TaleSpin is a half-hour American animated television series based in the fictional city of Cape Suzette, that first aired in 1990 as part of The Disney Afternoon, with characters adapted from Disney's 1967 animated feature The Jungle Book. The name of the show is a play on tailspin, the rapid, often fatal, descent of an aircraft in a steep spiral. The two words in the show's name, tale and spin are a way to describe telling a story.
After a preview of The Disney Afternoon that aired on the Disney Channel in May 1990, the series began its run in September of the same year. The original concept was embodied in the introductory television movie Plunder and Lightning which was nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Animated Program (Prime Time for Programming One Hour or More) in 1991 and was later re-edited into four half-hour episodes for reruns. The show was often seen either on its own as a half-hour show, or as part of the two-hour syndicated series The Disney Afternoon. TaleSpin ended on its 65th episode which ran in 1994, later nominated for another Emmy Award for Outstanding Animated Program (Entire Series) in the same year. However, reruns continued to be shown on The Disney Afternoon through 1994. Afterward, it was moved into Disney Channel and later into Toon Disney.
Several of the characters are loosely based on characters from Disney's animated film version of The Jungle Book: in particular Baloo, the hot-shot pilot hero of the series; Louie, the owner of Baloo's favorite bar; and Shere Khan, a business tycoon who appears in many episodes. Kit seems to be a stand-in for Mowgli, since Baloo calls him by the same nicknames his Jungle Book counterpart called Mowgli, like "Little Britches" and "Baby Bear".
Also, many of the series concepts seem to be based on the 1982 ABC series Tales of the Gold Monkey, including the main concept of a cocky flying boat cargo pilot and his rocky relationship with his girlfriend, his scatterbrained mechanic sidekick, the era and designs of the aircraft and costumes, the Pacific Islands setting, the secondary character relationships, even the visual appearance of the lagoon. Also, the protagonists of both series fly planes named for waterfowl (Cutter's Goose and Sea Duck) and are regular denizens of taverns named "Louie's."
The series was largely developed by writers Jymn Magon and Mark Zaslove, who were also the Supervising Producers on the series as well as Story Editors. There were four production teams, each one headed by a Producer/Director: Robert Taylor, Larry Latham, Jamie Mitchell and Ed Ghertner.
TaleSpin is set in the fictional city-state of Cape Suzette (a pun on the pancake dish, Crêpe Suzette), a harbor town protected by giant cliffs through which only a small opening exists. The opening in the cliffs is guarded by anti-aircraft artillery, preventing flying rabblerousers or air pirates from entering the city. Characters in the world of TaleSpin are anthropomorphic animals. The timeframe of the series is never specifically addressed, but appears to be in the mid to late 1930s probably the year 1937; the helicopter and jet engine are experimental devices and most architecture is reminiscent of the art deco style of that period. The First World War ended "nearly 20 years ago", and radio is the primary mass medium (In one episode, the local station is identified as "K-CAPE"). Also, in one episode the characters talk about the newly invented jet-motor and the possibility of flying faster than the speed of sound.
The series centered on the adventures of bush pilot Baloo the bear, whose air cargo freight business is bought out by Rebecca Cunningham, a shrewd yet beautiful business woman and renamed 'Higher for Hire'. An orphan boy and former Air Pirate, the ambitious Kit Cloudkicker, attaches to Baloo and becomes his navigator. He sometimes calls him "Papa Bear". Together, they are the crew of Higher for Hire's only aircraft, a modified Conwing L-16 named the Sea Duck. From there, the series follows the ups and downs of Higher for Hire and its staff, sometimes in the vein of old action-adventure film serials of the 1930s and '40s like Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Their adventures often involve encounters with a gang of Air Pirates led by the histrionic Don Karnage, with representatives of Thembria, a parody of the Stalinist Soviet Union inhabited by anthropomorphic warthogs, or other, often even stranger obstacles.
The relationship between Baloo and Rebecca owes something to the screwball comedy films of the 1930s. It's even more closely patterned after the later years of the television sitcom Cheers—in both shows, a buttoned-down businesswoman named Rebecca takes the reins of a struggling company, then hires its previous owner (a fun-loving but irresponsible slacker) to do most of the work for her.
A video game by Capcom was also released on the NES and Game Boy. Sega produced a different version for the Sega Genesis and Sega Game Gear. A third incarnation was produced by Hudson Soft for the TurboGrafx-16.
Famed Uncle Scrooge comic writer and artist Don Rosa contributed with episode 5 "I Only Have Ice for You" and episode 9 "It Came From Beneath the Sea Duck".
