The first incarnation of the Disney anthology television series, commonly called The Wonderful World of Disney, premiered on ABC on October 27, 1954 under the name Disneyland. The same basic show has since appeared on several networks under a variety of titles. The show, under its various names, reputedly holds the record as the longest showing prime-time program on American television (though technically Hallmark Hall of Fame holds that distinction).
Originally hosted by Walt Disney himself, the series presented animated cartoons and other material (some original, some pre-existing) from the studio library. The show even featured one-hour edits of such then-recent Disney films as Alice in Wonderland. This is significant because the series was the first one from a major movie studio. Other studios feared television would be the death of them.
The show spawned the Davy Crockett craze of 1955 with the miniseries about the historical American frontiersman, starring Fess Parker in the title role. Millions of dollars of merchandise were sold relating to the title character, and the theme song, "The Ballad of Davy Crockett," was a hit record that year. Three historically-based hour-long shows aired in late 1954/early 1955, and were followed up by two dramatized installments the following year. The TV episodes were edited into two theatrical films later on.
On July 17, 1955, the opening of Disneyland was covered on a live television special, Dateline: Disneyland, which may be seen as an extension of the anthology series but is not technically considered to be part of it. It was hosted by Walt along with Bob Cummings, Art Linkletter, Ronald Reagan, and featured various other guests.
1960s and 1970s
The series moved to NBC in 1961 to take advantage of that network's ability to broadcast in color. In a display of foresight, Disney had filmed many of the earlier shows in color, so they were able to be repeated on NBC. To emphasize the new color feature, the series was re-dubbed Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color and retained that moniker until 1969. The first NBC episode even dealt with the principles of color, as explained by a comical character named Ludwig Von Drake, a bumbling professor and uncle of Donald Duck. The character's voice was supplied by Paul Frees (After his death, Corey Burton took over to replace him as the role of Ludwig Von Drake).
When Walt Disney died in 1966, no one replaced him as host, as everyone agreed that his presence, characterized by a warm, folksy persona, was irreplaceable. The series, retitled titled The Wonderful World of Disney in 1971, continued to get solid ratings, often in the Top 20, until the mid-1970s. At this time, Walt Disney Productions was facing a decline in fortunes, with declining box-office revenues. It also did not help that CBS had placed 60 Minutes directly opposite it. The show continued to slip in the ratings until NBC cancelled it in 1981. An attempt to modernize the show in the fall of 1979 was purely cosmetic with the shortened name Disney's Wonderful World. Much of the decline is often attributed to the declining amount of new material. The show became increasingly dependent on airings of theatrical features and cartoons and reruns of older episodes.
CBS picked up the program in the fall of 1981 under the umbrella title Walt Disney and moved it to Saturday night; the format remained unchanged, and ratings were marginally improved. It lasted two years there, its end coinciding with the birth of The Disney Channel on cable TV. While ratings were a factor, the final decision to end the show came from then-company CEO E. Cardon Walker, who felt that having both the show and the new channel active would cannibalize each other.
After the studio underwent a change in management, the series was revived on ABC in 1986, under the title The Disney Sunday Movie including a Disney castle (in the summer, the series was temporarily titled, "Disney's Summer Classics"), with new CEO Michael Eisner hosting. His presence arguably couldn't compare with Walt's (Eisner himself is said to have required 68 takes in his first introduction), and the show moved to NBC in 1988 before ending in 1990.
1990s and 2000s
The series was revived again on ABC in 1997 after Disney purchased ABC. The new series premiered on September 28, 1997, with the network television premiere of Toy Story. Throughout its run, Disney presented many original made-for-TV movies, including Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella, Ruby Bridges, and Geppetto, as well as network broadcasts of Disney's theatrical films. Occaisonally, the series presented non-Disney material, such as The Mask, Space Jam, The Sound of Music, the 2001 remake of Brian's Song, and the 2005 Little House on the Prarie miniseries. In addition, three Disney Channel Original Movies, My Date with the President's Daughter, Cadet Kelly, and Camp Rock, also aired on the series.
Beginning with the 2003-04 season, the series moved from Sundays to Saturdays. For 2005-06, the series only aired during the midseason, and in 2007 and 2008, was presented during the summer. On December 24, 2008, the name was used one more time on a broadcast of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe before ABC stopped using it. It then ceased as a regular series, due in part to premium pay-cable rights currently held by the Starz! movie network. Since 2005, Disney features have been split between ABC, the Hallmark Channel, ABC Family Channel, Disney Channel, and Cartoon Network via separate broadcast rights deals. It currently airs periodically as an anthology series similar to Hallmark Hall of Fame with features such as the December 2005 revival of Once Upon a Mattress.
