One of the antique malls near my house has a booth that’s constantly filled with 80s nostalgia. Last weekend I ran across these ceramic California Raisin figures, roughly 9″ tall and marked $22 for all four. I didn’t end up buying them, but after my son asked “Who are those guys again?” we spent the evening watching raisin commercials on Youtube.
Well if you don’t recall the California Raisins: The Grape Escape you shouldn’t feel too bad because it was never released to the general public. Capcom produced the NES title back in 1990, four years after the Vinton Studios got the ball rolling thanks to their wonderful claymation work for the California Raisin Advisory Board commercials.
The California Raisins: The Grape Escape had been reviewed by game critics and advertised in the Capcom games of the time as coming soon. It has been assumed that the waning popularity of the Raisins in 1990 caused Capcom to pull the plug on the title, but obviously Roms are floating around the internet and you must consider yourself lucky if you get your hands on one of the rare NES carts.
The storyline of the game sounds like it might have some ties to the Meet the Raisins special, that our own Claymation Werewolf spotlighted yesterday. It seems you took on the role of a California Raisin in a side-scrolling platformer where you tried to rescue members of your band and get their instruments back from the fruits and vegetable characters that stole it. I wondered if the band responsible for this was Lick Broccoli and the Herbicides but watching this video on YouTube it says the Wild Bunch are the culprits responsible.
Do you remember the California Raisins? I sure do…for starters, I remember actual raisins from California. I’ve always had a love hate relationship…great in old people cereal but they make a pretty lousy snack. For the most part, I’ll buy a package of tiny boxes of the dried grapes, eat them the first couple of days, then get real bored, real fast. But enough about California raisins…let’s talk about California Raisins.
In the 1980’s, The Claymation Giants at Will Vinton Studios produced commercials that would change the raisin game forever. Suddenly bluesy anthropomorphic raisins were everywhere! TV, radio, novelty items…even one of those cool stuffed toys that hung on your car window (usually reserved for Garfield) I have a vivid memory of Raisin Mania…what I don’t remember however, was the actual California Raisins Show.
This ends today.
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California Raisins: “Meet The Raisins”
California Raisins Part 1
So far this cartoon is pretty freaking great (by my standards anyway) to start with I have always been a huge fan of Claymation and Stop-Motion, if you couldn’t figure that out, and Will Vinton was one of the legends. The character design is fantastic, the doowap and Motown rock hits are outstanding and the fruit related puns are non stop. Together that is a formula for success! The entire show is done in a faux documentary “behind the music style that really works with the program narrated by a nerdy british carrot, showing video clips on a vin-tone television (get it?)
Up until now we have seen them ditch an early member of the group (a “bitter” grapefruit) and then go on to success after hiring his replacement ala The Beatles dumping Pete Best for Ringo Star.
They became a hit on a singing reality competition gameshow that I would actually watch wherein if the contestants did not have enough talent they would be squashed, heated up or otherwise brutalized on national tv. Now that’s entertainment!
Side Note: they also have these great commercial breaks with fruit and vegetable related products and television shows including “hair styling products” and a Vegetable Soap Opera “the young and the seedless”
California Raisins Part 2
They’ve begun to pop the Grapefruit guy into the background as an ongoing joke (he’s constantly trying to get into the act.)
The Raisins career has hit a sour note since their discovery on national tv. They had to start over, performing on the street, then live elevator music and then singing telegrams; in a brilliant scene in which they terrorize and nearly kill a mountain climber. They gain national attention for saving his life and are once again discovered, this time by a Raspberry, Italian film maker. And are put into a Spaghetti Western where they apparently use live ammunition.
**they star in some other movie parodies including a 2001 a space oddysey movie and my personal favorite a star trek parody! “My alien side does not reason…but my raisin side say mmbo bowow boppa mmbow ba bow…” Pure Brilliance!
California Raisins Part 3
The raisins go on a goodwill tour through the arctic circle and play for snowmen, penguins and a walrus.
Not surprisingly the tour loses money and the crew begin their flight home, broke and frozen together somewhere over the US the plane gets struck by lightning and crashes right in the middle of a concert by Lick Broccoli and the herbacides (the current band of the grapefruit ex member)
The Raisins steal the show…literally. They thaw out and start playing for an audience that apparently hates the herbacides even though they are sitting in their concert. (maybe they were assuming a better band would crash an airplance into the concert hall and start performing?) at any rate the crowd and the tv audience at home eats up the Raisins and they go on to greatness and fame (in the 80s).
California Raisins Recap
There really isn’t too much more I can add to this. I wish I would have seen it sooner. I watched this, so mesmerized by the claymation that at times I wondered if I enjoyed the show as much as I thought, or just fell in love with the visual masterpiece that it was. In reality the writing was my cup of tea, the puns were great and the ongoing gags never got old. Although only produced in 2D animation (my second favorite animation style) this production makes me want to check out the television series. I hope it wont leave a sour taste in my mouth. Nobody likes sour grapes.
Last weekend while out thrift store shopping with my nine-year-old son, we ran across the following doll:
Much to my surprise, my son had no idea who or what this was. Even though the logic side of my brain tells me it’s been many years since the California Raisins were a part of pop culture, it still surprises me when kids are oblivious to staples from my past.
When I asked my son to guess who or what this was, his two guesses were “Purple Brain Man” and “Mr. Poop”.