Fuzzy Freaks

Remember when guys in costumes ruled children's television?
July 23, 2008
It is my opinion that today's children's television does not contain enough fuzzy freaks to keep the kids entertained. Computer animation has made the business of dressing up in some type of animal costume and putting on a show for the little rugrats of the world obsolete.

No more creative storytelling featuring guy/gals dressed in green shag carpeting and pretending to be a rock band. NO, today's kids are stuck with CGI charlatans like The Backyardigans and Higglytown Heroes.

Why am I so passionate about his topic, you ask? No, I am not a "Fuzzy". You know, one of those folks that really, REAAAAALLLLLLLYYYYY likes people dressed up as animals. If you are of this persuasion I mean no disrespect, it's just that no matter how hard you try to convince me otherwise Homey don't play 'dat!

And no it is not a fixation with body hair. Yes, my last article was about the power of the mustache, but in my mind felt-bodied creatures do not compare to the majesty of Tom Selleck's upper lip and belong to a whole 'nother category of interest.

I will reveal my personal connection to these Fabricated Fur-balls at the end of the article, so stay tuned for the surprise ending. I promise you it will be worth it. But back to the topic at hand, where are these costumed clowns of decades passed?

While I am now aware of such costume-laden Krofft Bros. shows as H.R. Pufnstuf and The Banana Splits hour, this was before my era of recollection.

My earliest glimpses of these types of creatures came for me in the form of television commercials. McDonald's led the charge with their own cavalcade of good-natured but strange creations named Ronald and his McDonaldland Pals.

Most obvious is Grimace, who really shows us the beginning of the evolutionary cycle of this once mighty race of colorful characters. Purple and oblong, he had very little definition and we didn't even have to be told what he was supposed to be to like him. Slap a smile on a giant hairy gumdrop and I'm first in line for a Happy Meal. I always felt like he would make a really comfy arm chair, but I guess that would be WRONG and Ronald probably has first dibs on Grimace's possibly sweet & sugary carcass anyway.

Birdie and the Hamburglar definitely had more defined characteristics and easy to determine origins: Birdie came from an egg and the Hamburglar came from any old silent movie featuring a robber. Either way they were comforting to look at and not in any way pixilated or digitized.

Mac Tonight and CosMc were later additions, but they were kind of creepy and may have contributed to the overall decline of our fuzzy friends.

One of the most entertaining displays of furry freakdom came from the rascally residents of Zoobilee Zoo. Do you remember this show? Do you want to remember this show? I mean, look as this bunch.

I used to watch this all the time. I remember a lot shrieking from the bird-lady and for some reason feeling very comfortable with Bravo Fox, the guy with the long, red hair. I always had a theory that he was the guy from Mathnet on Square One television in disguise.

Anybody remember that fine piece of educational television? I hated math, but I loved Mathnet! Thus, my affinity for arguably the most sinister looking guy on the show, kind of like the Joker meets the Wolfman.

The Zooble I didn't trust was Van Go Lion, with all his jumping and spinning. Plus he always had paintbrushes and paint can in his hands. Jump all you want, but spinning is dangerous, especially with heavy/sharp objects in your paws-you could really hurt somebody! Mayor Ben should have put a stop to that a long time ago.

The Disney Channel was ever a scene for costumed characters, just like the one's found in their many theme parks. Well, these costumes were a little different that those found in the parks in that they made these classic Disney icons look like psycho-aliens from the planet Diz-Nack 5. Or in this case, Pooh Corner.

Tell me Pooh doesn't look like he's ready to strangle someone here. Or at the very least, hypnotically brainwash them into getting him more honey to fuel his HUNGER. "My hunger grows! Feed me!"

The smoothed-out fur has also got a freak out factor to it. It looks like Pooh was tossed around in a rock Tumbler for a week.

Dumbo's Circus was apparently handled by the exact same production team, given the fact that Dumbo had the same smoothed out look that Pooh enjoyed. I always expected a crossover but ended up very disappointed and slightly uneasy kid.
Welcome to Pooh Corner along with Dumbo's Circus really cornered the costumed character market on the Disney Channel in the 80's, but as the 90's rolled around they decided to go the Zoobilee Zoo route and reveal a bit more of the actors inside the suits, bad idea.

Adventures in Wonderland gave us quite a cabaret of off-kilter ideas for the furry friends market. First off, we have the White Rabbit sporting rollerblades while conversing with the Jabba the Hut like Caterpillar.

As if a 5 foot talking rabbit wouldn't be scary enough, they decided to give him an extra 6 inches and the ability to glide eerily across the multi-colored landscape that was Wonderland.

While I do remember being entertained by the show every time I watched, there was always that lingering feeling that this wasn't fun, this was unnatural. Looking at the March Hare it is clear to see. I've know people that actually looked like this, minus the ears of course and it's hard to have a conversation when you can't stop staring at their extreme tan and overbite combo.

See that's the March Hare in the background, doesn't he look devious? The poor Mad Hatter is trying to escape, "I don't belong here! I should be on Broadway!" But he wouldn't escape until 4 years later, when the show was cancelled and moved into syndication land.

I don't want to make it sound like I didn't enjoy these shows, I truly did. Especially since the point of this article is to encourage the networks to bring back this type of artistry to the tube. But I do have to bring up one more show, that never quite made it and the furry freaks featured may have been the reason why.

In 1993 the U.S.A. took a chance on a Brazilian import children's host named Xuxa. Now I lived in Brazil for a few years and I can definitely tell you she is the most powerful celebrity they have. Xuxa is the Brazilian Oprah, but she has gained her following from the children, a very Pied Piper-esque scheme indeed.

Xuxa's American show was basically a sing-along style kids show extravaganza, think of Carnivale for kids. There's confetti, music and costumes. Oh yes, the costumes. While Xuxa herself changed her wardrobe every 5 minutes she never went Full Fuzzy, she left that to her goofy, enchanted underlings.

I couldn't find many pictures, but look at this guy with the Xuxa cardboard guitar. This guy looks like he should be selling speakers out of the back of a van, not dancing around for the kiddies. As for the pink Gorilla, Xuxa always surrounds herself with these types of neon fuzzy fiends. Pink Gorillas, Blue Pandas, stuff like that. It was like Rainbow Brite on the Island of Dr. Moreau.

Xuxa's show didn't last very long and probably isn't even a distant memory for most of you, since we haven't accepted much from Brazil other than super models that American boys like Leo Dicaprio give the OK for. I think our distrust of the Brazilian entertainment industry started with Xuxa and her menagerie of fur-balls.

A return to the McDonald method of full Purple body suits came a short while later in the form of Barney and the Teletubbies, but by then the likes of CG masterminds like the folks at VeggieTales were already gearing up for the overall take-over of children's programming.

Now for the reason my mind would even conjure up the images these days gone by, the promised revelation of my connection to this world of wonder. These costumed characters were my brethren, my kin, my birds of a feather. I was once counted among them and cheered within their furry ranks.

That's right, I used to be GOOFY at Disneyland (among others). It's true, I once donned the costume daily and created merriment for the kids. I was no Grimace, but certainly a few kids remember shaking hands with the Goofmeister. Now the lawyers at Disney may pounce on me for making this revelation, so if this is my last article, let me just say it has been a pleas----(Dialtone).
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