The California Raisins
|The California Raisins|
|First appearance||June 19, 1986|
|Created by||California Raisin Advisory Board|
|Aliases||The Singin' Dancin' California Raisins|
The California Raisins were a fictional rhythm and blues animated musical group as well as advertising and merchandising characters composed of anthropomorphized raisins. Lead vocals were sung by musician Buddy Miles. The California Raisins concept experienced high popularity in the mid-to-late 1980s principally through claymation TV commercials and animated specials, winning an Emmy Award and one nomination.
Origin and success
The concept was originally created for a 1986 commercial on behalf of the California Raisin Advisory Board when one of the writers, Seth Werner (at the time with the advertising firm Foote, Cone & Belding SF, and now with big) came up with an idea for the new raisin commercial, saying, "We have tried everything but dancing raisins singing 'I Heard It Through the Grapevine'" (the 1968 song popularized by Marvin Gaye). To their surprise, the commercial became wildly popular, paving the way for several future commercials–one of which featured Ray Charles and another with a raisin caricature of Michael Jackson–and opportunities through other media. The commercials were produced by Vinton Studios using their claymation technique, with character designs by Michael Brunsfeld. The following year, the Raisins appeared in the Emmy Award-winning A Claymation Christmas Celebration, singing the Christmas carol, "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (voiced by The Street Corner Singers).
The California Raisins released four studio albums on Priority Records between 1987 and 1988, and their signature song, "I Heard It Through the Grapevine," landed on the Billboard Hot 100. However, the Raisins would continue to make their strongest impression through animated endeavors.
On November 4, 1988, CBS aired a primetime special entitled Meet the Raisins!. The musical mockumentary was again created by Vinton Studios and was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award. It also provided the band members more personality and individual names: A.C., Beebop (drums), Stretch (bass), and Red (guitar/piano). A Saturday morning cartoon series, The California Raisin Show, debuted the following year but lasted merely 13 episodes. While cel animated by Murakami-Wolf-Swenson, it maintained Will Vinton's creative direction. A sequel to the original CBS special aired in 1990 under the title Raisins: Sold Out!: The California Raisins II. This special saw the Raisins hiring a new manager with the goal of making a comeback.
Many of the items created for the campaign have become part of the permanent collection of the Smithsonian Institution. Merchandise sales included toys and Raisins images on nearly every conceivable medium: lunch boxes, notebooks, clothing, posters, bedsheets, and even a Halloween costume just to name a few. A California Raisins Fan Club began in 1987 which included a Grapevine Gazette Newsletter and various memorabilia. Blackthorne Publishing also released a 6-issue comic book series entitled The California Raisins 3-D which included 3D glasses; these would later be re-released in the Ultimate Collection trade paperback.
Several California Raisins music albums were also released, featuring classic Motown and rock standards. These albums were included in the Smithsonian collection and were illustrated and art-directed by Helane Freeman, who later became famous for her work on Hannah Montana and The Suite Life of Zack & Cody, among other Disney programs.
Perhaps the most memorable piece of California Raisins merchandise, however, came in the form of small, non-poseable California Raisins figures. The Hardee's restaurant chain offered these as part of a promotion for their Cinnamon 'N' Raisin biscuits. Different collections were produced in 1987, 1988, 1991, and finally in 2001 (the latter adding Carls Jr. due to their late '90s acquisition of Hardee's) for their new stylization. This latest incarnation can still be seen on the California Raisin Marketing Board website.
In the early 1990s, Capcom produced a video game for the Nintendo Entertainment System titled The California Raisins: The Grape Escape, in which the player controlled a California Raisin through five side-scrolling levels battling various evil fruit and vegetable characters that have stolen the Raisins' music. The game was completed and several video game critics reviewed it, but was never released on the open market.
Although popular with the public, the California Raisin campaign eventually failed because its production cost the raisin growers almost twice their earnings. CALRAB (The people who made the campaign) was also closed on July 31, 1994 due to disagreements with raisin producers over the fairness of required payments to the organization.
