In Retrospective…The Smoggies
By CHRIS MUISE
This wasn’t what I planned.
Initially, I expected to pen my next ‘In Retrospective…’ on The Raccoons, Canada’s most Canadian cartoon. But (spoilers), I kind of like that show, the monumental blandness of Ralph and Melissa Raccoon notwithstanding. But I also kind of liked Goosebumps. I definitely liked Are You Afraid of the Dark, and I absolutely adored ReBoot. My Retrospective series was turning into one big happy like fest. Don’t get me wrong - I like a lot of stuff from my Canadian childhood, so get used to reading about that. But “In Retrospective…” isn’t about what I liked; it’s about what I remember.
And boy, did I almost not remember The Smoggies
Yes, The Smoggies (known as Stop The Smoggies in the US) nearly slipped past my radar - the same radar that was fine-tuned enough to notice the same bit actors playing the same bit parts and the secret love affair hidden behind Body Break. It wasn’t until my local cable provider started providing Teletoon Retro that I came across it while browsing the channel.
To veer dangerously from our Canadian criteria for just a moment, do you remember when, in Ratatouille, cynical food critic Anton Ego flashed back to his childhood, as if unearthing a memory long buried by the passage of time?
That was what it was like for me the second I caught glimpse of The Smoggies for the first time since I was a toddler. Except, you know, for the lack of any sort of whimsy, replaced instead with sheer terror. I would have liked to forget about The Smoggies. But alas, that simply wasn’t in the cards for me.
Considering my concern that I may be one of the few people to actually remember this show, I might as well break it down for the uninitiated.
On the idyllic Coral Island live the Suntots, a pygmy race of people who work and live in harmony with nature, and remain young forever. Their lives would be a veritable utopia if not for their neighbours, the Smoggies. The Smoggies consist of three sea-faring people whose industrial doings pollute the land and sea. Emma, the leader of the Smoggies, is after the eternal youth the Suntots enjoy, and believe its source is a magic coral that the Suntots absolutely insist doesn’t exist. The Suntots, then, must deal with the ecologically harmful actions of the Smoggies, be they intentional, or merely negligent.
Yep. It’s an environmental message show…wait don’t go! I promise I’ll make this interesting for you.
So, yeah. Where should I start? Well, I guess I could start with what I actually do like about this show. If I had to make a list, this would be it:
- 1) The Smoggies
…And that’s it. Uh oh. We have a problem if my favourite things about a show with an environmental message are the filthy polluters. That’s not to say that I like them for what they do - their boat, named the SS Stinky Poo, has three big pipes that unendingly pump toxic sludge into the ocean for no discernibly good reason. They’re awful, deplorable people. But at least they’re interesting.
WHY WOULD ANYONE DO THIS?
The Smoggies fall into what I like to call the “Team Rocket Formula.” You may remember Team Rocket as the bumbling trio that are always trying to capture Pikachu in that non-Canadian anime I shall speak no more of. This formula typically features a domineering female leader, who is typically extremely vain and is constantly concerned with her looks and by being perceived as the alpha female in any situation, and two bumbling male sidekicks, one of whom is in very tight with the female leader. The male characters can also differ in personality, usually in degrees of classiness; one might be cultured and snobby, while the other is rough and oafish. At first, I was under the assumption that The Grandis Gang from Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water might be the first examples, but The Smoggies, debuting in 1988, actually predates them by a year. So, they’ve got that going for them.
A Chronology of Bumblers.
The Smoggies were flawed, and from those flaws come interesting character interactions. Emma was a vain bitch, her husband, Captain Clarence, a wishy-washy brown-noser, and his deckhand Polluto (yes, that is his name. A bit on the nose if you ask me) is stupid and lazy. Together, their antics create at least some form of tension. In fact, they create the only tension - they pretty much drive the entire plot of every episode, from what I can gather. If not for them, there would be no show at all.
Here’s the thing. Utopias aren’t very interesting. The Suntots live in what can ostensibly pass as a utopia. Therefore, they are automatically uninteresting. During research, I came across no less than three episodes where the entire plot revolves around the Smoggies dumping something into the ocean, which causes the water to coagulate, trapping some hapless sea mammal on the surface to die, unless the Suntots can save them. Otherwise, they’d be content with frolicking aimlessly. As uninteresting as uninteresting can get.
