Bonkers promotional image.


Original Medium: TV animation
Produced by: Disney
First Appeared: 1992
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The basic premise of Bonkers, a half-hour animated TV show produced by Disney, was that cartoon characters and humans lived side-by-side; and its star, Bonkers D. Bobcat, was a toon who …

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… fought crime, paired with a human partner. Which sounds just like the basic premise of Roger Rabbit, leading the viewer to wonder — inasmuch as Roger had tremendous name recognition at the time, why create new characters instead of just doing a TV series about him?

A possible explanation lies in the fact that Disney wasn't the full owner of the Roger Rabbit character. The entertainment behemoth had a partner in producing the 1988 film that made Roger a household word, Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment (which also, in conjunction with Warner Bros., produced Tiny Toon Adventures and Animaniacs). Bonkers was produced and therefore owned entirely by Disney. Whether that's the true explanation or not, the rise of Bonkers as a Disney star did coincide with the decline of Roger Rabbit.

Bonkers was first seen in a theatrical cartoon titled Petal to the Metal, which came out in 1992. In it, Bonkers was a toon actor like Roger, paired with Jitters A. Dog, just as Roger had been paired with Baby Herman. Both worked for Wacky Studios, one of Tinseltown's major producers of cartoons. Bonkers was voiced by Jim Cummings (Taz, Winnie the Pooh) and Jitters by Jeff Bennett (Johnny Bravo, Dad in Dexter's Laboratory). Bonkers and Jitters also appeared in several segments of Disney's TV toon compilation, Raw Toonage.

But Bonkers had lost the acting gig by the time his regular show started, which was Feb. 28, 1993, on The Disney Channel. There, he followed in the footsteps of American Flagg, also a washed-up actor when his series opened, and went into police work. As a cop with the Tinseltown Police Department, Bonkers shared a patrol car with Officer Miranda Wright, whose voice was provided by Karla DeVito (who has relatively few other credits in voice work). Jitters worked for the department too, as the guy who handed out the neat equipment. Another holdover from the acting days was Fawn Deer, whom Bonkers was hopelessly in love with, a fact of which she was utterly oblivious. Her voice was provided by Nancy Cartwright (Bart Simpson).

Starting Sept. 6, 1993, Bonkers was also syndicated as part of The Disney Afternoon, a two-hour block of programming that included, at various times, DuckTales, Goof Troop, TaleSpin and several other Disney half-hours. This time, he was partnered with a "human" named Lucky Piquel (also voiced by Cummings), tho in this show the humans as well as the toons were animated. With no ability to squash, stretch, or do any of the other things toons can do but humans can't, Lucky was always being upstaged by his more versatile partner. This didn't do him a bit of good in pursuing his greatest goal, promotion to a better job within the department. These episodes were shoehorned into continuity before the ones with Miranda, who was depicted here as the department secretary, merely aspiring to actual police work.

Other characters included a snitch named Fall Apart Rabbit (so called because he was literally falling apart — pieces of his body would fall off and have to be put back on), voiced by Frank Welker (Dynomutt); Al Vermin (a crime boss shaped like a huge cockroach), voiced by Robert Ridgely (Thundarr the Barbarian); Dyl Piquel (Lucky's gorgeous wife, and no relation to a similarly-named character in Rugrats), voiced by April Winchell (Tanya in Mighty Ducks); and Grumbles Grizzly (Bonkers's next-door neighbor), voiced by Rodger Bumpass (Squidward in Spongebob Squarepants).

A total of 61 episodes were made, 19 in which Bonkers was partnered with Miranda and 42 with Lucky, plus a scattering of short segments from Raw Toonage. Also, Bonkers appeared in a Marvel comic book that collected several Disney Afternoon series, which was published in 1994 and '95. There was some merchandising, but not a real avalanche of it.

Bonkers made nowhere near the impact Roger Rabbit had. This may have been because his show lacked the spectacular melding of live action with animation that had stunned audiences when Roger made his debut. Or it may have been that people already associated toon-human interaction with Roger, and weren't interested in substitutes. Or it may have been "just one of those things". For whatever reason, Bonkers isn't seen very much nowadays. Nor did Disney ever start promoting Roger again.


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Text ©2004-08 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Walt Disney Co.