Welcome to another Saturday on the Pop Culture Addict’s Guide To Life. Today we’re going to be featuring a television series that I used to be addicted to when I was a small child, aged only five.
I’m serious about this as well. When I was that age, I was completely obsessed with this show. Ever since I saw my first episode of this show on PBS during a break from school, I had to watch it every day. This proved to be a bit problematic when I was younger, as the program often aired during the 10:00am time slot, when I was still stuck in school. But on days in which I was home sick from school, or had a P.A. Day, or was off on Christmas vacation, it was there waiting for me. I think I must have watched at least every episode of the series at least five times in my childhood.
Sadly, the program didn’t last too long on the air. After about three years, the show was taken off the air and replaced with some other show that I cared nothing about. How could I love a show that kicked my favourite television show off the schedule?
Luckily, other cable channels picked up the television show for a few years, and on a rare occasion, I watched a few episodes of the program again years after it aired. I’ll admit that watching the program through adult eyes was a lot different than watching it as a five year old boy. But you know something? I make no apologies in admitting that I still love this show. And, you know what? If I ever have a child, they WILL watch this show. I will force them. J
So, what is the topic of today’s blog? Well, why don’t I let my seven best friends (well, at least when I was five anyway) introduce themselves in these opening credits.
Are all of you ready to take a trip to the wonderful, magical place known as “Zoobilee Zoo”? I hope so.
“Zoobilee Zoo” was a creation of the popular greeting card company “Hallmark”, and the show aired on the Hallmark Channel for many years. Debuting in September 1986, the show depicted the lives of seven animals living in a zoo. These animals were known as “Zoobles”, and each episode usually centered around one or two of these characters.
What made the show such a success was partly due to the different backgrounds of each of the characters. Not only were they all different animals, but each one had their own individual hobbies and likes which sometimes worked to their advantage when trying to solve their problems.
We’ll talk a little bit about what sorts of problems that the Zoobles ended up getting themselves into a little bit later in this blog entry. But for now, I think we should talk about the characters of Zoobilee Zoo...who the actors were, what characters they played, and some of the situations that the characters found themselves in during the program’s 65-episode run.
Mayor Ben – portrayed by Ben Vereen
Mayor Ben is a leopard who lives just outside of the zoo (or at the very least, out of sight of the rest of the Zoobles). As his name suggests, he is perhaps the most important Zooble, and the one who holds the most power in the whole zoo. Luckily, he’s not one of those corrupt politicians at all. He really does care for all the Zoobles, and he is often filled with great advice. He often acts as the narrator of sorts for each episode of the series, as he opens and closes each episode with a story about one of the six other Zoobles in the zoo. He very rarely interacts with the other Zoobles inside the zoo, but is known to make a few rare appearances.
Bill Der Beaver – portrayed by Sandey Grinn
Bill Der Beaver is one busy beaver. Quite literally too. Judging by the fact that his home looks like one gigantic tool box, it becomes quite clear that Bill Der Beaver’s gimmick is building various things around the zoo. I would like to believe that Bill was responsible for building not only his own house, but the houses of all the Zoobles in the zoo. Bill even managed to build a time travel machine that allowed the Zoobles to travel back through different eras. Talk about a crafty beaver! Some of the story arcs that Bill was a part of included getting into a sticky situation after testing a new glue he invented, temporarily sharing a living space with Bravo Fox, and trying to learn how to play the piano.
Lookout Bear – portrayed by Michael B. Moynahan
Living up to his name, Lookout Bear is always on the lookout for adventures, fun, and mystery. Of course, some of the adventures that Lookout got himself into had the other Zoobles crying out “Look Out!!!”
Anyway, Lookout Bear is often the one who likes to venture outside of Zoobilee Zoo the most, and some of the adventures that Lookout happened to get involved in during the show included a desire to become a detective after receiving a crime kit for a gift, trying to find a job, and trying to break a world record...with help from his friends, of course.
Whazzat Kangaroo – portrayed by Stevie Louise Vallance
These days, the actress that played Whazzat Kangaroo goes by the name Stevie Vallance, but back in 1986, she went by Louise. Hence the reason why I included both of her names up above. Would you like to know how this pink kangaroo got her name? Simple. Her inquisitive personality and natural curiosity always lead her to ask the question “Whazzat?” about ten thousand times. It made sense, given that Whazzat was the youngest Zooble of the group (and if memory serves me, Stevie was the youngest cast member of the show as well...I could be wrong though). But Whazzat’s inquisitive nature wasn’t the only thing she was known for. Having a huge love of music and dance, she lived in a house that resembled a giant song book filled with dozens of musical instruments. And some of the stories that Whazzat was involved in included her losing her first tooth, making impulsive wishes on a magic ring, and learning how to make someone else laugh from a clown who visited the zoo.
MINI-ADMISSION: Whazzat was my favourite Zoobilee Zoo character.
Van Go Lion – portrayed by Forrest Gardner
While Whazzat was my favourite Zoobilee Zoo character, I thought Van Go had the coolest house. And if one were to look at the paint splotches and paint brushes all over the place, you would quickly discover that his hobby is visual art. I mean, come on, his name is loosely based on famous artist Vincent Van Gogh! Van Go is known for more than just his artwork and his loud roar. He ended up having some rather interesting storylines. He went through Bill’s time machine to visit the Louvre in Paris, he has to deal with the fact that he might have to wear eyeglasses, and he even wins an art contest...while at the same time learning a valuable lesson on friendship.
Bravo Fox – portrayed by Gary Schwartz
I will admit that when I started watching Zoobilee Zoo, I didn’t initially care for Bravo at first. I thought that Bravo was sort of a mean character. He was always complaining about something that was going on at his home...a gigantic stage with his name in big, bold letters on top. He seemed to have an ego the size of Greenland, and I suppose as a five year old boy, I didn’t feel as though he was as nice as the other Zoobles. But watching the show now as an adult, I think that Bravo was quite misunderstood. Looking back on it now, he was so desperate to be a star that he didn’t realize that he already was a star in the eyes of the other Zoobles. He let the Zoobles perform plays and talents on his stage whenever they wanted, and when the opportunity came for Bravo to leave the zoo to seek stardom, he chose to stay with his friends, because that was where his home was. I think that episode helped me start to warm up to the fox a little more.
Talkatoo Cockatoo – portrayed by Karen Hartman
Talkatoo was a cockatoo after my own heart, and I think that had I not already declared Whazzat to be my favourite Zooble, Talkatoo would also rank highly on my list. After all, she loved everything to do with books, reading, language, and writing. She lived in a giant dictionary, after all! And, naturally, all of Talkatoo’s storylines revolved around reading and writing. She creates her own newscast at Zoobilee Zoo, imagines herself as Cinderella after reading the classic tale in a book, and even enters a dance contest to try and prove something to herself.
It’s hard to believe that it has been 26 years since Zoobilee Zoo debuted on television. That fact alone makes me feel very old. Despite this, Zoobilee Zoo is still fresh on some people’s minds. Did you know that in 2000, fourteen additional direct-to-video episodes were released on VHS, and a stage show entitled “Zoobilee Zoo Live” was launched featuring most of the original cast members? I thought that was the coolest thing ever because it showed me that what I believed was a long-forgotten show wasn’t quite so forgotten. And if a new generation was being introduced to one of my favourite shows, then I think that’s always a good thing.