LOS ANGELES — The Disney Television Animation wing has become a force in the cartoon world with the creation of shows such as “Sophia the First,” “Jake and the Never Land Pirates” and “Phineas and Ferb.” It’s been an impressive rise over the past 30 years, considering the wing of the Disney Company started with a bag of candy and an edict that superstar characters were off limits.
A handful of the creative talent that helped Disney Television Animation grow over the three decades came together recently to talk about the division’s success. The panel included: Bill Farmer, the voice of Goofy; Paul Rudish, executive producer “Mickey Mouse” cartoon shorts; Dan Povenmire and Jeff “Swampy” Marsh, co-creators of “Phineas and Ferb”; Bob Schooley and Mark McCorkle, co-creators of “Kim Possible”; Jymn Magon, writer “DuckTales”; and Rob LaDuca, executive producer of “Jake and the Never Land Pirates.”
Before the TV wing was established, the only Disney animation on network TV was on “The Wonderful World of Disney.” The idea behind the TV animation division was to produce new cartoons for the company’s cable channels, syndication and network Saturday mornings. LaDuca called the early days “amazing” because of how much freedom the animators were given.
Although the TV wing was established in 1984 under then-Disney CEO Michael Eisner, it wasn’t until 1985 that “The Wuzzles” and “Disney’s Adventures of the Gummi Bears” launched.
Magon recalls how the Gummi Bears came about during a meeting at Eisner’s house. The animators were told by Eisner that his children loved the Gummi Bears candy and that they should make a series out of the sweet treat.
“We all went to this coffee shop afterward and said, ‘He wasn’t serious, was he?,’ ” Magon says. They realized he was and the show became one of the first from the newly created division.
The studio started creating more programs, including “DuckTales” in 1987. Many of the classic Disney characters were featured, including Scrooge McDuck and his three grandnephews, Huey, Dewey and Louie. Conspicuously absent was Donald Duck.
Magon explains that the TV animators were told they could not use any of the principal Disney cartoon characters in the new television programs. The only concession with “DuckTales” was a quick appearance by Donald in a movie to introduce the series, where Donald tells his nephews that he’s off to the Navy.
Slowly, the main characters became available including the launch of “Goof Troop” in the early ’90s. Providing the voice for Goofy was Bill Farmer, one of only three people to official be the voice of Mickey’s buddy.
There’s no longer a line between the major and minor stars of the Disney animation galaxy. Rudish is producing new “Mickey Mouse” cartoon shorts that have taken on a quirky edge but maintain the spirit of the original cartoons.
“Everyone was supportive of the idea that they didn’t need to be updated with trends and pop culture things. When we first got into it, the question was: ‘Can Micky Mouse be funny?’ I believe he can,” Rudish says.
He’s been funny enough to win Emmy Awards.
One of the biggest shows in Disney TV Animation history is “Phineas and Ferb,” which launched in 2007 after a lengthy 13-year effort by Povenmire and Marsh to get the show on the air.