At least until you look at them the way I do. Even as a toddler, I thought there was something off about the Suntots.
They’re staring at me…
Firstly, let’s not mince words here: The Suntots are a blatant, shameless ripoff of The Smurfs. They’re tiny people who all look the same, are mostly defined by their talents and profession, live in a perfect harmonious society, and the only two members of their clan who stand out are The Old One and The Female One. They were the Canadian Smurfs.
There were minor differences, I will grant you: for one, while there is a “The Female One,” there are actually other female members of the species, so there’s no lingering concerns that the entire male population gather together in a dank cavern somewhere to mass-fertilize an enormous clutch of Suntot eggs. That, coupled with not having blue skin, means that I can see the Suntots as people, and not as weird, sapient lizards that can be transmuted into gold.
But I think that may be my problem with The Suntots; they’re people. Once they’re people, their lifestyle becomes highly suspect.
Yeah, that’s not suspicious or anything.
First of all, they all look the same. That’s weird, right? People generally tend to look different from each other. Not only do they all have identical features, but those features are really strange in and of themselves; tiny bodies, big, round heads, button noses, and cotton candy hair in big mushroom cloud bouffants. Some have moustaches. Hair colour varies. But besides that, they all look exactly the same. That’s evidence of eugenics. Of ethnic cleansing! Those are NOT cool things.
Watching them work, like they do in the intro, they look like they have a hive mind. They work like ants or something. Have they been brainwashed? None of them really seem to have distinct personalities of their own. There’s no dissent between the ranks - everyone knows their place. Their caste. THE SUNTOTS LIVE UNDER A CASTE SYSTEM.
Speaking of a caste system, it’s clear who the queen bee is here. Princess Lila is regarded by the other Suntots as their leader, for no good reason other than she is different. Her wikipedia entry is as unnervingly as it is revealing:
"Somewhat taller than other Suntots, her hairstyle is entirely dissimilar from the other Suntots; she was therefore not designed with the same template."
Designed? Template? Are the Suntots clones? Has this show suddenly gone in a very Boys from Brazil direction? MAYBE! Either way, she’s the only Suntot that doesn’t look like a Suntot. Logic dictates that she should have been mauled by the other Suntots, her organs strung out along the beach as a warning to all those who would dare deviate from The Template, but instead she is their monarch. Perhaps her height is somehow advantageous to the rest of the society. Still, one wonders why she’s different from the others. She doesn’t have those soulless, beady eyes, or that pill nose, or that round pumpkin head. I dare say she looks almost human. She looks almost…like…
Emma, what the hell did you do? What sort of atrocity did you commit on that damned island, in search of that damned magic coral? What abomination did you unleash from your accursed womb? WAS IT WORTH IT?
Well, that will never leave me. Anyway, the thing that is most damning (yes - more damning than the sort of cross-species shenanigans I just implied) is that everyone is so happy all the time. Sure, the Suntots get frustrated with The Smoggies and their antics, but if they weren’t there literally spewing sewage into the bay, I don’t think there would ever be a moment of strife on Coral Island. The only other person who is even mildly standoffish is Speed, the “main” Suntot. He’s the only other aspect of this show I kind of like, because he’s kind of an asshole. He’s generally friendly with everyone, but he’s known to talk about how God damned brilliant he is compared to his fellow Tots. I could see this maybe leading to a hurt feeling sometimes maybe (thank goodness the Smoggies are there to send him spiralling into a ecologically-fuelled murder rage).
That, I think, is the chief problem with Suntot society. It’s just too perfect. I don’t trust a utopia as far as I can throw it; to achieve complete peace, there has to be one uniform path. A world without individuality is a scary world, indeed. This is basically Cybertron in Beast Machines, only with more trees and a stoned pelican.
And I figured all this out by the age of four.
So, yeah, there it is. If you ever want to give the entire series a try, watch a single episode. It’s that episode, repeated 51 times.
The Raccoons, next time. I swear.