Disney is known for its ability to sequelize almost all of its properties. But in the heyday of early ’90s cartoons, Disney took a different approach in TaleSpin with a concept based on The Jungle Book.
Fans of the original animated classic with be somewhat familiar with some of the characters, like the wise-cracking ace pilot-for-hire Baloo (bear), nightclub owner Louie (orangutan), and the powerful businessman Shere Khan (tiger). These characters join a few original characters like the brash Kit Cloudkicker, the bossy Rebecca Cunningham, and the pirate Don Karnage in the lovely town of Cape Suzette.
TaleSpin is very traditional in the cartoon sense with its use of common episode themes, plays on words and places (like the polar bear Cool Hands Luke in “Feminine Air”), idiotic villains, and character stereotypes. I’ve always been intrigued by the latter, and how the shows got away with so much. The funny thing is that recent shows still utilize these cartoon conventions. Maybe parents should take issue with these themes instead of instantly attacking any form of violence.
The show doesn’t stop at being a spin-off in itself, but instead spins off many well-known stories like Orson Wells’ famous 1938 radio broadcast of “War of the Worlds” in the aptly titled episode “War of the Weirds,” the Freaky Friday-esque “A Baloo Switcheroo,” a mix between a light-hearted version of The Great Escape and a polar version of Flight of the Phoenix (“Flight of the Snow Duck”), or the Indiana Jones wannabe “Waiders of the Wost Tweasure.”
Conventional stories are used just as frequently. You have an episode where Baloo cross-dresses as a woman (“Feminine Air”), an episode where Baloo loses his memory and needs the help of a wise man to regain his ability to fly (“The Old Man and the Sea Duck”), and an episode where Baloo flies wingman to his legendary hero (“Whistlestop Jackson, Legend”). There’s also a Full House-like episode where everyone tries to make sure Rebecca’s daughter Molly gets to meet Santa Clause in “A Jolly Molly Christmas” and if you’ve ever seen that show you’ll know how the episode ends.
This clever spin on The Jungle Book is very amusing. How else could you explain the unflinchingly idiotic nature of Don Karnage and his merry band of lackeys? Let’s not forget Trader Moe and his two huge goons. The most dangerous criminals in the world get conned into releasing Baloo and Kit for free dance lessons… from Baloo.
I watched this as a kid, and I remember it being a lot funnier. Many years of growing up can do that. But I’m glad to say that the show is still fun to watch with its wild adventures and general wackiness.