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Kevin Gillis, creator of The Raccoons cartoon, talks licensing, reboots and more
Hi Kevin; thanks for making time to talk – I used to watch The Raccoons so it’s a rare fanboy moment for me! For those unfamiliar with the show, what was the premise?
Hey Deej, thank you for inviting me to participate in your cool interviews! The Raccoons was a somewhat dysfunctional but loveable family of Raccoons – Bert, Ralph and Melissa – who lived in the Evergreen Forest. They were good friends of Cedric Sneer, son of the serial get-rich-quick and infamous robber-baron, Cyril Sneer.
And Cyril and Cedric Sneer were aardvarks, right?
Right! And the gang often found themselves in the proverbial headlights of Cyril’s plans – whether it was denuding the Evergreen Forest to exploit the soaring costs of lumber prices; destroying their skating pond to build a mega-sports stadium… I mean, why have a natural frozen lake only in winter when you can have artificial ice year round? And with all those luxury boxes to sell! Cyril also manipulated Bert Raccoon’s local fan popularity and good nature to sell an extremely offensive cologne, for example…
I seem to recall quite a few other characters…
Well, over four specials and five seasons, we introduced a whole community of characters, all of whom helped shape the interactions and stories that came from the Evergreen Forest.
Who were the others? What did they bring to the show?
Let’s see… They include Lady Baden Baden, Professor Smedley-Smythe, Sophia Tutu, Mr. Mammoth, Lisa Raccoon, Schaeffer, Broo – and Cyril’s henchmen, the three pigs. In effect, The Raccoons was a microcosm of everyday life. We got to explore, satirise, entertain, and perform analysis on characters and situations that represented all walks of life. It was like creating a village and introducing all kinds scenarios to see how our characters would react and affect the outcome.
And presumably, it’s a little bit like telling stories in science fiction? Animation gives you more of a free reign?
Yes, exactly – we had no constraints to our imaginations. Over the course of more than 60 episodes, the show dealt with issues of environmentalism, teamwork, capitalism, friendship… It was very sophisticated!
Why did it stop?
From our first special, The Christmas Raccoons, through to the 65th half hour, we spent over ten years writing, designing, recording, animating, laughing, crying – actually living Raccoons! We would don the voices of individual characters as we were developing a script: they were like our friends. We thought and talked about them like they were living, breathing characters! And I guess in our walled garden – read forest – they were! But I think, after that long, we were looking to try something new and different. Besides, the late-night pizzas were wearing thin!
Am I to understand plans are afoot to air a reboot, though?! Tell us about that…
We’ve been exploring a number of ideas to bring back The Raccoons. We’ve looked at a series of shorts; a possible feature; a User Generated Content concept where fans can help build the stories. We’ve looked at a documentary, we’ve looked at new designs, new characters and music… We’ve talked about doing The Raccoons when they first met – all sorts of scenarios.
So it’s in the early stages? You can’t tell us what can we expect to see?
Yes, it’s too early to say that. We’re currently spending a lot of time looking at remastering the original 35mm master prints to 4K. The plan is to release on SVOD, AVOD and Blu-ray. It’s a very expensive venture but we’re hopeful to attract many of our original fans and the young families they’re now raising. I suspect that the launch of the remastered episodes will help inform the kind of reboot that our audience, broadcasters and streamers will want to see.
Good point; good answer. And how might you address the obvious concern… Keeping fans of the original satisfied while winning a new audience?
Hah! Now that’s the rub! I think first and foremost we have to start with what our existing fan base knows and loves. I think the remastered episodes will be a satisfying start. Where we go from there is still to be determined but, as I say, we have some cool ideas.
Presumably, though, they’ll still address issues?
Absolutely. Bert, Cyril, Sophia, Schaeffer and The Raccoons lived in a less complicated world but still had issues and moral choices that are even more relevant today. Wherever we take them – or, more to the point, wherever THEY take US – those life values, experiences, dilemmas and resolutions will be a part of their existence. Bert Raccoon and Cyril Sneer would have it no other way!
