On Animation Channels and Decision-Making, Pt. 3: Disney Channel/XD

The House of Mouse’s TV animation has had some big successes.

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Welcome to the 3rd part in a mini-series about  networks and their decision-making when it comes to animated shows! In part 2, Nickelodeon was discussed; the network’s unwillingness to part with its past and lack of quality depth has translated to a 2010’s with few major successes. Now it’s time to turn to another archrival who’s arguably coming on stronger than either Nickelodeon or Cartoon Network: Disney.

Just what is in the water at the house that Walt built these days for the animation units? Walt Disney Animation just won their 3rd Oscar in 4 years, and Disney Television animation (which are the people behind the network(s) in question today) are doing incredibly well with their fare on Disney X.D. Gravity Falls was a boon, setting rating records for its finale just over a year ago; Twilight of the Apprentice, the season 2 finale of Star Wars Rebels one-upped that, and another show that I just reviewed after its season finale- Star vs. The Forces of Evil– is renewed for a 3rd and 4th season. If all this is news to you, hopefully this look behind the scenes will illustrate the sort of path Disney X.D.’s charting at the moment.

A quick look back at the move into the decade for Disney reveals a network that had done modestly well in animation through the 2000’s, with shows like Kim Possible and American Dragon: Jake Long. At this time, the network still split its animated series between flagship station Disney Channel and the smaller Toon Disney; in 2009 the latter was shut down and re-branded as Disney X.D., a decision that would have some major impacts on the animated shows being produced. Speaking of shows, the story for the decade in question begins in 2008, when the network debuted what would both prove to be an anchor show and a transitional one as well- Phineas and Ferb. With the Great Recession hammering the industry- a common thread for all the networks discussed, the show’s strong-creator driven style, consistent quality, and universally strong appeal that performed well in spite of the financial climate meant it would not only be a majorly influential show for the company, but the industry on the whole. What Phineas and Ferb did was start laying the groundwork for a period of animation on TV not seen from the House of Mouse since the early 90’s- and with the potential to surpass it, if it hasn’t already. (Check out my review of Phineas and Ferb for more thoughts!)

The start of the decade saw Disney with an established anchor show (Phineas and Ferb), and one of the earliest offerings was the mediocre Fish Hooks, which despite having a great deal of established and future talent on the staff, such as Tom Warburton (KND/Pepper Ann) and Maxwell Atoms (Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy) didn’t ever quite take off. However, the creative director of that show just so happened to jump up to his first show-running job in 2012…Alex Hirsch. And with him came Gravity Falls, the first and biggest in the wave of creator-driven series that have come to define Disney’s television animation in this decade. Interestingly, Gravity Falls started as a Disney Channel original series, but after the debut of its second season (Scary-oke), the series moved its home permanently to Disney X.D., a move that in turn has ignited the growth of what had been (and still is, relatively speaking) a niche network. And the hits kept coming: Dave Filoni, who headed up Star Wars: The Clone Wars launched the successful Star Wars Rebels after the acquisition of Lucasfilm by Disney, where it has become a key show; while 2015 finally said goodbye to Phineas and Ferb, another rose in its place- Daron Nefcy’s Star vs. The Forces of Evil, which apparently the friends of Mickey Mouse love, as it’s already been greenlit for another 2 seasons; and more recently Dan Povenmire and Jeff “Swampy” Marsh who were behind P&F have started another successful endeavor with Milo Murphy’s Law. Creator driven shows, with strong levels of engagement with their audiences, which in turn are quality shows, has been a winning formula.

Of course, there has been misses, like any studio. The bizzare Pickle and Peanut, headed up by Noah Z. Jones (the same guy behind Fish Hooks) might be chief among these in recent memory, and there’s been quite a few other shows that have been lost to the public eye, if they were ever there to begin with (Randy Cunningham: 9th Grade Ninja? Kick Buttowski?) Somehow, I doubt outside of their target audience and hardcore animation nerds that anyone really knows what these shows are, and while Disney has been doing a good job this decade, they’ll need to continue to build depth in order to sustain success. It’s a different problem, but a good one as opposed to some of their competition, and I’d argue one of Disney’s best attributes about their shows (which has been historically true) is that they never run too long. Phineas and Ferb was an exception; 2-3 years tends to be the historical trend, and the animation unit has never gotten too low as a result of consistently overturning their shows for each generation while maintaining a connection to past hits of yesteryear.

