It’s Debate Day! This me and Aaron are debating the best Disney animated TV show (that isn’t DuckTales). Aaron has gotten predictably confused and picked the wrong thing again: Gargoyles: The Best Disney Animated TV Show (After DuckTales). To read the correct and good opinion, scroll on down!
For this week’s Debate Day I had a really tough time deciding. We realized, of course, that there’s no competing with DuckTales. How do you top the world’s richest Duck traveling the world with his spunky triplet nephews and getting involved in all kinds of fantastic shenanigans? You don’t. With that off the table, the decision was really hard. I grew up watching Chip ‘n’ Dale: Rescue Rangers, Darkwing Duck, Gargoyles, Aladdin: The Animated Series, and TaleSpin. They were full of adventure and whimsy, and for an awkward, nerdy 90s kid they provided an escapism from dumb old reality. None of them quite live up to the best of the bunch, though: The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.
So I know what you’re thinking: how can a silly kids show about a stuffed bear compete with the high adventure and sweet action of the aforementioned shows? Well the truth is that a program staring a group of stuffed animals belonging to an eight-year-old boy had some of the most amazingly imaginative episodes of television I’ve ever seen, as well as some stunningly poignant moments and plenty of positive moral messages.
The characters themselves are the heart of the show and it just doesn’t get any better. The animals have evolved from their A. A. Milne origins into more slapstick, 20th-century versions of themselves. Pooh himself carries the show on his back with his dim-witted earnestness and unflinching kindness to his friends. But there’s a rich supporting cast in bounce-obsessed Tigger, cowardly Roo, persnickety Rabbit, “wise” Owl, mopey old Eeyore, the irrepressible Gopher, and the mother-daughter duo of Kanga and Roo. Of course, there’s also Christopher Robin, the ostensible master of the animals and occasional participant in their wacky misadventures. They’re brought to life by an incredibly talented voice cast, led by the prolific Jim Cummings as Pooh (and later Tigger as well after Paul Winchell’s passing).
No great cartoon is complete without a catchy theme song, and Disney had no shortage of them. New Adventures is no exception: take a listen to this and tell me you don’t feel like a little kid again, ready to play some imaginary games in the backyard. Go on. I dare you.
Many of my favorite episodes feature fantastic plots that reject reality with a sort of wink and nod towards childlike ignorance and play. One example is “Pooh Skies.” When Christopher Robin capriciously tells Pooh that clouds are made in a machine in the sky, Pooh worries he’s broken the machine after he knocks a bird’s egg out of a tree with a stick while trying to get some hunny. The gang assumes that the sky is falling, leading to Gopher building a massive scaffolding so he and Pooh can climb to the clouds and fix the problem. They end up in a whimsical cloud country complete with cloud ships, cloud dragons, and a bizarre cloud-making machine. I love that the show acknowledges how silly and nonsensical the idea of a cloud machine is, but still sends the gang on a fantastic sky adventure to find it.
The show is chock full of these types of zany imagination-run-wild episodes, like “Sorry, Wrong Slusher,” where they get convinced a serial killer called the Slusher is coming to get them after they watch a scary late night movie at Christopher Robin’s house. Or “Cleanliness is Next to Impossible,” where the gang gets sucked into the kingdom of the evil Crud under Christopher Robin’s bed after he stuffs all his toys underneath it instead of properly cleaning his room. Episodes like these remind us, in a bittersweet way, that the toys are really just products of Christopher Robin’s imagination, but they tap into that primal childhood capacity for ebullient whimsy, much like Calvin & Hobbs.
The show also has really touching and emotional episodes, usually without Christopher Robin’s presence. One of my favorites is “Donkey for a Day,” where the gang tries to cheer up Eeyore, who they see sitting forlornly on a hilltop and staring at clouds. After several attempts at cheering up the poor donkey end in him getting clobbered, Piglet confesses that he’s sorry he couldn’t do more to help Eeyore feel happy. Eeyore reveals that he comes to look at clouds because he’s happy, not sad, and shows Piglet his “cloud painting” technique, where he uses his imagination to splash streams of vibrant color across the twilight sky. The whole gang shows up and realizes that there’s nothing wrong with a little quiet solitude now and then.
Probably the most tear-jerking episode of all is “Find Her, Keep Her,” where Rabbit rescues a little bird named Kessie and attempts to raise her. Rabbit, in his overprotective way, begins to care deeply for the adorable little chick, who calls him “Rabbie.” Rabbit worries about Tessie learning to fly, both because she might get hurt and because she might leave him. When she learns to fly on her own, Rabbit is heart-broken and refuses to say goodbye when Kessie leaves to fly south. But he shows up at the last minute with the first carrot Kessie grew in his garden, and Kessie returns for a heartfelt farewell. If you can watch this episode and not cry, you’re a monster.
Aaron’s going with Gargoyles this week, and that show is for sure badass and awesome. It’s got a sweet medieval fantasy meets present day vibe, not to mention cool Shakespeare stuff like Macbeth, Puck, and the Weird Sisters being recurring antagonists. I can even overlook the lackluster final season. But even their wild adventures don’t hold a candle to the mischief Pooh and company get up to, nor do they ever hit the same emotional chords.
The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh mixes youthful imagination with poignant stories about the lessons we learn growing up. It touches and inspires me as much as an adult as it did when I first watched it twenty years ago or so. That’s what makes The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh the best non-DuckTales Disney cartoon show of all time.
Which Disney cartoon (besides DuckTales) is truly the tops? Don’t forget to check out Aaron’s choice: Gargoyles: The Best Disney Animated TV Show (After DuckTales). Let us know what you think in the poll below!