- Hamilton Camp - Seymore, Whistleshop Jackson, Reporter 2, Babyface Half Nelson, Tiny Patrons, Police Officer 2
- Jim Cummings - Don Karnage, Louie, Trader Moe, Covington, El Gato, Aunt Louise, Policeman on PA, MacKnee, Dog Rather, Back-Alley Thug, Inspector Burrow, Rhino Pilot, Polar Bear, Whistlestop Announcer, Thrembrian Judge, Great Patriotic Flounder Guard, Officer Malarkey, Bob, Chancellor Trample, Cape Suzette Postal Clerk, Captain Grindstone Griff, O'Roarke, Shere Khan's Yesman, Prince Never-Has-Been-Broke, Air Control Officer, Gorilla Goon, Louie's Monkey Patron, Goose Junk Salesman, Jenkins, Khan's Messanger, Thembrian Patriotic Flounder Alarm Operator, Nanuk, Ace Guard Pilot 1, Movietoons Newsreel Announcer, Red Robe Thugs, Walla-Walla Bing-Bang Guards, Tiny, Tiny Patrons, Louie's Patron 2, Stinky Sedgewowsky, Health Official, Jay Walking
- Ed Gilbert - Baloo, Moose Helmet Air Pirate, Raccoon Crook #2, Panther Pilot 2, Khan Executive 2, Khan Executive 3, Pig Car Driver, Street Bum, Khancho Gas Monkey Pumper, FLAP Beaver Clerk, Photographer Voice, Turkey Accountant, Thrembrian Prison Guard, Austin Featheridge, Parade Public Address Announcer, Walrus Police Officer (3), Babyface Chucklehead #1, Tiny Patrons, Crazy Eddie, Hippo Pilot, Radio Announcer, Boat Salesman, Thrembria Sweepstakes Clerk
- Billie Hayes - Ma, Tiny Patrons, Crazy Edie
Episode 1 – Plunder and Lightning P1
Episode 2 – Plunder and Lightning P2
Episode 3 – Plunder and Lightning P3
Episode 4 – Plunder and Lightning P4
Episode 5 – From Here to Machinery
Episode 6 – It Came from Beneath the Sea Duck
Episode 7 – Time Waits for No Bear
Episode 8 – Mommy for a Day
Episode 9 – I Only Have Ice for You
Episode 10 – Molly Coddled
Episode 11 – Polly Wants a Treasure
Episode 12 – Vowel Play
Episode 13 – The Idol Rich
Episode 14 – Stormy Weather
Episode 15 – Bearly Alive
Episode 16 – Her Chance to Dream
Episode 17 – All's Whale That Ends Whale
Episode 18 – The Golden Sprocket of Friendship
Episode 19 – For a Fuel Dollars More
Episode 20 – A Bad Reflection on You (1)
Episode 21 – A Bad Reflection on You (2)
Episode 22 – On a Wing and a Bear
Episode 23 – A Star Is Torn
Episode 24 – A Touch of Glass
Episode 25 – The Bigger They Are, the Louder They Oink
Episode 26 – A Spy in the Ointment
Episode 27 – The Balooest of the Bluebloods
Episode 28 – A Baloo Switcheroo
Episode 29 – Whistlestop Jackson, Legend
Episode 30 – Double or Nothing
Episode 31 – Feminine Air
Episode 32 – Last Horizons
Episode 33 – Flight of the Snow Duck
Episode 34 – Save the Tiger
Episode 35 – The Old Man and the Sea Duck
Episode 36 – War of the Weirds
Episode 37 – Captains Outrageous
Episode 38 – The Time Bandit
Episode 39 – For Whom the Bell Klangs (1)
Episode 40 – For Whom the Bell Klangs (2)
Episode 41 – Citizen Khan
Episode 42 – Gruel and Unusual Punishment
Episode 43 – Jolly Molly Christmas
Episode 44 – My Fair Baloo
Episode 45 – Waiders of the Wost Tweasure
Episode 46 – Flight School Confidential
Episode 47 – Bringing Down Babyface
Episode 48 – Jumping the Guns
Episode 49 – In Search of Ancient Blunders
Episode 50 – Louie's Last Stand
Episode 51 – Sheepskin Deep
Episode 52 – Pizza Pie in the Sky
Episode 53 – Baloo Thunder
Episode 54 – Bullethead Baloo
Episode 55 – Destiny Rides Again
Episode 56 – Mach One for the Gipper
Episode 57 – Stuck on You
Episode 58 – The Sound and the Furry
Episode 59 – The Ransom of Red Chimp
Episode 60 – The Road to Macadamia
Episode 61 – Your Baloo's in the Mail
Episode 62 – Paradise Lost
Episode 63 – The Incredible Shrinking Molly
Episode 64 – Bygones
Episode 65 – Flying Dupes
Disney released the first 27 episodes (including the 4-part pilot) of TaleSpin on DVD in Region 1 on August 29 2006. Volume 2 of the series was released on November 13, 2007, which includes the controversial episode "Last Horizons". Disney has yet to confirm a third volume with the remaining episodes, and there is no word on whether the other controversial episode, "Flying Dupes" will be included, (see "Controversy" below).
