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Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Raccoons

This weekend, I’m turning my whole blog red to celebrate Canada Day weekend.  I am Canadian, and I wanted to do something special for this blog as we celebrate Canada’s 145th birthday. 

And, for this special weekend, I thought that I would make this whole weekend Canadian themed.  Tomorrow, I’ll feature a quintessential album by one of Canada’s most successful musical artists, but for today, I thought we’d add a little bit of Canadian spice to the Saturday Morning cartoon feature.

Before we get into that, however, you may have noticed that the contest deadline has changed.  That’s because I have not received any winning entries as of yet for the contest at all.  To enter, you need to scope out the May 24, 2012 entry on the blog and find the items that match the clues that I’ve given out on the entry.  The new deadline is August 15.  And, I’ll add on some more incentive.  You don’t HAVE to answer every question.  If you don’t know it skip it.  Just answer as many as you know, and the person who gets the most questions correct will be declared the winner.  Please send all entries to no later than August 15, 2012.   Remember what the prize is...the chance to control my blog for one whole week.

Okay, now back to the special Canada Day blog entry.  Today’s blog entry is about a Canadian cartoon series that first began as a series of television specials on CBC.  A few years later, it was turned into a regular series, which lasted an additional six years on the channel. 

Have you ever heard of a singer named Lisa Lougheed?  Many of you in the United States and abroad probably have not, but in Canada, she had a few single releases up in these parts, including 1992’s “World Love” and “Love Vibe”.  Her first single, however, was released all the way back in 1987, when Lisa was just a teenager.  It was this song.

The song was called “Run With Us”, and it did fairly well on the Canadian Adult Contemporary Charts, peaking at #8 in 1988.  However, I’m sure that many of you Canadians reading this blog who are my age or older may recall this song from another source.  This song happened to play over the closing credits of today’s Saturday Morning cartoon feature.

Ladies and gentlemen, today’s focus is on the Canadian cartoon, “The Raccoons”, created by Kevin Gillis.

TRIVIA:  Lisa Lougheed also voiced the character of Lisa Raccoon in “The Raccoons”.

The show was one of Canada’s most successful cartoons, airing in both Canada and the United States (and presumably some other nations in the world aired it as well).  But some of you might be surprised to learn that the program aired during the entirety of the 1980s and part of the 1990s as well.

The conception of “The Raccoons” began in the late 1970s.  At the time, show creator Kevin Gillis was already making a name for himself on several Canadian television programs including “Celebrity Cooks” and “Yes You Can” (the latter of which I remember watching in the earliest days of YTV), and came up with the idea along with columnist Gary Dunford.  The show was based on a conflict that was happening at a cottage in their hometown.  I’m not particularly sure what the conflict was exactly, but given that in most episodes of the show, the Raccoons have to prevent their home from being destroyed by a greedy land developer, I’m under the assumption that a similar situation was taking place.  But, don’t quote me on that, as I honestly have no idea.

Whatever the case, at some point during the development of the characters and show, Dunford decided that he didn’t want to be a part of it, and backed out.  Gillis, on the other hand, refused to let his Raccoons die.  So, he took his creations to a lawyer based in Ottawa, a man by the name of Sheldon S. Wiseman, who saw a lot of potential in the characters.  He and Gillis then assembled a team of writers, animators, and musicians to begin work on a television special in 1979.

On December 17, 1980, that special, “The Christmas Raccoons” aired for the first time on CBC.  This television special was such a huge hit that two more television specials were immediately commissioned, in 1981 and 1983.  Shortly after this, a home video was released in 1984, “The Raccoons:  Let’s Dance”, which also proved to be popular.

By 1984, everybody was talking about the Raccoons, and that same year, executives from both CBC and The Disney Channel had a series of business meetings, and decided to begin funding the show for an entire series of shows.

TRIVIA:  The entire series was estimated to have cost $4.5 million to make.

The first episode of the television series aired in the fall of 1985, and the series ran until early 1991.  So in total, “The Raccoons” had aired on television for almost eleven consecutive years (the lone exception being 1982, when no episodes were filmed).

And just who were “The Raccoons”?  Well, I’m glad you asked.  For here is the section of the blog where we introduce all of you to the world of Evergreen Forest.

Evergreen Forest is just like your typical run of the mill Canadian forest.  There are lush green trees, beautiful scenery, and of course, the frolicking of the critters within the forest.

And here are some of these creatures now.

First, there’s who I would probably call the main characters of the program, the Raccoons.  There’s Ralph and Melissa Raccoon.  Ralph and Melissa happen to be a couple that are married and happily in love (admittedly a fact that I did not know until years after the show fact when I was younger, I thought they were brother and sister!!!), and live in their dream home lovingly called the “Raccoondominium”.  They both work at an office for a newspaper entitled “The Evergreen Standard”.  Ralph is the editor of the newspaper, and Melissa happens to work at the paper as a photographer.

TRIVIA:  Ralph was voiced by Bob Dermer, who also did the voices of Grumpy Bear on Care Bears, and Sam Crenshaw from Today’s Special.  Melissa, however, was voiced by no less than FOUR voice actors.  On the television series, she was voiced by both Linda Feige and Susan Roman, but on the television specials, she was voiced by a couple of famous ladies...singers Rita Coolidge and Dottie West.

There also happens to be a third Raccoon living with Ralph and Melissa.  No, they don’t have a child, but they did have a childhood friend who acted as if he were a child.  Bert Raccoon was your classic scene-stealing character.  Voiced by Len Carlson, Bert often spent each episode being happy-go-lucky, carefree, and excited.  He’s a huge fan of comic books and toys, and his personality can sometimes get him into some tough jams.  Nevertheless, Bert happens to have a sense of responsibility and knows the difference between right and wrong.  He works for the Evergreen Times as a newspaper carrier (and sometimes even writes articles for it as well), and he is always thinking of new ideas to make Evergreen Forest better...even if his rather impulsive nature can sometimes get the better of him.

