Sunday, September 4, 2022

Zoobilee Zoo (1986-1987)

Canadian TV is like an underrated champion. Responsible for so many classic shows, but doesn't seem to get as much credit as it should. Maybe it's because everyone just assumes those shows are American, or maybe they don't pay much attention either way. These are just kids we're talking about here. While I grew up with many of these, some are well before my time, such as today's subject, Zoobilee Zoo...

In the town of Zoobilee Zoo, the Zoobles are always eager for fun and adventure. Whether it be learning how to conquer stage fright, going on camping trips, helping friends overcome problems, discovering magic, battling monsters together, etc, there's no shortage of activity here...

I was first exposed to the magic and wonder that is Zoobilee Zoo when I saw the intro, with what was said to be one of the catchiest songs around. They weren't wrong! It was an instant hit with me, so I decided to check the show out. Sure enough, I enjoyed it greatly from the first episode, and with 64 more, there was certainly plenty to enjoy.

The stories are consistently entertaining. Some are cheesier than others, and can cause a bit of eye-rolling, in the way that kids shows sometimes do. But by and large there's little to complain about, even if some scenes might look hilarious out-of-context.

As a program aimed primarily at young kids, Zoobilee Zoo often has a message of the day to teach its audience. I think it delivers these in a good way, and never feels moralising, or overly cheesy. It's sensible, and comes across in a relatable way (despite the characters being anthropomorphic animals).

Instantly noticeable from the moment you begin watching is how weird the show looks, with its actors dressed in brightly coloured full-body animal costumes. There's lots of jokes or remarks on the internet about how the show is creepy or off-putting, but it really isn't. It certainly has an air of oddness to it, but it's a kids' show. That's to be expected! Of course you're gonna see people dressed up as animals, and it never comes across as ill-fitting due to the performers selling it like champs.

Zoobilee Zoo has a pretty sizable cast, but they're the majority of who we see, and the show juggles them well. We're never overloaded with their presences, and they all fit into events well, whether in a major or supporting capacity. Their personalities can be basic, but in well-defined ways. Whazzat Kangaroo is the youthful and musical one. Talkatoo Cockatoo is into writing, running the town paper. Bravo Fox is an artiste, always trying something new on the stage. Lookout Bear is an adventurer. Bill Der Beaver is an inventor, as his name suggests. Van Go Lion an artist. And Mayor Ben is, well, the mayor. He rarely interacts with the rest of the cast, and acts more as a host. He's also the most human looking of all, which is strange.

The performances here are very good. Stevie Vallance has an adorably squeaky voice, and thankfully does not attempt an Australian accent. Karen Hartman has a mature female air to her. Michael B. Moynahan gives an exuberant performance. Forrest Gardner has a booming deep voice. Gary Schwartz is reminiscent of Ed Wynn, but with a somewhat snooty tone. Sandey Grinn is fine. And Ben Vereen is a good narrator. The show also has some diversity too, with two black cast members.

The costumes are fun to look at, well designed, and each look distinct. The faces are particularly impressive! It is only a kid's show, so it's not like the effects are ever deliberately meant to be 'convincing' in a big-budget sense, but these snouts honestly look really good!

The music in Zoobilee Zoo is great. There's of course the aforementioned theme, which also gets special encores at the end of some episodes. Beyond that, there is plenty neat 80s synth muzak to enjoy. There are a few regular songs performed during the episodes, some of which are good, others kinda annoyed me (such as the repetitive witch tune).

As of 2022, Zoobilee Zoo has not received an official DVD release, which is frankly criminal, especially 36 years later! As more time goes on, it seems more unlikely, but the show's enduring popularity does give one a little hope. As for how to watch the show, every episode (near as I can tell) is available on Youtube, in varying degrees of quality, so the show is far from lost.

Zoobilee Zoo may seem bizarre at first, but it quickly proves itself to be great fun, and well worth checking out! Obviously it's not gonna be to your tastes if you're not into all-ages shows, which is fine, but you don't need to have a high tolerance for kiddy shenanigans to enjoy this series...

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