The TaleSpin crew. L-r, Baloo, Rebecca, Kit.


Original Medium: TV animation
Produced by: Disney
First Appeared: 1990
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Commercial entertainment properties sometimes get bent out of shape when their owners decide to go after a new market with them. Josie & the Pussycats, for example, started as …

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… ordinary teenage humor, then took off for outer space when the teenage humor wasn't delivering a big enough audience. And who would ever have expected Tweety & Sylvester to star in a half-hour show about solving mysteries?

But aviation adventures about animals from the jungle who didn't even wear clothing? Come on!

That level of improbability didn't stop Disney from making an aviation adventure TV cartoon about characters from its 1967 feature, The Jungle Book. Nor did it stop viewers from tuning in by the million.

TaleSpin starred Baloo the Bear, who had been Mowgli's rather irresponsible mentor back when he lived in the jungle, but who is depicted here as the slightly less irresponsible pilot of The Sea Duck, a decrepit old seaplane belonging to a small outfit called Higher for Hire. Baloo's voice was provided by Ed Gilbert, whose voice is also heard in Jem, The Tick, Pirates of Darkwater and elsewhere. Other characters transplanted from The Jungle Book include King Louie, who runs the local watering hole, and Shere Khan, a fabulously wealthy villain whose goal is to acquire Higher for Hire, thus solidifying his monopoly in air cargo. Their voices were done by Jim Cummings (Darkwing Duck, Taz-Mania) and Tony Jay (Mighty Ducks, Rugrats Movie), respectively. The retread characters maintained at least a semblance of their original characterization and relationships, even in the radically different setting.

Original characters included Baloo's young protegé, Kit Cloudkicker, voiced by R.J. Williams (Dink the Little Dinosaur); the company's inept mechanic, Wildcat, voiced by Pat Fraley (Denver the Last Dinosaur); and perhaps the most mundanely-named funny animal in all toondom, Higher for Hire's owner, Rebecca Cunningham, voiced by Sally Struthers (Charlene Sinclair in Dinosaurs). The main bad guy was air pirate Don Karnage, also voiced by Cummings. Karnage was sometimes spelled by Colonel Spigot, voiced by Michael Gough (Raphael Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle).

The show debuted on May 5, 1990, on The Disney Channel. Four months later, it was syndicated to broadcast stations, as a companion to DuckTales, Chip'n'Dale Rescue Rangers and Gummi Bears, making a two-hour block of programming called "The Disney Afternoon". 65 episodes were made. It had the usual merchandising, including a comic book, which had about a dozen issues in 1991.

TaleSpin was rotated out of The Disney Afternoon after a couple of years, but is still seen in reruns from time to time on The Disney Channel or Toon Disney. Years later, a more conventional Jungle Book spin-off was made as a half-hour TV show. Jungle Cubs took the perfectly standard approach of featuring younger versions of the characters. Human artifacts, such as clothing and aircraft, weren't a part of it.


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Text ©2002-09 Donald D. Markstein. Art © The Walt Disney Co.