2017 continues to look intriguing. The rebooted DuckTales trailer (at the time of this writing) looks incredible, preserving the heart and feeling of the original while giving it a refreshing update and new flair, and the animation is gorgeously unique. Star vs. The Forces of Evili finished its promising second season at the end of February, and Star Wars Rebels continues its 3rd season with a very familiar face to fans of the old Expanded Universe serving as antagonist. The aforementioned Milo’s Murphy Law is off to a good start (and actually stars Weird Al Yankovic as the main character- go figure)  and Disney X.D. specifically has built a bigger viewership base the past few years and more than one show to rely on (and hey, they still do Gravity Falls and Phineas and Ferb re-runs!) There’s a strong path forward that has been forged; and if this era is looked back on as a golden age of animation in the West, Disney might have a lot to do with that.


Like what you see? Do you know I wrote a Gravity Falls review as well? Leave a comment!

Author: anibproductions

I am the founder and writer of AniB Productions, currently a fledgling blog with a focus on animated shows from both the East and the West. Love Buffalo sports, good political discussion, and an interesting conversation wherever I go.

6 thoughts on “On Animation Channels and Decision-Making, Pt. 3: Disney Channel/XD”

  1. It’s actually kind of strange to see Disney positioned at the top of the TV animation pile. Even during the heyday of the Disney Afternoon I think Disney was generally edged out by Warner Brothers’ offerings at the time (Tiny Toons, BTAS, Animaniacs etc.), which I guess is not that surprising given how even in those days Disney treated it’s Disney animation as largely disposable (if you ever want to know how highly Disney feels about something, see if they’ve put it in their Theme Parks, particularly Walt Disney World).

    I guess with Nick and to lesser extent CN both being kind of stagnant at the moment it would only make sense that the channel with all the relatively new and hot shows would take the crown (or at least it would ratings wise if it were in more houses).

    Actually what is probably even more surprising that Disney 😄 has actually developed into a channel with a decent lineup and a solid identity. I had expected it to be a somewhat half-assed “boys channel” the was mostly a dumping ground for their licensed and syndicated stuff . . . and I guess in the early days it kind of was. But yeah, the turning really did seem to be when Gravity Falls was “relegated” to the channel when a lot of people tuned in just to see that, and then may or may not have stuck around for Star or something else. Though the channel probably did not find it’s large(?) mainstream audience until Star Wars arrived.

    Weirdly it does not seem like any of the Marvel shows have found much success on the channel, at least not critical success anyway. I don’t really know why but Marvel has always seemed to have trouble being translated to the small animated screen, and that hasn’t seemed to have changed. I thought the Guardians of the Galaxy show would be a shoo-in success, but I haven’t heard much about it since it was announced and primered.

    I’m not sure what to make about Ducktales coming back after all of these years. The trailers look promising and there is strangely a lot of effort to even bring in some of the old comic stuff, which is a good sign I think. Whats odd though is that not only is this being advertised as a nostalgic show, but it does seem like they are actually playing up the parallels to Gravity Falls a bit. I mean, yeah a lot of the GF team came to work on the new Ducktales, but I kind of wonder if Disney is looking at Ducktales to be the show to replace Gravity Falls, and if they might be looking for more shows with a similar bent to it. I think if nothing else i would be surprised if we see some new GF related product, perhaps even a sequel or eventually a remake. At the same time I may be reading way too much in to it.

    Going back to Ducktales itself, one thing I’ll be curious to see is if they will keep with the episodic approach of the original series or if they will go with something more serialized, and if it’s the latter how far are they going to go with it as far as things like character and plot development go. It would be kind of weird if they went for something more genuinely dramatic, but that is strangely where this current age is heading, even they can’t resisit sneaking the occasional low brow joke in for tension breaking.