- Volume One- August 29, 2006
- Volume Two
Two episodes of Talespin drew varied amounts of controversy, enough for one episode to be temporarily banned and the other to be permanently banned.
The first of these, the episode "Last Horizons", was temporarily banned and taken off the air. Investigation of the event has since revealed that the reason for its temporary removal was the alleged stereotyping of Asians. The villain in the episode is an anthropomorphic panda Emperor named Wan Lo (voiced by actor Robert Ito) living in a mock-pre-WWII Asian nation called "Panda-La", who takes Baloo into his country to exploit his naiveté and attacks Cape Suzette. There is a reference how their lust for conquest is not shared by all of their species with "Good Pandas especially dislike us."
The fictitious nation may have been a take on Japan, which attacked the US naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on December 7, 1941. That incident ushered America's entry into the Second World War.
The second episode, coincidentally the last in the series, titled "Flying Dupes" was aired for the first time on August 8, 1992 and was immediately pulled from the lineup afterward, not to be seen again for more than ten years. It made a brief re-appearance on Toon Disney several years ago, possibly by mistake, and has never been re-aired since. Considered by Disney to be a banned episode, the apparent reason for this episode's permanent removal from the airwaves is the terrorist theme associated with it. Despite this ban, the episode was aired repeatedly by independent stations, including Seattle-based KSTW-TV and Family Channel in Canada. They also get aired on German TV (dubbed) practically anytime the series gets broadcast.
The general synopsis of the episode starts with Baloo being asked to deliver a goodwill present (a cuckoo clock he is told) to the High Marshall of Thembria from Cape Suzette. Baloo is unaware until the end of the episode that the package really contains a time bomb planted by munitions manufacturers who wish to provoke a war between Thembria and Cape Suzette in order to boost weapons sales.
Neither episode is available on Disney+.
Another controversy related to TaleSpin involved the character Louie. In 2001, the widow of Louis Prima, who had voiced the scat singing orangutan in The Jungle Book, filed suit against Disney for "breach of contract, non-payment of royalties, unjust enrichment, fraud and negligent misrepresentation". At issue were back royalties owed for profits made from video and DVD sales of The Jungle Book and unauthorized use of her husband's voice and its likeness in shows like TaleSpin (Jim Cummings's impersonation of Prima's voice was near-perfect).
Although the case was eventually settled out of court, Disney has since chosen to avoid any further trouble and has refrained from using the character in anything else. It was due to this lawsuit that Louie was conspicuously absent from The Jungle Book 2 (2003); he is the only major Jungle Book character to not appear in the 2003 film. Additionally, an episode of House of Mouse included a similar-looking character referred to as Louie's twin brother, King Larry.
A monthly comic book based on the show was published by Disney Comics in 1991, running for seven issues (eleven, counting a four-issue mini-series based on the series premiere). Bobby JG Weiss was the writer for issues 1-4 and 6-7. As issue 5 was adapted from the episode 41, The Old Man And The Sea Duck, Weiss only is credited for adaptation.
The comic's cancellation seven months later terminated several planned stories that would have revealed pieces of background for the main characters. Issue 7 explored Kit's past, and how he joined up with the pirates. According to the letter page in #3, a planned story for the comic's annual would have explored the origin of the Iron Vulture. #4-7 would have letters 'answered' by the characters.
A collected edition called 'Disney's Cartoon Tales' featuing Talespin came out in 1991 (ISBN 1-56115-269-2). It reprints #4 and 6 from the regular comic book series.
Subsequent comic stories were also printed in Disney Adventures from 1990 to 1995 then re-appeared in the Summer 2006 Disney Adventures Comic Zone Magazine, as well as in the Disney Afternoon comic book published by Marvel Comics.
While issue #8 of the monthly comic series never made it to print, the end of issue #7 included a preview for it:
"Spies in Cape Suzette?! There are some mighty mysterious folk sniffing around Shere Khan Industries. When Special Agent Booker shows up to handle the problem he finds that battling foreign agents is easier than dealing with Baloo as an assistant in... THE SPY WHO BUGGED ME!"
- Pat Fraley and Ed Gilbert also worked on the unrelated Filmation TV show BraveStarr.
- TaleSpin has been referenced in the the 2017 DuckTales series, with Cape Suzette being name-dropped and a newspaper referencing the Air Pirates. Versions of Don Karnage, the pirates, and the Iron Vulture also appear in the episode "Sky Pirates...In the Sky!" A brochure with an image of the Sea Duck appeared in the season one finale, and the plane itself-along with adult versions of Kit Cloudkicker and Molly Cunningham-are set to appear in season three.
- Talespin is the inspiration for the web-comic-series Cloudscratcher and the anime-film Porco Rosso.