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The Untold Truth Of TaleSpin

Remember "TaleSpin"? Those who enjoyed Disney's spectacular slate of late-'80s, early-'90s TV cartoons certainly do. When it comes to animated shows full of cute anthropomorphic characters, Disney had the formula down. The House of Mouse's 1990 line-up boasted "Adventures of the Gummi Bears," "DuckTales," "Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers," and "TaleSpin." That all-star assemblage delighted kids of all ages with humor, charm, and heart.

The latter cartoon was of particular interest, as a spinoff of 1967's "The Jungle Book": The classic film was theatrically re-released the summer before the series' debut. But would a show where Baloo the bear becomes a cargo pilot, King Louie rocks a Hawaiian shirt as an island nightclub owner, and Shere Khan trades in the animal kingdom for the concrete jungle be as successful as the legendary Disney movie? The fact that we're still talking about it tells us all we need to know.

Yet there's more to "TaleSpin" than meets the eye. From controversial artistic choices and banned episodes to a popular voice actor being shown the door, there's a shocking past to this beloved cartoon most fans have no idea exists. Strap in, Little Britches: We're here to explore the untold story of "TaleSpin." 

The lost scripts

As with any other show, many ideas were thrown around during the development phase of "TaleSpin." The creative team workshopped ideas and played around with various concepts, trying to figure out the "bear" necessities of the plot. As co-creator Jymn Magon revealed to Animation Source, many ideas were filtered out at the premise stage. However, a "lost script" penned by "DuckTales" writers Ken Koonce and David Weimers survives, which strays away from the air cargo business at the center of the series entirely.

"The original title [of the episode] was 'Musical Thrones,' but then got changed to 'A King, A Coup and Baloo,'" Magon recalled. What was this proposed two-parter about? "The plot centers on the fact that Baloo and King Bernard of Bearnasia are identical ... and hilarity ensues." Sounds a lot like the plot for 2006's "Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties," doesn't it? It might have been interesting to see if Koonce and Weimers' original idea would've drastically changed the show, had it aired.

TaleSpin's main inspiration

A bear flying a cargo plane is not exactly low-hanging fruit in the imagination orchard. So, where exactly did this left-field concept come from? As it turns out, there are two factors crucial to the inception of "TaleSpin."

The first was the resurgent popularity of "The Jungle Book," which had been re-released in 1984 and 1990. These releases reignited audiences' interest in characters like Baloo, King Louie, and Shere Khan. The second is the fact that Magon had to come up with a new concept for a 65-episode Disney show on a deadline. Instead of reinventing the wheel, he decided Baloo would make an intriguing and popular lead character for an animated series.

Then, Magon remembered an old idea he'd had after his time on "DuckTales" wrapped up, for a show about Launchpad McQuack's delivery service.  1982's "Tales of the Gold Monkey," an influential live-action show about a pilot named Jeff Cutter who runs an air cargo business out of a fictional island, was a major influence on this premise. Magon combined these zany concepts, pitched it to his creative partner Mark Zaslove, and got everyone on board quicker than Don Karnage and his Air Pirates.

The character influenced by Cheers

Nowadays, it's a struggle to find a sitcom that isn't influenced by "Cheers" in some way or another. This iconic show changed the landscape of TV with its timeless qualities and unforgettable cast. It even inspired a certain main character on "TaleSpin."

Both Magon and Zaslove are undoubted "Cheers" fans, as they modeled Rebecca Cunningham off Rebecca Howe (Kirstie Alley). Not only does the animated Rebecca look an awful lot like her namesake, she's also shown to be a strong, resilient, and smart business owner who doesn't always see eye to eye with her main employee.

The influence doesn't stop there, either. Rebecca and Baloo's love-hate dynamic is almost identical to the relationship between Rebecca and Ted Danson's Sam Malone. As Magon put it, Baloo is "drawn to his new 'boss' — but annoyed by her at the same time." As with Rebecca and Sam, the underlying romantic tension is as clear as daylight, and everyone just wants them to get together in the end.

From one Baloo to another

When we think of Baloo the Bear, the first voice that comes to mind is Phil Harris'. The legendary actor and musician brought the carefree, loving bear to life in "The Jungle Book" and will always be remembered for being the heart and soul of one of most beloved Disney characters of all time.

Naturally, it made sense to bring him back as the voice of Baloo in "TaleSpin." This was the original plan, but by the time the series aired, Harris had been replaced by Ed Gilbert, who voiced the character for the show's entire run. Years after "TaleSpin" wrapped up, Magon revealed what led to the difficult decision to replace Harris. "I think we recorded two (maybe three) episodes [with Harris]," Magon detailed. "He certainly SOUNDED like Baloo — duh. But, yes, his age was a factor. He didn't have the slick [comedic] timing anymore."

This fact, in addition to the "four hour round trip" journeys it would have taken to get Harris to recording sessions, put an end to the prospect of him returning to the role of Baloo on "TaleSpin." Harris passed away in 1995, at the age of 91 (via The New York Times).

A famous Pixar voice actor didn't snag a role

John Ratzenberger is known by many fans as Cliff Clavin from "Cheers," but he's also built up quite the filmography as a voice actor. At this point, Ratzenberger's name is practically synonymous with Pixar, having appeared in the celebrated studio's first 22 productions. With such a storied and acclaimed career to his name, it might be surprising to find out that Ratzenberger didn't make the cut for "TaleSpin."

