Pilot Program Subject One: Poochie (1984)

The Pilot Program is a look at various merchandise-centric cartoons that were released as specials in the 80s & 90s; while they were clearly set up to go to series, they never did.  Every entry will look at a new show, who made it, what it was selling, and whether it would’ve made a good series.

POOCHIE (1984)

SUMMARY: Poochie is a pink doggie who is owned by the mysterious EG, owner of World Now magazine who is so reclusive that no one’s sure if he’s a missing person.  While the staff thinks that the owner is so fond of her that he has named his super-popular advice column after her, it becomes apparent that she actually is the one giving advice.  From the penthouse “central command” office, she receives & answers letters with help from her translator & assistant Hermes; while most seems like typical Dear Abby-type stuff, every so often Poochie gets an “urgent” letter.  This time, she gets a letter from a boy named Danny Evans who is staying in Cairo & whose father has vanished while exploring a new pyramid.  After rescuing Danny, they find themselves falling through a series of trap doors into an underground city built around the tomb of the lost pharaoh Nikniknatun.  His subjects, the Nikkites, decree that the intruders be sacrificed to protect the tomb from being defiled, but the high priestess Khum would prefer they use the Forgotten Flower to give them amnesia (especially after she realizes one of the intruders is a child).  After arranging a jailbreak, Poochie gets Hermes to help her stage a vision from the gods to convince the other subjects that Khum’s plan is the right one.  She has the Evanses use the Forgotten Flower, but even though they’ll forget all about the city, she sends Danny off with a pendant as a gift.  Poochie & Hermes return home, as she writes her advice column again & waits for another urgent request.

MISCELLANEOUS:  This is where I note various things I observed while watching, usually in bullet format.
  • One thing that bugged me was that Osiris is referred throughout the episode as a goddess.  Look, I know this was written before the age of Wikipedia, but libraries have encyclopedias, are usually free, & would’ve helped you avoid this error.
  • Poochie herself isn’t anthropomorphic; she runs on all fours, and unless Hermes is around to translate for her, she barks like a normal dog.  She’s also able to talk to other dogs, which is how they find the way to the pyramid.
  • Hermes is 100% a clone of C3PO of Star Wars fame.  His non-disguised design is literally C3PO with a more human face & two colors; his whiny, cowardly nature is not only cribbed from the character, but he is also voiced in a blatant impersonation of Anthony Daniels.  It’s just shameless.  Her other, lesser robot assistant, Zipcode, is kind of generic in design, but his habit of reading her letters out loud by eating them like corn on the cob is kind of funny.
  • I love how toyetic Poochie’s vehicles are, from the plane with her face on the tail to the dune buggy that turns into a little rocket thingie. 
  • Because the nature of this plot reminded me of Jonny Quest so much, my notes are full of moments wherein I hold Dr. Evans up against Dr. Quest and find him wanting.  From wearing jorts to letting his son use the Forgotten Flower before him, he’s not the best adventurer-parent.
PRODUCTION COMPANY:  This is one of the earliest creations of DiC Entertainment, a company best known for shows like Inspector Gadget, The Real Ghostbusters, Where On Earth Is Carmen Sandiego?, and the dueling Sonic the Hedgehog cartoons of the 90s, along with the original dub of the first two seasons of Sailor Moon.  Since they were founded by Andy Heyward & Jean Chapolin as an intentionally cross-continental company, they had more European and Japanese style influences than were typically seen in cartoons at the time. For a more thorough look at DiC’s productions before they were swallowed up by Cookie Jar Entertainment in 2008, please see this database.

VOICE ACTING SPOTLIGHT:  I’d be remiss in my status as “loser Jonny Quest fangirl” if I didn’t talk about John Stephenson.  Dude was the original voice of Dr. Quest, and while I’ve encountered him in different roles (usually in Hanna-Barbera series, as either Doggy Daddy or an authority figure such as Fred Flintstone’s boss), he never made much of an impression; but at the end of the day, he was the first voice of a personal favorite character in all of fiction & for that I salute him.  I could pick out his voice as the de facto leader of the Nikkites almost immediately.

