“Bonkers” Created by Robert Taylor, Duane Capizzi, Bruce Talkington, Greg Weisman, and Robert Hathcock; Starring Jim Cummings, Earl Boen, Frank Welker, Jeff Bennett, Karla DeVito, April Winchell, Sherry Lynn, Ron Perlman, and Corey Burton; Run time 30 minutes; Originally aired September 4, 1993.
“Bonkers” was originally envisioned as a sort of homage to “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” and wanted to further explore the ideas of a world inhabited by both humans and toons. Production saw early trouble in that the human characters were also animated and they struggled to convey the difference in existence. Troubles with finding the right voice and tone for the series as well as a lackluster response on original episodes caused changes in the creative team which delayed the release of the series.
A new team was brought in and the show you know and love was born. The titular character was a washed up toon actor turned police officer and the episodes would focus mainly on Bonkers’ struggles to conform to normal human life and be useful in his job.
Though the cartoon most of you are familiar with began in 1993, the conception of “Bonkers” was long foretold and the eventual birth of the show was convoluted, resulting in a confusing timeline. The character, and the universe he inhabits, first saw the light of day as an animated short film titled “Petal to the Metal.” The short was theatrically released preceding “3 Ninjas” but by this time a 65 episode series had already been in production.
During the same time “Raw Toonage” was in development, Michael Eisner has purchased the rights to “Marsupilami” which, at the time, was known only via its Belgian comic strip and the two characters, along with the segment “Totally Tasteless Video” came together to become “Raw Toonage.”
It gets worse; the series itself contains two distinct sets of episodes, ones where Bonkers is partners with Detective Lucky Piquel, and ones where he is partners with Officer Miranda Wright. These two sections are distinct not only in the change of a central character but also in tone. The Lucky episodes feature a relationship wherein Piquel hates toons and Bonkers is constantly trying, and failing, to win his praise. Miranda is more kind hearted and because Bonkers doesn’t have to impress her the show becomes more slapsticky. In addition to the change in tone the design of Bonkers was changed slightly.
Because the team working on the shorts had a smaller task and shorter production schedule they were able to turn out the “Bonkers” shorts before the series could air despite the series’ long head start. This enabled the short film to be released with “3 Ninjas” the year prior to the premier of the series.
This is where the trouble peaked. The premise of the shorts was the “Bonkers” was a delivery person consistently fawning (heh heh) for the woman of his dreams Fawn Deer. This didn’t mesh well with the premise of the series and is made all the more confusing because the Miranda episodes were produced around the same time as the “Raw Toonage” shorts and they share the same design for Bonkers. The Piquel episodes have the newer design but were shoved at the beginning of the series. Meaning that for someone watching in real time they would see Bonkers in his original state, then updated, then changed back, with the tone and theme of the universe the characters inhabit changing each time.
Despite all the trouble with production the character went on to be successful, beloved, and well remembered. The shorts were explained away as having been films Bonkers made during his acting days and the changes in the series were mostly shrugged off. It is a cartoon after all, it doesn’t have to make complete sense as long as it looks good and is entertaining. While it’s fun to dig in and nitpick now, the average “Bonkers” viewer circa 1993 probably had less discerning views on the subject matter.
While cartoons are still going strong a decade and a half into the twenty-first century, they’ve changed. They no longer inhabit the toon world as Disney and Warner Bros. envisioned it where the laws of physics are different but well defined and anything can happy as long as it’s wacky. “Bonkers” represents one of the last bastions of the old ways before cartoons moved into their current state. Perhaps it’s appropriate that the transition happened with a show that included human characters, an omen to foretell what was coming. Or maybe not. It was fun anyway.