If you remember, the animation boom had two causes: "The New Adventures of Mighty Mouse" and "Rodger Rabbit." I don't know the story about how a flamboyant project like Rodger Rabbit ever got OK'd by Disney but I was at ground zero for the Mighty Mouse show. Here's the way it happened....
At the outset of the project Ralph called in his three directors, John K, Bruce Woodside and I, and begged us not to do anything drastic that would get him in trouble with the networks. Ralph explained that he had a reputation as a pornographer because of his X-rated features and was anxious to get a foothold in TV animation where he could turn out charming, beautifully executed cartoons for kids and make a legitimate and uncontroversial dollar. This show was all about building his credibility as a mass-market, quality film maker. He said he knew that we were all chomping at the bit to make something edgey but that we should put a lid on it for a season or two. Later, when he'd proven himself, he'd give us more slack.
I was genuinely moved and resolved to do what he asked for. So was John. We both did relatively sedate first cartoons. They were so sedate that the first show won an award for "pro-social filmmaking" from the then powerfull Action for Children's Programs (or is it "programming?" I can never remember).
The problem was that we had a really hot studio with a lot of gifted artists mostly picked by John. Not only that but John was in the throws of a personal creative explosion. He was always sharp but now that he was in his element, living his dream and surrounded by every physical asset needed to turn out great cartoons, he went into ecstatic creative overdrive. I wish I'd kept the drawings and written down the ideas that came out at lunchtime and during breaks. Every one of them was side-splittingly hilarious! Add to this that Ralph himself was a first-rate cartoonist and could appreciate what was happening even while he was struggling to control it...add that and well, it was a ticking bomb that was bound to explode.
Ralph could see where things were going. He kept reminding us that this show was his nest-egg and that we needed to rope ourselves in but he couldn't prevent himself from laughing at it all. This was a high-stakes game for Ralph and I can only guess at the anxiety all this must have caused him. He must have had moments when he'd wished he'd never met any of us.
I imagine that the network was also getting antsy but, like Ralph, they were also aware that they had something unique and special on their hands. I'm sure the good reviews helped but Ralph still had to spend a lot of time on the phone, soothing things over. At some point in all the complicated negotiations Ralph decided to dig in and fight for the show as it really was. He was no longer pitching it as a harmless show for 5 year-olds but as an unashamedly funny show for all age groups. He crossed the Rubicon. I heard him say to someone in the corridor: "I'm Ralph Bakshi! My name is on this show! I'm not going to put my name on something second-rate!"
Well, the rest is history. Ralph backed up John and TV animation was never the same again. Ralph risked everything to make it happen. He didn't have to do it. He did it because he was a true artist and because, when push came to shove, he had guts and integrity. So, by the way, did Judy Price, the network executive who had to stand up for all this to her superiors; two courageous people that we all owe a debt to.
BTW, the drawings here are all telephone doodles by Ralph Bakshi.