highlighted an interesting period of Disney television. While animatronics and make-up are weird to watch, the shows have a unique character, which is why watching them can sometimes be fun. Whether you legitimately appreciate them or just watch them for a laugh. Hopefully one day we’ll see all three shows available on Disney Plus.
Do you remember any of those shows?
Pirates and princesses (PNP) is an independent, fan-driven news blog that covers Disney and Universal theme parks, themed entertainment and related pop culture from a consumer perspective. The opinions expressed by our contributors do not necessarily reflect the views of PNP, its publishers, affiliates, sponsors or advertisers. PNP is an unofficial source of information and has no connection with The Walt Disney Company, NBCUniversal, or any other company that we may cover.