As National Strawberry Month regrettably draws to a close, let’s look at soundtrack albums for three animated TV specials with that high-fructose star of the 1980’s.
THE WORLD OF STRAWBERRY SHORTCAKE
Kid Stuff Records KSS-165 (12” 33 1/3 RPM / Stereo / 1976)
Released in 1980. TV Executive Producer: Robert L. Rosen. Associate Producer: Kouji Sekiguchi. Producers: Romeo Muller, Charles Swenson, Fred Wolf. Director: Charles Swenson. Writer: Romeo Muller. Music: Howard Kaylan, Mark Volman. Running Time: 24 minutes.
Voices: Russi Taylor (Strawberry Shortcake); Romeo Muller (Mr. Sun/Narrator); Robert Ridgely (The Peculiar Purple Pieman of Porcupine Peak; Julie McWhirter (Huckleberry Pie); Joan Gerber (Blueberry Muffin, Apple Dumplin’); Pamela Anderson (Raspberry Tart); Bob Holt (Escargot).
Songs: “Strawberry Shortcake (Theme),” “Smile a Sunny Morning,” “At Sunflower Market,” “Count Off,” “It’s Fun to Say ‘Berry’” by Mark Volman, Howard Kaylan.
There’s no denying that Strawberry Shortcake and her berry-licious friends can set the teeth to tingling. They were born among the plethora of demographically targeted corporate franchises that proved successful in the ‘80s and provided the blueprint for today’s tentpoles, though in retrospect they are dwarfed by their progeny.
American Greetings hit an Everest of pay dirt several with such characters as Ziggy and Care Bears, each of which took on animated form. In the case of Strawberry Shortcake, the animation was unique, not for its groundbreaking innovation so much as it’s personnel.
Among the credits: Producer Fred Wolf is a familiar name in the animation business who, after winning an Academy Award for his cartoon short The Box (1967) established a studio in L.A. for making commercials, features like the The Point (1971) and specials like Free to Be… You and Me (1974). Animation director Charles Swenson made the notorious X-Rated feature Dirty Duck in 1977. This 1980 special came along when Wolf and Swenson were in a transitional period, moving from the “indie” style to the more mainstream projects necessary to sustain a studio. Burt Rosen, was a producer who transitioned from musical variety specials to animation—including 1974’s sweet, unpretentious Yes Virginia, There is a Santa Claus (with Jim Backus).
Rosen produced the latter with a writer who has become a legend among fans of Rankin/Bass specials and series, Romeo Muller. Largely uncredited for the creation of characters—all the misfit toys, Burgermeister Meisterburger, Professor Hinkle, Irontail– that augmented three-minute songs like “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town” and “Frosty the Snowman,” Muller established canons for holiday mythology long cemented in the minds of millions.
It’s probable that, like most of the creatives involved with Rankin/Bass films, Muller was a work-for-hire freelancer with no longterm financial stake nor control over the projects themselves. So when he began coproducing with Burt Rosen, Muller was afforded these luxuries and probably more money than he had made on most past assignments. However syrupy one might find Strawberry Shortcake cartoons, at least there’s comfort in knowing that they must have provided Muller some well-deserved clout and compensation.
Muller is also essentially the “star narrator,” in that he takes on the role that such celebrities as Fred Astaire and Burl Ives filled in Rankin/Bass specials, a fictional character who sings and tells the story, breaking the fourth wall. An experienced stage performer, Muller had certainly earned this position. In addition to breaking the fourth wall with the viewer, Mr. Sun is also able to interact with the characters in the story.
There’s also a first-rate cast of Hollywood voice actors, included the wonderful Russi Taylor, who had voiced teenaged Pebbles for some later Flintstones ‘70s shows, and more famously, Minnie Mouse and Donald’s nephews. Bob Holt and Julie McWhirter were also well-known names to those of us who used the Evelyn Woods Speed Reading Course to read Saturday Morning TV voice credits.
The first special introduced most of Strawberry’s friends, all named for sweet treats, and the Peculiar Purple Pieman of Porcupine Peak (voiced by Filmation’s Tarzan, ubiquitous character actor Bob Ridgely), an archetypical Muller villain who, at least in the first special, turns “nice” and reforms. Maybe subsequent specials were not assured yet, but when they were, the Pieman was of course, a meanie again (like Sharpay in the High School Musical movies).
There are some amusing touches, such as The Pieman’s catch phrase “Yah-tah-tah-tah-tah-tah-tah-tah, tah-tah-tah-tah!” and a throwaway gag in which Strawberry mentions her favorite cartoon, “Tom and Berry.” The plot is standard kiddie sitcom—there’s a surprise birthday party planned, but no one can tell her, so she starts to feel rejected. It’s a storyline that never ceases to disturb. Why put a loved one through such agony for a stupid party? Of course, all ends well and everyone celebrates with a lot of sugary stuff.
