Disney Television Animation Celebrates 30 Years: ‘These Characters Are Like Diamonds’

Phineas and Ferb Disney Television Animation 30th Anniversary
Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

The mood was jovial and nostalgic at Wednesday’s Disney Television Animation’s 30th anniversary fete at Burbank’s Walt Disney Studios’ main theater.

The event, hosted by the International Animated Film Association (ASIFA) and Disney’s official fan club D23, featured an enlightening panel discussion moderated by D23’s Jeffrey Epstein with the studio’s award-winning creative talent: Bill Farmer (the voice of “Goofy”), Paul Rudish (executive producer of “Mickey Mouse” cartoon shorts); Jymn Magon (writer of “Duck Tales” and “Darkwing Duck”); Dan Povenmire and Jeff “Swampy” Marsh (co-executive producers of “Phineas and Ferb”); Rob LaDuca (executive producer of “Jake and the Never Land Pirates”); and Bob Schooley and Mark McCorkle (co-creators/executive producers of “Kim Possible”).

“Disney has perhaps the greatest animation legacy in the world,” said Eric Coleman, senior vice president, original series, Disney Television Animation. “We are so proud to take a sneak peek into the headspace of the work that these people pour their heart and soul into. These geniuses have brought us 30 years of Disney Television animation.”

LaDuca and Magon recalled the “Michael Eisner years,” when a TV channel devoted to animated series was but a glint in Disney’s eye and the brand’s “iconic” characters — Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy — were considered verboten for small screen fare.

“It was an amazing time,” said LaDuca of working on such 1980s series as “Adventures of Gummi Bears,” inspired by the popular German treat. “We really had free rein to come up with great ideas.”

“We were working from the shoelaces up,” said Magon. “We had no Disney characters to work with. We weren’t around to touch that stuff early on — we had to make these characters out of whole cloth. It was 1984 and we were sitting in (Eisner’s) living room and his kids were watching TV and he turned to me and said, ‘Go make me a TV show about this candy.’ We were, like, ‘Is he serious? What – are we going to eat the characters each week?’”

As time rolled on, the animators were allowed bit by bit to use some of the “super star” Disney characters.

“We had to get papal dispensation to use them,” Magnon quipped of such minor, yet archetypal, personalities as Chip and Dale and the Seven Dwarfs. “There was a very set plan as to how we were going to resource the Disney characters.”

Decades later, managing a slate of contemporized series such as “Star Wars Rebels” and the revamped Mickey cartoons, the animators work steadfastly to assure that the classic essence of Disney animation shines through, even in their most recent creative incarnations.

“You can take the old tropes but put them through the lens of modern artists and it will be modern,” said Rudish of his task to re-make Mickey. “Modern senses of humor and techniques will give it a contemporary feel but still give it a feel of the classic.”

To top off the evening, Coleman and Disney Junior’s Emily Hart treated the crowd to a first look at three new highly anticipated series, “Star vs. The Forces of Evil” and “Penn Zero: Part-Time Hero,” both set to premiere on Disney XD in early 2015, and “The Lion Guard,” slated for a 2016 release on Disney Jr.

According to the animators, the novelty of bringing characters to life under the Disney brand umbrella never wears thin.

“These characters are like diamonds,” said Farmer, who regaled the crowd with his signature Goofy voice. “They have facets. Goofy was my favorite Disney character growing up. He’s an eternal optimist. He could fall off a horse, dust himself off and off he goes. As a voice artist it’s such fun to take Goofy where he’s never gone before.”

(Pictured: Paul Rudish, Jeff “Swampy” Marsh, Dan Povenmire, Jymn Magon, Bill Farmer, Mark McCorkle, Rob LaDuca and Bob Schooley attend ASIFA and D23 Celebrates Disney Television Animation’s 30th Anniversary)