“The Strawberry Shortcake Specials”
Originally written for 'cereal:geek' magazine in 2012 by Danielle Gelehrter
In 1977, American Greetings’ card illustrator Muriel Fahrion created a character that went on to become a beloved part of 1980s pop culture. This character, with her fruit-scented hair and her pink cat Custard, was called Strawberry Shortcake. American Greetings saw the licensing potential in the character and her many dessert-themed friends and foes. The greeting card company licensed the Strawberry Shortcake characters to Kenner which created a very successful doll line produced between 1979 and 1985. The dolls are still highly sought-after by collectors today. The Strawberry Shortcake phenomenon also spawned miniatures, video games, books, comics, stickers, clothing and, of course, cartoons.
Unlike characters such as Rainbow Brite and Jem, Strawberry Shortcake didn’t have an entire cartoon series all to herself. Instead, Strawberry and her pals appeared in six annual TV specials which aired consecutively between 1980 and 1985.
Robert L. Rosen and Romeo Muller produced the first three specials. Muller, who wrote 1964's legendary Rankin Bass TV special Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer as well as 1978’s beloved Puff the Magic Dragon special, also wrote the first three Strawberry Shortcake specials. In addition, Muller voiced Mr. Sun in this initial trio of animated outings. Specials one and three were animated by Murakami-Wolf-Swenson and Toei Doga. Special number two was animated by New York's Perpetual Motion Pictures. The final three specials were brilliantly animated by Canadian animation studio, Nelvana.
These six shows were great fun due primarily to the delightfully wicked villains Purple Pieman and Sour Grapes. The Perculiar Purple Pieman of Porcupine Peak (“Yatatatatatatata-rahtataaah!”) was voiced by famed actor and voiceover artist Robert Ridgely, who memorably played the Pieman in all six specials. Ridgeley was also known for his on-screen roles in Maverick, Surfside 6, and Sea Hunt as well as for his voiceover work as Tarzan in Filmation’s Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle, Flash Gordon in The New Adventures of Flash Gordon, the title character in Ruby-Spears’ Thundarr the Barbarian, the Pieman in Puff the Magic Dragon (which I suspect led to his role in the Strawberry Shortcake specials) and many more. The only other cast member who remained through all of the specials was the talented Russi Taylor, who starred as Strawberry Shortcake. Taylor is best known as the current voice of Disney’s Minnie Mouse, and has voiced the character since 1986. She also plays the voices of Martin, Sherri and Terri, and Üter on The Simpsons. Purple Pieman’s “old partner in crime,” Sour Grapes, was introduced in the third special and was initially voiced by prolific voice actresses Joan Gerber (Strawberry Shortcake, Pets on Parade) and then by the wonderful Jeri Craden (Strawberry Shortcake: Housewarming Surprise, Strawberry Shortcake and the Baby Without a Name, Strawberry Shortcake Meets the Berrykins).
