SUSPENDED ANIMATION #249
Bonkers D. Bobcat was an anthropomorphic spotted orange bobcat with a red clown-like nose.
During his short life span from 1992 to 1995, he physically changed his appearance (large-knobbed ears and spotted tail with a white tip and brown colored spots on his fur morphed into smaller ears with black spots and a striped tail among other changes including his blue eyes becoming black), changed his supporting cast of characters, and more because, well, he was just bonkers.
By 1992, the relationship between the Walt Disney Company and Steven Spielberg’s Amblin entertainment company had soured almost completely over their joint ownership Roger Rabbit and his supporting cast. The Disney solution was to create its own loveable, wacky animated character in the spirit of Roger Rabbit.
The plan was to produce the standard 65 half hour episodes to be included in the popular two hour Disney Afternoon syndicated cartoon block of cartoons that was broken up into four separate series, one of which rotated out each year with a new installment taking its place. Reruns would be shown on the Disney Channel.
Bonkers D. Bobcat was an animated star of WackyToon Studios and was designed to be as frantic and extreme as Roger Rabbit in the style reminiscent of the classic Tex Avery directed cartoons of the 1940s.
The animated short Petal to the Metal was released on August 7, 1992 to theaters to accompanying the live action Touchstone feature film 3 Ninjas.
Directed by David Block, this eight minute animated cartoon was a production of Walt Disney Television Animation and was meant to introduce the new character of Bonkers D. Bobcat (voiced by Jim Cummings) to audiences before his television series. While the original pre-production work took place in California, the animation was done in France. Bonkers is a delivery boy who runs into non-stop catastrophes trying to deliver flowers to starlet Fawn Deer within his five minute delivery deadline or lose his job.
The proposed series featuring Bonkers for the Disney Afternoon block ran into several difficulties and would not be ready in time. One of those problems was that the animation had been outsourced to ten artists at Toon City Animation Studio, an independent studio in Manila, because it was cheaper than doing it in the United States and it was their first project for Disney.
CEO Michael Eisner had purchased the rights to a popular Belgian comic strip featuring an unusual creature called the Marsupilami. To take advantage of this asset, it was decided to produce an interim show of twelve episodes entitled Raw Toonage for Saturday morning.
The half hour that debuted September 12, 1992 on CBS included a short cartoon of Marsupilami, a segment called Totally Tasteless Video, story edited by Tom MInton, to satirize popular culture like movie trailers, Magnum P.I., chicken exorcism and more as well as a segment entitled He’s Bonkers that were supposedly episodes from WackyToon Studios to give more credibility to the fact that Bonkers was an actual animated cartoon star. Larry Latham produced and directed these He’s Bonkers shorts.
Going Bonkers was a two-hour television special, airing September 3, 1993. Directed by Robert Taylor (who had been put in charge of the television series), it was meant to introduce the new half hour cartoon series and how Bonkers went from cartoon star to rookie cop.
Using animation from the theatrical short, the show begins with the studio filming it. The head of the WackyToon Studios, W. W. Wacky, comes in and fires everyone. It turns out that a rival studio has replaced WackyToon Studios as the top animation studio with its The Bicep Bill Squad series. The studio boss will not tolerate being “number two”. Bonkers and his friends Jitters A. Dog, Fawn Deer, and arch-enemy Grumbles Grizzly must now find new jobs.
Through sheer dumb luck, Bonkers unwittingly comes to the aid of Donald Duck and, at the same time, helps veteran human cop detective Lucky Piquel (also voiced by Jim Cummings) arrest the mugger who attacked Donald.
This heroic act results in a Citizen of Valor award and lands Bonkers a new job as a rookie on the Tinseltown Police Force, where he works with the reluctant Piquel in the newly-formed Toon Division to handle crimes involving toons. Ironically, Bonkers familiarity with Toons and their behavior proves to be very helpful in solving crimes.
Basically the mismatched partnership was meant to suggest the Lethal Weapon (1987) movies with a sedate, out-of-shape older officer with a family (wife and daughter) teamed with a much more manic one who acts crazy.
Bonkers was given a new Toonish supporting cast including Fall Apart Rabbit (who literally falls apart when startled or excited) and objects like Toots the bulb horn that behaved like a pet dog, a police light wearing a Chevalier boater hat, spats and tap shoes and spouts bad vaudeville jokes and Broderick (a tribute to actor Broderick Crawford’s portrayal of a policeman on television) the police radio.
Originally, the series was to team Bonkers with the blonde policewoman Sergeant Miranda Wright (a take-off on the term “Miranda Rights” that have to be read to suspects when arrested) and voiced by singer Karla DeVito, wife of Robby “voice of Disney’s The Beast” Benson who had been filming the animated feature around the same time. It was this teaming of a female policewoman with a non-human partner that reportedly inspired a similar teaming in the series Gargoyles.
However, when the first episodes featuring Miranda came back from animation overseas, Disney did not care for them or the direction of the series was taking so it was given to a different team and reworked.
Bonkers was now teamed with Piquel for 42 episodes whereupon Piquel got promoted to an FBI post in Washington, D.C. when he helped an agent apprehend a bomber and Bonkers was re-assigned to the less abrasive Miranda who had been shown in the Piquel episodes to be the secretary to Chief Kanifky and had been finally promoted to policewoman as she always wanted.
This change was accomplished in an episode entitled New Partners On the Block that aired October 1993 and then followed by the 19 original episodes that had been made with Miranda. Piquel took along with him to Washington Fall Apart Rabbit, the toon horn, radio and light so it would help explain why they were not in the Miranda episodes that had been animated before those characters were created.
Bonkers ran from September 4th, 1993 to February 23, 1994 and then in reruns on the Disney Channel through 1995. Bonkers did appear in stories in the 1994 Disney Afternoon Comic Book published by Marvel as well as issues of Disney Adventures magazine.
Burger King also issued a Kids’ Meal toy of a two inch tall Bonkers PVC figure in uniform as well as a set of five Crash Apart Cars driven by the characters. There was also a Super Nintendo and a Sega Genesis game with the character. In the first, he needs to find three lost Toontown treasures and in the second capture four criminals to get the Employee of the Month award.
There was even a costumed character Bonkers who made appearances at Disneyland and Walt Disney World. He also performed in the Magic Kingdom show at Mickey’s Starland in 1993-1994 as did other Disney Afternoon characters.
He never got the attention or affection given to Roger Rabbit and like many Disney characters, he simply disappeared as the years passed.