James Fabiano looks at (for a LONG time)….The Raccoons specials!
(also contains bits from Chris and Jeffrey)
This column is still brought to you by Dunkin’….you’re sponsoring The Raccoons whether you want to or not :
Get comfy, we’ll be here for a bit.
So another detour in our review series, as I take a look at the specials that started it all. The Christmas Raccoons has been talked about here before, and I’ll mention it a little, but otherwise let me turn my attention to the other two, plus a word or two about the clip show special.
(huh, seems like the Raccoons specials have become scarce over on YouTube, so onto Dailymotion…)
The Raccoons On Ice was the second of the four Raccoons specials. It’s winter time again in the Evergreen Forest, and Julie, Tommy, and Schaeffer, their pet sheep dog, are enjoying themselves ice skating on Evergreen Lake. Actually, of the animals, Schaeffer was actually the main protagonist of these specials for the most part, with his adventures as he gets into the Raccoons’ antics, and…WAIT! They’re focusing on a character who’s not a raccoon in specials entitled “The Raccoons…”? I’M GOING TO WHATEVER MILITARY BASE OR TECH COLLEGE HAD AN ANCESTOR OF THE INTERNET IN THE EARLY 80S AND I WILL WRITE COMPLAINTS ABOUT HOW THEY RAPED MY CHILDHOOD. HOW DARE KEVIN SMITH, I MEAN, GILLIS PUSH THIS CANINE AGENDA ON ME!
Also having a good time are Bert, Melissa, and Ralph, who like to play hockey (in a Canadian cartoon, who knew?) on the frozen lake . . . although Bert isn’t very good at it, despite his bragging. When the children come inside, Schaeffer joins the Raccoons. On the way, he runs into Cedric Sneer, who is practicing his hockey too. He also meets a new friend: the debuting Sophia Tutu, who is ice skating and who for the first and only time in the series is actually wearing a tutu as such.
Meanwhile, there is another individual who has plans for Evergreen Lake. Cyril Sneer, always hungry for cash, plans on building his “Cyril Dome” sports arena on it. And as I asked back then, what happens in the warmer seasons when the ice melts? When he interrupts the Raccoons’ game to announce his intentions, Bert is goaded into accepting a challenge to meet Cyril’s hockey team of Brutish Bears, the template for the bear henchmen we’d see in the later specials and the series. But who are nothing like the 1980 Russian Olympic team, not at all. So it’s Raccoons vs. Bears, winner takes the lake. But don’t let that make you think of the US/Russia Miracle game, please. Elsewhere Cedric meets Sophia after they “bump into” each other, and the Raccoons try and get Cedric to join their team. However, Cyril soon catches wind of his son’s defection, grounding him for a month plus no chocolate pudding for fraternizing with the enemy. But the Raccoons have a plan for the big game nonetheless.
(Dig that font….remind anyone of the title card of The Thing? Actually…combined with the forest at night and the music, Lost Star may seem like an 80s sci-fi horror B-movie, like Deadly Spawn…)
Two years later, on the heels of the end of the Star Wars trilogy, the one everyone agrees on, came the similarly-space-age The Raccoons And The Lost Star. Which was also the first time I myself ever saw The Raccoons, as I mentioned in the past. Broo, the puppy, and the three Pigs who serve as Cyril’s yes men and later comic relief, debut here. As do the character designs seen in the series as well as most of the show’s background music. People seeing this on TV either got it in one hour, or two parts. If you got the latter, you missed out on a lot ( http://www.gilsinan.com/specials/lschanges )
While we again start with Dan the Forest Ranger (voiced this time by Bo Duke himself, John Schneider), Tommy, Julie, and Schaeffer in the Evergreen Forest, when the humans are diverted by a car horn that “might be a surprise,” this special takes a different turn. Schaeffer is awoken by a loud sound that leads him to a strange glowing plane, where he ends up on a flight out of the forest…..and out of the Earth itself.
