The name was a portmanteau of the words marsupial, Pilou-Pilou (which was the French name for Eugene the Jeep from the Popeye strip, a character Franquin loved), and ami, French for friend. Marsupilami is both the name of a specific creature and the species itself. The creatures are monkey-like with tails that could be used as weapons by forming a fist with the end and coiling them up into a spring, or for various other functions. Males had longer tails, conjoined eyes and often exclaimed “Houba!” while the females had shorter tails, separate eyes and exclaimed “Houbii!” Otherwise, the characters could only mimic words like a parrot rather than speak original sentences.
|Marsupilami's first appearance.|
Franquin created the character when he took over the creative duties on the strip Spirou et Fantasio. Marsupilami was found and adopted by titular characters Spiro and Fantasio and joined them on their journeys. The Marsupilami became the subject of their own story in 1957’s “Le nid des Marsupilamis,” which was done like a documentary observing the Marsupliamis in the wilds of the fictional South American country of Palombia.
By 1968, Franquin had grown tired of working on Spiro et Fantasio and wanted to focus primarily on his own creation, Gaston Lagaffe. Franquin retained the rights to Marsupilami, causing the character to disappear from the strip after the story “Le faiseur d’or.” It wouldn’t be until 1987 that Marsupilami returned to comics after Franquin launched his own publishing house, Marsu Productions, with writer Greg and artist Batem.
|It's about time for that lucrative Disney deal.|
In the early 1990s, the character came to the attention of then-Disney President Michael Eisner. Eisner purchased the television rights to the character and tried to find a suitable vehicle for him. An opportunity came when Walt Disney Television Animation was in the process of producing the series Bonkers, inspired by the film Who Framed Roger Rabbit, which would focus on former cartoon star Bonkers D. Bobcat (Jim Cummings) taking a job as a police officer. The series ran into numerous production troubles, causing it to be delayed. It was decided to fill the void on CBS’ schedule with another show that focused on the shorts Bonkers would have starred in before his series. Other segments were added to round out the show, including Marsupilami, resulting in the series Raw Toonage.
|Marsupilami and Maurice on the job.|
Some changes were made to the character for his TV debut. Marsupilami (or Mars for short, voiced by Steve Mackall) was given the full ability to speak. It was unclear if he was the only one or one of a species as no other Marsupilamis were ever seen. He was given new friends in the form of Maurice the Gorilla (Cummings) and Stewart the cowardly elephant (Dan Castellaneta). Mars also had two primary foes in the form of the human Norman (Cummings), who had a different occupation every time he was seen, and the leopard Eduardo (Steve Landesberg). While the strip had Mars hailing from South America, the animated cast put him closer to African origins.
Despite Raw Toonage’s cancellation, Mars garnered enough interest to warrant his own spin-off series. Marsupilami debuted also on CBS on September 18, 1993. It was written by John Behnke, Rob Humphrey, Jim Peterson, Len Uhley, Bill Matheny, Bill Motz, Bob Roth and Gary Sperling, with Matheny and Kevin Hopps serving as story editors. The music was composed by Barend G. Bendrof, Stephen James Taylor, Mark Watters, Drew Neumann and Jean-Michel Bernard with the theme composed by Roy Braverman. Animation duties were handled by Sae Hahn Productions, Walt Disney Animation France S.A. and Wang Film Productions Company.
|No longer just "Under da Sea."|
Like Raw Toonage, Marsupilami featured several different segments. Two of those segments starred Mars himself, with an all-new adventure opening the episode and a rerun of a Raw Toonage short closing it out. The middle slot was occupied by two different sets of characters in their own adventures. The first secondary feature starred Sebastian the Crab (Samuel E. Wright) from The Little Mermaid franchise (simultaneously starring in a prequel animated series for that). Picking up from where the first film left off, as all his friends had gone off on their own adventures Sebastian left the sea to live his life. Sebastian took on several jobs, most often as a bellboy in a hotel, and was often brought into odds with another character from the film, Chef Louie (René Auberjonois). Sebastian’s adventures comprised eight of the episodes.
|Meat and Shnookums.|
The remaining five were filled by new creations Shnookums (Jason Marsden) and Meat (Frank Welker). Created by Bill Kopp, the segment focused on a cat and dog who didn’t get along and were always abusing each other. Their owners, called Husband (Mackall) and Wife (Tress MacNeille) were only ever seen from the neck down. The characters and the type of humor involved were often compared to The Ren & Stimpy Show both favorably by fans of the program, and unfavorably by those who deemed it just an imitation. They were Disney’s attempt at edgier programming.
Marsupilami fared about as well as its parent program and was cancelled at the conclusion of its singular season, although he did guest-star on an episode of Bonkers. Marsupilami continued to be published by Marsu (which was purchased by Dupuis, the company Franquin left to create Marsu, in 2013) and on merchandise, eventually gaining a new French animated series in 2000 by Cactus Animation and Marathon Productions (now Zodiak Kids). In 2012, Pathe released a live-action/CGI film based on the strip called Sur la Piste du Marsupilami (or HOUBA! On the Trail of the Marsupilami).
Shnookums and Meat were spun off into their own short-lived animated series in 1995 as part of The Disney Afternoon weekday programming block. It aired on Mondays in place of Bonkers. Like the previous two programs, Shnookums and Meat was broken up into multiple segments, with one featuring the titular duo, the second being superhero parody Pith Possum (Jeff Bennett), and the third being a parody of western serials starring cowboy Tex Tinstar (also Bennett). Also like the previous two programs, it only lasted a single season.
Both Marsupilami and Shnookums and Meat were comic features in Disney Adventures Magazine. Buena Vista Home Entertainment released several VHS and Betamax collections of the Marsupilami shorts alone. Three were released in the United States in 1994, and five in Europe beginning in 1993. The entire series was also released overseas in a 2-disc DVD collection called Jungle Adventures.