I imagine licensing The Raccoons needs exactly the right partners. What are you looking for in that respect?
We’ve always been blessed by having great partners… From our wonderful creative team of animators, writers, musicians and artists, to our original broadcasters like BBC, CBC, Disney, Super RTL, and so on. We’re now very excited to be working with our new licensing-media partner, The Point.1888!
What drew you to them?
They have a team that not only embraces what the original Raccoons represented but also brings new concepts and ideas; they speak to what existing and new fan communities would want to engage with. Their wrap-around, aegis approach is unique and creatively inspiring.
Great! You just got bonus points for using the word aegis! So how important is communication in what you do?
Every successful partnership is built on open communication. If your basic ideas and values align, then what you create together will be consistent and resonate with your fan community. One of the most significant markers that attracted me to The Point.1888 was their commitment to corporate- community giving and support.
“The fact is, development is the critical foundation of everything you hope to create.”
When I saw that, I knew they were the right partner for The Raccoons! At Raccoons, we feel very fortunate with what we’ve been given. Equally, we’re thankful that our credo of creating environmental awareness has been a hallmark of our series. We’re committed to supporting environmental awareness among young people as a fundamental part of our licensing program.
Are there any areas of licensing you’re open to exploring?
We’re open to all kinds of new ideas that can promote the importance of making a difference in our planet’s ecological health. Games, fashion, comics, promotional campaigns, music, books, AR Apps… As long as it’s consistent with our characters, stories and ethos, we and The Point.1888 are open for business!
And on that point, how hands-on is the development process? What level of creativity do you look for in a product?
I have heard many times in my career, the expression “Development hell”. In truth, I’ve also experienced what seems like a dark hole that just eats you up and spits you out. But the fact is, development is the critical foundation of everything you hope to create.
Whether it be building an animated series, writing a song, creating a licensing campaign or bringing a new product or idea to market, immersing yourself in the fluidity of development is what helps make the best ideas rise to the top – and hopefully succeed. Product creativity and innovation is a key factor in attracting me to a company and, I think, to the target audience at large.
I’m sad to say, Kevin, that we need to start wrapping things up. Which question have I not yet asked you, though, that it would be great if I did ask?
Hah! Okay… “Why do you think The Raccoons had such an effect on young people that it’s still remembered today?”
That actually is a very good question. I look incompetent for not asking it! And what’s the answer?!
Damned if I know!
Seriously, it is a great question – even if I do say so myself. Haha! And the answer? I guess there have been so many new shows, characters, formats, media devices and platforms that have come and gone in the intervening years… Maybe it was that we didn’t build upon anything that already existed. We created a community that was allowed to grow organically and didn’t have creative or corporate parameters enforced upon us. That allowed us to explore our characters’ feelings in a more meaningful way.
Can you give an example of that?
Well, for example, our hero – Bert Raccoon – was full of flaws which we delved into and perhaps that made him less “heroic”, but more empathetic and loveable. Our villain – Cyril Sneer – was a shameless schemer from beginning to end. But he had a soft spot for his son… That helped make him more complex and interesting. I think, as a result, our characters resonated with families – a very broad age range. We explored our stories from the point of view of how we would explore a diverse group of characters in real life. It didn’t matter that they were animated – to us they were real.
Great stuff! Finally then, Kevin – and this has been haunting me for decades – do all three pigs actually have names?! I had the idea that they were all called Lloyd, but conversation with others leads me to suspect there’s a more confusing answer…
Hmmm… You’ve just ruined my headstone surprise! Okay… It’s Lloyd, Lloyd and their somewhat gullible brother, Floyd. Shhh… Don’t tell anybody!
Well, you’re in luck. About eight people read my interviews so your secret’s pretty safe! So with that, I shall thank you and say, “Uh, Good night, Cyril…”
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