Want to feel really old for a second? Here's a fun fact: It's been 25 years since Nickelodeon's Doug first debuted on TV. That awkward, khaki-wearing kid from Bluffington and his squad of misfit friends stole the hearts of many '90s kids. And I was one of them. I remember sitting in my living room and tuning in to Nickelodeon to catch episodes of Doug whenever I could. It didn't matter if they were new or just reruns. I used to hum along to the quirky theme song. I loved the adventures of Quailman. And I lived for The Beets. And then one day, everything changed.
I'm still harboring very strong feelings about one of my favorite childhood TV shows, more than a decade after it officially ended.
In 1996, Doug went to Disney. It became part of the network's Saturday morning cartoon line up. It got a facelift and a new name (Brand Spanking New! Doug in 1996 and Disney's Doug in 1998). The new Doug was so successful that Disney went on to make a Doug movie in 1999 and sold tons of Doug-related merchandise. Right before the movie's release, The Los Angeles Times estimated that the Doug franchise could be worth as much as $100 million for Disney. But here's the thing: I hated it. This might seem silly, but I'm still harboring very strong feelings about one of my favorite childhood TV shows, more than a decade after it officially ended. Maybe it's because of the nostalgia for all of Nickelodeon's old shows and cartoons — elevating them to some untouchable status in my memory. Or maybe it's just because Disney managed to destroy everything that made me like this show.
I'm not the first person to hate on Disney's retooled version of Doug — there's actually an entire Reddit about it — and I doubt I'll be the last. I can't even talk to you about Doug's 1st Movie, which might have been the worst movie I saw in the 1990s (and that's including all the Land Before Time spin-offs and the Shaq classic Kazaam). From what I can tell, through chat rooms and conversations with friends, we Disney Doug-haters all seem to have the same issues with the reworked version. And it really comes down to just three things that killed the show.
They ruined the music.The show's creator, Jim Jenkins, really wanted the music on Doug to be different from the type of music you would find on any other cartoon show. And I think they succeeded in that goal. Some of the most memorable things about Doug are the little riffs that would accompany each character, the theme song, and the music of The Beets (a play off the Beatles). Disney obviously missed the memo. The first thing they did was change the awesome original theme song, composed by Fred Newman...
...into this watered down version featuring lots of whistles:
Okay, maybe that's not the worst thing in the world. But this is: Disney ended the popular band The Beets. You could totally argue that A. The Beatles disbanded IRL, and B. losing your favorite band is a big moment for preteens and teenagers, so it could be a great plot twist for a cartoon about a teenager. And maybe it was. But for an OG Doug fan like me, it was a total misstep (just like their decision to close the burger joint The Honker Burger). To this day, if I hear a 30-something in Target humming the keys to "Killer Tofu" or "I Need More Allowance," I feel like we have an instant bond. Nickelodeon is responsible for that shit, not Disney.
They ruined the characters.One of the best things about Doug was that every character on the show was fully developed. Patti Mayonnaise wasn't just the girl he was crushing on — she was a tomboy, the daughter of a single parent, and living with a father who had a disability. All these things made Patti more interesting than just generic, cute girl next door. And you could say the same for every character on the original show. But when Doug moved to Disney, the new network decided that almost every character needed some kind of change. One of the most glaring examples: Connie Benge was a fun secondary character on the Nickelodeon show who hung out with Patti and Beebe. She was also fantastic because she didn't have the same body as every other cartoon girl on the show. Connie wasn't skinny; she had curves. They never made her body central to her storyline, but it was still part of who she was.
They even made it part of the plot that Connie went to a "beauty farm" with her mom over the summer. How freaking awful is that?
When the show went to Disney, Connie became noticeably thinner. They even made it part of the plot that Connie went to a "beauty farm" with her mom over the summer. How freaking awful is that? In addition to Connie's changes, Roger became rich and no longer lived in a trailer park (so all socio-economic diversity on the show died and the one feature that made Roger redeemable/relatable was gone); Skeeter's appearance shifted; Doug became voiced by a different actor — and it was weird AF; Doug got a baby sister that he and Judy actually named Cleopatra Dirtbike; and Patti got an unfortunate haircut. Okay, so that last one isn't a character shift as much as an adventure in beauty. Good for you, Patti, trying new hairstyles. But meh on everything else.
They ruined the formula.One of the most genius things about Nickelodeon's old cartoons is that each 22-minute episode actually had two different stories. So within just 30 minutes of television, you would get two short stories. For shows like Doug and Hey Arnold, that meant that fans got entire story arcs about secondary characters. When Doug went to Disney, that formula died too. That meant that you had 22 minutes of television every Saturday dedicated to one single story. That's a LOT of screen time dedicated to Doug Funnie cutting school or Judy trying to get a recommendation for college. I'm not saying you can't have a cartoon show that's 30 minutes long per episode. I'm just saying that it leaves a lot more room for lag time and boredom.
At the end of the day, I didn't particularly love the character Douglas Yancey Funnie. And sometimes all the noises Skeeter made with his mouth were pretty annoying. But for me, the show wasn't about any particular person. It was about a group of fully-developed characters interacting with each other in a way that just clicked. I think that's an argument you can make for almost any Nicktoon from the golden age of Nickelodeon. And if any of those cartoons had been bought, repurposed, and transformed into the Less Angry Beavers, Hi There Arnold, or Disney's Rugrats, that would have made me mad as hell too. The good news is that while the OG Doug is available in its entirety on Hulu, it's very difficult to find Disney's Doug online. All that's really left are short low-res YouTube clips, images of Disney Adventures magazine, and bad memories.
In a stroke of cartoon poetic justice, it's almost as if Disney's Doug never really existed at all.