The Little Raccoon
Okay, I'll admit it. The main reason for my
interest. in "The Buford Files" centers around the small character
whose name appears above. I don't know why, but I became captivated by him the
moment he first appeared on the premier episode back in 1978. Those familiar
with the Yogi's Space Race series will remeber that Jabberjaw, who was
curiously paired with Buford, would place Buford on a tread mill, and would
hang a stuffed raccoon on a fishing lure in front of him to make him run. Then
there was the episode where Jabberjaw and Buford won the race when a real
raccoon got Buford going, and the time when an' offhand remark about
"space raccoons" was enough to wake up Buford.
The thing was, the raccoon on Buford's own show was a particular character, as he was identified by a thin blue headband with a knot tied in front. At first, I thought this was a Seminole Indian band, since the Seminole were a tribe native to Okefenokee. But it seems to be instead the type of band often worn in cartoons by martial artists. The Raccoon himself had a somewhat oriental (Japanese?) persona, and the few times he spoke it was with a pronounced accent. Why was this? It could have been because the animators thought raccoons had an oriental look to them, or the fact that there are cartoon karate experts whose headbands double as masks (Come to think of it, Hong Kong Phooey is one).
The bigger question is why the Raccoon was included on the show at all. Why did HB decide to give the star of a teen mystery series a Tom-and-Jerry-like adversary? The Raccoon seemed to want to belong on another series, a catch-and-chase type show with himself and Buford as the main players. Since the Raccoon is glimpsed most often on the first few episodes, the writers may have had higher hopes for him. He was shown less and less as the series progressed, and many of the later episodes did not show the Raccoon at all.
Partly, it may have been because by this time it was certain they wouldn't be making new episodes for the following season, and the animation became rather sloppy toward the end. Another reason may have been that they saw no real point to include the few appearances by the Raccoon on a teen mystery, especailly since when he did appear, he made the star of the show look bad. A strange fact is, raccoons are strangly absent as cartoon characters. Certainly the number cartoon raccoons is small compared with the legions of mice, birds, cats, dogs, and rabbits. And even those who do exist tend to have personnalities that are un-raccoon like. The Canadian series "The Raccoons" are one example of this, as is HB's own Rick the Raccoon on shirttales, and (I believe) Smokey on the animated version of "The Dukes of Hazzard." One famous animated raccoon who does act his species -in other words, gluttonous and mischievous-is Meeko of Pocahantas fame. But with the Raccoon on Buford, whom most people don't even know, they hit the nail on the head. The raccoon is about as mischievous and gluttonous as they come. Unlike the mice, birds and rabbits, real raccoons often do foil hounds and other animals who are after them. So a hound-and-raccoon teamup seemed natural and something that hadn't been done before. And unlike those other characters, a raccoon fit the role of cute troublemaker like a glove.
Clearly, the Raccoon has some similarity to other small catch-and-chase characters which are found throughout cartoons, such as Jerry mouse, Tweety Bird, Sniffles, Lambsy, to name a few. Like the majority of these, the raccoon is drawn as a "cute" character with a large head and pear-shaped body. He is small, and is quick-witted. What's different about him seems to be in his relationship with Buford. In the premier episode, Buford doesn't appear the bear the Raccoon any real animosity. He seems almost friendly with him, as he gives him a piece of his shoo-fly pie, first during a dream-sequence, then at the end of the episode, when the Raccoon makes off with Buford's pie leaving him holding the one piece. I couldn't help feeling sorry for him (Buford) here. But for the rest of the series, Buford seems to actually hate the raccoon, and is intent on harming or destroying him. Did the shoo-fly pie incident set him off, or was he just feeling generous that first episode? The animators don't tell us, but it's clear that Buford has it in for the Raccoon, at least from this point on. In what passes for "real-life" in the cartoon, the Raccoon always comes out of encounters with his adversary on top, as small cartoon characters almost always do. However, Buford has a series of "dreams" on several epsiodes which very often feature the Raccoon.
Since according to Freud, dreams are said to always be egotistical, it is Buford who wins in these dream encounters. It is although the cartoon rule which says that the little guy always wins has been horrifically inverted. Given the frequency with which small characters get the better of their pursuers in cartoons, some might find these dreams refreshing. I always found them nightmarish situations in which the smaller, cuter animal is rendered powerless. Curiously, it seems the animators intended the same thing, as sometimes the dreams are shown from the little raccoon's viewpoint. If this was to encourage viewer empathy with the raccoon, why didn't show focus more on him, and less on Fenokee County's incompetent law enforcment? One thing that is clear from these dreams is that Buford's pursuit of the Raccoon differs in one important way from other catch-and-chase situations, such Mildew Wolf and Lambsy, Wile E. Coyote and Roadrunner, Blast-Off Buzzard and Crazylegs, and just about any other one you can name. Most of these cartoon predators desire to eat of their intended victims-they might not be above sneering, but all they really want is a decent meal. Buford, however, seems motivated by revenge. He shows no desire to eat the Raccoon; he wants noting so innocent as self-gratification. This isn't even a "best enemies" type of relation like Tom and Jerry, or Motormouse and Autocat.
