Have you ever heard of the Disney film, 'The Jungle Book'? It was a movie that was released by Disney in the late 1960s that was inspired by the tales of author Rudyard Kipling. It was a story of a young feral child named Mowgli who is raised by wolves. Along the way, he meets up with such crazy characters as Baloo, the laid-back sloth bear who lives a carefree life, and King Louie, an orangutan who desperately wants to be a human. But, Mowgli also happens to be in danger from getting caught by Bengal tiger Shere Khan, who wants nothing more than to kill Mowgli. It's a great movie, if you get a chance to watch it, if for no other reason than to get caught up in the movie's soundtrack which includes the following song.
And, one day, I might end up doing a blog entry on “The Jungle Book”. But, not today.
Being that today is Saturday, it's the day of the week where we take a look back at a Saturday Morning cartoon, and open up a discussion about it. And as it so happens, today's cartoon was heavily inspired by Disney's “The Jungle Book”. Three characters from that movie were put into this cartoon, and a whole bunch of new characters were created to supplement the existing characters, as the action was moved from the jungle to the clouds.
Have you figured it out yet? Perhaps this intro will help jog your memory.
Yes, the topic of today's Saturday Morning discussion is the Disney Afternoon program, TaleSpin, which first aired on May 5, 1990 as a Disney Channel sneak peek. Although original episodes last aired just fifteen months later in August 1991, the show itself managed to have a 65-episode run. And those 65 episodes were aired on various cable channels as recently as a few years ago.
The show takes place in the fictional city of Cape Suzette, a town that is situated on a harbour, protected by giant cliffs, where only a small opening exists. This opening just happens to be guarded by anti-aircraft artillery, which prevent air pirates and other enemy planes from invading the city. Due to the fact that radio seems to be the main source of media for the citizens of Cape Suzette and how modern-day inventions like the television and helicopter were experimental at the time, it can be said that the show took place sometime during the 1930s.
As I said before, three characters make their way from 'The Jungle Book' to 'TaleSpin'. The most obvious one being Baloo the bear.
In TaleSpin, Baloo takes on the role of a bush pilot. Just as he was on 'The Jungle Book', Baloo is still very much as lazy, slobbish, and unreliable on 'TaleSpin'. However, when push came to shove, Baloo could fly a plane with the best of them. He could maneuver his plane through any space, and usually had the courage to fly his plane through dangerous situations, especially if someone he cared about was in danger.
At the beginning of the series, Baloo owned an air cargo freight business called “Baloo's Air Service”, but he was forced to sell it to businesswoman Rebecca Cunningham after Baloo failed to pay back the loan he took out to start up the business. The business was renamed “Higher for Hire”, but Baloo stayed on as a pilot.
Of course, Baloo and Rebecca were hardly considered to be a match made in heaven. Rebecca grew increasingly irritated with Baloo for having such a carefree attitude, and she strongly disliked the fact that Baloo was so lazy. In turn, Baloo seemed to get annoyed with Rebecca's no-nonsense attitude. Over time, their bond would strengthen, and eventually they ended up becoming good friends. Rebecca even learned how to fly a plane herself. Rebecca was also known as a great maternal figure, as she had been a single mother to her daughter, Molly, for years. And, she even was looked up to as a maternal figure by this character, who we'll meet next.
Of course, I'm talking about Kit Cloudkicker. Kit is very much your typical 12-year-old bear cub on the surface. He has a love for sky surfing, wears his prized baseball cap backwards on his head, and sometimes gets into trouble if left unsupervised. Although to Kit's credit, he never really did anything that severe.
But if one were to peel back the layers behind Kit Cloudkicker, one might be surprised to see that Kit's past wasn't exactly one of pride. You see, Kit was orphaned at an early age, and he was taken in by Don Karnage and his band of Air Pirates. About a year prior to the start of the series, Kit was being groomed by Don Karnage to be his successor. If he had, it would have been entirely possible that Kit could have ended up an enemy, instead of a friend.