Recaps of each Special follow, as well as the full specials themselves thanks to YouTube:
The World of Strawberry Shortcake (1980): In the first special, we are introduced to a variety of characters in Strawberryland. We encounter our heroine, Strawberry Shortcake (the epitome of “cute”) and her pink cat Custard. In addition, we meet Huckleberry Pie and Pupcake, Blueberry Muffin, Raspberry Tart, Apple Dumplin’, and Plum Puddin’. We are also introduced to the villainous Peculiar Purple Pieman of Porcupine Peak. The character, as voiced by Ridgely, is something of a cross between classic British comedian Terry-Thomas and Skeletor. He’s over-the-top and strangely compelling. Every time his name is said by anyone, the Pieman follows with an obsessive jaunty jig. In this special, Strawberry Shortcake’s birthday is coming. Her friends secretly prepare a gathering for her. Meanwhile, the Pieman, who can’t stand Shortcake’s berry talk (i.e. “that’s berry nice.”) plots to steal Strawberryland’s famous berries for himself. He disguises himself as an old man and offers to sell Strawberry Shortcake a magical watering can. She can’t afford the item and declines the disguised Pieman’s offer. Of course, Strawberry’s friends come to the rescue and obtain the watering can for her as a gift. Unfortunately, the watering can appears to be cursed. When Strawberry Shortcake pours out some water, the can won’t stop pouring. Soon, all of Strawberryland becomes flooded. The berry kids are forced to strike a bargain with the nefarious Purple Pieman, who stops the water in exchange for Strawberryland’s berries. He also manages to kidnap the toddler Apple Dumplin’ in the process. A despondent Strawberry Shortcake is offered a single wish by Mr. Sun. She makes her wish and is rewarded with a deus ex machina in the form of an army of angry living trees who proceed to storm the Pieman’s Pie Tin palace on Porcupine Peak. In a remarkable turn of events, the Pieman is defeated and then forgiven by Strawberry Shortcake, who tries to teach him to love her berry talk. They launch into a musical number, the Pieman sees the error of his ways, and all is happy in Strawberryland… for now. Incidentally, the musical numbers were written by Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman, of The Turtles and Flo & Eddie. Overall, this is a fun introduction to the characters. Something about the slightly rough animation style evokes a bit of nostalgia.
Strawberry Shortcake in Big Apple City (1981): In the second special, Strawberry Shortcake in Big Apple City, Strawberry is invited to participate in a baking contest at "the little theater off Times Pear." The invitation is delivered by Escargot, a giant snail with a French accent who coins the phrase "snail mail." He lets us know, "Snail mail...she is slow." Strawberry packs her things and makes her way to the big city. Of course, "that misanthropic fathead with a skinny physique, the Peculiar Purple Pieman of Porcupine Peak" is also invited to take part in the contest. The Pieman, who has returned to his wicked ways, is determined to win the prize with his disgusting kohlrabi cookies. Purple Pieman enacts several heinous plots in order to prevent Strawberry from ever reaching the theater, though she manages to thwart each obstacle. Along the way, we are introduced to several new characters. These include, the artistic Orange Blossom, the rather vain Lemon Meringue, Apricot the baby with an interesting vocabulary, and T.N. Honey, a bespectacled girl who spouts stereotypical British catchphrases. T.N. Honey was one of the few characters who never made it into the toyline, alas. Strawberry Shortcake and the Pieman both make it to the contest. The TV station manager, who is also the announcer, reveals the prize which is a rose-laden gazebo with a lovely dressing table and wardrobe inside. The Pieman seems all too eager to win this prize! After encountering a series of booby traps, Strawberry manages to take the prize and decides to return to Strawberryland with her new friends. The station manager desperately wishes to join them, and decides to abandon his post at the station. He then saddles the Pieman with the station as punishment for his cheating ways.
Strawberry Shortcake Pets on Parade (1982) – In the final special from Rosen and Muller, the Strawberry kids hold the “Second Annual Grand Old Petable Pet Show and Pet Parade.” Strawberry Shortcake and her pet cat Custard serve as judges in the show. New characters and animals are featured here, the most prominent of which are the über-polite Angel Cake and Souffle the Skunk. Angel Cake yearns for a pet, is obsessed with dieting, and says "please" and "thank you" after every sentence. Custard, who can apparently talk, has a heart to heart talk with the skunk at one point. Meanwhile, Purple Pieman seeks to undermine the contest and destroy Strawberry Shortcake once and for all. He is joined by his "old partner in crime," the yodeling queen of mean, Sour Grapes. The show's highlight is a hilarious musical duet between the Pieman and Sour Grapes where each proclaims to be lower and viler than the other. The song features such choice lines as, "when it comes to cheatin', I can't be beaten!" The pet parade begins. Just as things are about to wrap up, Purple Pieman and Sour Grapes enter their own pets, Captain Cackle and Dregs. The villains proceed to frame Strawberry Shortcake by making it appear that she was bribed by the Pieman to rig the contest so that Dregs and Captain Cackle would win. Shortcake is booed out of the area by her now-former friends and runs off crying. After a pep talk from Souffle the skunk, Strawberry returns and threatens to haunt the Pieman with her loathsome "berry talk" unless he admits to framing her. The Pieman, who still utterly hates berry talk, gives in and admits to foul play (much to Sour Grapes' chagrin). Strawberry Shortcake crows her victory by imitating the Pieman's signature "Ratatatayaatataaaah" jig. Finally, Souffle wins the contest and is adopted by Angel Cake who weirdly insists that the poor skunk go on a diet! All is well in Strawberryland.
