Excited kids who flocked to Disneyland for the 1991 promotion of The Disney Afternoon could spend as much time as they liked exploring Afternoon Avenue and experiencing the Rescue Ranger Raceway and the Motor Boat Cruise Through Gummi Glen. As if that wasn’t enough excitement, there were the five daily performances (SIX on Saturday!) of the Plane Crazy Stage Show, live in the former Videopolis theater. Combining three of the shows (TaleSpin, DuckTales and Chip ’n Dale Rescue Rangers), the twenty-minute musical combined song, dance, and spectacle in a colorful story about a stolen spy plane.
The scene was set with a “top secret” meeting— to which all were invited. Each major cast member was introduced with their respective theme song. Chip ’n Dale, Launchpad McQuack and Baloo are given their special assignment: retrieve the top secret X-22 Spy Plane, which has been stolen by the nefarious criminals Don Karnage and Fat Cat. It seems these arch-fiends are now working together, and have shrunk the unique plane and carried it off!
The stage is cleared just in time for the villains to arrive and perform their big number, “Partners in Crime.” Lending an appropriately sinister air to the proceedings are black, white and red banners, as well as a quartet of dancing henchmen.
As the two bumbling antagonists discuss their plans, we learn that the now miniature plane, carried as a trophy by Don Karnage, can be restored only with the addition of a secret ingredient: water. Too late, the villains realize they have revealed their big secret to the audience. To ensure that it stays a secret, Don Karnage promises that if anyone so much as mentions it, he will take away the world supply of… broccoli! Fat Cat sensibly amends that to cookies. No more cookies if the secret is revealed.
All bad things must come to an end, and as the villains make their way off the stage, our intrepid heroes arrive, performing the song “Friends for Life.” Luckily for them, Launchpad McQuack has a prop plane at his disposal, and in no time they are airborne, thanks to a couple of clever set pieces and a quartet of dancing propellers.
But wait! Storm clouds have gathered upstage, parting to reveal Don Karnage in his own mini-plane, soon joined by Fat Cat. A choreographed dog fight ensues, and Launchpad, not surprisingly, manages to crash the plane (courtesy of a model attached to a wire sent streaking over the heads of the audience). Stumbling in from their offstage crash site, the friends are overjoyed to find they are just outside Louie’s place.
In The Jungle Book, Louis was the King of the Monkeys. In TaleSpin, he’s the King of the Swingers, and proprietor of a tropical-themed club where he is also the headliner. The stage is filled with tropical splendor, the friends are hustled backstage, and right on cue, Don Karnage and Fat Cat arrive, miniature plane in hand. They are soon seated and enjoying Louie’s spirited performance of “Monkey See, Monkey Do.” Don Karnage is particularly smitten with the Louettes, a trio of dancers who are accompanying the number. The Louettes are Chip, Dale and Baloo, in grass skirts and coconut shell brassieres. The criminal masterminds also fail to note that their barely disguised waiter is Launchpad McQuack.
Spotting the X-22 at the villain’s table, the heroes make a grab for it and in no time at all the plane is being passed from hand to hand in a merry musical chase that kept the young audience shrieking with delight. Since this is a Disney stage show, the good guys win (no spoiler there), and the bad guys are tied up to await their just desserts. But there is one problem left: how ever will Baloo be able to fly a miniature plane back to it’s rightful owners (the FBI, by the way). Don Karnage and Fat Cat seem to have carried the day after all, even silencing the cheerful finale music. No one, they declare, will ever find out the secret ingredient that will restore the X-22. (Not if they want to keep enjoying cookies, anyway.)
What could it be? The heroes appeal to the audience to solve the mystery, and sure enough, the kids are soon calling out “Water!” in unison. The small plane is set in the middle of the stage, and one of the showgirls carefully pours a single drop of water on it. Mist shoots up from the stage floor, confetti fills the air, and the X-22 miraculously appears, almost as though it were some sort of giant inflatable set piece.
With the plane restored and the bad guys vanquished, the heroes climb into the X-22 and assemble for the real finale. There is just time for a short reprise of “Friends for Life,” a rousing chorus of the title tune “Plane Crazy,” and a a last glorious photo opportunity with the entire cast.
Plane Crazy has the distinction of being the first stage show at Disneyland to feature mostly original songs to further the plot, rather than Disney standards. Another innovation was an added opportunity to meet one of the stars of the show, Baloo, in a special indoor meet and greet that followed each performance.
Guests were invited to visit “Backstage with Baloo,” on Stage 1 and in his private dressing room, described in the souvenir guide as “the perfect place for hugs and photos.” In 1991 I was no longer in the demographic for hugs from Baloo, so I did not take any photos in his dressing room. This is a publicity shot that appeared in the inside front cover of some of the 1991 souvenir guides. If I had known what I was missing, I might have been willing to endure a few stares and brave the line waiting to enter Stage 1.
If this seems somehow familiar today, bear in mind that Baloo’s dressing room was something of a “dress rehearsal” for Mickey’s Movie Barn in Toontown, as well as countless other character greetings that would appear in Disney theme parks in subsequent years. The next time you find yourself patiently waiting in a neatly organized line to meet the latest Disney Princess in a specially created indoor environment, thank Baloo the Bear and the Disney Afternoon Live for kicking off the concept.