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Having gone by many names, from Disneyland to Wonderful World of Color, Disney's movie anthology series is most widely known as The Wonderful World of Disney, and it's aired consistently in one capacity or another since 1954. In recent years, the name has been used for the occasional Disney-themed television specials, such as live musicals and holiday extravaganzas, but now WWOD is coming back for a four-week run specifically to broadcast popular Disney films on ABC.
Re-aring Disney movies has always been a big part of The Wonderful World of Disney's form and function. Even when the show was only an hour long, popular movies would frequently be split in half and aired over two weekends, or else they were edited it down to fit in the allotted time slots. However, the anthology series also saw more than its fair share of original made-for-TV movies, and many of should be required viewing, if only to experience the sometimes bizarre content Disney was capable of. Luckily, many of them can currently be found to stream on Disney+.
Some of these "movies" were only an hour long, and even less when the commercials were removed. However, they still tell complete stories in their allotted run time, so they technically count. It's difficult to believe that there was a time when the company that's now the massive entertainment juggernaut once made content like this, and yet, everything seen below is all very real. Mild spoilers below for some of the movies, though knowing the plot doesn't actually spoil the experience.
Sultan And The Rock Star
What It's About: The title makes one think of a middle-eastern price who has become enamored by a popular singing sensation. That's not exactly the case. The Sultan of the title is a tiger who gets purchased by a evil rich guy who aims to hunt it on his own private island. A young Timothy Hutton plays the rock star, a teen idol who attempts to escape his life of fame for a few days, and ends up on the same island, where he totally befriends that tiger. It makes about as much sense as it sounds. Why is the lead human character a rock star? I'm still trying to figure out why that was important.
The Weirdest Part: When overhearing a radio broadcast about the missing rock star, our villain suggests that he hasn't been kidnapped as feared, but is rather in some motel room "cuddling a bunch of groupies," which is the most Disney-fied way to convey an un-Disney thought as I've ever heard.
Sammy the Way-Out Seal
What It's About: One of the earliest original "movies" from the Wonderful World of Disney run, Sammy the Way-Out Seal is a slapstick comedy about a couple of kids who smuggle an injured seal back home to nurse it back to health. And the shenanigans, they do ensue. The project is from 1962 and it's got the dialogue to match, offering up more "gee whiz" and "aw, heck" comments per minute than probably anything else on Disney+. This is one of the few pieces of original content of this kind from this era, and you can sort of see why more didn't follow it.
The Weirdest Part: One gets the impression that Sammy the Way-Out Seal was meant to be a longer movie that got cut down. The town's discovery of the seal leads inspires interest in local businessmen to turn Sammy into a mascot, but rather than this development becoming the film's new tension, the seal just gets released back into the ocean and the whole thing ends minutes later.
The Ghosts of Buxley Hall
What It's About: A small military academy has fallen on hard financial times, forcing a merging with a nearby girl's school facing similar difficulties. Also, one of the students' aunts is plotting to become the boy's legal guardian in order to take possession of his multi-million dollar fortune. Also, there are Civil War ghosts afoot. There's a lot going on here is what I'm saying. This one is actually a feature-length film, though it was split in half during it's original airing.
The Weirdest Part: In one scene, an African-American member of the academy walks into the room where one of the Civil War ghosts is located (but unseen). The ghost is clearly shocked to see a black soldier in the school, but not a word is ever said about this. All viewers get is the bamboozled look in the image above. If that awkward sign of the times wasn't enough, the money-hungry aunt states her plan to totally murder her nephew quite plain, which is just dark AF for a live-action Disney project in 1980.
Mr. Boogedy/Bride of Boogedy
What It's About: Whatever comes to your mind when you hear the phrase "1980s made-for-TV Disney horror movie with Married with Children's David Faustino," that's exactly what Mr. Boogedy. It might have been scary for the youngest viewers, but considering this came out three years after Something Wicked This Way Comes, we know even '80s Disney could do better. Still, it must have been popular, since the 40-minute original got a 90-minute sequel only a year later. The original stars Kristy Swanson, for what that's worth, while the sequel features maybe the least funny Eugene Levy role on record. Still worth it.
The Weirdest Part: Watching the two Boogedy flicks back to back is an odd time, because about half the sequel was recast from the original with new actors that don't look anything like their predecessors. The sequel feels like it was written as an hour-long special that got forced into being feature-length. For one, the villain doesn't show up until the midpoint, and then the whole Bride of Boogedy title makes absolutely zero sense until the last 10 minutes. Of all the Wonderful World of Disney concepts to get a sequel, this was the one?
What It's About: More so than any other Wonderful World of Disney film, Casebusters feels like it was meant to be a backdoor pilot for a show that never got picked up. It's about a brother and sister who, during a week spent with the retired-cop grandfather, accidentally discover a crime happening in their quiet suburban neighborhood and take it upon themselves to foil the bad guys. No seals or potentially racist ghosts, though.
The Weirdest Part: Casebusters was directed by Wes Craven. Yes, that Wes Craven.
What It's About: A kid starting junior high gets adopted by an imaginary friend. Except, the friend isn't actually imaginary, but rather invisible. Of course, nobody believes young Michael that his friend, named Fuzzbucket, is actually real, which leads to one misunderstanding after another. All the adults – mom, dad, school principal, etc. – are cartoonish caricatures straight from the TV trope playbook, but it's got some heart. The biggest problem, though, is that the emotional arc doesn't feel earned, and this is one Wonderful World of Disney flick that would have actually deserved a longer runtime to make the story a bit more complete.
The Weirdest Part: Fuzzbucket was the first long-form directorial gig for Mick Garris that wasn't a documentary, who also wrote and produced the film. Garris would go on to write the cult classic Hocus Pocus, and wrote, directed and produced a number of popular horror properties. You have to start somewhere I guess, even when there's a Fuzzbucket involved.
As evidenced above in part, some very strange stuff has aired on The Wonderful World of Disney during its various incarnations over the years. Not all of it has aged well, but for those curious, or brave, enough to try, there's still some fun to be had in the strangeness of it all.
Tune into The Wonderful World of Disney's return starting on ABC on Wednesday, May 20.