Dr. Toon: Revisionism Revisited (Or How to Make Something Out of Nothing)
Revisionism at its most basic is retelling from a different, sometimes radical viewpoint. It is not equal to updating, which involves moving the same character through different phases over time (think: Alvin and the Chipmunks). It does not have the same meaning as evolving, in which a character changes simply by being handled by different creative entities (think: Paramount Popeye/Al Brodax Popeye).
Revisionism is taking a 1920's character such as Felix the Cat and giving him a voice, a magic bag of tricks, continuing storylines, and a recurring cast of supporting characters, as Joe Oriolo did in the 1950's. Those cartoons are, except for Felix, wholly unrelated to the cartoons produced by Pat Sullivan and Otto Mesmer.
Revising a fictional character can be tricky. Alexandria Ripley's Scarlett, a sequel to Gone with the Wind, sold lots of books but did not resonate with many fans of the original Margaret Mitchell novel. In order to successfully revise Mighty Mouse, many factors had to mesh perfectly. They did, and the result changed animation broadcasting in countless wonderful ways.
Mighty Mouse was created (or stolen from I. Klein) by Ralph Terry in 1940. Superman was the hottest property in entertainment and Terry wanted to cash in on The Man of Steel's popularity. The result was a cartoon titled The Mouse of Tomorrow, and a super mouse was born. The name was eventually changed to Mighty Mouse to avoid a lawsuit with a former Terry artist who was in fact drawing a comic book called Super Mouse.
The Terrytoons staff was not without talent, but Ralph Terry did not much care about his product. Stars such as Jim Tyer, Connie Rasinski, and even for a short time, Bill Tytla had no chance under Terry's system. Mighty Mouse came down to this: He was good, he avenged wrongs, saved the damsel in distress, and administered frightful whuppins' in the bargain. I recall some shorts in which MM continued to pummel his adversaries after they had run up the white flag and were fleeing for their lives. Mighty Mouse sold big; any nuances that could have been added to his character were superfluous to Terry. The righteous rodent was a tabula rasa (well, a blank cel) upon which anything could be written. That suited Ralph Bakshi and John Kricfalusi just fine.
Step one was in place: an established character open to revision. Step two consisted of getting the right people in the right places. Bakshi was an experienced self-made genius of the animation industry. When Bakshi began pitched Mighty Mouse to CBS he didn't quite know what he wanted or how it would turn out, but he was very sure about what he didn't want: Saturday morning cartoons as they presently existed.