Strawberry Shortcake: Housewarming Surprise (1983) - Nelvana takes over animation duties starting with the fourth special and the results are fantastic. The characters are crisply redesigned for this special and the animation is brighter, smoother, and more colorful. Housewarming Surprise is probably the best of the six specials with a funny script, great sight gags, and some fun banter between the characters. In this episode, Strawberry Shortcake plans to move into a new house. Before she moves, she gives a slideshow depicting the many friends she met during her trip around the world. We see many of the new characters and pets created for that year's doll line. While all this is going on, the Peculiar Purple Pieman of Porcupine Peak and Sour Grapes plot more nefarious deeds against Strawberry and her friends. Sour Grapes proposes the idea of stealing all the best recipes in Strawberryland and making a cookbook out of them, with the hope of becoming famous. Purple Pieman, who has trained his berry birds to parrot what they hear, sends them into Strawberryland to spy on Strawberry. Soon, Strawberry moves into her new pad and her local friends surprise her by throwing a housewarming party and inviting all her new international pals. They play hide and seek at the party, while the Pieman sneaks in and steals all the recipes. He is almost caught in the act. However, he quickly covers himself in whipped cream in order to disguise himself. Strawberry deduces that this strange dessert is actually the Pieman and, in a hysterical bit of animation, Purple Pieman shakes off the whipped cream which splatters all over Strawberry Shortcake's face. The Pieman makes off with the recipes and heads back to Porcupine Peak. Unfortunately, the young cockney children Lem & Ada are hiding in the basket and wind up being inadvertently kidnapped. Strawberry teaches the Berry Birds to sing in her insidious berry talk which, as we know, is anathema to the Pieman. The anguished villain attempts to return the basket of "recipes" so that Strawberry will make the birds stop singing. Sour Grapes will have none of this and tries to stop "Purpy" from returning the basket. The basket falls and lands in a precarious place, and it is here that everyone discovers Lem & Ada hiding inside. The birds keep singing and the Pieman decides to help Strawberry rescue the children in order to get the birds to stop. Sour Grapes does not care for this idea at all. After suspenseful attempts are made by both Strawberry Shortcake and the Purple Pieman, the kids are saved and things are happy once again This special seems particularly action-filled and fun, and offers a nice representation of classic 80s animation. All around, it is the best special of the bunch.
Strawberry Shortcake and The Baby Without a Name (1984) - Strawberry and her friends decide to go camping in this one, but first they need to meet Plum Puddin' at the trolley stop. Plum, who has been away from Strawberryland for some time, was a boy in the early specials and is now inexplicably a girl! Does this make Plum Puddin' the first trans cartoon character?! Cool! Plum brings her new friends Peach Blush and Baby Needs a Name along and the gang goes camping. Meanwhile, Sour Grapes pays a visit to Purple Pieman who has gone into hiding. It seems that a monster is stalking the land, much to the Pieman's terror. Sour Grapes comes up with the idea of capturing the monster so that they'll become rich and famous. Purple Pieman is very enthusiastic about this plan. Deep in the woods, the kids camp out. They sing a song about scary things, after which the baby without a name wishes upon a star. She wishes for a name and she also wishes for a pet of her very own. During the night, the baby crawls away and finds her way to a cave. There, an ominous shadow appears. She soon meets the monster, which is actually a meek little creature called Big Boots. At daybreak, the kids search for the baby while the Pieman and Sour Grapes look for the monster. Everyone bumps into each other at some point, pointed banter takes place between the Pieman, Sour Grapes, and the berry kids, and the baby with no name finally emerges from the cave along with the underwhelming monster. Purple Pieman and Sour Grapes decide to capture the monster despite its unimpressive stature, and then spring one of their traps in order to keep the kids from stopping them. With some help from Mr. Sun (it’s nice to have the friggin’ sun on your side apparently), the kids escape and concoct a plan to save Big Boots. They dress themselves up as a horrible tree monster, scare the heck out of the villains (who run for the hills), and save Big Boots. The children go back to Strawberry Shortcake's place to celebrate, and the baby gets Big Boots as her pet. Unfortunately, nobody comes up with a name for the poor kid so Strawberry Shortcake looks into the camera and makes it clear that the viewer must choose a name for the baby (after they buy the doll, of course). Strawberry tells us she loves us all berry much and the special ends. This one was fun, but was clearly a marketing move to push the Baby Needs a Name concept.
