August 29, 2020

THE WUZZLES


THE WUZZLES
(CBS, September 14-December 7, 1985)

Walt Disney Pictures Television Animation Group


MAIN CAST:
Brian Cummings – Bumblelion, Flizard, Peter Parafox
Kathleen Helppie-Shipley – Butterbear
Henry Gibson – Eleroo
Bill Scott – Moosel, Brat, Officer Eaglebeagle
Jo Anne Worley – Hoppopotamus
Alan Oppenheimer – Rhinokey, Crocosaur, Mr. Packcat
Stan Freberg – Narrator


            The Wuzzles was one of the first two series to be produced by the newly-formed Walt Disney Television Animation, the other being Adventures of the Gummi Bears. However, the series was already in production by the time Michael Eisner was named the CEO of The Walt Disney Company and envisioned the company’s return to television. Disney had made an arrangement with Hasbro to produce a cartoon that would center around characters they could market and sell as toys. The premise of the characters would be the fusion of two different animals into cute hybrids.



            While Hasbro had greater control over the looks of the characters and their concepts, with Disney’s Jymn Magon and Gary Krisel trying to reconcile their wants with the realities of animation, Disney was left fully in charge of coming up with the overall story and personalities. The initial pitch concocted by comedy writer Lenny Ripps featured a zoologist and explorer, Marlin P. Wuzzle, having discovered the island of hybrids and naming them “Wuzzles” and the island “Wuzzle Island” after himself. A tornado struck the island, sending many of the creatures around the world and each episode would be partly dedicated to Wuzzle retrieving them, while the other half would be dedicated to the remaining Wuzzles trying to keep King Croc from taking over the island.

Rhinokey, Hoppopotamus, Butterbear, Eleroo, Bumblelion and Moosel.

            Ultimately, it was decided to simplify the story to focus on just the Wuzzles and their world, with Mark Evanier being handed the reigns to develop the series. The show focused on the daily lives of the Wuzzles on the Isle of Wuz where almost everything was combined, such as the fruit appleberries. Butterbear (a bear/butterfly, Kathleen Helppie-Shipley) was the protagonist of Ripps’ original pitch—as well as originally a male. The one thing that remained intact through her constant revisions was her penchant for gardening. The sports-loving Bumblelion (bumblebee/lion, Brian Cummings) had a crush on Butterbear and tended to rush head-first into situations. Eleroo (elephant/kangaroo, Henry Gibson) was Bumblelion’s best friend who tended to be a bit of a klutz and constantly forgot what he stored in his pouch. Moosel (moose/seal, Bill Scott in a nod to his well-known role of Bullwinkle J. Moose) was the youngest and possessed a wild imagination. Hoppopotamus (rabbit/hippopotamus, Jo Anne Worley) could be a bit of a diva, but also very sweet. When the situation called for it, her size and strength made her the toughest of the group. She also had a crush on Bumblelion. Rhinokey (rhinoceros/monkey, Alan Oppenheimer) was a fun-loving prankster who took any opportunity to pull jokes on his friends and be obnoxious. Although they all had wings, only a few of them could actually fly.

Crocosaur with Brat and Flizard.

            Serving as the main antagonist was Crocosaur (crocodile/dinosaur, Oppenheimer). He was lazy, vile, ignorant, bad-tempered and an all-around bully that did anything to get what he wanted. And what he wanted was usually whatever the other Wuzzles got—but without putting in the same effort to get it. His chief sidekick was Brat (boar/dragon, Scott), who only communicated via various sounds Crocosaur understood and was generally incompetent. Crocosaur’s other sidekick, Flizard (frog/lizard, Cummings), was more agreeable of the trio and tolerant of the Wuzzles and was often charged with repairing rifts that developed between Crocosaur and Brat.

Showing some love.

            The Wuzzles debuted on CBS on September 14, 1985. Along with Evanier, the series was written by Ken Koonce, Bob Rosenfarb, David Weimers and Ted Perry. Because Disney Animation wasn’t fully operational yet and they hadn’t done television animation for some time, some of the production work and animation was farmed out to Murakami-Wolf-Swenson so that could secure Fred Wolf as a producer and director while getting some valuable guidance from him.  Likewise, MWS farmed out the animation work to TMS Entertainment. The series’ theme was performed by Stephen Geyer while Thomas Chase and Steve Rucker composed the rest of the music. Satirist Stan Freberg served as the show’s narrator who often broke the fourth wall.