There’s a very big reason why the three Raccoons decided to work at a newspaper.  Firstly, I believe that they have fun doing what they are doing.  Otherwise, they wouldn’t do it, you know?  However, there’s an even deeper reason why they have chosen the career path they have.  In some manner, their quest to find out the happenings in and around Evergreen Forest has helped them preserve their home for generations. 

You see, just outside of Evergreen Forest lives someone who sees the forest as one last barricade between himself and huge riches.

Cyril Sneer, voiced by Michael Magee.

The sad thing was that he didn’t even need any more money.  When we’re introduced to him, he’s doing quite well all on his own.  Unfortunately, Cyril Sneer happens to have as much greed inside of him to fill the entire length of his nose and then some.  And considering that Cyril Sneer is an aardvark, you know that has to be a lot of greed!  Sure enough, in the television specials that preceded the series, as well as the first few seasons of the series, Cyril Sneer regards Evergreen Forest as a gold mine.  By chopping down every tree he can, he can utilize the lumber and industry economy to his own advantage, and make a killing in profits in the process.  Of course, if he were to succeed, Ralph, Melissa, and Bert would end up homeless, and we couldn’t have that.  There wouldn’t be much of a show if that happened, now would there?

And to make matters worse, Cyril Sneer ended up having some allies in his quest for domination of Evergreen Forest.  With his dog, Fang, and his henchmen who are simply known as “The Pigs”, he attempted to come up with various plans and schemes to get whatever he wanted, no matter what.

It’s just too bad that the Raccoons ended up foiling each and every one of their plans.  Leave it to the Raccoons, they certainly knew how to put Cyril Sneer out of commission in a jiffy.  Mind you, the Raccoons had a bit of help along the way as well.  You had Schaeffer, a sheepdog who started off being a dimwitted dog, but as the series progressed, he became a lot smarter, even opening up his own business and helps fix the printing presses at the newspaper whenever needed.  A smaller sheepdog named Broo also makes several appearances during the series, befriending Bert.

There was also a woman named Sophia Tutu, who was first introduced in the 1981 television special “Raccoons On Ice” (which coincidentally is my all time favourite Raccoons episode, for it also incorporates another Canadian pastime – hockey – into the episode brilliantly).  She’s a bit of a ditz when we first meet her, but always has a kind word to say about anyone.

Now here’s something shocking.  The Raccoons biggest ally turned out to simultaneously be related to their worst enemy. 

Yes, Cedric Sneer was the son of the ruthless, money-hungry Cyril Sneer.  At the same time, he was also the best friend of Bert Raccoon.  Although Cedric is the only heir to the Sneer family fortune, his personality differs so much from his father’s that one might not even think that they are related at all if not for the fact that they look very similar.  Whereas Cyril is greedy and strong-willed, Cedric is shy, weak, and a bit of a nerd.  Although Cedric loved the Raccoons, he would often back down from a fight with his old man, as he feared him.  Over time though, Cedric would eventually develop a bit of a backbone, and he stood up to his father on more than one occasion.  In fact, in many episodes, the various plans that Cyril Sneer came up with to uproot Evergreen Forest were foiled by none other than his own son!  How’s that for delicious irony?

Of course, Cyril Sneer himself would end up becoming softer as he grew older.  Mind you, he was far from being a complete angel (because let’s face it, angelic Cyril Sneer would have been quite boring).  But Cyril did have his moments of greatness.  His love for Cedric far outweighed his love for money.  Even though Cedric was more often than not the main reason behind the failure of Cyril’s plans, it seemed as though all was forgiven by the following episode.  He also helped save a schoolhouse from being demolished, helped Lisa Raccoon give up smoking, and even went as far as stopping a more sinister baddie named Milton Midas from causing more damage after he completely destroyed a lake due to pollution.

I think in this case, Cyril Sneer even showed that the greediest of us do have a heart inside somewhere.  It just takes certain circumstances in order for it to appear.  I’ve often seen Cyril Sneer described as an anti-hero, and I think that description fits him well, so I’m going to use it too.

It has been several years since I’ve seen an episode of “The Raccoons”.  I suppose there is a part of me that hopes one day that the show will be resurrected in some form.  I know new episodes are out of the question as both Len Carlson and Michael Magee have passed away.  But, I would love to watch some of the old episodes again.  It truly was a one of a kind Canadian program.

I even owned some of those Raccoons themed colour changing markers in the second grade and used them for every possible art assignment.  Oh, to be a kid again to watch the show while drawing with my favourite markers.

That does it.  I’m writing a letter to CBC telling them to bring back my Raccoons!  They’re a Canadian institution, for crying out loud!


  1. Oh THANK YOU AWESOMELY for this retrospective! We share some memories of The Raccoons — and I've been scouring the web for any mention of those colour-changing pens! Do you remember how they snapped together, side-by-side? I think there were three packs in all, including an "erasing ink" one and one "ordinary" pack? Trying to recall... NOSTALGLAMORAMA!!!!

  2. I remember this show and the colour-changing markers! Why can't I find anything on the internet about them?

  3. I remember the erase ink ones, but I only was interested in the colour change ones. And, Kristen, I feel your frustration. Whenever I asked people about them on an online forum, people stared at me as if I were making them up!

  4. Here are the markers I found! I wish I had more from the set!

  5. This thrills me to no end! None of my friends remember the markers...I have very fond memories of colouring with them while camping with my family. Loved the Racoons.