Telemundo still airs the series monthly in Spanish as El Maravilloso Mundo de Disney.
The series made an official comeback to television on December 12, 2015, with a special broadcast of Mary Poppins, hosted by Dick Van Dyke. A new introduction, featuring titles from both Walt Disney Pictures, and acquired studios, and Walt Disney, himself, were added. The revival continued with a special focusing on the Disney theme park anniversary event, Disneyland Diamond Celebration, which aired on February 21, 2016.
On December 11, 2016, a special broadcast of Frozen aired as part of the block, including a behind-the-scenes special on the making of the film, as well as a sneak peak at the holiday special, Olaf's Frozen Adventure.
In early 2017, it was announced that the series will premiere The Little Mermaid Live!, a live-action/animation hybrid adaptation of the 1989 musical classic. However, the special was later postponed with no new date given.
- Main article: Walt Disney anthology series episode list
Reruns of the shows were a staple of the Disney Channel for several years under the title Walt Disney Presents (which used the same title sequence as the 1980s CBS incarnation), when it was an outlet for vintage Disney cartoons, TV shows and movies, basically serving the same function that the anthology series served in the days before cable. When the channel purged all vintage material as of September 9, 2002, this show went with it. However, a few select episodes can be found on VHS or DVD, with the possibility of more being issued in the future.
All of the episodes from are listed in the book The Wonderful World of Disney Television, by Bill Cotter, published in 1997.
The original format consisted of a balance of theatrical cartoons, original animation (often to link the theatrical cartoons together), live-action features, and informational material. Much of the original informational material was to create awareness for Disneyland. In spite of being essentially ads for the park, entertainment value was emphasized as well to make the shows palatable. Some informational shows were made to promote upcoming studio feature films such as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Darby O'Gill and the Little People. Some programs focused on the art and technology of animation itself.
Later original programs consisted of dramatizations of other historical figures and legends along the lines of the Davy Crockett mini-series. These included Texas John Slaughter, Elfego Baca, and Francis Marion, the "Swamp Fox."
Also included were nature and animal programs similar to the True-Life Adventures released in theatres, as well as various dramatic installments which were either one part or two, but sometimes more.
This format remained basically unchanged through the 1980s, though new material, as discussed earlier, was scarce in later years.
When the show was revived in 1986, the format was similar to a movie-of-the-week, with family-oriented TV movies from the studio making up much of the material. Theatrical films were also shown, but with the advent of cable television and home video, they were not as popular. The 1997 revival followed this format as well, with rare exceptions. A miniseries entitled Little House on the Prairie ran for several weeks under the TWWOD banner. Incidentally, one offering in this ABC revival, the 1965 theatrical film version of The Sound of Music (aired generally during Christmas time), was actually released by 20th Century Fox, not Walt Disney Pictures, although it was allowed to air under the "Wonderful World of Disney" banner. Films from the Harry Potter series also occasionally aired under the banner even though they were released by Warner Bros.
- From 1954 to 1961, the series used the song "When You Wish Upon a Star" as its theme. The recording was taken directly from the soundtrack of the movie Pinocchio.
- From 1961 to 1968, an original song was used, "The Wonderful World of Color" written by Richard and Robert Sherman. This song helped to emphasize the use of color with its lyrics.
- From 1968 to 1979, "The Wonderful World of Disney", orchestral medleys of various Disney songs from movies and theme parks as theme songs.
- From 1979 to 1981, "Disney's Wonderful World", a disco-styled theme was written to emphasize the new visual changes, even though the format remained the same. This song was written by John Debney and John Klawitter.
- From 1981 to 1983, "Walt Disney", a short disco arrangement of "When You Wish Upon a Star", arranged by Frank Gari, served as theme against some elaborate, then-state-of-the-art computer graphics. CBC Television in Canada also used this title sequence and theme music for their own versions of the show. The sequence was also used as the opening sequence on international Walt Disney Home Video releases until 1987.
- From 1983 to 1986, an orchestral medley of "When You Wish Upon a Star" and songs from several Disney movies was used as theme song.
