Nightmares. We’ve all had them. Any time something weighed on our minds. Any time we were anxious about something. Or maybe just because you decided to eat that ice cream, pickle and pepperoni combination too late at night. Whatever the reason, nightmares are a scary part of going to sleep. And one company sought to turn it into a franchise.
Creative Capers Entertainment is a creative thinktank formed in 1989 by Terry & Sue Shakespeare and David Molina that specializes in Flash and hand-drawn animation for a variety of different kinds of productions. Terry, having worked for Sullivan Bluth Studios, was able to use his connections to secure some of the top talent from Bluth and develop a relationship with Disney. They provided uncredited additional animation for Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King, as well as worked extensively on games published by Disney Interactive.
Disney was looking to break into the growing PC game market and tasked the studio with crafting a new IP that they could exploit. One that wasn’t just based on a previous Disney film and could attract some of the older gamers. The resulting game was Nightmare Ned, created by Walt Dohrn.
|The weird world inside Ned's head.|
Nightmare Ned focused on Ned Needlemeyer (Courtland Mead), a pre-teen with anxiety to spare. The game found Ned learning his family would be out of the house for a while, so he indulges in some junk food binging and video games until a storm knocks out the power. Ned believes someone’s in the house with him but writes it off as his anxiety flaring up. But, it turns out five fear-eating shadow creatures are there to feed on his dreams when he goes to sleep. They rule over five distinct worlds: the Graveyard, the Hospital/Dentist’s Office, the Bathroom, the School and the Attic/Basement. The game was rendered in a variety of different styles--hand drawn, stop-motion, painted backgrounds, collages and 3D computer animation—in order to effectively create a nightmarish world for Ned to navigate.
The object of the game was to travel to each world and solve the puzzles within the span of 8 game hours, or the length of time Ned would be asleep. Ned would lose time whenever he took too many hits, or a whole hour whenever he returned to his quilt which was possessed by the entities and served as a hub between the levels. Accomplishing this would have Ned learn the true, real-life anxiety that would fuel the entities, allowing him to confront and overcome that particular fear. Finishing within the allotted time led to receiving the “good” ending, where Ned was a bit surer of himself and felt loved. The “bad” ending saw Ned as even more of a wreck than when he started.
|Vernon and Conrad, typical bullies.|
During development of the game, Disney saw potential in Nightmare Ned and decided to adapt it into an animated series for their new Disney’s One Saturday Morning programming block. Developed, produced and directed by Donovan Cook, the animated Ned took a departure from the game. His family, only briefly seen in the game, was featured more prominently in the show. There was his father, Ed (Brad Garrett), his unnamed mother (Victoria Jackson), and little baby sister. Ned (still Mead) also gained two bullies that constantly harassed him: the crown-wearing Conrad (Jeff Bennet) and the big-nosed Vernon (Rob Paulsen).
|Ned becomes a girl who wants to be recognized as a boy.|
There were no supernatural entities to be found to fuel Ned’s nightmares. Instead, an event in Ned’s real life would cause his anxiety to activate his wild imagination, leading to a bizarre nightmare related to whatever the incident was indicated by a swirl after Ned fell asleep. For instance, wanting to adopt a pet pig but discovering that his favorite food, Canadian bacon, was made from pigs, led to a nightmare where Ned ran away to live with the pig’s family only to realize they were fattening him up to eat him. Another saw Conrad and Vernon trick Ned into using the girl’s bathroom at school, leading to a nightmare where Ned became a girl. Or, when Conrad and Vernon managed to sneak dog food into Ned’s food, he dreamt that he was transformed into a dog. Each nightmare ended with Ned waking up with a start, and usually helped lead him to a solution for whatever his difficulty was. Each episode served to address a typical fear and anxiety experienced by young children that often wasn’t addressed by other programs.
Nightmare Ned began on April 19, 1997 on ABC (coincidentally coinciding with Mead’s 10th birthday). Produced by Walt Disney Television Animation, the animated Ned abandoned all the different visual styles seen in the game, which released a short time later that June, and focused on straightforward hand animation. Each episode was broken up into two segments written by Mitch Watson, Mike Bell, Peter Gaffney and Ralph Soll, with Gaffney and Gary Sperling serving as story editors. Steve Bartek composed the music. Dohrn also served as a director and storyboard artist on the show, while the Creative founders functioned as executive producers.
|Probed by aliens.|
After Ned aired its twelve completed episodes by August, the series disappeared entirely from the airwaves. Unlike other Disney programs, especially ones created during that time period, it was never rerun on any of the Disney-owned cable networks. Several unproven explanations have been given for this cancellation. Allegedly, the series was running over budget and Disney wasn’t seeing enough of a return on their investment in it to continue. Another explanation was there were creative conflicts between Cook and Dohrn, which contributed to the budget problem. Further, despite it being extremely toned down in comparison to the game, the content and subject matter raised the ire of parents who complained to Disney and the network.
|The Tooth Fairy up to no good.|
Because of its sudden departure and abandonment by Disney, the show has gone on to gain a bit of a cult status and following. It was all but forgotten until old VHS recordings of the series were found and began appearing on streaming services like YouTube. As of this writing, one segment and one episode remain missing, and the third episode is allegedly not available in English.