Raccoons are big in the media at the moment. Those little pied bastards have taken the world by storm, mostly because of the new film Guardians of the Galaxy. The titular Guardians are made up of a bunch of indistinct, mostly-CGI nobodies that I’ve never heard of, and one nobody that I have heard of – Rocket Raccoon.
I’m rather fond of him, as I had a handful of RR comics as a youngling. It was pretty messed up – to the best of my recollection, the animals of Earth were used as pets for a planetful of lunatics, to help quell their raging psychoses. Over time, the animals developed sentience, and the lunatics became psycho killers or something.
I always thought it was cool how the animals weren’t anthropomorphic. They were just normal woodland critters. Most of them, notably Rocket, wore robotic gauntlets to help them grip objects. Opposable thumbs are useful for a sentient species, especially if those species want to carry guns. Of course, in the new film, Rocket is much more human-like. Because the idea of a raccoon wearing gloves is just stupid.
It’s worth noting, for posterity if nothing else, that the Rocket Raccoon comics mark the first ever appearance of Sam & Max, the dog and rabbity thing that themselves starred in comics, as well as computer games and a cartoon. Bizarrely, they appeared in RR a few years before their first published comic. It seems they were scribbled in as a favor to Steve Purcell, the creator of the duo, by the artist of the comic book.
Anyway, what I’m slowly meandering towards is this: there were more raccoons that were an inexorable part of my childhood. A whole Evergreen Forest full of them! They were collectively and creatively known as “The Raccoons”, and starred in a cartoon in the eighties and nineties.
The quality of this video is much higher than the screenshot suggests. It is rated 18 by the BBFC for gratuitous animal nudity.
The story followed Bert, Melissa and Ralph Raccoon. They lived in a tree together, and the latter two were married. Bert just sort of hung out with them and got in the way. The Evergreen Forest was their home, and although there was nothing particularly special about it – it was evergreen, and a forest – that didn’t prevent it from being the target of the greedy Cyril Sneer!
A pink, chain-smoking aardvark, Cyril Sneer wanted to destroy the forest and basically pillage and plunder in the name of making money. He was a sort of maniacal tycoon, very much like The Simpsons‘ Mr Burns.
Who was it who said “Nothing is easier than to denounce the evil-doer, nothing so hard as to understand him”? (It was Fyodor Dostoevsky – Your pal, Future Adam) They had a point, and it was very easy to cheer on the Raccoons and to sneer at old Cyril.
But he was my favourite character! Beneath the gruff exterior and blackened lungs beat a heart of gold, and in many ways he was the goodie. Bert, Ralph and Melissa had it pretty easy in the forest. Cyril had to work for a living and provide for his son. He was constantly battling with himself – his head told him to do one thing, and his heart another. And in the end, he always did what was right.
I loved this cartoon, as a boy. I still see a lot of myself in Bert, with his too-big jumper and squishy nose. He sees the world a little differently to everyone else, and is just trying to find his way. Watching this show now brings tears to my eyes; it’s just decent and earnest entertainment, and it deals with all sorts of issues and themes that trouble children and adults alike. The action is frequently complemented by various songs, none which stick in the memory quite like Run with us, by Lisa Lougheed. All you children of the seventies, eighties and maybe nineties go and listen to it now – it tickles parts of the brain I’d forgotten I even had. Ms. Lougheed also starred in the show as Lisa Raccoon, Ralph and Melissa’s niece.
To finish, it’s perhaps worth noting that there’s a very similar animal in Japan called the raccoon dog, or tanuki. These aren’t true raccoons, but a canine-type animal. If you like Japanese folklore, they’re worth looking up. I myself am very fond of them, for reasons that I shall not reveal, lest I end up exiled to another planet with only a petting zoo to keep me company.
“Little pied bastards”