Since all three albums discussed here are audio pickups of the specials, they’re identical to the videos, except that the sound quality is somewhat better (but not crystal clear and full fidelity like a Rankin/Bass soundtrack). Here’s the video version:
STRAWBERRY SHORTCAKE IN BIG APPLE CITY
Kid Stuff Records KSS-163 (12” 33 1/3 RPM / Mono)
Released in 1981. TV Executive Producer: Robert L. Rosen. Producers: Romeo Muller, Buzz Potamkin. Assistant Producer: Cindy Kunst. Writer: Romeo Muller. Music: Howard Kaylan, Mark Volman. Running Time: 24 minutes.
Voices: Russi Taylor (Strawberry Shortcake); Romeo Muller (Mr. Sun); Dianne McCannon (Orange Blossom); Robert Ridgely (The Peculiar Purple Pieman of Porcupine Peak; Julie McWhirter (Huckleberry Pie, Tea N. Honey); Joan Gerber (Apricot, Blueberry Muffin, Apple Dumplin’); Pamela Anderson (Raspberry Tart); Bob Holt (Coco Nutwork).
Songs: “Smile a Sunny Morning,” “What a Day,” “Big Apple City,” “What’s Your Name?” “Strawberry Land” by Mark Volman, Howard Kaylan.
Like Felix Unger of TV’s The Odd Couple, Strawberry Shortcake heads for New York (“Big Apple City” in berry-speak) to participate in a bake-off. First prize is a gazebo.
Several things are worth noting. The Pieman essentially mirrors the opinions of many adult viewers with his disgust at all the “berry talk” the characters use, basically replacing “very” with “berry” and splicing “berry” onto other words (not unlike the way the Smurfs, denizens of another big ‘80s franchise, replace words with “Smurf”). At the end of the story, Strawberry actually threatens the Pieman with a steady stream of berry talk unless he agrees to her conditions! Who could refuse?
One of Muller’s inside jokes is a reference to the “little theater off Times Pear,” a nod to the classic radio show Mr. Firstnighter (which by the way starred animation voice acting greats Barbara Luddy and Olan Soulé).
The music and songs for all these syndicated Strawberry Shortcake TV specials were written by Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan of The Turtles (“Happy Together”). The duo went on to write and produce all the Care Bears albums for Kid Stuff Records. Most of the songs have the same sound, but there’s just a tad more of their goodtime rock sound in this special than in the other two.
STRAWBERRY SHORTCAKE PRESENTS PETS ON PARADE
Kid Stuff Records KSS-5024 (12” 33 1/3 RPM / Mono)
Released in 1982. TV Executive Producer: Robert L. Rosen. Producers: Too Fukumoto, Fred Wolf, Muller/Rosen Productions. Directors: Kohsei Ohtani, Fred Wolf. Writer: Romeo Muller. Music: Howard Kaylan, Mark Volman. Running Time: 23 minutes.
Voices: Russi Taylor (Strawberry Shortcake); Romeo Muller (Mr. Sun/Narrator); Dianne McCannon (Orange Blossom); Robert Ridgley (The Peculiar Purple Pieman of Porcupine Peak; Julie McWhirter (Huckleberry Pie); Joan Gerber (Sour Grapes, Blueberry Muffin, Apple Dumplin’); Pamela Anderson (Raspberry Tart); Bob Holt (Coco Nutwork).
Songs: “Today,” “I’m Much Lower Than You,” “An Animal’s a Kid’s Best Friend,” “March Back to Town” by Mark Volman, Howard Kaylan.
This special opens with Strawberry offering a litany of exposition to her little pet that tells us that she is the judge of a pet competition. The opening song, “Today,” is particularly catchy and a standout among the others.
New to the cast is Sour Grapes (voiced by the wonderful ‘70s voice acting staple Joan Gerber), a female partner in mischief for The Pieman. The two sing a duet called “I’m Much Lower Than You” that coincidentally resembles another villain duet: “She’s a Nothing” from Hanna-Barbera’s Heidi’s Song, also sung by Gerber but with Fritz Feld as her sidekick.
Record collectors take note: the climactic high point of Pets on Parade centers around a record and a phonograph. The Pieman sneaks Strawberry’s recording of “Jeannette McBerry and Nelson Donut” behind the stage and uses it, Singin’ in the Rain-style, to fake the singing of his Berry Bird, Captain Cackle, and Sour Grapes’ beloved snake, Dregs. Strawberry is blamed for cheating, but when she threatens to haunt The Pieman with annoying berry talk unless he confesses (a fate worse than death, apparently), she is cleared and everyone enjoys sugary treats available at your favorite store.