Dr. Toon: Revisionism Revisited (Or How to Make Something Out of Nothing)
Fortunately, Bakshi's first hire was a maverick in the making, John Kricfalusi. John K. was an acolyte of Bob Clampett and an admirer of the aforementioned Jim Tyer. The former was a master of emotional extremes and anatomical distortions. Tyer was an energetic animator who atoned for flaws in draftsmanship with wild élan. John K. added his own twists. Bakshi and John K. represented veteran savvy and youthful enthusiasm respectively; together they would raise Mighty Mouse to new heights.
They didn't do it alone. After selling the series the pair went on a hiring spree. With unerring accuracy (and quite a bit of luck), John K. managed to bring on a crew unequalled in TV cartoon history. Readers of the column need no introduction to names such as Bruce Timm, Andrew Stanton, Lynne Naylor, Jim Reardon, Tom Minton, and Vicky Jenson, and that wasn't even the full stable. Nearly every original member of the Spumco studio first worked on Mighty Mouse.
The DVD "making of" feature had it right: "You couldn't afford (today) to put all these names in the same room that came out of that first season." Suffice it to say that Bakshi's studio in 1987 was the Saturday morning equivalent of the Disney studio in 1937. Mighty Mouse would have the benefit of a virtual animation Hall of Fame in their salad days. This guaranteed that the shorts would not resemble anything that Terrytoons ever produced.
The last step in the successful revision of Mighty Mouse dealt with changes in standard industry production. This step naturally wedded itself to the creative urges of the staff, but it would be a difficult one. As Kricfalusi recalled, by the 1980s cartoons were made by departments, with no visible director in sight. The old studio system that existed in the heyday of Warner Bros. had long been extinguished, but Bakshi brought it back in a form known today as "creator-driven animation." In practice, this meant that an entire unit under a director was free to design a given cartoon to suit their own sensibilities. Chuck Jones used to claim that the Warner cartoons were made more for the creators than the audiences, and such cartoons tended to carry a very personal stamp.
Bakshi helped foster creator-driven productions by swapping his crew around in jobs that were highly specialized at other carton studios (Bakshi likely learned this from Gene Deitch during Deitchs' short stint at Terrytoons). Writers were encouraged to draw while artists tried their hands at storyboarding. The neophyte crew formed a brilliant synergy by the time the first season was well into production. Kricfalusi ensured that the envelope always received an extra push, and Bakshi ran interference with the censors and CBS.
Creator-driven animation had it flaws and limits; Kricfalusi admits that many times Mighty Mouse's role was reduced in many of the cartoons so that flamboyant villains and oddball secondary characters could be featured; at one point CBS executive Judy Price complained that the network was showing Mighty Mouse cartoons without Mighty Mouse. Kricfalusi also noted that "some cartoons made no sense – just weird stuff from beginning to end." Even so, no one could ever accuse the MM cartoons of mediocrity. Each one is marked by an undeniable vitality absent from the rest of Saturday morning.