What you're about to see, I didn't personally preserve -- but someone else did. By accident. There were VCR-owning Boomers who knew so little about how to work the timers on their confusing boxes that they would just pop a tape in and leave it recording all day. Without people this clueless, the discovery that led to this article might not have been possible. I found an unbroken six-hour KPTV Channel 12 programming stretch from the morning until 4 PM, from around May of 1998, and towards the end saw something I thought I would NEVER see again.
Proper context: I don't know when first-run children's syndication officially went into decline, but I can tell you the moment I noticed it, and it was the day The Disney Afternoon disappeared from Channel 12. It wasn't just that a great programming block full of memorable shows and great animation had bit the dust, but that its replacements were MUCH cheaper in quality. The US Congress had issued a new requirement that all broadcast TV stations had to run three hours of educational programming the year before, and 1997 was the year that started affecting the schedule, if that's where you want to cast the blame.
I don't know if it was that, or the rise of original cable shows, but the theory must've been that affiliates would henceforth mainly be interested in buying kid shows that fed the FCC's new monster and kept it happy, and anything else would just be gravy. While that would eventually become the case, we were a long way off, and I believe syndication could have remained a viable market for much longer than it did. But nevertheless, a lot of top-level talent left the syndication business starting in '97 and what was left got shoddier-looking with each passing year. 65 episodes was no longer the rule for a weekday series; now DIC or BKN or whoever could make a measly 40 and run the repeats into the ground.
Even still...TDA may have ceased to exist during the season we're talking about, but Disney hadn't exited the market entirely. Some of the shows on the block were still being offered independently as themselves. It was possible for a local station to cobble together something resembling a solid block of Disney cartoons if they wanted to. There was even a new one in 1997 (101 Dalmatians: The Series). But KPTV didn't put it on in the afternoons. Instead I got...THIS.
Behold the most obscure Disney show of the entire 1990s: Toontown Kids.
I don't know why this show happened, but I would wager it was made quickly to appease angry affiliates who were losing The Disney Afternoon and wanted to retain some level of their preteen viewing audience, who came for Disney cartoons. "Hold on, I'll be right back," said the nervous Disney rep on the phone, and left for a couple minutes while loud construction sounds could be heard. Then he quickly came back and said "Uh, I think we have something after all."
I may hold the only evidence of its existence; the only episode future generations will ever see. Modern Disney probably are not even aware they made it. It's guaranteed to NEVER show up on Disney+. House of Mouse will show up before then. Nightmare Ned will show up before then. Heck, there are probably better odds Song of the South will. Toontown Kids is as forgotten as you can get.
And it feels like it was made TO BE forgotten. They couldn't have spent more than two weeks on the production for this thing. Two thirds of it is just old Disney shorts from the 1930s, while the remainder is bridging material with two humans hovering somewhere around 13 or 14 years old. Liza Del Mundo and Trevor Lissauer play versions of themselves, going by their own names. They spend all their time within Disneyland's Toontown attraction, and seemingly live there. They just kinda do things, and then the show ends.
This particular episode opens with Trevor writing in some oversized giant book and announcing his plans to travel the world. Liza is looking over him on the balcony and is skeptical he can make it very far. "Traveling is great and all, but one day you'll leave Toontown, and the next day you'll be CRAWLING back."
"Oh YEAH?" Trevor turns around and retorts. "We'll just see about that, Liza," "Then we'll just SEE about that, Trevor," Liza responds, before looking up at the camera and saying "We'll be right back." A cut-down version of the cartoon short "Moving Time" follows this bit.
This show is one of the very LAST times I saw Disney openly share the original Mickey and Company shorts from the mid-20th century. Back when Disney didn't have quite as much in their library, they used to air these shorts everywhere, all the time. For over a decade, a solid chunk of the Disney Channel's programming was just these shorts over and over and over. I had them pretty much memorized by the time my mom stopped paying for it.
