The Raccoons Season 2 Review
There's something rather timely about returning to the world of the Raccoons in this time of economic strife. Kevin Gillis's series, born in the Greed is Good 80s, celebrated the simple values of honesty and friendship above selfish materialistic pursuits, an ethic which at the time seemed twee and naively simplistic but in these days of Fred the Shred and trillion dollar bailouts is once again strikingly relevant. Together with its environmental theme it's surprising how little the show's concerns have dated in the twenty plus years since it first aired, and it would be very easy to believe that the ten episodes featured in this set, which make up the show's second season, had been made in response to recent events rather than those of the mid '80s.
In general, nothing much changed between Seasons One and Two, and for a more general look at the series I refer you to my review for Season One. The one difference is that the writing is noticeably stronger this time around, and while the episodes aren’t necessarily any better in terms of story, they have an increased confidence which makes up for a slight lack in variety. Most instalments still revolve around some evil capitalist scheme of the show's Gordon Gekko Cyril Sneer: Read No Evil! in which he tries to buy out an old hobo who’s living on top an untapped oil well, is absolutely typical, as is Power Trip! in which he cuts corners to build an hydroelectric dam and thus threatens both the Evergreen Forest’s natural environment and, more directly, Ralph and Melissa Raccoon. As ever, the message of Big Business’s exploitation and consequent destruction of the planet’s natural resources is prevalent, but the series isn’t above satirising other forms of capitalistic evils. The Artful Dodger! takes a shot at the absurdity of the fine art market (another subject still very relevant today) and sees Cyril pays fifty thousand dollars for a postage-stamp sized green canvas just because it has a famous artist’s name attached, while The Sweet Smell of Success! has him trying to persuade Bert Raccoon to endorse a foul-smelling perfume for a great wad of cash. As always, of course, simple morality and ethical behaviour triumph – in Double Play! for example, Cedric, Cyril's son, gives up the chance to become a major league baseball star as to do so he would have to step over best friend Bert who has the same ambition.
But amongst the usual stuff, there are a couple of episodes which focus more on Cyril’s character than his evil schemes, and are undoubtedly the strongest of the collection. Courting Disaster! in which Cyril prepares to get married, thereby losing both his freedom and much of his fortune, purely because he believes Cedric needs a new mother, is very good, as is Stop the Clock! in which the old rogue pines for the glory days of his youth. The latter has a slightly more sophisticated structure than most of the shows surrounding it, although I’m not sure that its message that you’re only as young as you feel is necessarily appropriate for a show aimed at a preteen demographic. There’s also something slightly odd about Blast from the Past! in that it features a noisy, polluting helicopter coming to the rescue when Bert and Cedric find themselves in trouble, but at least it gives Melissa and Ralph, who are usually relegated to bit parts, some good screentime. The weakest episode of the bunch is the final one, Time Trap! a clips show in which Cyril travels back in time which doesn’t quite work. Finally, rounding off the collection, Last Legs is a standard episode in which Cyril leads Bert to believe that he’s dying, hoping that the raccoon will conjure up some appropriately expensive memorial to him. Inevitably, Bert comes up with something that is far from the golden statue that Cyril had in mind.
It’s a good collection of episodes, with the only quibble being that there isn’t nearly as much adventure as the first season had – there are no treasure maps to follow, or mountains to climb, so that a lot of the time the episodes are smaller in scale than those in the first year when Cyril seemed to threaten the whole of Evergreen Forest practically every week. However, as I said, the writing is generally stronger, and noticeably funnier in its treatment of its characters, which means the show's at times overbearing earnestness is greatly leavened, making the still sickly-sweet moralising far more palatable. It won’t save the world, but unlike New Romanticism and massive shoulder pads this is one part of the 1980s which has so far stood the test of time.
The DVD Collection
The ten episodes are presented on two DVDs, five episodes per disc. The Main Menus are static, with a Play All option, and a submenu to select individual episodes with optional synopses. The big disappointment of the set is that it replicates the poor Video transfer which blighted Season One's release. The image is soft, with a low resolution, while the prints look like they could use a good clean-up, with very faded colours and lots of dirt artefacts. Interlacing is bad again, with lots of motion blur as a result, while some episodes also suffer from telecine wobble, which is at times quite violent. It's not unwatchable, but makes for hardly pleasant viewing experience. Fortunately the Audio is reasonable - the music occasionally distorts slightly, and some of the higher-pitched voices cause the speakers to wince once in a while, but overall it's fine. To compound the poor video presentation, however, there are no subtitles.
As for Extras the main one is the Behind the Scenes Documentary (9:46) in which creator Gillis and a couple of other people involved talk about their pride in the series rather than any of the creative processes they went through. There are also a few pieces of archive footage of the animation studio interspersed with clips from the show, but there's no insight into the show at all. Given the low quality video it was shot on and the persistent hiss throughout I'm guessing the piece is a few years old (although ironically the clips from the show itself are far brighter than those on this disc!) but calling it a documentary is a bit of a stretch. The Cast and Crew Biographies are short, text-based reminders of who the characters are and are aimed squarely at the youngest member of the family. Both Original Character Drawings and Original Character Rotations are galleries of pencil sketches, including some guides for the animators, which won’t be of much interest to anyone. Finally there’s a Still Image Gallery which just consists of images from various episodes.
Good show, shame about the DVD. Showing signs of environmental damage far greater than any wreaked by Cyril Sneer, it would seem this show's prints are an endangered species and mar what is otherwise a piece of happy nostalgia for those like me who grew up watching the series on a Saturday morning.
8 out of 10
3 out of 10
6 out of 10
4 out of 10