For the history of Looney Tunes, check out the post here.
When Warner Bros. Animation decided to create a new television division, they began with Tiny Toon Adventures which focused on new, younger characters inspired by the classic Looney Tunes. Their next project decided to focus on one of the Looney Tunes themselves, and one that had only been seen twice in the last two decades.
|Taz with his pet turtle, Dog.|
Created by Art Vitello and developed by Jean MacCurdy and Tom Ruegger, Taz-Mania starred the Tasmanian Devil (or “Taz”, voiced by Jim Cummings). This was the first starring vehicle for the character, who had only been given five theatrical shorts of his own and infrequent guest-appearances in other productions. Taz-Mania was set in the fictional land of Tazmania (based on the real Tasmania) where Taz was portrayed as a young adult living with his family in a 1950’s-esque sitcom setting.
|Taz with Jake, Jean, Hugh and Molly.|
While Taz maintained a more toned-down version of his typically savage nature, his family was a lot more refined and evolved. His father, Hugh (Maurice LaMarche), was a parody of Bing Crosby with the way he spoke and his affinity for orange juice (of which Crosby was a pitchman) and golf. He often sped along his long-winded and cliched speeches by saying “blah blah blah, yackity schmakity”. His mother, Jean (Miriam Flynn), was a happy homemaker and housewife who loved talking on the phone and often had a long list of chores for herself. Taz’s 16-year-old sister, Molly (Kellie Martin), constantly worried about her image, fought with Taz, and was a major fan of the boy band New Chips Off the Block (a parody of New Kids on the Block). Jake (Debi Derryberry) was Taz’s playful and imaginative little brother who often looked up to him. Taz also had a pet turtle who acted like a dog and was aptly named Dog (Rob Paulsen).
|Bushwhacker Bob and his Mum with the Platypus Brothers overhead.|
Taz worked as a bellhop at the Hotel Tazmania. His boss, Bushwhacker Bob (Cummings), was loud, grumpy, rude, selfish and incompetent with a very high opinion of himself. His Mum (Rosalyn Landor) was the complete opposite of her son and really ran the hotel behind the scenes. Constance Koala (also Landor) was an enormous yet graceful koala bear who worked as a maid at the hotel, and because of her size her penchant for singing and dancing often caused accidental destruction. Mr. Thickley (Dan Castellaneta) was an energetic, funny, upbeat and multitalented wallaby who performed various tasks at the hotel and claimed to be an expert at just about anything he did (although his incompetence often led to disaster).
|Francis X. Bushlad preparing to squash Taz.|
The outback was also full of its own share of colorful characters. Digeri Dingo (Paulsen) pretended to be Taz’s friend in order to use him for his own ends, although they did share a mutual love of bottlecap collecting; Wendal T. Wolf (Cummings) was a neurotic thylacine desperate for any type of friendship and drove Taz crazy in attempts to gain his; Francis X. Bushlad (named for silent movie star Francis X. Bushman, voiced by Paulsen) was an aboriginal boy who had to hunt Taz for his rite of passage into manhood; Bull Gator (John Astin) and Axl Gator (Paulsen) were alligators who also sought to capture Taz to place him in a zoo (and net the hefty reward that came with it); Buddy Boar (Cummings) was a yuppie who claimed to be Taz’s best friend, although tended to take advantage of him (not at Dingo’s levels, though); the Platypus brothers, Daniel (LaMarche) and Timothy (Paulsen), do-it-yourselfers who often cause Taz problems with their projects and had an obsession with the cartoon The McKimsons (a parody of The Simpsons and named after Taz’s creator, Robert McKimson); Kee-Wee birds, which resembled their name, were silent and speedy birds Taz often chased to try and eat; the Bushrats were rats in tribal costumes who spoke in a mix of real and gibberish languages with often mismatched subtitles; and Willie Wombat (LaMarche) was a polite pacifist who was originally supposed to assume the Bugs Bunny role of Taz’s foil but often fought against the show’s producers on being typecast as such. Occasionally, the family would be visited by Hugh’s brother Drew (LaMarche). Drew was a parody of Bob Hope and his episodes were often a parody of the Road To… series of movies in which he and Crosby starred. Cameos were also made by Bugs (Greg Burson), Daffy Duck, Yosemite Sam (both LaMarche), Sam Sheepdog (Cummings), Foghorn Leghorn (Burson), Marvin the Martian (Paulsen) and Road Runner.