The Walt Disney Studio was considered the greatest animation studio in the world, but they were much better at feature films than theatrical shorts. This is an objective statement, and some might argue otherwise, but...When Tom the Cat or Wile E. Coyote is hit with something, the animation and facial expressions are exaggerated and the result is hilarity. When Donald Duck is hit with something, the animation is really fluid but has no comic timing in its movement, and then Donald looks at you with this realistic pained expression, and you just feel sorry for him. It's not nearly as funny.
More often than not, Disney shorts just...creeped me out. "Moving Time" is a good example of how unsettling they could be. Goofy is trying to load a piano onto the moving van, but the piano just rolls back down the ramp. He repeatedly shoves it in, but it comes back out. Finally it seems to be holding, so Goofy turns his back, and at that moment the piano rolls back out and flattens him. This goes on for a while, and every time the piano is slipping out of the van, you hear this spindly sound like the strings in a piano being plucked. There are times you hear that noise and the piano is not on screen...but you know it's coming for Goofy. And by this point, it's clearly acting on its own and seems to have this homicidal goal of executing the poor dog. In one scene Goofy is completely in another room and that sound starts up and he has no idea which direction the piano is going to come from. That's some creepy stuff.
It's not in this episode, but Toontown Kids aired a Mickey short where he dreamed he was shrunk and being attacked by the bugs in his garden. That one is outright HORROR.
Back to the kids. Trevor is still talking about leaving and Liza is still mocking him. Goofy shows up, fresh from his encounter with the murderous piano. Trevor asks Goofy to join him traveling around the world. Liza warns him not to listen but Goofy is swayed by Trevor's argument: "They call you Goofy, right? Is that all you want to be known as -- a goof? Why, they could be saying instead, 'There's Goofy, the renowned traveler! He's been everywhere! The tallest mountains! The greenest valleys!' Come with me, and we'll live the dream!" Trevor finishes packing his suitcase and the two exit.
The second cartoon is "Pluto's Sweater." Minnie has a new sweater for Pluto. Pluto doesn't like it, but being a quadripedal creature, he needs all four limbs to stand and has very limited options for removing the ugly, itchy thing. The entire short is Pluto trying various over-the-top methods of extracting himself from the sweater. In the end he doesn't get ir off, but bunches it around enough that he looks like the creature from space Minnie is reading about in her book of scary sci-fi tales.
This may have been inspired by an earlier Pluto short where he gets his paws stuck on a sheet of fly paper and, again, spends the entire short trying to get it off. It's regarded as a landmark in animation since it was "the first time a cartoon character was shown realistically thinking for itself." Animaniacs would later parody it by having the fly paper get stuck to their butts instead.
One I'm not sure if this show aired was The Ugly Duckling, which The Disney Channel aired practically every day and has to hold some award for "most depressing short the 1930s had to offer." I might as well recap it here since...where else am I going to?
Modern audiences would consider The Ugly Duckling kind of screwed up anyway for having the moral "don't worry if you're ugly, because someday you might NOT be ugly and THEN you'd be worthy of affection." But it's worse than that -- this short is just a duck crying for six minutes. It's not fun to watch at all. His parents reject him because he looks different, so he wanders around looking for a foster family. It's hard to believe this cute design could be taken as repellent by any creature, but the duck sees his own rippled, distorted reflection in the pond and thinks THAT is what he looks like, so there's no convincing him he's not a monster.
At one point he finds a disturbing-looking decoy duck and thinks THAT must be his mother. He tries to hug it, but that makes its lightweight body rock and its beak hits him in the head, and he takes that as rejection. He has a crying fit on a log, but at that moment a family of swans passes by, and he notices he looks like them. He doesn't have to grow up to find his family like in the original story, it just happens in a day. But he really needed it. This is one dour doomscroll of a short. If you're in a good mood, a few minutes of this will kill it quick.
Also, when the swan baby is crying on the log, half his foot disappears. I ALWAYS noticed this. His foot sinks into the log like he's a ghost. It looks like that portion of the foot was blocked out by an animator who thought there'd be an object obscuring it. They must have revised the backgronnd painting, but not the animation. It's weird for them to leave such a big error in there.