Now on a completely new planet, with very familiar looking bodies of land…
…Schaeffer finds himself in a hollowed-out mountain fortress of machines, rocketry, and numerous Bear Soldiers. Three Pig Generals meet the plane’s pilot to receive reconnaissance data for their “Imperial Commander;” of course, Cyril Sneer. However, when they find that Schaeffer stowed away on the flight, their plans are temporarily interrupted as they give chase. Schaeffer escapes for the moment, and we then soon learn the purpose of Cyril’s mission. Seems that he had calculated the falling of one perfect star that would power all of his weaponry, yet his generals failed to retrieve it because of some unseen bungling. Since then, Cyril is determined to find the star so he may launch an invasion against Earth. To that end he has captured almost all of the animals populating their planet to see if any of them have the lost star.
In the meantime, Schaeffer has escaped into the jungle and meets up with a familiar face in Sophia Tutu, only this Sophia acts like she just met him. A new friend he does meet is Sophia’s puppy, Broo, who looks very much like Schaeffer, except for a certain “starry thing” hanging across his neck. Schaeffer tells Sophia of his dilemma, and she suggests that her boyfriend and his “influential father” could help. (Little does she know that “influential” Cyril is telling Cedric to dump her as there’ll be no room for her when they conquer Earth) Schaeffer, Sophia, and Broo are suddenly swept up by a net trap set by the Raccoons, the only animals to evade capture. When Schaeffer and Sophia plead their innocence, the animals realize that they all share a common threat from Cyril and become fast friends …although Schaeffer feels as if he knew the Raccoons from somewhere too. They then agree to come up with a plan to free the captured animals and to keep Cyril from taking over the Earth. Well, at least Ralph, Melissa, Schaeffer, and Sophia agree. Bert, on the other hand, would rather perform a daring sneak attack as “Bert Raccoon, Karate Ace” or “Bert Raccoon, Dueling Ace!”
The heroes manage to raid Cyril’s hideout on numerous occasions, but it seems that no matter how many times they try, Cyril quickly recaptures the animals. But the trouble is only starting. When Cedric notices that his girlfriend Sophia is among the intruders, Cyril demands to know more. It is then that he discovers that Broo is the one who has the lost star, and is determined to capture the Raccoons and their friends once and for all, starting with Sophia after his army sabotages her date with Cedric. Schaeffer, Broo, and the Raccoons suffer the same fate soon after, being put under maximum security after Cyril claims the star for his own. However, Broo manages to get away and obtain plans to the war room from Cedric, who presumably wants to make up for Sophia’s capture. All that’s left now is to find the star and set the animals free. Can little Broo do such a monumental task on his own? And if so, will the Raccoons and their friends find their way out of Cyril’s mountain hideout? And how will Schaeffer ever get back to Earth?
(Now this font I’m pretty sure was overused throughout the decade…)
(Finally, YouTube! And we get the old 80s Spinning E Embassy Video logo)
Now we come to the cheater episode : The Raccoons: Let’s Dance! Which is basically a series of music videos made up of clips from the three specials, set to the songs heard in them. That’s right, each special had two musical guests, who provided the music and voiced, respectively, Ranger Dan and Melissa Raccoon. Artists included: Rupert Holmes, Leo Sayer, Rita Coolidge, the aforementioned John Schneider, and Dottie West. Sidenote: because of belonging to a separate record label at the time, Schneider was left out of the versions of the Lost Star music included on the Let’s Dance! album, and his lyrics were redone by a guy named Frank Floyd.
As usual, we start with Ranger Dan (here voiced by Kevin Gillis himself!) and his kids, but when it’s time for them to go away, we’re left with Schaeffer and Broo wishing they could be with their friends dancing. Sure enough, Bert comes having commandeered a NASA rocket and takes them to a dance party with the rest of the characters, including the Pigs and bears who are dressed like punk rockers. To create some kind of conflict, there’s a subplot where Cyril Sneer can’t get a good night’s sleep because of all the partying, and he resorts to cutting the power line at one point, only to be thwarted with Bert who had an extension cord in his rocket ship all along. That’s about all there is to Let’s Dance!, really.
(At this point if you want a potty break or whatever, take it now. But come back…)
Now, it’s time for…HIGHLIGHTS AND MEMES/OBSESSIVE SCENES….
(I’ll include The Christmas Raccoons in this.)
- Speaking of which, three minutes into TCR….you can’t unsee him now…
- Nor can you unsee this from the climax to Lost Star. Besides the planet’s continents, you can see a (scarier) hidden Cyril here :
- Anything involving Cedric Sneer in these specials (voiced by Fred Little, yep, Rich’s brother). This incarnation of the character, as noted before, is completely whinier and wimpier than he’d be in the series. Specific examples:
“Why not leave a FEW trees, so that people can…remember what they look like?” (Cyril [mocking] : “REMEMBER WHAT THEY LOOOOK LIIIIIKE!”)
