Bonkers was a late inclusion in the Disney Afternoon, a post DuckTales/TailSpin/Rescue Rangers program and contemporary to Goof Troop and Gargoyles. It’s a show about a bobcat named Bonkers who serves in the Toon Police alongside his partner Lucky Piquel (pronounced Pickle by most characters, but it’s supposed to be Pee-kell, making it a running joke). Bonkers exists in a world where people and toons live together, making it sort of like Who Framed Roger Rabbit? except the entire show is animated. It’s a cartoon I never really gave a chance because by the time 1993 rolled around I was invested heavily in Batman and X-Men and I really had no appetite for a more traditional cartoon. I watched some Animaniacs and Ren & Stimpy and that was kind of it. Plus Bonkers, who has an over-the-top “toon” aesthetic like Roger Rabbit just kind of annoyed me from what little I saw. The show’s intro is obnoxious and I honestly can’t remember if I ever sat down and watched an entire episode. As an adult, I appreciate the show’s premise much more. After all, Who Framed Roger Rabbit? is a personal top 10 film for me and one I adore so a cartoon that piggy-backs off of it sounds really appealing to me now.
Bonkers did have a Christmas special, and when I set out to do this it was one I looked forward to checking out. The title of the episode, “Miracle at the 34th Precinct,” implies a parody or adaptation of Miracle on 34th Street which also sounds appealing since it’s a classic Christmas story that’s rarely adapted by cartoons and sitcoms. Where as the contemporary show Darkwing Duck chose to do an It’s a Wonderful Life adaptation, which is so disappointing.
The episode opens with Santa trying to navigate a pretty treacherous looking snow storm. He’s being tossed around and we’re soon taken to a a work shop where a pair of elves are wondering where Santa could be. We learn, through their dialogue, that Santa was off testing a new sleigh with only one reindeer, Blitzen, to guide him. The female elf of this duo immediately reacts with worry that Santa didn’t take Rudolf given the conditions outside (score one Christmas point for this one, it actually acknowledges the existence of the 9th reindeer) and immediately starts to panic. A tired Blitzen enters the shop with only pieces of the sleigh remaining. Santa apparently fell out somewhere over Hollywood. With only two days to go until Christmas, this is a pretty alarming development.
In Hollywood, unseasonable conditions are striking the locals. It’s snowing. Why? I don’t know. The camera pans to a building with a hole in the ceiling. Inside we find a mangey looking rabbit apparently named Fall-Apart and a large pile of snow. The pile shakes and out pops Santa, only he doesn’t know he’s Santa. Amnesia! The bane of all television personalities! Fall-Apart doesn’t seem to recognize him, but seems happy to have him around. Meanwhile, Lucky Piquel is being roused by his wife Dill (Dill Piquel, get it? I can’t believe Rugrats would repeat this joke later) for breakfast. He seems grumpy and his wife tells him not to be a Scrooge, which makes me think he’s going to be a Christmas curmudgeon – he certainly seems like he could play the part. He’s unmistakably voiced by Jim Cummings, which is interesting because Cummings also voices Bonkers so he has both leads in this show. Anyways, Lucky’s daughter is waiting for him at the breakfast table, with a toon pencil casually tucked behind her ear which is awesome as it shows how casually the humans and toons co-exist. She’s heard that Santa isn’t real, and Lucky and his wife seem unsure of how to handle this, only to assure her that lots of people believe in Santa.
In comes Bonkers! He’s playfully tossing snow around and of course he hits Lucky in the face. My guess is these two are unlikely partners, just as Roger and Eddie were, with Lucky not exactly enjoying the relationship. Bonkers is there to assure the youngest Piquel that Santa does indeed exist, and he and Lucky head off to the precinct. Meanwhile, Fall-Apart (voiced by Frank Welker using a more intelligible version of his Slimer voice with a touch of Dustin Hoffman from Rainman) decides to take Santa (after dubbing him Jim since he can’t remember his name) for a little spin around Hollywood and loads him into his cab. He immediately becomes more of a tour guide and I’m wondering if he’s good-natured or if he intends to rob this Santa of all of his money by keeping the meter running. We shall see.
At the police station, the two elves from earlier are there to report a missing person – Santa. When Bonkers and Lucky stroll in they immediately suggest that Lucky could be a good stand-in, since he’s fat. Lucky’s boss thinks it’s a good idea, why he’s willing to give up a cop for this I don’t know, but Lucky wants no part of it. He regards the elves as being kind of crazy, suggesting adults in this world probably don’t believe in Santa (I wasn’t sure based on Lucky and his wife’s reaction to their daughters declaration). The elves toss some Christmas magic dust on him to make him envision his daughter waking up disappointed on Christmas since no Santa brought her presents. It’s enough to make Lucky openly cry and agree to put on the red suit.
