Fraggle Rock and the undying love of Canadian children’s programming

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It’s been more than three decades, but fragglerock always sings the same song.

And for 1980s nostalgic kids looking to get their fix, you need look no further than Apple TV+, where the show was rebooted a year after a pandemic short film series helped spark interest in the children’s TV stalwart. Now fans can once again see the multicolored singing puppets on their screens with the Friday launch of 13 new episodes of Fraggle Rock: back to the rock.

He came next to a Cover written by Dave Grohl from the original theme song, while the cover itself has song credits from Patti LaBelle, Cynthia Erivo, Daveed Diggs and more. And although the pilot asks the characters to sing a new tune, subsequent episodes launch into a re-recorded version of the original opening theme – staying true to a show first launched by puppeteer legend Jim Henson in 1983, right in Toronto.

Back to the Rock also follows in the footsteps of the original, filming entirely in Canada – this time inside the Calgary Film Centre.

Kira Hall, a longtime puppeteer working on the show, says the scale of production is unlike anything she’s ever seen.

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“We’re talking about, like — and you can see it on the show — multi-level sets where you go up and puppeteer on a second level, whitewater features that puppeteer under a big tank of water …. [It’s] so much bigger than it was before,” Hall said.

But even with that effort and star power this decades-old cartoon has been able to fit in, it just seems to be part of a larger trend. Canadian content is experiencing a surge of renewed interest, inspiring reboots and revivals, especially young adult and children’s programming. Industry insiders say the surge in interest just demonstrates that Canada has always outperformed when it came to children’s entertainment.

“I think we’re a little less constrained by the idea of ​​how children should be spoken,” said Amil Niazi, culture writer and showrunner for CBC’s Pop Chat podcast, in explaining why Canadian children’s programming and teenagers seemed to be working so well – and why there’s so much desire to look back.

She say shows like Degrassi – which has existed on the airwaves almost constantly in one form or another since 1979 – hasn’t spoken to young people. Instead, they portrayed the world honestly — and honestly dealt with the issues facing young people.

“There are certainly a lot of programs for people of this age, but I think it can often be either sugar coated or condescending,” Niazi said. “And in Canada, I think we’re not afraid to be honest and real.”

Wave of reboots

Because of this particular way of engaging young people, there has been a lasting interest in long-cancelled Canadian shows, as well as requests from now-adult Canadians to bring those shows back.

In addition to an abiding interest in 1990s Canadian advertisements aimed at children — including the cataloging gave birth to a real cottage industryDegrassi is getting another reboot, which will air on HBO Max in the spring of 2023. Elsewhere, the long Total drama The cartoon series will also get two new seasons on HBO Max and Cartoon Network next year, largely because it has developed a cult following in Canada and abroad.

The Teletoon/MTV co-production Clone high aired for a single season before being cancelled. But his fan base never dwindled, and so he received a two-season order early last year – also from HBO Max.

And more than 20 years after its original run, Undergraduate students (produced similarly by Teletoon and MTV) may soon receive a Sequel funded by Kickstarter, which creator Peter Williams credits in large part to Canadians love for the show.

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When Kevin Gillis, creator of a Canadian animated show raccoons, learned that he had something of a revival, he was not entirely surprised.

“It’s 40 years later, and we’ve seen this very happy resurgence,” Gillis said in an interview with CBC. “It just started bubbling about a year and a half ago, and it’s starting to take over.”

The original cartoon, which debuted in the 1980s, had a strong environmental message – a seemingly heavy subject matter that the show trusted its young viewers to handle. It was popular enough to air in 180 countries and reached two million viewers a week in Canada during its prime time.

Gillis says the renewed interest in raccoons he and his team have restored and remastered the series from 35mm to 4k and 8k, as well as remastered the show’s music – with the possibility of releasing new shorts in the future. At the same time, he says they are currently courting two major distributors who are interested in acquiring the streaming rights to the show.

An image from the animated series The Raccoons. The cartoon aired on CBC in the 1980s after an initial series of successful specials starting in 1980. (SRC Still Photo Collection)

But even as these programs see renewed interest and revivals, Gillis says there is a problem. As with every show mentioned (apart from Undergraduate students, which never received a firm renewal offer despite its popularity), these Canadian relaunches are made by American and non-Canadian companies.

Aside from a few distributors, Gillis says Canadian broadcasters are no longer investing money in animation and that major children’s channels such as YTV and Teletoon have stopped feeding the once-thriving animation industry in this country.

“We don’t own anything, nada,” Gillis said. “A lot of our Canadian production companies have done fabulous animation, but it’s less and less Canadian-owned – and in fact Canadian-created. It’s somebody else’s job.”

Kevin Gillis, left, creator and director of the Canadian animated series The Raccoons, is shown with animation director Paul Schibli in this 1986 photo. (Run With Us Productions)

For Canadian animators, says Gillis, it’s already nearly impossible to move forward with a series without partnering directly with an American company — the “big guys” in the animation world. And that threatens the uniquely successful tone that Canadian content has fostered so far.

“[There’s] nothing wrong with the big guys. But most of the great shows that have come out of Canada weren’t created by the greats, Gillis said. “They were created by people living in Regina, Vancouver, Ottawa, Toronto, Montreal, Newfoundland.”

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As for the way forward, Gillis says it’s as simple as going back to the way things once were. Require streaming services that operate in the country to support and showcase Canadian animation as various channels have done in the past, and foster the particularly honest – and particularly weird – flavor of children’s and young adult content that is experiencing a revival now.

“You just have to have a little bit of support for the creativity that we have in this country,” Gillis said, “because we’re blessed with it.”

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