You Kids Don't Know How Good You've Got It

Friday, June 17, 2011

You Disney fan kids today, you don't know how good you've got it.

I've been thinking a lot about the 1970s lately, as I've been working on a panel for the upcoming ConnectiCon convention, Middle-aged Geeks Tell All! In preparing for this panel, I've been running back through my childhood favorites, both on TV and in the movies. And thinking back, I'm surprised at how little Disney entertainment was available, especially compared to the media saturation of today.

I remember tuning into Wonderful World of Disney on Sunday nights, watching Tinkerbell fly over Sleeping Beauty Castle in the opening credits. I remember cartoons and branded Disney characters being on the show from time to time, but just as often it would be a live-action feature, which (in my eyes at least) usually seemed to have nothing to do with Disney. Maybe it would be a movie, split up across two weeks (The Horse in the Gray Flannel Suit! Monkeys, Go Home!). Maybe it would be a nature program, in which case I'd probably go looking for Star Trek re-runs instead. The opening credits often felt like a bait-and-switch. But every now and then there was a special: Julie Andrews at Disneyland! Disney Parade! It felt like opening up the Cracker Jack box and finding a real toy, instead of those lousy tattoos.

Meeting Chip, 1976

{My first trip to Disneyland, circa 1976.)

Surely we had Disney movies, you may protest? Well, yes. But aside from the live action films presented on those Sunday night shows, the films we now think of as Disney classics spent most of their time in the vault. You see, we didn't have VHS yet, let alone TiVo. so when a film went back in the vault, it was really back in that vault. You couldn't see it again until it's next theatrical release -- no checking the library, or yard sales, or eBay. We made do with whatever was in theatres, both new releases and re-releases. I still remember seeing The AristoCats in the theatres, my brother and I dancing in our seats to the swingin' beats. (I remember the film being interrupted by a projector meltdown too . . . I guess it's too soon to say whether the switch to digital projection will ultimately mean fewer, or more, interruptions to your theatre-going experience.)

When I first started following Disney fan podcasts and blogs, I was startled at the level of dedication that fans just slightly younger than me had to shows like The Gummy Bears (hello, Nathan Rose) and Duck Tales, shows I'd barely heard of. You see, despite my great fondness for Disney Parks, I'd really never been interested in the Disney Channel, never having had access to it as a kid. And that whole Disney Afternoon you young folks are always talking about? I had to look it up on Wikipedia to even know what it was.

It wasn't just Disney that was different in those days, it was the whole children's programming industry. Saturday morning cartoons were the cornerstone, while most of us watched re-runs of Hogans Heroes and Flintstones after school. TV seasons really meant something then, and Saturday morning cartoons were no exception; the Friday night before the new season started, there would be a special preview show, to introduce you to all the new shows -- and it was in prime time!

Nowadays of course, you can watch all Disney, all the time. It's on the DVD player in your car, copied to your laptop through Disney Digital Copy, streaming online from Disney.com. There is no such thing as being without access to cartoons. And if, God forbid, you're in the car without access to a video screen, I'll bet you've got a Disney internet audio station on your smartphone, or (as a last resort) could tune into Radio Disney on your local airwaves.

You can't possibly imagine how exciting it was, back in 1980, when my BFF's family somehow laid hands on a bootleg VHS copy of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. We were sworn to secrecy, and I wouldn't even be telling you about it now if the statute of limitations hadn't run out. That summer, we watched Snow White dance with the dwarves over and over again, gleeful that we could.

You kids today, you just don't know how much fun you missed.