Brat attack.

Evanier made casting suggestions to Disney that were largely followed up on, except for one. Evanier wanted Daws Butler to voice Rhinokey, feeling he would be the best fit. However, his association with Hanna-Barbera kept Disney from even considering pursuing him. Evanier’s instincts were ultimately proven right when Oppenheimer tested poorly in the role. However, audience dissatisfaction was the least of the show’s problems. When it debuted, it was scheduled up against Gummi Bears on NBC which surpassed it in the ratings. Also, Bill Scott ended up dying of a heart attack that November, leaving several roles vacant. Since Wuzzles came before Eisner’s time and wasn’t entirely a Disney production, it was decided to refocus their efforts on Gummi Bears (where Scott’s roles were recast) and future Disney Animation programs.

The Isle of Wuz.

Wuzzles moved over to ABC for a season of reruns at a different timeslot so as not to be competing against Gummi Bears again. It would eventually make its way over to The Disney Channel and Toon Disney. Overseas, since it and Gummi Bears aired on the same network, it performed significantly better. In part, that was because the first episode as a theatrical featurette alongside a re-release of Bambi in the United Kingdom and Peter Pan in Germany. Along with that, Wuzzles has only seen home video releases outside of the United States in three-episode collections typically themed towards a specific character. The Wuzzles toyline lasted a bit longer than the show and ended up featuring a few characters that were never adapted. A large amount of companion merchandise was also produced, including books, card games, action figures, clocks, radios and more.



The Wuzzles appeared twice in Robot Chicken. In “Sting Me in the Hole”, they contemplate how their parents mated to create their odd combinations, while “The Fly is a Wuzzle Too” played up the lead character from the horror movie The Fly as a Wuzzle. In the Phineas and Ferb episode “The Chronicles of Meap”, a parody of Wuzzles toys—Bango-Ru—were featured. Costumes used in Disney theme parks that were accidentally sold off have made appearances in music videos, like The Chicks’ “Ready to Run” (Moosel), movies, like Old School (Eleroo), and televisions shows such as Grounded for Life, Malcolm in the Middle and Sonny with a Chance (Butterbear).



EPISODE GUIDE:
“Bulls of a Feather” (9/14/85) – The gang tries to convince Eleroo to return the baby brahma bullfinch she adopts while Crocosaur plans to use it to get rich.

“Hooray for Hollywuz” (9/21/85) – Hoppopotamus pursues her dreams of becoming a star.

“In the Money” (9/28/85) – Bumblelion’s newfound wealth puts a strain on his friendships.

“Crock Around the Clock” (10/5/85) – When Crocosaur’s house is destroyed by a storm, he moves in with Butterbear and tricks her out of all her food.

“Moosel’s Monster” (10/12/85) – Moosel’s imagination goes wild to the point he believes a friendly monster is just in his head.

“Klutz on the Clutch” (10/19/85) – Rhinokey’s crazy driving gets him banned from the upcoming race.

“Bumblelion and the Terrified Forest” (10/26/85) – Bumblelion and Hoppopotamus head into the Terrified Forest to rescue Butterbear from an evil witch.

“Eleroo’s Wishday” (11/2/85) – Eleroo uses the wishing well to grant him the ability to fly.

“Ghostrustlers” (11/9/85) – The Wuzzles avoid a plague by moving to a ghost town that’s actually inhabited by ghosts.

“A Pest for a Pet” (11/16/85) – The gang gets revenge on Rhinokey for all his pranks, causing him to leave Wuz.

“The Main Course” (11/23/85) – The gang escapes pirats by sailing to an island where Hoppopotamus is mistaken for a god and set to be sacrificed to a volcano.

“Class Dismissed” (11/30/85) – The gang tries to class themselves up to get invited to a ball while Crocosaur bets Butterbear he can turn Brat into a sophisticated Wuzzle.

“What’s Up, Stox?” (12/7/85) – Wealthy Tycoon gives the gang a money tree that Crocosaur plans to steal for himself.

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