There is one part of this short I DID enjoy while revisiting it, and it's this moment: the father duck comes home, looks at his white son, looks at his yellow wife, and gets the ANGRIEST look on his face. Heh. Then they start bickering, and it's obvious what their quacks mean if you're an adult, but I never got it as a kid. I thought he was just mad the baby was "ugly." Disney is the last studio you'd expect to try slipping something past the Hays Code, but there it is.
When the show returns to Trevor and Goofy, they're already starting to regret their new lives as hobos, mainly due to the fact that they can't catch a train. And this is one of those Disneyland trains that moves super-slow for liability reasons, so...they're really bad at this. On top of that, they're getting hungry.
Trevor whips an ENORMOUS cell phone out of his suitcase and dials a pizza place. (It was already out of date by 1997, but most of the props on this show are oversized, and that old phone fit the bill.) "Hello, yes! I'd like to order a large cheese pizza, with extra pizza!" The delivery driver asks where he can find Trevor and Goofy. Trevor has to admit he has no address at the moment, and his description of the area "there are a lot of rocks, a train track, and lots of trees here" isn't helpful enough. The pizza shop hangs up.
The short "Cold Turkey" is next, which also has Pluto, but this time he's joined by a cat, and they're fighting over who gets to eat a whole turkey from the fridge.
So do Trevor and Goofy return to Toontown? Presumably, but that part of the story isn't in this episode. The live-action segments of every Toontown Kids were two-parters. A story would start on Monday and conclude on Tuesday, then another would start on Wednesday and conclude on Thursday, and on and on. Another thing I don't know, and that no one will ever know, is how many episodes of Toontown Kids were made. It's a good bet that it's just the minimum 40 -- it's an even number that would make all those two-parters match up.
After Toontown Kids, KPTV had The Wacky World of Tex Avery in the next time slot. I already wrote about this show, but the place I posted it at is currently offline (use this Archive.org link to read it instead). There are a couple of things I want to add to that piece: one, I finally realized that the reason Dan pulls a scam to stay at the hospital in the first Pompeii Pete short is because people in France don't have to pay for hospital visits. Two, there are thirteen episodes of this show that are now lost media. When the subchannel ThisTV aired it in 2011, they broadcast just the first 40 episodes. It's now available at any time on one of those free streaming channels, but there are just 52 there. There were 65 episodes of Tex Avery in all; the final 13 aired in syndication in the spring of 1998, and for some reason, never appeared again.
Memories are spotty, but here's some of what's missing:
* A Tex Avery short where Tex, Sid and Chastity
all take control of the script at some point
* "When Butlers Go Bad," a Freddy the Fly short where the rich woman's hired help tries to assassinate her but each of them winds up dead instead when their plans backfire
* A Genghis and Khannie short without Khannie; she appears near the beginning and says "Yeah, I'm waiting out this one." I don't remember what Genghis was doing.
* A Power Pooch short where, in the middle of a dire situation, PP suddenly tells Little Buddy that the origin shown in his title sequence is not true, and spends the rest of the cartoon telling him how he really became a superhero
* The "Censor Ladies" Tex short I mentioned in the article was also part of the Missing 13, along with one that begins with Tex looking for romance on the Internet.
Since this recording is from May of 1998 I was really hoping it had one of the lost episodes on it! But it does not. What it DOES have is almost every ad I associate in my mind with this block of programming, so that's nice. The thing about syndicated shows is that the affiliates rarely switched up the local spots, so the same ads would air all year long. Embedded deep in my mind are the UPN Kids promo that promises "Oopin' Action," the Power Rangers In Space ad where the announcer goes "OH NO! EVIL SPACE RAYS!", and most importantly, the thoroughly embarrassing PSA where a giant comatose bear named "Sleepy" dances with rapping kids who teach safety lessons. It was nice seeing all this insanity again.
After this, the kiddie material stopped at 4 PM on KPTV for the first time in over a decade. UPN had produced two weekday teen dramas they wanted in those spots. Then, when Breaker High and the Sweet Valley High revival crashed and burned midseason, KPTV was free to do whatever they wanted at 4, but instead of bringing the cartoons back, they chose to double up on sitcom reruns. It was really too bad. And it would only get worse.
RETURN TO THE MAIN PAGE