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    1. I have to admit I was surprised to when reviewing these networks over this decade so far that Disney had climbed to the top of the heap in animation. Watching Disney X.D. form an identity, as you said, was so critical in bringing it to its best point historically (which is right now, actually), and set it up for sustained success with the model they have at the moment. As for DuckTales…I’ll review the original series at some point, but the reboot is definitely being positioned to be a massive show on the network; I don’t know if it’d be a “Gravity Falls replacement” insofar as giving the channel a potential triumvirate that’s unmatched between it, Star, and SW Rebels…provided it’s as good as I think it’ll be. On Gravity Falls (and I know we talk about this show a lot; nothing wrong about that, seeing as it’s a favorite of mine), I wouldn’t expect them to touch the franchise in any major way over the next 10 years at least as far as new production goes UNLESS Alex Hirsch himself pitched something to them. I think they know how much they owe to that show and its success to sully the creator’s intentions. Finally, for Marvel…I’d generally agree about their small-screen endeavors; ironically archrival DC has been far better at it, while the opposite is true on the big screen. As always, remarkably detailed and interesting insights!

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      1. One can only hope that Disney X.D. can make it into more households since I think a lot of people are missing out on some great animation just because it’s not on the Disney channel proper.

        Something that occurred to me about Ducktales is that unless it was an 80s toy franchise (and even that’s not safe) most of the remakes/ reboots have either been terrible, flopped financially, or both. I do have some confidence that Ducktales will be able to avoid that, but history definetely shows the odds being somewhat against it. Nostalgia is double edged sword after all.

        I often questioned the pop-cultural staying power of Gravity Falls, but now it seems that at very least it will enjoy cult classic status for many years to come. I imagine that Disney will eventually, with or without Alex, will try to do something with the franchise when it starts to hit it’s nostalgia phase in the next decade.

        As an aside I’m still amazed at how much creative authority Alex is allowed to have. That and the fact that his first show went over so well makes me a little worried about what the rest of his career may bring.

        One last thing to note about things coming down the pipe for Disney X.D. Is that while it’s not all that much quanity-wise it’s all new animated series coming to the channel, which is both surprising and good to hear.

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      2. Good thoughts. DuckTales I sense will be successful in part for a few reasons-it looks to balance nostalgia with a bit of a modern direction; it isn’t being asked to carry the network, thanks to the groundwork laid by Gravity Falls and other shows; and it appears they’re trying to make sure it has more depth than a cash-grab reboot (see Powerpuff Girls…)
        Gravity Falls will probably stick in the public consciousness; it’s been over a year since it’s concluded and there’s still good discussion about it and a line of Funko POP! figures coming, which suggests it was profitable and well-known enough to merit more merchandise. I also wonder about Alex Hirsch…I’m hopeful that he won’t be a one-hit wonder, and I’ve often believed working on shows targeting younger audiences forces writers to work harder in coming up with intelligent, original writing and humor (because of certain age-limit restrictions.) We’ll see how things go with him…and finally for Disney X.D., quality over quantity seems to be the focus, and it’s a very good approach.

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  2. I probably won’t be seeing Ducktales on it’s initially since I kind of want to gauge how well it’s doing before I jump in, plus I prefer to binge watch my shows anyway.

    While there is a lot to be learned from writing audience, I’ve found that creators who have success this early in their careers’ are a pretty mixed bag to say the least. I’m not seeing he will necessarily turn into the Shamalyan of animation (ironic as it would be), but he has said some things and expressed some ideas in interviews that do make me question him sometimes, but that could just be me being unfair/ a negative fanboy.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Perfectly reasonable, logical reservations to have. I’m not 100% sold on Hirsch’s future career ever reaching Gravity Falls’ height; I don’t think that’s being a fanboy or unfair; rather, it’s justified to hold such a belief.

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