|Taz, Axl and Bull shrunken down.|
Taz-Mania debuted on FOX as part of the Fox Kids programming block on September 7, 1991. In what would become Warner Bros. Animation trademark, many episodes employed running gags, pop culture references and fourth wall breaks. One such recurring gag was that Taz could actually speak eloquently when he wanted to. Another was frequent involvement by the network in the production of the show: Willie’s constantly trying to get his role changed; Taz quitting to work in food service after suffering too much abuse; and Buddy, who was a very unpopular character, being written out as having been promoted into a producer position and eventually directing an episode himself (with disastrous results). There were also several episodes where characters acknowledged they were on a show and showed “lost” segments of previously-aired stories.
|Digeri scheming to get Taz's food.|
The series ran for a total of 65 episodes that were produced between 1991 and 1993, however some wouldn’t air until 1994 and 1995 where it was also shown on the weekday version of the block. The majority of the episodes were broken up into two (occasionally three) segments, with a few single-story episodes spread throughout the run. Writers included Vitello, Ruegger, Keith Baxter, Henry Gilroy, Alan Katz, Gordon Kent, Bill Kopp, Sindy McKay, Chris Otsuki, Mark Saraceni, Mark Zaslove, Gelnn Leopold, Charles M. Howell IV, Rich Fogel, David Schwartz, Paul Dini, Jack Mendelsohn, John Semper and Evelyn A-R Gabai, amongst others, with many of the episodes having up to four writers. The series’ theme was composed by Richard Stone and performed by Jess Harnell and Cummings, with additional music done by Mark Watters, Don Davis, Steve Bernstein, John Given, Carl Johnson, Harvey Cohen and Jerry Grant. It was animated by Akom Film Production Co. Ltd. and StarToons. The series gained a second intro which replaced the flashing elements from the first with the Looney Tunes target background due to complaints of viewers with epilepsy.
|Cover to one of the Game Boy games.|
Several video games based on the show were made between 1992-94. Although they all shared the same title (some were given in-game subtitles), they were radically different between the systems. Recreational Brainware developed the Sega Genesis version, which was a platformer that followed Taz as he journeyed to a fabled land where giant birds laid eggs that could make a massive omelet (which was also the plot of several episodes). A sequel was planned but never developed. A similar game following the same story was developed by NuFX for the Game Gear and Technical Wave for the Master System, however they featured very different level designs and gameplay mechanics. Visual Concepts developed the Super Nintendo version, which had the player control Taz as he ran on a continuous road after Kee-Wee birds while avoiding obstacles. Digeri Dingo would occasionally appear and offer a helpful item for Taz to ingest. The Game Boy version by David A. Palmer Productions combined the platforming of the Sega versions with the continuous running levels of the SNES version as Taz journeyed through Tazmania collecting diamonds and battling bosses. Both Nintendo versions were released by Sunsoft. A sequel, Taz-Mania 2, was developed for the Game Boy by Beam Software and released by THQ. This was another platforming game where Taz had to rescue his family from Bull and Axl while also collecting items along the way. Golden Books also published a coloring book.
|The coloring book.|
Following its run on FOX, reruns of the show were seen for the next year on TBS following the Time-Warner/Turner merger as part of their Disaster Area programming Block, and then later on Cartoon Network. Warner Home Video released three VHS tapes in 1993. The first four episodes were released to DVD in Europe in 2010 and later in 2011 as Taz and Friends, part of Kids’ WB “Big Faces” series. In 2013, they released the complete first season to DVD in two 13-episode collections.