THE MERCH:  The line of Poochie merchandise from Mattel covered a wide array of material, from clip-on earrings to paper dolls (where she was usually anthropomorphized) to plush toys.  But one of the things that seems to be unique to the line is the large number of stampers.  There were even DIY stationary kits with markers, stampers, & Poochie envelopes.  Even the toy sheets on sale have a tendency to be for stationary sets (as seen with this eBay auction) than for dolls.  The sheer dominance of stationary in marketing Poochie might explain why DiC decided to build her adventures around writing & sending letters.
After the initial draft/scheduling (as these are done in advance), I discovered an invaluable resource for these first four subjects - Ghost of the Doll.  Here is their Poochie write-up, including the more-odd-than-cute anthropomorphic lines, Baby Poochie & Poochie Pals.  No idea why, but they kind of bother me, especially the card art.  There's something wrong about it.

COMMENTS:  It seems I chose an interesting one to start this series with and not just because it was one I remembered renting on VHS as a kid.  I liked it and was surprised that there weren’t more Poochie tapes.  Looking as an adult, I can see why, but I can also see potential.

I mentioned Jonny Quest a lot while writing this, and that’s because this kind of story really felt like a reworked JQ script.  It obviously wasn’t, but the writer may have been inspired by the series.  It’s a nice throwback to the sort of globe-trotting adventure stories that have largely fallen out of favor, and it’s one wherein the players are all interesting & never dehumanized (an unfortunate tendency for the genre).

Poochie herself is a very likable character.  She’s shown to be kind-hearted, sensible, brave, and genuinely interested in helping others.  The “villains” of the episode, the Nikkites, are never portrayed as openly malicious; they really want to protect their pharaoh’s tomb from robbers and only refuse to use the Forgotten Flower because they’re afraid it’s lost its effectiveness.  Khum is sympathetic because of her efforts to navigate the gulf between her duties & her personal mores.  Even the Evanses, even if they’re a bit bland, come off as fundamentally decent people who are more interested in the educational potential of the lost city than in any wealth.  But then we get to Hermes.

Plagiarism aside, Hermes is the weakest link of the show.  I probably liked him as a kid, but now that I’m at parent age, I found him super, super annoying.  He is basically C3PO without the clenched teeth bravery and with the comic relief elements ramped up to eleven.  Within the first ten minutes, his running gag of saying “I’m not programmed to [insert action here]” is established and exhausted.  Most of the problems in the show come straight from his “wacky” bumbling, and he does only one genuinely cool thing (a flying leap into a runaway wagon) before he immediately goes into whining mode again.  If you’re over the age of nine, he wears out his welcome really fast, and that’s before you get to the sheer unoriginality of the character.  I know DiC was just starting out, but C’MON!

The animation in the “special” itself is solid – the stuff that needs to be exaggerated is, and the character designs have a bit of an anime-esque element to them that is very appealing.  However, the background music is awful – most of it is a tinny keyboard loop of the theme song that doesn’t always fit the scenes where it’s being used.  There are no less than two “wacky” chase scenes, and the last 90 seconds before the credits is all reused footage with narration about further adventures pending, which they weren’t.

It’s not a bad special by any means, even with its flaws, and if you want a solid old-school adventure with a side of cuteness, it’s a good choice.

WOULD IT WORK AS A SERIES:  Honestly, with only one glaring flaw, this could work.  “Poochie answers pleas for help & advice” is a surprisingly open-ended concept, with her using her wits and kindness to help with everything from the globe-trotting adventure we saw here to more of a life-lesson type of tale.  And if you needed an ongoing hook that wouldn’t bind the show continuity-wise but could still bring in viewers, the mystery of where Poochie’s owner EG went & why are pretty solid.  However, DiC would’ve seriously needed to rework Hermes; annoyance levels aside, he was so unoriginal and his inspiration was so obvious that LucasArts would have sued them senseless.  So really, all they would have had to do to take it to series was rework the sidekick, who was already the weakest link.

Next time, Rose Petal Place.


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