Pilot Program Subject Two: Rose Petal Place (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.


SUMMARY:  A long time ago in a Victorian mansion named Rose Petal Place, the owner’s daughter cried over her beloved garden and wished her flowers could live forever despite her family’s impending move away from the mansion.  Her tears brought the flowers that they touched to life as little pixie-like girls, with their leader being Rose Petal.  Thanks to Rose Petal’s magical voice, the garden continues to thrive even though the mansion itself is falling to pieces.  However, an evil spider named Nastina wants the garden to wither & die so she can take it over.  She first tries to kill Rose Petal & her friends during their rounds by crushing them with a bird bath, then tries to flood out a concert they’re holding for the local bugs.  Finally, Nastina decides to take away Rose Petal’s voice.  She arranges for her sidekick Horace to feign reformation, then kidnap Rose Petal, trick her into drinking the potion to rob her of her voice, and finally lock her in a lightless tower.  This is especially bad, since Rose Petal will die without light.  Her friends stage a rescue and manage to escape Nastina, even though she’s taken to bombarding her own lair with rocks to crush them.  Rose Petal is revived & healed by her friends’ tears, much like how she was created, and she goes on to helping the garden thrive through song.

MISCELLANEOUS:  This is where I note various things I observed while watching, usually in bullet format.
  • In what turned out to be a pleasant surprise, this was also a musical.  Rose Petal has two songs (one of which is reprised at the end), and Nastina gets a villain song.
  • Rose Petal’s friends include Sunny (a tomboyish sunflower girl), Iris (a somewhat shy girl), Lily Fair (a ballerina), Daffodil (who doesn’t have a defining trait here), and Sweet Orchid (a fussy Southern Belle, which is amusing for anyone who has ever tried to take care of an orchid); she also has animal sidekicks Pitterpat (a kitten), Tumbles (a hedgehog), and a caterpillar (whose name was unintelligible) who acts like a coach & wears what look like Converse One-Stars.
  • When a flashback shows how Rose Petal came to life, the show goes into a live-action segment with a young actress playing the girl who created her.
  • Horace is supposed to be a fly that dresses like a 30s hobo, talks like a 20s gangster, and has a somewhat unfortunate facial design that reminds me of Al Jolson in blackface.  I don’t know if this was an unfortunate choice or a case where the producers clashed with an overseas studio who altered the designs for the worse (see the below interview).
  • In the most “toyetic” moment of the special, during the live-action flashback, the girl’s tears fall on a tin car, and this becomes Rose Petal’s car.  This could only happen because someone at Kenner specifically told them to include the car.
  • Finally, this and Poochie are both written by Malcom “Mal” Marmorstein.  Mr. Marmorstein has written many family friendly movies and for several soap operas.  More details are available from his Wikipedia page.  Interestingly, these two specials & Pete’s Dragon are his only animation-related credits.

 PRODUCTION COMPANY:  Ruby-Spears was founded by Joe Ruby & Ken Spears, writers who co-created Scooby Doo along with artist Iwao Takamoto.  According to a great interview they gave on Stu’s Show (to be precise, show 306), they were partially funded to start their own studio by Fred Silverman, who was not exactly happy with the output from Hanna-Barbera at the time.  They created a series of specials before starting to do regular series such as the 80s version of Alvin and the Chipmunks, Saturday Supercade, and Thundarr the Barbarian.  Around this time, their company became part of Taft Enterprises & thus a sister company to their old Hanna-Barbera colleagues.  Ruby-Spears became defunct in 1996, but both founders still work in animation production to different degrees.  I recommend visiting this database for a list of Ruby-Spears’ many productions.

VOICE ACTING SPOTLIGHT:   This is the first, but not the only, example of a show using a “celebrity” voice to get attention – in this case, because it’s a musical, Marie Osmond, who does a pretty good job & doesn't come off as the dreaded "bored celeb reading lines" that I usually associate with "celebrity" voices.  But I want to use this to showcase actual voice actors, so let’s talk about Susan Blu instead.  Fans of Jem will probably best remember her as the voice of Stormer, but she has done many, many roles.  She’s also known as a skilled voice director and currently works as a teacher & mentor for future voice actors.  In this special, she does Sunny and Daffodil, and I’m still trying to figure out if she also voiced Nastina.  Either way, she’s a national treasure in the field.

THE MERCH:  Kenner put out a toy line consisting of Rose Petal & her friends, along with a car that is said to have borrowed the mold of the Rockin’ Roadster from Jem and a figure of Nastina for all of your crime-scene-reenactment needs (surprising to me, since doll lines rarely released villain figures unless they could be used as fashion dolls, such as the Misfits from Jem).  There were also three picture books.  A second special was planned around the second unreleased wave of dolls, but nothing online indicates it ever made it to air other than a synopsis indicating the new line of dolls would have appeared as characters.  As for the second wave of dolls, they’re highly sought-after collectors’ items to this day.  This guide to the line, along with a later line called Bubble Belles that reused elements of Rose Petal Place, is quite thorough and a good indicator of the push Kenner gave this property.
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 the Rose Petal Place write-up, along with photos of the unreleased second wave of dolls (as of this writing, the picture of the main line isn't showing up correctly).  I actually would like the Marigold doll...

COMMENTS:  This is the first of this series that I do not recall ever seeing as a child.  I don’t think it was ever made available for home airings on video, even though the YouTube rip seems to suggest it was.  Nothing I can find online says anything concrete.

I have to say, one of the things that surprised me the most was how much darkness in this otherwise bright & colorful special.  Nastina tries twice to straight-up murder Rose Petal and her friends, and the show makes it 100% clear that she is in mortal danger in the last act.  Rose Petal even directly says, "I'll die without light!"  After the last subject, where no one was really in the wrong, this was a pretty stark difference.  I’m not someone who’s prudish about mortal threats in animation; I just didn’t expect it from a show with these bright, cute trappings.

Rose Petal herself is a good heroine – she’s very positive and determined to carry out her mission of keeping the garden growing no matter what threats she faces.  Her most developed friends turn out to be Sweet Orchid (because the “fussy Southern Belle” archetype is pretty well-defined on its own) and the caterpillar (whose gym coaching demeanor is vital to saving the day).  The other heroes just feel sort of blandly pleasant, but that might be due to the lack of time to develop them.  The villains are solid, if rather straight-up evil, although credit where credit is due – they really staged it as though Horace wanted to reform & dissented from Nastina’s plan until the very end of his conversation, when it became obvious it was a trap.  So congrats, you fooled the mom in the audience.

Since this is a musical, it’s worth discussing the music.  Ruby-Spears must have used a regular orchestra or band, since I can hear proper instruments in the BMG.  There’s violins, at one point there’s a groovy bass guitar line, and there’s an actual organ.  Along with the solid backscore, there’s also the three songs; all three have catchy melodies and lyrics that fit their singers’ personalities quite well.  It’s clear that the producers put a lot of thought into how to get the most of their set-up and give it a worthwhile soundtrack.

This is a surprisingly good special, and I’m actually sad that I missed out on it when I was younger.  I’d probably have a whole line of the dolls or something now that I’m old & bad with money.  It’s definitely worth a look.

WOULD IT WORK AS A SERIES:  It would actually make a pretty good series.  The other flower girls don’t get much development, so having a regular series could give them some spotlight.  Also, it has a built-in set-up for conflict, and it could go into what would happen if someone bought the abandoned mansion to start fixing it.  You could even have a new spotlighted song every episode.  They’d just have to tone down some of the death in this.

Next time, Star Fairies.


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