TaleSpin is set in the fictional city-state of Cape Suzette, a harbor town protected by giant cliffs through which only a small opening exists. The opening in the cliffs is guarded by anti-aircraft artillery, preventing flying rabble-rousers or air pirates from entering the city. Characters in the world of TaleSpin are anthropomorphic animals. The timeframe of the series is never specifically addressed, but appears to be in the mid to late 1930s; the helicopter and jet engine are experimental devices and most architecture is reminiscent of the art deco style of that period. "The Great War" ended "nearly 20 years ago", and radio is the primary mass medium.
The series centered on the adventures of bush pilot Baloo the bear, whose air cargo freight business is purchased by Rebecca Cunningham upon his default on delinquent bills with the bank, and renamed "Higher for Hire". An orphan boy and former air pirate, the ambitious Kit Cloudkicker, attaches to Baloo and becomes his navigator. He sometimes calls him "Papa Bear". Together, they are the crew of Higher for Hire's only aircraft, a modified Conwing L-16 named the Sea Duck. From there, the series follows the ups and downs of Higher for Hire and its staff, sometimes in the vein of old action-adventure film serials of the 1930s and '40s and contemporary variations, such as Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Their adventures often involve encounters with a gang of air pirates led by the histrionic Don Karnage, with representatives of Thembria, a parody of the Stalinist Soviet Union inhabited by anthropomorphic boars, or other, often even stranger obstacles. In deference to contemporary sensitivities, there is no equivalent of the Nazis in the series, although one story in Disney Adventures Magazine had the heroes encounter "the Hausers," a menacing militaristic nationality of dogs who wear uniforms that are clearly based on German ones.