Strawberry Shortcake Meets the Berrykins (1985): The final special is probably the most cloying one of the bunch and yet, unfortunately, the songs all seem less “innocent” somehow. The berry kids have their annual garden party where we meet Banana Twirl (whose doll is the rarest in the toyline). The kids go out berry picking, after which they each discover large fruits on their doorsteps. A Berry Princess appears and reveals that each fruit contains a Berrykin. The Berrykins are sort of like baby clones of the berry kids. Each one is based on a fruit, emits a sweet odor, and corresponds to their older counterpart. Over at Porcupine Peak, Sour Grapes emits a “yogurt-curdling yodel” to celebrate the fact that she and “Purpy” are up to a new scheme. They’re attempting to mix all kinds of disparate things - i.e. “turkey gravy and ice cream” - in order to create a new perfume which will ostensibly make them rich and famous. In a clear comment on pollution and acid rain, the concoction results in a malodorous raincloud above Strawberryland. Strawberry Shortcake and the Berry Princess ascend Porcupine Peak to confront the villains about their smelly cloud. The Pieman is instantly smitten by the beautiful princess. In classic cartoon style, hearts appear in his eyes and he looks at her slack-jawed. Purple Pieman agrees to do whatever they want. Sour Grapes gets annoyed and convinces the Pieman to proceed with their perfume-making scheme. In quick order, a wicked Berry Bird heads to Strawberryland, kidnaps the Berrykins, and then brings them to the villains. There’s a lot of baby kidnapping in these specials. The bad guys realize they can use the nice smells of the Berrykins for their perfume. They put them all into a giant saltshaker which pours the baby smells into a large cauldron. The Berrykins cleverly escape the villains, and the Berry Princess uses her magic on the clouds to overcome the horrid odors within. Things end with a rather eerie song from the Berry Princess who leaves the Berrykins behind to be cared for by the apparently capable young children of Strawberryland. Here, the Strawberry Shortcake specials come to their end.
All in all, these Specials are great fun to watch. I‘ve tried to put my finger on why these still appeal to me. While they are cute and funny, there is also something weirdly subversive about them. This is particularly evident in the behavior of Purple Pieman and Sour Grapes, who both definitely steal these shows. Russi Taylor is so darned cute and innocent as Strawberry Shortcake. She does an amazing job in the role and makes the character entirely lovable. However, the perverse delight the Pieman takes in his wickedness and the smug and sultry villainy displayed by Sour Grapes provide an odd, seedy counterpoint to the cuteness. This combination gives these specials a really strange, funny edge.
If you’re only going to check out one of these, I definitely recommend Strawberry Shortcake: Housewarming Surprise. It’s the fourth special, although it is the first one animated by Nelvana. This one has it all – fun, weirdness, comedy, songs, cuteness, and scenery-chewing villainy! I think you’ll like it berry much indeed!
Thanks to James Eatock for giving me the thumbs up to post this before its potential appearance in a future 'cereal:geek' issue. Check out the pemiere magazine on 80's animation here: http://www.cerealgeek.com/