Sunday, December 3, 2017

Strawberry Shortcake FCBD

Christmas Toy Tie-ins:
Kid’s Stuff
Strawberry Shortcake FCBD


"A Berry Big Anniversary”
Writer – Georgia Ball
Art and Colors– Amy Mebberson
Letters – Robbie Robins
Editor – David Hedgecock
May 2016

She and her cat Custard began her life as a greeting card character for little girls. And while that exact first image isn’t something the Crapbox can track down, it isn’t from lack of trying. The deluge of Strawberry Shortcake greeting cards put out by American Greetings at the time was nothing less than intimidating.

Created by Muriel Fahrion from Cleveland, Ohio, the cute little farm girl with the strawberry bonnet took off immediately. The line was expanded to include 32 characters. Within two years, Strawberry Shortcake went from a figure on cards to an entire line of books, clothing, dolls, cartoons, and other toy creations. Fahrion and her sister Susan Trentel were so successful with the line that they went on to assist other teams working on The Get Along Gang and Care Bears.

The initial dolls in the Strawberry Shortcake series scared the living heck out of me. I was highly allergic to strawberries as a kid, the scent of even an artificial strawberry candle being enough to trigger a mild hive breakout. The fact that the Strawberry Shortcake dolls were scented meant that entire sections of the toy store were now off limits to me for fear of breaking out in itchy red welts.

As for the animated cartoons, Strawberry got what amounted to one cartoon a yearfrom 1980 to 1985. There was a double-standard when it came to girls-centric cartoons back then. A revitalization occurred in 2003, giving the troop ofgirls and their one male sidekick an entire series. It was successful enough to last four seasons and had a much changed direction than the earlier set of 1980’s specials. The emphasis was placed more on friendship and getting along with others and less on defeating the schemes of the Peculiar Purple Pieman. In a way, the series paved the way for other franchises such as My Little Pony to finally gain a foothold and prosper. The property received a film called Strawberry Shortcake: the Sweet Dreams Movie in 2006 and was retooled in 2010 into StrawberryShortcake’s Berry Bitty Adventures and yet another revamp in 2018. Rumors are now in the air for a live-action Strawberry Shortcake move to be produced next year.

That’s where we are with this issue of Strawberry Shortcake received on Free Comic Book Day 2017. The issue contains one short story and a series of sweet character pages. I’ll admit the storyline in the issue is a bit too saccharine for my tastes but that most school-age girls will eat these characters up. Can I dispense with the food puns now, or shall I continue?

Let’s get the character pages out of the way first. They display Strawberry Shortcake, her friends, and their associated animals with pinup pictures and brief character bio.

Lemon Meringue was there from the beginning, a kind of unofficial "best friend" to Strawberry and a doll I desperately wanted to smell. Couldn't risk it though.

These are a great addition and each one makes me think again back to what these dolls must have smelled like.

Some cast members have to share pages, but at least they have it better than Huckleberry Pie, who is completely ignored here.

We begin this tale with the characters Sweet Grapes and Sour Grapes having lunch at Strawberry’s restaurant. Sour Grapes was created as a henchman for the Purple Pieman, but somewhere along the way (possibly the 2003 retooling) she was made into a one of the berry gang. 

As much as the girls are excited by the updated seasonal menu (and who wouldn’t be?), they are more excited at finding out that this is the restaurant’s first year anniversary. 

Sour is completely underwhelmed with Strawberry’s plan to offer a special cupcake as the only celebration of the momentous event. Even if it is filled with Bavarian Cream, which sounds kinda yummy to me. I swear this is not the issue to be reading while trying to diet.

The Grape girls come up with a more fitting way to mark the day, but Strawberry seems not just hesitant, but downright resistant to the idea of throwing a huge party in her restaurant. 

Seems the month has left our little berry flavored chef kind of tapped out with all the partying she’s been doing. This is not a sentence I ever thought I’d type about a children’s Strawberry Shortcake comic. But the Grapes won’t take no for an answer, even if it means they will do all the work.

Strawberry looks to be a bit unsure and tries to reschedule the anniversary, but the Grapes are insistent, vowing to call everyone in to help and that ‘berry won’t have to worry about a thing.

Soon after all the assembled Berry Bitty City girls show up to get their marching orders for the party. I remember when these dolls had associated smells, so it is interesting to see these additional characters and remember wanting badly to sniff them. Which if it sounds pervy, it completely isn’t.
Anyway on to doling out tasks…

…Cherry Jam looks Asian, was she always Asian? And Plum Pudding seems a bit Hispanic somehow. If these girls were made more ethnically diverse, I think that’s great because the further I get into this the more I get that happy My Little Pony vibe and my inner Brony starts to cheer it on its open and inclusive spirit. Sort of like a scented all-girl Star Trek crew.

The girls completely forbid Strawberry from helping out with her own anniversary party, instead sending her off with best friend Lemon Meringue for a “relaxing” makeover.

Lemon decides to put in chunky highlights in Strawberry’s hair and ‘berry is too kind to say no. Even when it appears she hasn’t done this ever before. More on this later.

Meanwhile, the rest of the berry crew is making a complete and total wreck of Strawberry’s restaurant. The complex plans are too much even for this group of girls to pull off with SOME hitches in their get-along. But NEVER in the actual get along between the girls, which is a lesson the book is trying to impart: even when frustrated and angry, you don’t take it out on your friends. 

Also the concept of forgiveness will be included, as Lemon’s hair coloring “experiment” shows signs of being a bit of a disaster.

And speaking of disaster, look at ‘berry’s restaurant now…

And to make matters worse, the owner has arrived.

And she looks just a bit…different…

I love the look on Lemon’s face. It is a “pucker” like you would get from sucking on an actual lemon. It would be hilarious if that was her default expression every issue at some point. Anyway, I’m male and don’t see anything wrong with the fashion mistake hairstyle. It doesn’t go with her outfits but that’s just an excuse to buy different outfits.

The girls offer words of comfort and support though this difficult time.

And as the mess has gotten completely out of hand (much like Cherry Jam’s paper decorations) the girls realize that Sweet Grapes sent the invite to pretty much the entire universe due to mixing up her email distribution lists.

Which leads to a marathon of cooking, cleaning, and decorating in a two-panel dissolve followed by their first morning customer arriving the next day, the day of the big anniversary.

…who reveals that not only did Sweet Grapes get the wrong email addresses, but she also bumped the date to NEXT MONTH accidentally.

When Bosley Bookworm asks what’s going on, the girls succumb to a bout of exhausted laughter in response.

And just when I think the story will pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test with flying colors, we get a scene with the token male in ‘berrydom, Huckleberry Pie, calling Strawberry to potentially mess all that up.

…but he doesn’t and the issue wraps up on a positive, upbeat note with a hook into a future storyline. I can tell that I’m taken with it because Strawberry does that super annoying thing where she replaces the word “very” with the word “berry” and it doesn’t even phase me.

Big success here. The entire issue worked, in much the same way as the My Little Pony stuff does, as both inoffensive entertainment and a mild dose of morality instruction. It is enjoyable, colorful and would be a blast to read to a child younger than 6 or so OR as a gift to a child up to the awkward pre-teen years when this stuff becomes to kid-friendly for them. It is very girl centered, but there is nothing wrong with that and perhaps quite a bit right. Fostering a love of comics in young girls or girls of any age is a great thing.

In all ways that the series is designed to, the Strawberry Shortcake book succeeds. If you have a young girl, you can feel safe in picking up an issue for them. It might even turn out to be something you both enjoy.

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