When I first watched these cartoons I felt a bit guilty for empahthizing with the Raccoon. After all, he was obviously no innocent victim. However, it is not so simple to say that Buford wants to get the Raccoon merely because he is provoked. We know from the Space Race segments that Buford has a "thing" against raccoons. The writers are playing on the natural animostiy that exists between dogs and raccoons in real-life. In the cartoon world, where characters represent human types, that roughly translates into prejudice. In other words, the Raccoon is sympathetic (to me, anyway)partly becasue his mischievous nature only makes him endearing, but also because his adversary (Buford) is a bigot. Buford is, of course, a lovably lethargic sort of character if the raccoon isn't around; certainly Buford shows malice to no one else, unless they threaten Duchess, or someone he cares about. His ideas of "getting even" with the Raccoon are obviously overblown. For example, in the dream sequence on "Man with the Orange Hair", we first see the Raccoon kicking show on Buford. Then we see Buford corner the Raccoon on an ice lege over a deep chasm before he starts to chop the ledge off with an icepick. Why doesn't Buford just kick snow back at the Raccoon instead? Then there is the dream where Buford imagines himself and Duchess as the hero and heroine of a melodrama, with the Raccoon (naturally) as the villain. This is the one episode that shows the Raccoon as evil. However, the Snidley Whiplash getup simple looks rediculous on him, and what this really demostrates is that Buford regards the Raccoon as his "sworn enemy". In the other dreams, it's Buford who acts like a villain, and when Buford sneers he really does look evil. Then there is the dreadfully ominous music they play during the dream scene on "The Magic Whammy" episode, when Buford sticks the raccoon on a table. I wasn't exactly sure at first what was going on during this cheesily animated little scene, but I suppose Buford is threatening to zap the little Raccoon out of existence with his magic wand, and wants to toy with him a bit first. Another curious fact is that Buford's relation to Duchess is exactly opposite that of the Little Raccoon. It is clear Buford will risk his own life to save her, or recover her diamond collar, both in "real-life", and during the dreams. When Duchess is on, Buford is a real hero, as noble and self-sacrificing as they come. It probably is no coincidence that the Raccoon is absent from the final episode,even in the dream sequence,and Duchess was brought back. The writers probably thought they should end the series (as it was clear this was the end) making Buford heroic instead of having be foiled by a smaller character. Clearly, these two relations show that there was a bit more to Buford's character than to most other HB canines, only the series didn't last, and writers didn't go into as much detail with it, even on the episodes that were produced. What if the series had gone the opposite way, and had been simply a catch-and-chase show? Wether it would have attracted a larger or smaller audience is anyone's guess, but it would have been a catch-and-chase audience rather than the teen mystery crowd it was aiming for. That said, I may not fit in very well with other "Buford" fans by saying the Raccoon is my favorite character. Since most fans watched for mainly for mysteries, the Raccoon may have seemed an intrusion or worse. After all, what would most Scooby-Doo fans think of a character who played tricks on the star of the show, and whom Scooby was uncharacteristically malicious toward? Since Buford was the star of the show, it would have made more sense (if they wanted a foil for him at all) to include someone who was out to get Buford,(a local redneck who hated dogs maybe), rather than the other way round. The Raccoon remained sympathetic, to me anyway, for the reason that he comes across as cute character whose personal characteristics, in this case not being able to stay out of mischief, places him in dire straits, somewhat like the childhood characters of Peter Rabbit and Tom Kitten. And in spite of the fact he's such a trouble maker, he comes across more than any small cartoon I can think of, as truely persecuted, because Buford appears to hate him because of what he is. One other thing about the Raccoon; he appears to have had a predecessor. There was no regular character quite like him on any other teen mystery show, but on one episode of "Clue Club" set at a skie resort, there was a mischievous rabbit who played pranks on Whoofer and Wimper. Even though he lacked the Raccoon's vulnerability and depth of character, he may well have been a prototype. One other obvious example was another gluttonous troublemaker called Ninja Raccoon who appeared on tow epidoes of "The New Yogi Bear Show" in 1987. This guy has an even more pronounced oriental persona, and though he lacks a regular adversary, similarity between him and the Little Racoon is virtually the same was that between Muttley and Mumbly.
Possibly he was rework of the character on"Buford". Some may believe that the writers gave the Raccoon an unfair edge over Buford, as they had him do things like trick Buford into falling into a water trough in one well-animated scene. But HB did do the Raccoon at least one grave injustice: they didn't show him enough. Had the show continued into a second season, it is very likley that he would have been gone entirely. I don't really believe that the mystery formula of the show should have been scrapped in favor of a catch-and-chase relation between Buford and the Raccoon. In fact, both formulas have been done to death. What might have been better was an outdoor adventure type show, like I suggested earlier. It may well have drawn in more viewers, as the mystery formula was tired by then, and given more opportunies for the feud between Buford and the raccoon to play a larger role in the story, without taking over the show. After all, probably most fans of the show had an particular interest in the regional aspect of "Buford", what really set it apart from the other teen mysteries. But who knows? Would the show really have lasted? We'll never know and can only guess.