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The Raccoons - season one
voice cast: Len Carlson, Michael Magee, Marvin Goldhar, Carl Banas, and Bob Dermer

director: Kevin Gillis

268 minutes (U) 1985
Fabulous DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 6/10
reviewed by Jonathan McCalmont
Ah nostalgia... it ain't what it used to be. I remember the days when talk of Captain Pugwash or The Magic Roundabout could keep hack stand-up comedians in business for months, and stupid people in desperate need of friends could attain instant popularity simply by uttering the dread phrase "do you remember Spangles?" The truth of the matter is that nobody has ever given a shit about Captain Pugwash, the only reason anyone ever mentions him is because it's a shared cultural experience and in a modern world where the internet, games consoles and multi-channel TV mean that nobody ever experiences the same stuff anymore, those shared cultural experiences still have value, it's just that now we're having to mine the past for them. I mean it's not as though you can make new friends at work by going 'hey, have you seen 2 girls 1 cup yet?' In a climate such as this it is genuinely strange that a late-1980s to early-1990s cartoons such as The Raccoons should have taken this long to come out on DVD. Especially when every episode opens with one of the most intensely nostalgia-inducing intros ever animated: "Evergreen Forest. Quiet. Peaceful. Serene. That is until Bert Raccoon wakes up..."

The Raccoons ran for 60 episodes between 1985 and 1991. That's five whole series. However, what many British viewers might not have realised is that the series is based upon a series of Canadian TV specials featuring the same characters. Because of this, The Raccoons does not really have a beginning where one is introduced to the characters... the series just launches straight into it.

The series follows the adventures of a group of raccoons living in a forest. Bert is the most out-going and childishly exuberant one while Ralph and Melissa are a more grounded and 'grown up' couple that act primarily as foils for Bert's excesses. Most of the episodes deal with Bert or one of the others making a few bad decisions and learning an important life lesson, usually in the process of battling the wonderfully named villain Cyril Sneer who, despite being an aardvark has greedily amassed a huge fortune. However, despite the undeniably 1980s' moralising, the messages are never overbearing or sinister such as those offered by the alarmingly anti-Semitic Dungeons And Dragons cartoon of the same era. In fact, The Raccoons is just incredibly nice and pleasant to watch in a very innocent way. Even merciless capitalist Cyril Sneer has a softer side and nobody ever bears anyone any ill will. At 25 minutes, the episodes rarely outstay their welcome and are generally quite nicely plotted and built around good solid ideas. The only downside being that every episode features a two or three minute-long musical break in which tasks are accomplished, but despite such filler (or perhaps because of it) the episodes on this disc are surprisingly well written and put together.

The music of The Raccoons is one of its most enduring features with main theme Run With Us even getting released as a single in Canada. Always incredibly 1980s in a gentle new-wave manner, a lot of the music was written by the series' chief writer and director Kevin Gillis (who was a folk singer and a forest ranger before he turned his attention to making cartoons). Indeed, the music is good enough that one can easily overlook the re-used stock that frequently pops up as well as the decidedly weird looking humans.

In a throwback to the series' roots as a series of TV specials, a lot of these episodes are framed by events in the lives of Ranger Dan and his family. However, before long the Ranger disappears and not before time as his existence places The Raccoons on an intensely odd philosophical footing. Indeed, the early episodes seem to suggest that the characters in The Raccoons live in the forest while the human world goes on outside the forest. But if that's the case then how did an aardvark become a millionaire and how could Bert and Ralph have met at college?

Competently but never brilliantly animated and well written without really managing to be particularly interesting, The Raccoons is a likeable, watchable cartoon whose gentle good-natured spirit makes it a great choice for parents wanting to keep their children's minds clear of violence and toy commercials. The problem is that there's really not very much here to keep adults interested beyond the nostalgia factor... it's a likeable series but nothing more.

The series comes on two discs and features a number of extras that seem to revolve mostly upon images of old cells that you can click through to make them move. There are also some character biographies but nothing much to write home about.

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