However, what Don Karnage didn't count on was that Kit had a mind of his own. And when Kit was eleven, he decided that he didn't want to be an Air Pirate any longer. He left them because he grew sick of them. Of course, the Air Pirates weren't ready to let him go that easily, and when Kit tried to escape from them, they gave chase. Kit somehow ended up hiding in Baloo's plane (affectionately nicknamed the Sea Duck), and Baloo decided to take him in. Of course, Kit was initially distrustful of Baloo. Truth be told, Kit didn't trust any adult figure. It took time for him to really accept Baloo, but once he did, he happily embraced Baloo as his 'Papa Bear'. In turn, Baloo would often call Kit 'Lil Britches' (which amusingly enough was the same nickname that Baloo gave Mowgli on 'The Jungle Book'.)
And, you know something, as lazy as Baloo was, he really stepped up when it came to Kit. Baloo and Kit formed one amazing partnership, and Baloo really worried about Kit the same way any father would worry about his son. He wanted to make sure Kit was safe at all times, and did what he could for him. But Baloo also let Kit have a little bit of trust and space, especially when it came down to Kit's love of cloud surfing.
But with Kit deciding to stay with Baloo, and embracing his adoptive family at “Higher for Hire”, it just served to make Don Karnage even angrier. He becomes one of the main antagonists in the whole series, banding the other Air Pirates together to storm Cape Suzette with his Iron Vulture to cause all sorts of trouble. He and his cronies (Mad Dog, Dumptruck, Gibber, Hacksaw, Ratchet, Hal, Sadie, Jock, and Will) all try to get the better of Baloo and his gang, but for whatever reason (the reason being Don Karnage's overblown ego), the Pirates always seem to fail.
Outside of Cape Suzette, we get to meet the second of three “The Jungle Book” characters who appear on the cartoon 'TaleSpin'. Remember how on the Jungle Book, we see Louie the orangutan trying to manipulate Mowgli into doing his bidding so that he can stay in the jungle? Well, on TaleSpin, Louie is somewhat more likeable (not that he wasn't already). He owns a club/motel called 'Louie's Place', which serves as a sort of rest stop for pilots. It's a place where pilots can stop to refuel their planes, grab a bite to eat, and just enjoy themselves. Unlike the movie 'The Jungle Book', Louie and Baloo seem to have patched up their differences, and are now considered to be the best of friends. Although sometimes, the competitive streak between the two can come back with a vengeance when it comes to matters of love, treasure-hunting, and occasionally business sense.
But when you consider that Louie managed to run a business by himself while Baloo lost his by being completely irresponsible, you figure out which one of the two always seems to come out on top.
Finally, we come to the final “The Jungle Book” character who makes an appearance in TaleSpin. And this character was the primary antagonist in 'The Jungle Book'. But when his character was brought to the world of 'TaleSpin', he still kept his evil persona, but somehow had gotten somewhat soft. What was even more peculiar was that he somehow developed a taste for designer suits and retractable claws.
Yes, Shere Khan was the Donald Trump of Cape Suzette. A powerful businessman who more or less controls the economy of the whole town, Shere Khan wastes no time in putting small companies out of business so he can take over. Naturally, one of the businesses in his sights was “Higher for Hire”, but he never did succeed in shutting the place down, thanks to Baloo and Kit foiling his plans. And in the show, we can see some evidence of his evil side popping out through minor examples. Feeding insects to his carnivorous plants inside his office, for instance. He also believes that he is above the law, and will often bend rules in order to get what he wants without actually breaking laws.
However, here's where Shere Khan's evil streak seems to soften. Even though he is a thorn in the side of Baloo and Rebecca, he does happen to share a common enemy with them. And, despite the fact that he once hired them for one of his schemes involving oil prices, Shere Khan saw the Air Pirates as his biggest enemies. Shere Khan ended up building a huge air force and naval defense system to protect his empire from being invaded by the Air Pirates, but he also showed a quality that he never really did show on 'The Jungle Book'.
The quality of nobility.
Sure, he and Baloo were never going to be friends. But he respected Baloo's flying abilities enough to trust him when the need arose. And, while Shere Khan may have had a ruthless streak, he wasn't entirely heartless, as he made sure that the townspeople of Cape Suzette were protected from the attacks from the Air Pirates.
(Though, I suppose he was only doing it to make sure that everyone stayed alive to shop at many of the businesses that he built and ran...but let's give our tiger the benefit of the doubt.)
So, while there were shades of 'The Jungle Book' inside 'TaleSpin', 'TaleSpin' was a rather enjoyable show in its own right. There was adventure, comedy, excitement, and more importantly, a lot of heart. It was a great program to watch, and I'd gladly watch it again if it were airing on television.