“He might even use the dungeon! He’s always wanted to, but no one EVER comes HEEEEEEERE!”
“I’ve already been grounded for a month, AND NO CHOCOLATE PUUUUUUUDDING!”
Cedric sniffling and whining after Sophia takes back his picture of her (see Sophia quotes below)
“When he [Pop] gets mad, AAAAANYTHING CAN HAPPEN!”
His attempt at being melodramatic when Sophia and the Raccoons are captured: “OhSophia. I’m SOOOOOOOOORRY! I didn’t KNOOOOOOOW this would happen!”
“Pop, time to leave for Earth yet?” (followed by Cyril screaming and obvious sounds of Cedric being strangled)
- Likewise, anything involving Sophia Tutu. Specific examples:
The scene in The Raccoons on Ice, where Sophia is obviously trying to SEDUCE Cedric into playing in the hockey game. “Please, Cedric, sweetie?” And before then, “I love a man in uniform!”
“Cedric, this is bigger than chocolate pudding!”
“Cedric Sneer, your heart is as cold and hard as a hockey puck!” (melodramatically takes her photo away from his dresser)
“I found it on the ground, sparkling, almost like a star!”
“Which way to the dungeon?”
“I’ll never be able to look at a chocolate again!”
“You’re a beastly, horrible…BEAST!”
“You leave Broo alone, you…bullies!” (Related meme: this line is delivered when a super dramatic, over the top music stinger plays in the background, one never heard before or again in The Raccoons franchise, despite Lost Star music being frequently used on the series)
- Hal Erickson, author of Television Cartoon Shows, is a whole sub-meme, but not because of things he wrote :
Well, not all of them. He did come up with the infamous “Sneers = pink wolves” gaffe. This mutated into us mentioning him whenever someone wrote something wacky when describing The Raccoons.
Take George Woolery of Animated TV Specials, for example. Among his misdeeds were…
- Describing Ralph as “The Ralph Nader of Raccoonland”
- The mondegreen “The Raccoon Dominion” (which was not only used by Hal Erickson, but also the New York Times review of the original airing back in 1980!)
- He too doesn’t quite get Cyril Sneer, but at least his description is “resembles a pink aardvark.” Close enough.
- Lost Star Melissa (Dottie West) is a meme machine too :
“What are kids?”
“The pleasure is NOT mutual!”
More Dottie than her Melissa performance, but that her song “Lions and Tigers” has a lyric about Bain de Soleil, a SUNBLOCK? Can anybody explain this to me?
And the crowning meme: her Southern accent leads to it sounding like she’s warning Bert that Cyril “could have lixer guns!”
By the way, I think I came up with a simplified guide to comparing Melissas: special Melissa = housewife. Series Melissa = independent career woman.
- Christmas Raccoons
Bert is a total stoner/deadbeat.
The Saturday Night Fever Travolta raccoon poster
Any time the fighting dustcloud appears….it’s very prevalent in The Christmas Raccoons.
Also, Melissa’s out-of-character, wild take face when she sees Schaeffer. Possibly the zaniest any of the non-Pig characters ever got in anything. (Except for maybe Ralph’s Bogart impression in The Sky’s the Limit!, where he has huge upper teeth as he says “Here’s lookin’ at you, kid.”)
The credits tics of The Raccoons. TCR and On Ice both have the “…and many more” when they can’t fit in more names. More famous is the use of “…and” to continue long strings of credits, which carried over into the series.
It’s weird that they had Rich Little, and only used him as the narrator (in a rare example of hearing his actual voice!).
- Raccoons On Ice
Unlike Lost Star and Let’s Dance, this one got to start with a REALLY CHEAP Embassy Home Video logo, just the name of the company in early 80s chyron not unlike the first few seasons of Wheel of Fortune’s category readout.
“Missed…by a forest mile!” (hot take, Rita Coolidge Melissa is probably the closest we get to the series version, as she is a cross between the Dottie West version of Lost Star and the series 1, Linda Feige Melissa)
Rich snarking “…he misses” at Cedric’s hockey pratfall. And his out of nowhere switch to present tense: “And why shouldn’t Bert be scared? They’re all scared. But they can’t turn back now.” etc.
