In August of 1991, Nickelodeon aired its original three Nicktoons for the first time. These were Doug, Rugrats, and Ren and Stimpy. This technically made Doug the original Nicktoon, and little did they know at the time, it would go on to become one of the greatest. After the release of these other unforgettable cartoons, Nickelodeon would become known as a major animation company and would go on to create dozens of beloved animated series, but it all started with Doug. The iconic Jim Jinkins created series was relatable for its audience, funny, and had plenty of memorable characters.
It ran on Nickelodeon for four successful seasons, but was purchased by Disney in 1996, where it ran for another three seasons. Since the Disney acquisition, it’s heavily thought that the series went downhill in terms of quality. Let’s take a look at why that may be the case.
The first and most obvious change that Disney made to Doug once they acquired it was that they changed the character designs. Patty’s hair was much shorter, Skeeter was drawn somewhat differently and donned a different attire, and Doug’s clothes were slightly altered. These aren’t the worst ways they could have changed the show, but it is off-putting to younger audiences who grew to recognize these characters appearing a certain way.
The biggest problem with this was how they changed some other characters. Connie, who was one of the few curvier cartoon characters at the time, was sent to a “beauty farm” and came back much skinnier. Disney decided there was no need for body positivity and every character kids were exposed to needed to look like stick figures. On top of that, they made Roger rich for the remainder of the series. Roger once lived in a trailer park, and bullied those around him because of his jealousy for what they had and for his potential rough upbringing. Disney decided to eliminate any sort of socio-economic themes to differentiate their version from the original. In general, characters were watered down and their dialogue all eventually blended together in the Disney version whereas they all felt unique in the Nickelodeon version.
There were some pretty terrible plot points that hurt the show’s story. Doug and Skeeter’s favorite rock band, the Beets, were disbanded. The Honker Burger, where all the kids would meet and hang out, closed down. If these were the premises of single episodes, it wouldn’t have been so bad, but things stayed that way for the remainder of the show’s run. These could have been used for interesting moments in Doug’s life, as seeing a kid overcome these major changes is certainly something a series like this covers, like Boy Meets World did when Cory’s favorite hangout was bought and changed to a corny themed family restaurant. However, Disney didn’t do anything clever with these premises, they just did it to make the show different.
Many of the central voice actors were replaced, including the one for Doug himself. If changing the overall look of the show would be off-putting to children, then changing the way they sounded certainly would, too. The new voice actors also phoned it in much of the time, sadly. Plus, the voice actors no longer recorded their dialogue together. Previously, the actors recorded in the same room, as if they were actually talking to each other. After the change, the dialogue felt less organic and the voice talent had noticeably less chemistry. Even the voice of Patty Mayonnaise, Constance Shulman, has stated that magic was lost when the voice acting was handled differently.
The show’s formula was also changed for the worse. On Nickelodeon, each 22-minute episode consisted of two 11-minute stories.. This allowed audiences to see multiple stories of what an ordinary, imaginative kid would do in various situations and enjoy solid slice-of-life arcs. With Disney, though, each episode was a full 22 minutes, which series like Doug or Hey Arnold! aren’t meant for. It’s too long for such simple plotlines. It makes the show feel like it drags a bit.
Disney even made changes to the theme song. This is an outrage, as the theme song to Doug is extremely iconic and could have anyone humming it after hearing it. Updating such a big part of an iconic series is just plain disappointing.
The series creator, Jim Jinkins, has referred to the changes as “painful” and has stated that he sides with the fans who think the Nickelodeon version is superior, according to HuffPost. He was also much less involved with the Disney era of the series and it shows. Numerous original staff members have also openly regarded the Disney version as inferior.
Let’s not forget when Disney brought Doug to the big screen with Doug’s First Movie. The movie was so bad that Doug’s “First” Movie was also his last. It was a monster movie for some reason, which doesn’t fit Doug whatsoever. A Doug movie could have been really cool if it was actually handled well.
Nickelodeon’s Doug pioneered an entire era of children’s entertainment thanks to helping the 90’s Nicktoons get their start. It was one of the few series that allowed young audiences to actually see themselves in the characters on TV, show them that everyday stresses they have are normal, and make them laugh and be entertained at the same time. Disney took it and turned it into a bland, forgettable animated teen drama, which is absolutely devastating.