Wednesday, September 5, 2012

That Is, Indeed, Bonkers

In the hierarchy of Disney weekday afternoon cartoons that we 80s children grew up watching, DuckTales occupies the top spot. It’s the web-footed king, and this is undebatable.

Below that, you may find Darkwing Duck and Chip ’n’ Dale: Rescue Rangers, and below those are TaleSpin, Goof Troop and Gummi Bears. And then there’s Bonkers, a strange cartoon starring no established Disney characters and airing late in the lives of the original DuckTales crowd, thus preventing us from wholeheartedly embracing it the way our younger selves might have.

(A bouncing-here-and-there-and-everywhere aside: People my age tend to love Gummi Bears, but if most went back and watched it now, we’d see that it’s more on par with Snorks and Pound Puppies than it is with the rest of the Disney Afternoon programming block. I mean, really: It was a show inspired by candy. That’s more of a stretch, plotwise, than Battleship.)

But this is about Bonkers. I never liked Bonkers. Even as a kid, I thought it was grating, and the theme song may quickly lead you to the same conclusion.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t a few bits here. First, even though it came out six years later, Bonkers was very obviously inspired by Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, what with Los Angeles crime being committed and investigated by humans and the cartoons who live alongside humans. (On Bonkers, the humans themselves were animated, so the distinction wasn’t so clear. But still.) Even beyond that, it was a very meta show. We’re told, that this cartoon bobcat joins the police as a result of the end of his career as an animated star. And though the show was conceived of as being about an out-of-work cartoon actor, Disney purportedly went back and filmed Bonkers shorts showing his “acting days” in retroactive promotion of the show.

For example, I remember watching 3 Ninjas in theaters, seeing this Bonkers cartoon beforehand and thinking “Wait, who the hell is this guy?”

He wasn’t anyone. He hadn’t become a thing yet. And he basically never would, despite Disney’s best efforts. But eventually he’d resort to being a cop on an afternoon cartoon show.

If you’re talking about Bonkers in the scope of TV and cartoons, however, the thing that most bears mentioning is this: It seeminlgly got retooled, mid-series run. Much like a sitcom that revolves around a successful lead character but whose supporting cast gets cut — Dawnn Lewis, you were the best thing about Hanging’ With Mr. Cooper!Bonkers lost its entire supporting cast, even though it’s a cartoon and therefore would have been more accommodating to tweaking and refocusing than a live-action show would have. But yeah, halfway through the series, Bonkers’s slovenly, Sipowicz-y partner, Lucky Piquel, joins the FBI and leaves the show, and when he goes to Quantico he takes not only his wife and daughter but also most of Bonkers’s cartoon friends. Then for the remainder of the episodes, Bonkers is partnered with an attractive female cop, Miranda, and his supporting cast consists of the characters who appeared in his original animated shorts.

I’d always wondered what prompted a cartoon show to “recast” all its entire supporting players. This week, I found out.

As this blog illustrates with the above clipping, Lucky Piquel wasn’t the original partner featured in the show’s concept art; Miranda was. According to the [citation needed]-plagued story being spun on Wikipedia, Miranda showed up late in the series because when the original Bonkers episodes were finished, higher-ups at Disney didn’t think it worked and ultimately called a new creative team in to fix it. Their solution was Lucky Piquel, and these episodes ended up comprising the “main” series, with the Miranda episodes getting tacked onto the end even though they were filmed first and even though the featured an older character model for Bonkers. In fact, according to Wikipedia, only nineteen of the Miranda episodes made it to air, meaning that someone somewhere is sitting on a whole stash of unaired Bonkers that no one wants to see.

In order to explain Lucky’s exit and Miranda’s entrance, a transition episode was filmed, but even that’s complicated and weird. It dealt with a firebomber, a post-Oklahoma City, post-9/11, Disney stopped airing the episode, so all seven of the kids who were trying to watch the series run of Bonkers, beginning to end, would have had no explanation for why the show’s cast would suddenly change from one episode to the next.

I mean, not that the actual explanation makes it all seem more logical.

Anyway, that, my friends, is why Bonkers is weird.

... Because the world needed to know, that’s why.

Lesser-known Disney, previously:

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