Cedric not being able to pronounce “hot chocolate” when he’s lovestruck
“Look here, Sofa Girl!” “Sophia, Pop!” “Sofa, couch, davenport, no matter!” (Which one of us originally quasi-mondegreened as Cyril incorrectly addressing her again by the name “Sofa Couch Davenport”, like first name Sofa, middle name Couch, last name Davenport. Like Mister, that dot/period, T.)
“You suppose any of us have fairy godmothers?”
How someone on one of the old Yahoo groups dedicated to the show compared “you just got a little carried away” to later episodes of the series where Bert was chewed out by Ralph and Melissa for much less (I think Promises, Promises was mentioned, and Bert being “the goat” in that episode – cue Snoopy going BAAAAAAAAA and visibly startling Linus)
And another, perhaps the quintessential, Bertism in this special: “But we’re the good guys! So that means we’re SUPPOSED to win!” So is Bert self-aware? It makes me think, though…TROI = total wrestling booking. Stakes and stipulations? Check. “Suspended” player returns under a mask? Check. Amped up family drama/dissension? Check.
The bears all beating their shoes on the table like Nikita Khrushchev (because, you know, they’re supposed to be the Soviets in this miracle on ice).
“You dumb jocks! You couldn’t even frighten Goldilocks!”
Ferlin Fielddigger, Danny Gallivan voicing him, and several other Hockey Night in Canada references no American will get (Dick Ermine is another one)
“I could get used to this” …Bert trading shirts with Cedric. STRIPPING IN FRONT OF EVERYONE, no less.
Disappearing/reappearing Canadian accents in The Raccoons in general. The various voice overs go back and forth between calling them “Ruh-coons” and “RA-ccoons” for instance.
Another obsession: the music stinger that plays when Cedric is the masked player and keeps scoring against the Bears.
“My son?! My EX-SON Cedric Sneer?!” (Which is recycled in the first episode of the series, along with…THE DUNGEON.)
The time countdown in the corner, because it uses the generic “eggcrate” game show score display. (think: the original Fast Money countdown in Family Feud, for instance)
Actually, although the “proper” Raccoons BGM debuts next special, you can hear prototype versions here and there. The Cedric’s bedroom scene uses what sounds like the “rescuing Sophia” music from Lost Star. The “wah-wah” music when Bert is embarrassed starts to appear as well. And Lost Star itself (the Raccoons opening theme) dawns in the climactic scene when the Raccoons win the game. The song “You Can Do It” is repurposed from “Yes You Can,” another Kevin Gillis show. Also of note is On Ice’s liberal use of saxophone, to a degree not heard before or after.
On Ice could easily fit in Season One in particular. Unlike the other specials, we know it’s not all a dream and the humans just happen to be there as bookends without any relevance to the story. Also, Cedric acts more like his series counterpart, aside from the obvious bits.
- Raccoons and Lost Star
The evolution of the specials is kind of nuts when you stop and think about it. TCR – an environmental Christmas special. TROI – an environmental Hockey Day special. TLS – A COUNTER-EARTH PARAMILITARY IS GOING TO INVADE THE EARTH (WITH NUCLEAR WEAPONS!) And by the way….NOT ALL OF THE RACCOONS WAS AN ENVIRONMENTAL SERIES. Barring these specials and a handful of episodes.
LS = textbook “The Movie” plot. Think the Hey Arnold movie (either of them, but in this case I’m thinking of the first), or the Phineas and Ferb movies (especially, again, the first, where we actually have a parallel dimension where the goofy ineffectual villain’s counterpart is a similarly raging mad fascist dictator who conquered his world and now wants to conquer OURS), or the Jetsons movie, and of course Transformers and G.I. Joe.
The space biplane-cum-rocketship this time brings to mind Atkinson Film-Arts doing the B-17 zombie segment in Heavy Metal. AND it has the same colors as Bert’s jersey (FORESHADOWING!)
What does Fred Little’s Pig voice sound like? It’s hard to tell, as the pigs usually speak in unison, and the Nick Nichols Pig is the only one who usually speaks on his own (with a higher pitch than the one he’d use in the series, save for the cold open where he has a raspier version of his series voice). The Pig groupspeak is obsession-forming as well. (“The data [pronounced “dotta”], the data! OINK!”)
