The California Raisins were a fictional rhythm and blues animated musical group that enjoyed 30 minutes of fame in the mid to late 1980's. The anthropomorphized raisins were featured in a popular series of claymation TV commercials and animated cartoons. Lead vocals were sung by real life musician Buddy Miles on several albums, and the R&B group even won an Emmy award.
The concept was originally created for a 1986 commercial on behalf of the California Raisin Advisory Board when one of the writers, Seth Werner 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.
Of course, the California Raisins were followed by a mechanizing blitz as "spokespeople" for Post Raisin Bran cereal. They were featured on lunch boxes and notebooks, clothing, posters and bed sheets, a Halloween costume, and and a never released video game by Capcom called The California Raisins: The Grape Escape for the Nintendo Entertainment System.
A California Raisins Fan Club began in 1987 which included a Grapevine Gazette Newsletter. 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 for true collectors. The California Raisins even have a dedicated fan site which still operates.
Most famous of all California Raisin merchandising was a series of small action figures sold at Hardee's, a fast food burger chain, as part of a promotion for their Cinnamon 'N' Raisin biscuits. The action figures were released in four series in 1987, 1988, 1991, and finally in 2001. The collection of figures is featured in The National Museum of American History as an important piece of Americana. For a complete checklist to see what you are missing from your collection, check out figurerealm.com.
There have been rumors of a California Raisins movie which was planned to be released in 2017. It appears we will have to wait as no new information has come to light.
Fast forward twenty-five years, and veteran Hollywood player Rusty Citron is the man spearheading the big screen musical comeback of the California Raisins. Citron has experience reviving vintage properties. He tells Cartoon Brew that he was senior vice-president at New World Pictures in the late 1980s, and when the company purchased Marvel Comics from Cadence, he was responsible for leading the team with Stan Lee that re-launched Spider-Man and other Marvel characters.
Citron has recently been making the rounds pitching the California Raisins revival to raisin industry heavyweights and decision-makers. In February, he made a presentation in Fresno, California, to the California Raisin Marketing Board, the group that replaced the California Raisin Advisory Board, which had originally commissioned the characters. Last Saturday, he pitched the idea again to the Raisin Bargaining Association, also in Fresno.