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 anthropomorphism|anthropomorphic animals. The timeframe of the series is never specifically addressed, but appears to be in the mid to late 1930s proabably the year 1937; the helicopter and jet engine are experimental devices and most architecture is reminiscent of the art deco style of that period. World War I 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, 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.
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 - November 13, 2007
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, "Flying Dupes" (coincidentally the last of the series) was aired for the first time on August 8, 1992 and immediately pulled from the lineup, not to be seen again for over a decade. It aired once on Toon Disney (possibly by mistake) and has never been re-broadcast 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. The two banned episodes are also aired on German TV (dubbed) whenever the series is broadcast.
The general synopsis of the episode begins 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 actually 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. It's also possible the 9/11 attacks contributed to the permanent ban.
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!"
- Baloo (main character)
- Kit Cloudkicker
- Shere Khan
- Don Karnage and his Air Pirates
- Trader Moe
- Owl Capone
- Rebecca Cunningham
- Molly Cunningham
At some point during the series, Baloo and Rebecca's relationship matures into a strong friendship. In "It Came From Beneath the Sea Duck", Baloo reluctantly accompanies Rebecca on a shopping spree; in "Her Chance to Dream", Baloo becomes slightly jealous when Rebecca is courted by the ghost of a Victorian era sea captain; in the beginning of "A Star Is Torn", the two have a dinner date as "friends". Baloo's statement to Rebecca of "Remember the last time we went out?" suggests that this is not their first date; In "Feminine Air", when Rebecca reveals that she could tell her co-pilot "Tan Margret" was really Baloo in drag, she calls Baloo her "best friend"; "Gruel and Unusual Punishment" both Baloo and Rebecca ready themselves to go the annual Pilot's Ball with her getting a new dress (which is a leftover from "Her Chance to Dream") and him losing weight when she threatens to take someone else and they get just a little bit closer (but not a lot) in the closing moments of "My Fair Baloo." In addition, at the end of "Lost Horizons," Rebecca clearly shouts with joy at Baloo's escape from certain death, "I love you, Baloo!"
- Animating the flying sequences for the Sea Duck, along with the Pirate Fighters and several other planes seen in the show, was done with computer animation. However, certain sequences were also done with hand drawn animation. In complaisant with the computer animation, the hand drawn animation sequences were heavily out of perspective, resulting a dozen errors that are seen in the show.
- Pat Fraley and Ed Gilbert also worked on the unrelated Filmation TV show BraveStarr.
- Baloo’s Dressing Room