The tunnel animation. Think it is used in the Run With Us music video?
The faux-Russian writing on the missiles. (Faux-CYRILlic, if you will? No, I don’t think that was intentional as to why they had Russian writing, but now watch something like the Raccoons Wiki say it as if it were. :))
“DEACTIVATE THAT DOG!” “Crunch the dog! Crunch the dog!” and “We can CRUNCH the dog LATERRRRR!” Wait…odd pronunciations? Over the top threats? THE PIGS AND CYRIL LIVE IN MATT HARDY’S BROKEN UNIVERSE!!!!
And speaking of pronunciations….Ralph has perhaps the most Canadian line in the history of the series: “I’m SORRY aboot the trap, but we’re just aboot the only animals left!”
On a related topic of possibly local jargon, what’s “crab little scrawl”? (Sophia describing Cedric’s handwriting)
“My boyfriend is from the mountain, but he’d never get mixed up in anything—BAAAAAAAAAAAD!”
Sad to say, but Melissa doesn’t really add much to this special. Yes, it breaks my heart to admit this, but dare I say it….SOPHIA is more relevant! Melissa is just there, it seems, to round out the trio and add dialogue to the program. But don’t feel too bad, we need only wait one more special and two seasons of the series before she of course becomes truly awesome.
Schaeffer speaking for the audience: “This is all very confusing!”
Cyril speaking for the audience (about Sophia): “You’re even stupider than I imagined!”
How long were Sophia and Cedric going out for? It couldn’t have been that long, because she obviously NEVER BOTHERED TO ASK WHAT HIS LAST NAME WAS. Hence the shock of finding out who his dad was. And the Sneers kind of have some mental block in Schaeffer’s dreams. As he readily recognizes the Raccoons and Sophia, yet draws blanks when thinking of either Sneer’s name. Which could have helped because he could have been all like, “Cedric…..Cedric! …WAIT A MINUTE! SOPHIA! STOOOOOP!”
“Those meddlesome Ruhcoons! I should have known!” And just calling them the “meddlesome raccoons” in general.
If you got the two-part version, you get another appearance by Kevin Gillis introducing the teaser to the second part at the end.
Here’s something I noticed about people commenting on LS uploads on YT: they think they are watching the edited version as they’re expecting it to be 1) an even one hour or 2) a movie.
Coincidence or not? Return of the Jedi came out in 1983. In Lost Star, also from ‘83, Sophia shouts (looking at the camera), “IT’S A TRAP!”
“TAKE THEM, AND THE SKINNY ONE, TO THE IMPERIAL COMMANDER!!!”
There’s a scene where Bert is in the background (I want to say this is when they’ve been jailed) and he has a vacant stare/stoner face like whatever uppers he’s usually on have finally begun to wear off.
The usage of zip-pan animation, for a transition scene and to a lesser extent when they show the Raccoons’ line of responses in front of Cyril.
When Cyril begins his machines you can hear the start-up sound to arcade Defender.
“They’ll never get through that tunnel alive!” “Imperial Commander, they’re in the TUNNEL!”
Cyril’s rockets just minorly inconvenience the pigs and company, so how effective could they have really been?
“When you wish upon a star…..” “…please don’t sue us, Disney!”
My notion that the music of LS is a crossroads between the earlier specials’ songs (which were more easy-listening type love songs/something you’d hear on Care Bears) and the series’ songs (more 80s style pop/rock). Calling You and Lions and Tigers lean more towards series style. One More Night and kind of Shining is more like the earlier specials. Friends too maybe. Fallin’ is somewhere in between.
We’ve talked before about what’s canon and what isn’t, and why certain details in these specials suggest that it WASN’T all a dream. Gillis does similar in the end of his feature, “The Nutcracker Prince.”
Whew! (premiering September on Buzzr ;-)) That was a lot of content! So which special did I like the best? While I now recognize that On Ice fit the tone of the series the best I still have to go with Lost Star. It was my first, after all, and is where the show starts to sound and look like what we’d get with the series. Plus it’s lots of trippy fun.
As this is probably a handful of columns in one, I think I can wait awhile for next time.