- From 1986 to 1988, a synthesized, pop-rock arrangement of "When You Wish Upon a Star" with some clapping was the theme. This was used again for the 1989-90 run of The Magical World of Disney and the 1991-96 run on The Disney Channel.
- In 1988, an orchestral medley of "A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes" and "When You Wish Upon a Star" was used. This was switched back to the 1986 theme in 1989.
- From 1991 to 1997, an orchestral medley of "When You Wish Upon a Star" and "Part of Your World" (the latter from Disney's at the time recent hit The Little Mermaid) was used for network airings of the show (known as The Wonderful World of Disney on CBS and A Disney Special on other networks) as well as The 100 Lives of Black Jack Savage, a collaboration with Stephen J. Cannell Productions. This theme was also used internationally.
- From 1997 to 2002, an orchestral medley of "When You Wish Upon a Star" and "A Whole New World" (the latter was used in the movie Aladdin) were used; also used occasionally was the Louis Armstrong hit "What a Wonderful World". This theme is still being used internationally since 2002.
- From 2002 to 2007, a newer orchestral arrangement of "When You Wish Upon a Star" with a wordless choir was used for ABC airings in the United States.
- From 2007 to 2008, another orchestral arrangement of "When You Wish Upon a Star" (in actuality, the theme from the current Walt Disney Pictures logo, composed by Mark Mancina) and a brand-new opening title sequence (depicting a montage of the company's work) are used for ABC airings in the United States.
- From 2015 on, "Heaven's Triumph", written by Robert Etoll Productions/Q-Factory, was used along with a brand-new opening title sequence (updated to include Star Wars and Marvel properties).
Dates of network affiliation, show titles, and time slots
- October 27, 1954 – September 3, 1958: Wednesday, 7:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.
- Walt Disney Presents
- September 12, 1958 – September 25, 1959: Friday, 8:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.
- October 2, 1959 – September 23, 1960: Friday, 7:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.
- September 25, 1960 – September 17, 1961: Sunday, 6:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.
- Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color
- September 24, 1961 – September 7, 1969: Sunday, 7:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.
- The Wonderful World of Disney
- September 14, 1969 – August 31, 1975: Sunday, 7:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.
- September 7, 1975 – September 11, 1977: Sunday, 7:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
- September 18, 1977 – October 23, 1977: Sunday, 7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.
- October 30, 1977 – September 2, 1979: Sunday, 7:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
- Disney's Wonderful World
- September 9, 1979 – September 13, 1981: Sunday, 7:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
- Walt Disney
- September 26, 1981 – January 1, 1983: Saturday, 8:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.
- January 4, 1983 – February 15, 1983: Tuesday, 8:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.
- July 9, 1983 – September 24, 1986: Saturday, 8:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.
- The Disney Sunday Movie
- February 2, 1986 – September 6, 1987: Sunday, 7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.
- September 13, 1987 – September 11, 1988: Sunday, 7:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
- The Magical World of Disney
- October 9, 1988 – July 2, 1989: Sunday, 7:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
- July 9, 1989 – July 23, 1989: Sunday, 8:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.
- August 6, 1989 – February 25, 1990: Sunday, 7:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
- March 4, 1991 – April 15, 1992: Sunday, 7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.
- April 22, 1992 – May 6, 1993: Sunday, 7:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
- May 27, 1994 – July 22, 1995: Sunday, 7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.
- August 5, 1996 – September 9, 1997: Sunday, 7:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
- The Disney Saturday Movie
- September 30, 1989 - December 22, 1990: Saturday, 6:30 p.m. - 8:30 p.m.
- Disney Night at the Movies
- December 30, 1990 - May 21, 1995: Sunday, 7:00 p.m. (various formats)
- September 15, 1995 - December 27, 1997: Friday, 6:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.
- The Magical World of Disney
- September 23, 1990 - December 1, 1996: Sunday, 7:00 p.m. (various formats)
- The Wonderful World of Disney
- September 28, 1997 – September 2003: Sunday, 7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.
- September 2003 – September 2004: Saturday, 8:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m.
- September 2004 – September 2005: Saturday, 8:00 p.m. – 11:00 p.m. (or until 10:00 p.m., depending on the length of the movie)
- Currently airs periodically
- June 2007 - August 2007: Saturday, 8:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m.
During the late-1980s and early-1990s, episodes of The Wonderful World of Disney was syndicated to local stations in the US.