While explaining the casting process, Magon revealed that Ratzenberger (and veteran talent Michael J. Pollard) auditioned for the series, but did not end up with a role. This particular audition process was a complex one: Not all parts were filled easily. "Usually we find who we want on the first go-round, but sometimes more people are called in if the right voice isn't found," Magon explained. "I'm guessing the average number of actors was 6-10 per part." Ratzenberger certainly didn't let this minor disappointment derail his voice acting aspirations, judging by his extraordinary list of credits.

TaleSpin starring ... Launchpad McQuack?!

There's long been a rumor that "TaleSpin" was meant to be Launchpad McQuack's solo show, especially since he's a pilot on "DuckTales" and is an extremely popular character among fans. The truth, however, lies elsewhere.

As revealed by Magon, Launchpad was supposed to have an air cargo business in "DuckTales," but that plan was shelved before it came to fruition. While tinkering with ideas and possibilities for "TaleSpin" years later, the creators decided to revisit the old premise, but with Baloo the Bear in the pilot's seat. Magon has always insisted that Launchpad was "never intended" to be part of "TaleSpin" — not even once.

Despite getting the snub on "TaleSpin," Launchpad remained part of "DuckTales," and even became a supporting character on "Darkwing Duck." He might never have had the opportunity to fly the Sea Duck over Cape Suzette, but he more than makes up for it with the roaring power (and cool factor) of the Thunderquack.

The Star Wars connection

Clearly, the creators of "TaleSpin" didn't mind taking inspiration from other popular TV shows and films. That includes one from a galaxy far, far away. And no, it isn't only apparent in how Baloo treats the Sea Duck much like Han Solo does the Millennium Falcon.

As confirmed by Magon, Kit Cloudkicker's surname is actually a tribute to the one and only Luke Skywalker. "'Kit' came from 'Kit Colby' ... one of the original mouse stars of 'Rescue Rangers,'" he said. "Cloudkicker was simply an homage to Skywalker. (Or the original giveaway name of Luke Starkiller.)"

However, Magon added that Kit Cloudkicker might not even be the character's real name. Since he's an orphan who loves the wild blue yonder, "he may have made up his surname to suit himself." Now that's a mystery that deserves to be unraveled one day. Perhaps in a future reboot or series continuation?

The banned episodes

While "TaleSpin" is beloved by kids and adults around the world, it isn't without its fair share of controversy. Numerous episodes met their doom on the cutting room floor, being trimmed down for one reason or another. Notably, two episodes were pulled from the air, due to the nature of their content.

The first is "Last Horizons," which got the axe due to Asian stereotyping. This ban was far from complete, however — plenty of fans all over the internet report having seen it at some point. Still, "Last Horizons" can't be found on Disney+, and likely won't be making an appearance any time soon.

The second is "Flying Dupes," which also happens to be the series finale. In this episode, Baloo has to deliver a special gift to the High Marshall of Thembria. Unbeknownst to him, the present is actually a bomb. This episode was pulled because of its terrorist-centric plot, though many fans recall it airing once or twice. It is also not available to watch on Disney+.

TaleSpin was never canceled

The television industry is a fickle business where no show is ever truly safe from the network's dreaded axe. One day they're here, the next they're not. Even though "TaleSpin" landed a robust 65 episodes, many fans still wonder why it was ever canceled. Here's the kicker: it wasn't

In the late '80s and early '90s, it was normal for Disney to order 65 episodes of a series. These shows would air five episodes a week for 13 weeks, then stop. The exception to the rule was "DuckTales," which proved to be so immensely popular, it ended up getting 100 episodes and a movie. This means, as Magon put it, that "TaleSpin" "was never 'cancelled' or anything like that" — it just had the typical amount of episodes. Fans can't complain too much, anyway: "TaleSpin" wraps up in a satisfactory manner, without leaving the audience on an unresolved cliffhanger or some half-hearted promise of more to come.

Not everyone supported TaleSpin

With Disney shows like "DuckTales" and "Darkwing Duck" being rebooted, many fans are wondering how long it'll be until "TaleSpin" receives similar treatment. After all, it was a hit show in the '90s and remains revered to this day, right?

Don't count on it. As Magon revealed, "TaleSpin" didn't receive total support from Disney higher-ups. "I sense there were some execs who weren't 100% behind the series," he said. "The merchandising stunk, and what little was done in the way of promotion (especially at the theme parks) was lackluster. So, yes, I've heard rumors that TS did not get the support of other shows."

With that sort of treatment in the series' history, a "TaleSpin" reboot doesn't seem likely. That said, with Disney+ always looking to add more content to tickle fans' nostalgia, never say never. Baloo and Kit might just take to the skies again in the near future.

Some artists thought TaleSpin was ruining The Jungle Book

In modern times, no property is too sacred or precious to change. Shake a bush, and a reboot or spinoff will pop out, with an accompanying toy line and dedicated Twitter account. Not everyone is okay with this state of affairs, however. Many believe such treatment makes brilliant art into vehicles for corporate greed.

Case in point, many artists refused to work on "TaleSpin" out of sheer principle. These creatives believed it to be a cash-in on "The Jungle Book" that cheapened the classic film. The "TaleSpin" team actually struggled to hire animators because of this, as Magon detailed. "Sadly, 'Jungle Book' is such a seminal film to so many animators of that time that we had trouble hiring some people because they thought we were ruining the original concept," he explained, when asked how "The Jungle Book" became the basis for "TaleSpin." "Perhaps we were, but I've had artists tell me later that they wished they could have worked on 'TaleSpin' after all." 

One wonders if a modern day "TaleSpin" continuation or reboot would earn the same reception. Would current artists be as critical as their predecessors? Would they embrace such a series wholeheartedly? Perhaps we'll find out one day.