How Disney Ruined ‘Doug’
In 1991, when the TV network Nickelodeon debuted it’s trio of cartoons they dubbed Nicktoons to further their powerful grasp on programming for kids. Among this original three were Rugrats, which would become their flagship program; the more adult-skewing Ren & Stimpy; and a show with a catchy theme song about an ordinary but imaginative kid named Doug. The series featured Doug Funnie in his new hometown of Bluffington. In this new town he gains a new best friend in Skeeter and a bully in Roger, he also meets the object of a major crush Patti Mayonnaise. The key to the success of Doug was that unlike the other Nicktoons the adventures of this series were ones viewers could relate to. While he often retreats into the fantasy worlds he creates, Doug’s issues consisted of things like: handling peer pressure, overcoming a fear, or dealing with bullying. While Rugrats and Ren & Stimpy were loud and full of adventure, Doug was quieter and became more of a fan favorite than a grand smashing success.
One of Nickelodeon’s biggest rivals, Disney, made no secret that they wanted Doug for their own. In the initial deal with Nickelodeon, creator Jim Jenkins and his production studio Jumbo Pictures would produce 65 episodes to be broadcast as five seasons. When time came to exercise their option for the fifth season Nickelodeon put a halt on things citing budgetary issues. While they were in no hurry to produce another 13 episodes Nick had a window of two years to hold onto Doug should they change their mind. During this time other networks reached out to Jim Jenkins about acquiring the rights to the show but Nickelodeon refused to make a deal. Eventually in 1996 Disney would purchase Jumbo Pictures as a whole, obtaining the rights to all things Doug with the exception of the episodes Nickelodeon aired. Having just purchased the network ABC, the House of Mouse intended Doug to be the flagship of a new Saturday morning cartoon block entitled One Saturday Morning. Of course having spent millions of dollars on this new intellectual property the new corporate overlords were not about to let Jenkins and his show continue on as they had been doing. A number of changes would have to be made which led to Doug becoming something wholly unrecognizable to previous fans.
Retitled Brand Spanking New! Doug, the very first episode immediately opened a can of change on the series. Longtime fans were hit hard when they noticed the music had changed, and I do not mean the fact that Doug’s favorite band the Beets broke up, I mean the theme music from the show. In the original run on Nick, Jenkins and composer Fred Newman made the music from Doug different from any other cartoon by opting for a catchy scat style. But this was swapped out in favor of a more traditional woodwind sound. From there the theme of this episode was Doug dealing with an onslaught of changes to both his hometown and social circle and not all these changes were for the better.
The biggest sin of Disney’s new take on Doug was what happened to the characters. One of the strengths of the series was how well-developed every character was. The town of Bluffington was a diverse place filled with people of all backgrounds, abilities and colors even if that color was blue. But if there is one thing Disney liked it was homogenization. Without a doubt the biggest casualty of this was the character of Connie. In the original Doug, Connie was a secondary character who was often seen hanging out with Patti and her friend Beebee Bluff. What made Connie different was that she was drawn by animators as having a body type that was curvier than the others. This was not a major plot point or big deal it was just who she was. But under Disney control Connie was sent to “beauty camp” in-between shows and now she looked like all of the other girls. During the run on Nickelodeon, viewers learned over time that Doug’s bully Roger came from the lower end of the socioeconomic status being raised by a single mother, his actions seemed to be his acting out because of his situation. Many times in the show this helped the green-skinned kid in a leather coat become elevated beyond the standard bully archetype and at many points gave him a point of redemption. But in Brand Spanking New! Doug his family stumbled into wealth but Roger was still a mean kid only now without the relatable/redeemable background. We even got a new character in the form of Doug’s baby sister Cleopatra Dirtbike (because apparently Doug’s parents could not tell the difference between a Name List and a Christmas Wishlist).
In addition to character changes onscreen, the behind-the-scenes Disney was forcing Jim Jenkins to adapt to their alterations. Famed voice actor Billy West had played both Doug and Roger in the original run of Doug and the hopes were was that he would continue on. But the veteran of Looney Tunes, Ren & Stimpy, and Futurama could not come to agreement with his new corporate bosses necessitating that Tom McHugh be brought in to takeover the lead role leading to viewers immediately going “Doug’s voice is not right”.
While Doug tends to live in a fantasy world with Quailman and Smash Adams in his imagination the real world for him is a rather grounded one. But as one probably expected under the oversight of Disney things became for outlandish. It culminated when Disney released the critically maligned Doug’s 1st Movie. Originally planned as a direct-to-video release, the powers that be saw how successful the Rugrats were in their cinematic debut. Drawing the conclusion that since Doug and Rugrats are tied by a Nickelodeon heritage they released Doug’s 1st Movie in theaters as well. This sees the imaginative middle schooler come face-to-face with a cryptozoological creature from Lucky Duck Lake. What began as a humble cartoon series of a kid adjusting to life in a new town had now culminated with he and Skeeter dealing with a lake monster. While the critics lambasted the movie, the low budget of the flick ensured it still turned a profit at the box office.
Not only were fans of Doug dealing with the changes the new network and new overseers had brought on but the cast and crew as well. Jinkins himself felt that control over the show increasingly was taken from his hands while the others who worked on the show claimed the fun they had originally had making Doug was now gone as it became more corporate under Walt Disney Animation. It speaks volumes about this franchise that despite spending years prominently under the Disney banner it is it’s tenure as a Nicktoon that fans nowadays remember. The house of the orange splat luckily retained the rights to those original episodes when Doug was at its best for fans to enjoy in reruns.