If you were a child born in the mid to late ‘80s and grew up on Nickelodeon and its Nick Jr. programming block, then there may be a part of your brain that recalls some cartoons about koalas that used to be on Nick Jr. This is not a trick or some sort of confused memory of a trip to Australia, there were indeed two Koala themed shows that Nickelodeon ran for years on end; Noozles from 1988 to 1993, and Adventures of The Little Koala from 1987 to 1993.
If this is beginning to sound familiar, then prepare to have your mind blown because these may have been the first anime you ever saw. If that’s not mind blowing enough then get this; the whole reason we got these anime has to do with Japanese zoos.
But first, it’s time for a real quick biology lesson. Thanks to Australia being such an isolated area of the world, it has a very high rate of endemic animals, endemic meaning specific to a certain geographical area. Over 80% of the land animals in Australia can only be found there and nowhere else. Because of this, the Australian government is very protective of their animal population and what is let into and out of the country. Parts of Australia’s wildlife have been threatened by invasive species and it’s not common for the government to allow native wildlife to leave.
Despite these general rules, an act of goodwill between nations was made between Australia and Japan in 1984. Arrangements were made for a group of koalas to be gifted to some Japanese zoos. Believe it or not, this was huge news in Japan. Special koala shaped snake cakes were made, people started flocking to the zoo, and two koala-centric anime were produced, Fushigi na Koala Blinky and Koala Boy Kokki. Three to four years later, these series would be translated and dubbed for international audiences and landed in America as the aforementioned Noozles and Adventures of the Little Koala.
Given the age of these series, both of them are surprisingly well dubbed, especially considering they come from a time period when there wasn’t a tremendous amount of care taken in the dubbing process. The animation and artwork for both series is also fairly well done and tends to show more care and detail than other American cartoons made for children at the time.
Adventures of the Little Koala is easily the more childlike of the two series. Roobear and his sister Laura are talking, anthropomorphic koalas who live with their mom and dad in a village from a remote part of Australia. The village is also home to a number of other talking animals from Australia including kangaroos, sugar gliders, platypuses, and penguins. (Author’s note: Yes believe it or not Australia is home to a species of small penguins and this article is also responsible for me having to look up for the very first time in my life, what the plural form of platypus is.) Together Roobear and his friends go on adventures that range from putting on a stage play of Snow White, to helping a school of fish find fresh water, to Roobear needing to take on the role of a detective to solve a crime.
The show is very much in line with the typical formula for children’s cartoons of the time. Nickelodeon would air two 10-12 minute episodes back to back in order to fill up a half-hour programming block. There was no sense of continuity, no episode to episode storylines, and whatever problem Roobear and his friends faced was resolved by the end of that episode. A total of 52 individual stories were made for a total of 26 half-hour episodes. As far as standards for a child go, the show actually holds up fairly well; it certainly won’t provide serious entertainment for anyone over the age of 10, but it’s still good, light-hearted fun.
Despite sharing the theme of anthropomorphic talking koalas, Noozles is a vastly different show than its Little Koala cousin. Though it also has 26 episodes, they’re not divided into separate stories; each one is a full half-hour. The koalas in question for this show, named Blinky and Pinky aren’t actually Earth animals; they’re beings from an alternate dimension known as Koalawala Land. Pretending to be a toy koala doll, Blinky winds up in the hands of a young girl named Sandy.
Confusing matters for her is that Blinky was sent in a package marked as being sent from her grandfather who disappeared years ago. Sandy awakens Blinky from his toy like state with an “Eskimo kiss” (otherwise known as a noozle…hence the name of the show) and Blinky instantly forms a bond with her. His sister Pinky has the ability to create portals that serve as the basis for the adventures the three of them go on.
Now, it’s a general rule in programming for young children that there not be a sense of continuity within a series and its episodes. Since kids are unlikely to grasp stories that run from episode to episode, especially if they miss watching one of them, children’s programming is supposed to have the story of an individual episode resolve itself. Not only does Noozles completely disregard this notion, the story that it does end up telling gets DARK as in, pending apocalypse, world ending, trapped for all eternity DARK.
Sandy does end up going to Koalawala Land with Blinky and Pinky but unlike the idyllic village seen in Little Koala, this world is not a pleasant place for humans. The Australian based wildlife of this dimension does not take kindly to humanity at all, resulting in Sandy having to disguise herself as a koala in order to avoid being discovered and imprisoned.
Then there’s a subplot about Wiseman Stones and Sandy’s father, the High Dingy Doo, a Crystal Palace of perpetual entrapment; you know, the kinds of things all pre-school shows have.
It’s almost as if the executives at Nickelodeon didn’t even watch the show before they decided to air it; or if they did, they only watched the first few episodes that had no overarching story and none of the darker themes that would come into play later. Keep in mind that the entire point of Nick Jr. was to air programs that kids would be able to watch at that hour because they weren’t in school; meaning children below the age of five. Suffice to say, Noozles isn’t exactly the kind of program tailor made for pre-schoolers.
As previously mentioned, Adventures of The Little Koala and Noozles ran from 1987 and 1988 respectively, until 1993. With only 26 episodes that means that the entire length of each series was repeated roughly fifty times over that time period. There’s a sad and unfortunate truth that lurks behind the world of animation in the United States, especially back in the late ‘80s and into the ‘90s; Nickelodeon, Disney Channel, and other networks treated their kid viewing audiences like they were idiots. They would purposely order a very limited number of episodes of a cartoon series from an animation studio, knowing that kids will watch things over and over and over again without complaint. From a strictly business standpoint, it makes sense; why order anything new when you just re-run stuff that kids will still watch? Due to this and a general lack of children’s programming at the time, cable network Nickelodeon would often re-run some acquired shows for years on end despite having only a limited number of episodes.
Basically what I’m trying to say is, if you were a pre-schooler who watched Nickelodeon from 1987 – 1993, there’s a substantial chance that the deepest corners of your memories know nothing except for images of talking koalas. And why were you browbeaten for years with stories of these koalas? Because of an act of good will between two countries back in 1984. Talk about your butterfly effects!