Post-popularity and legacy
On March 28, 1997 Entertainment Weekly published "The 50 Best Commercials of All Time" as its cover story. The article ranked The California Raisins' premiere advertisement, "Lunchbox," at #15 with comments by ad agency executive Claude Jacques and described the Raisins as "The coolest wrinkled musicians this side of the Stones."
The vast amount of California Raisins merchandise has made for a substantial collectors' market. It even led to an unauthorized collectibles guide published in 1998, cataloging the many items based on the clay characters.
In 2002, the Food Network program Unwrapped featured a segment on The California Raisins featuring interviews with Will Vinton, David Altschul, and Mark Gustafson of Vinton Studios. Concept illustrations of the Raisins were also featured as interviewees discussed the characters' creation.
In The Simpsons episode 'Tis the Fifteenth Season, The California Raisins were spoofed as The California Prunes, on a special entitled Christmas with the California Prunes. Lisa dismisses it as "offensive to both Christians and prunes."
An article published by AnimateClay.com in the late 2000s details the whereabouts of the original claymation sculptures used by Vinton Studios. The figures were kept in a box for several years and headed for the trash before being obtained by Webster Colcord, a former employee of Vinton. Several photos were taken providing a close look at the Raisins' internal armatures and detailing their extremely poor condition, including the absence of the A.C. puppet's head.
In 2015, it was announced that a live-action/CGI reboot of the California Raisins would be released sometime in 2016-2017, with president of The Actors Hall of Fame Foundation, Rusty Citron, as one of the people behind the project.
- The California Raisins Sing the Hit Songs - 1987, Priority Records
- "What Does It Take (To Win Your Love)" b/w "I Got You (I Feel Good)" - 1988, Purple Vinyl 7"
- "I Heard it Through the Grapevine" - 1988 (single, peaked at #84 on the Billboard Hot 100)
- Sweet, Delicious, & Marvelous - 1988, Priority Records
- Meet the Raisins! - 1988, Priority Records
- Christmas with The California Raisins - 1988, Priority Records
Awards and nominations
- A Claymation Christmas Celebration - Primetime Emmy
- The California Raisins: Meet the Raisins! - Primetime Emmy nominee
- "Buddy Miles, Hendrix Drummer, Dies", by Jon Pareles, The New York Times, February 28, 2008
- "TV REVIEW; 'Claymation Christmas,' On CBS - New York Times". Nytimes.com. 1987-12-21. Retrieved 2011-06-13.
- "On View : A Feat Of Clay : The Creator Of California Raisins Molds An Animated Easter Special - Los Angeles Times". Articles.latimes.com. 1992-04-12. Retrieved 2011-06-13.
- "Stardom Is Feat Of Clay For California Raisins". Orlando Sentinel. Retrieved 2010-10-06.
- Corliss, Richard Bad 25: Spike Lee Brings Michael Jackson Back to Thrilling Life TIME. September 22, 2016
- California Raisins Collectibles Wharble.com. Retrieved on 5-15-11.
- The Hardee's Story Hardees.com. Retrieved on 6-22-10.
- Nintendo Power Staff (November–December 1989). "Pak Watch". Nintendo Power. Nintendo (9): 95.
- The 50 Best Commercials of All Time Entertainment Weekly (March 28, 1997). Retrieved on 5-15-11.
- Collectible California Raisins: An Unauthorized Guide With Values Amazon.com. Retrieved on 5-09-11.
- Unwrapped: The California Raisins YouTube. Retrieved on 6-22-10.
- Spess, Marc California Raisin Raisin Puppets: Late 80's - Early 90's AnimateClay.com (April 18, 2010). Retrieved on 5-15-11.
- Zingale, Jason It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia: A Very Sunny Christmas Premium Hollywood. September 22, 2016
-  Cartoon Brew.com Retrieved on 7-8-15.
- Official Will Vinton (LAIKA) Studios Site
- New Laika Studio Site (Will Vinton)
- All Music Entry
- California Raisins Marketing Board official website
- The Clay and Stop-Motion Animation How-To Page: "California Raisin Raisin Puppets: Late 80s - Early 90s"