Next comes Lucky’s Santa training. He seems to be having a hard time, but at least looks the part, while the elves are getting frustrated with him. Nearby at the beach, Fall-Apart is taking Santa water skiing because it’s snowing, so you’re supposed to ski. A fisherman somehow manages to hook Santa by the ass and reveals his underwear – classic. We then jump back to Lucky’s Santa training in the flight simulator. He makes a crack about the lack of an in-flight movie while he’s jostled around in a mechanical sleigh with a giant fan in his face, so the male elf activates a screen on the sleigh to give Lucky the rundown on what every kid wants for Christmas. Back at the beach, Fall-Apart crashes his boat and we see why he’s called Fall-Apart. Bonkers is there to help piece him back together, mistakenly putting Fall-Apart’s tail where his nose should be and his nose where his tail should be, which can’t smell great. Santa is out of the picture following the wreck, so Bonkers doesn’t see him. When he asks Fall-Apart if he’s seen Santa, he teases the viewer that he might say yes, but says he hasn’t seen him. I don’t think he’s doing that for nefarious reasons, he’s just stupid. He sees his frozen buddy, Jim, after Bonkers leaves and tells him they should go on a picnic, which just further confuses Santa-Jim.
Lucky’s Santa training has moved on from sleigh-piloting to breaking and entering, or rather chimney training. The male elf has whipped up a house of sorts for Lucky to practice on, though he expresses some concern with fitting down the chimney. We also find out that Lucky is actually fatter than Santa. Bonkers, basically frozen, returns to the Piquel residence to get warmed up. Lucky’s daughter hopes her dad can make it home for Santa and lets us know it’s Christmas Eve (I might have missed that morsel of info in the precinct scene earlier) while Bonkers withholds info on Lucky playing Santa. Bonkers tells the girl she’s not supposed to wait up for Santa, and manages to catch his tail on fire at the fireplace. Good thing there’s ample amounts of snow outside to put it out and he returns to his Santa hunt. Lucky, on the other hand, is not making any progress in his Santa training because he’s become lodged in the chimney. He manages to fall through and makes a kind of dark observation that having your life flash before your eyes can put you in the Christmas spirit. Whether he’s ready for it or not, they need to get moving if they want any hope of delivering the presents, and Lucky is still gung-ho to help out.
Back at Fall-Apart’s apartment, the duo of Santa and the rabbit return with Fall-Apart remarking their picnic would have been better if Santa didn’t give away all of the food. It’s like he’s some gift-giving guy or something. When Santa sits on a toon lounge-chair he gets ejected out of the apartment. When Fall-Apart asks the chair why he did that he replies, “Because it was funny,” which makes a surprising amount of sense for a toon. Just then, a despondent Bonkers pops in. He’s afraid he won’t find Santa in time. Fall-Apart expresses some sympathy, then remarks he has to go help his friend Jim off the roof and describes him as a big guy in a red suit with a white beard. Bonkers realizes that Jim must be Santa, and when they find him on the roof his memory has returned thanks to the second bump on the head. With only an hour until Christmas, he needs to get to his elves Jingle and Belle (so they have names), but Bonkers first wants to bring him by the Piquel residence.
We cut to the Piquel house and the sleigh and reindeer are arriving. There are only six reindeer, which is bullshit. It’s Lucky and the elves. The elves felt that Lucky’s first house should be a familiar one. He expresses some hurt feelings over it while struggling to stand on the snow covered roof, before eventually falling off, which just justifies the concern the elves have in him. They get a call on their sleigh-phone from Bonkers to let them know Santa is all right and they’re relieved to hear it, naturally. Of course, Lucky is already on the job and fallen off the roof to boot, so they can’t tell him the good news.
Since he’s at ground level, and it is his house, Lucky decides to enter the conventional way even though it’s not the entrance he wants to make. Just as he enters the front door, Bonkers arrives with Santa. They shoot up to the roof where the elves give Santa the update on what’s going on. He grabs his sack and jumps down the chimney. Inside, Lucky’s daughter is already in tears about there being no Santa and left the room. As Lucky heads in further Santa drops in. Lucky doesn’t think he’s the real Santa, even though he has the Social Security card to prove it, and the two start bickering. Bonkers pops out of the chimney to admonish them when Lucky’s daughter comes in. At first she’s confused about there being two Santas, but not as confused as I would have expected. The real Santa gives her a gift, one she didn’t even tell her dad about, and Lucky finally believes Santa is the real deal when he pronounces his last name properly and gives him a gift to top it off. After Santa leaves, Lucky’s daughter gives her father a warm hug and Bonkers somehow gains the ability to float up the chimney like Santa just in time to see the big guy take off and wish him a merry Christmas.
“Miracle at the 34th Precinct” is not what I expected, since it isn’t really a take on the classic story at all. It also isn’t what I expected in that the plot is pretty straight-forward and it seems to take itself seriously. There’s very little “wacky” elements present for a cartoon world. The Fall-Apart and Santa scenes possessed some physical comedy, but for the most part I found the whole thing kind of subdued. I was expecting more parody, and maybe some satire, but instead this show was more earnest and genuine in its approach. I’m not about to judge the whole series based on one episode, but I don’t think I like this. It was kind of boring and the characters are just the sort of standard archetypes we’re used to seeing. I suppose there is some humor to be found in a world that looks at the toon elements as ordinary, but I feel like Tiny Toon Adventures already did that, and better. This does feel like Disney trying to do a Warner-type show, and maybe they just don’t have the ability to produce that kind of show. The animation, for the most part, is still well done though it’s not as crisp as something like DuckTales or Darkwing Duck. My guess is that’s intentional as they want the characters to have less definition and thus appear more “toon” in appearance. There’s an artful sloppiness in how the characters move and animate, in particular Lucky, which is kind of odd since he’s supposed to be the human. At any rate, at least it’s not A Christmas Carol parody though!