September 10, 2022



(FOX, September 8, 1990-January 19, 1991)
Film Roman, Fox Children’s Productions



Michael Horton – Boink
Jerry Houser – Grizzle
Brian Cummings – Bully, various
Susan Silo – Tess, various
Tress MacNeille – Ms. Devine, various
Neil Ross – Logan Bonito, Chomper
S. Scott Bullock – Slogo Bonito
Stu Rosen – Dr. Russell
Danny Mann – Rarf
Lee Thomas – Mr. Seymour
Dorian Harewood – Buck, Rawld-O, Poem Reader

            Created by and based on the writings of children’s author Shane DeRolf, Zazoo U was one of the launch programs for the new Fox Kids Network programming block in 1990. The series followed the adventures of a group of anthropomorphic animals (or “Americanimals”) as they attended Umatta University (nicknamed “Zazoo U”) and received life lessons along with their education.

Some of the occupants of Umatta: Slogo, Logan, Bully, Dr. Russell, Boink, Tess, Grizzle and Ms. Devine with Rarf.

            The main students of the show were friends Boink (Michael Horton, doing a bit of a Jack Nicholson impression following the first episode), who had a laid-back approach to life and seemed capable of pulling almost anything out of his carrying case or locker; Grizzle (Jerry Houser), a pig that prided himself on his stench and always had his drumsticks handy; Bully (Brian Cummings, impersonating Richard Nixon), a wooly mammoth seen constantly dragging around a piano (that tended to get destroyed); and tomboy Tess (Susan Silo) who generally tried to give Grizzle a wide berth. Occasionally they would be joined by Slogo Bonito (S. Scott Bullock) and Logan Bonito (Neil Ross), two acrobat brothers who lived at the circus with their parents, and Chomper, a small yellow creature with a voracious appetite.

Boink and his bottomless case.

            As colorful as the student body was, the faculty was as colorful in their own right. Dr. Russell (Stu Rosen, who also served as voice director) was a walrus whose verboseness often left his students more clueless than when they started. Contrasting him was the mute Professor Zork, the penguin music teacher who preferred to let his baton do the talking. Ms. Devine (Tress MacNeille) was a high-class, self-absorbed fashionista who “taught” (in very loose terms) various subjects and constantly carried around her furry pet, Rarf (Danny Mann), with whom Grizzle had an antagonistic rivalry with. Mr. Seymour (Lee Thomas) was the geography teacher that got himself stuck inside a television set and now taught from there; often interacting with the videos inserted for the lesson. Additionally, two rapping buzzards named Rawld-O and Buck (both Dorian Harewood) served as kind of the Greek chorus for the show; commenting on the episodes and the plot and sometimes carrying in the setting (as limited as they were) for the next scene. Rawld-O did all the talking for the pair while Buck beat-boxed.

Professor Zork and Dr. Russell relaxing in the teacher's lounge.

            Zazoo U debuted on FOX on September 8, 1990. Unlike other programs with a message, the series approached topics with a surreal absurdism and parodies as the characters went from one silly situation to another and broke the fourth wall constantly. For instance, they used a box of sentient crayons that believed each of them was better than the other to showcase the value of working together, or a nine-mile-high pile of garbage to show how pollution can start and spiral out of control. The moral of the tale was ultimately conveyed in a poem written by DeRolf and recited by Harewood over a montage of accompanying images. A running gag on the show involved footage of the feet of live-action kids (which is exactly what the characters referred to them as) running down a hallway and trampling whatever characters were seen immediately before.

Buck and Rawld-O carrying in the major prop for the next scene.

            The series was produced by Film Roman and distributed by Saban Entertainment. It was written by Pamela Hickey, Dennys McCoy, Alicia Marie Schudt, Pat Allee, Ben Hurst and Larry Parr, with McCoy and Hickey serving as story editors with DeRolf. Jim Covell provided the show’s music while the theme was composed by Richard Carson Morton and DeRolf and performed by Morton. Animation duties were handled by Wang Film Production Co., Ltd. and Cuckoo’s Nest Studio, however the intro was animated by Bill Littlejohn and directed by John Sparey. The intro ended with the globe on top of the school’s entrance saying “Thank you very much, you’re a beautiful audience” in a manner reminiscent of Elvis Presley.

One of the Zazoo U DVDs.

            Despite receiving critical acclaim and praise, Zazoo U didn’t find its audience—especially in light of it being up against shows like Muppet Babies and The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. Additionally, many of FOX’s affiliates chose not to carry the show. It became the first Fox Kids series to be cancelled, with the final two episodes not even being allowed to air before it was removed from the schedule and replaced by Peter Pan and the Pirates. Despite its short run, Zazoo U received some merchandising in the form of a t-shirt and a lunchbox by Aladdin. To date, only 6 episodes have seen release across 3 DVDs by Jetix in the United Kingdom; with online availability limited only to several episodes uploaded to YouTube. As for DeRolf, he was asked to develop the early branding effort for Fox Kids before writing six children’s books and having a successful career starting companies in children’s media, toys and games, as well as developing award-winning children’s programming and PSA’s for the Ad Council

“The Nine Mile Pile” (9/8/90) – The students of Umatta file in for the new school year as an errant wad of bubblegum causes a pile of junk to grow outside.
“The Crayon Box That Talked” (9/15/90) – Rarf’s Fairy Rarfmother brings a box of crayons to life that pair up with each of the students in order to prove which is the best color.
“The Search for the Meaning of Life” (9/29/90) – Tess goes on a relentless search for the meaning of life.
“Yesterday’s Zoo” (10/6/90) – A hunt for the school’s janitor leads to the discovery of many hidden relics.
“Is Bigger Better?” (10/20/90) – An argument about bigger meaning better gets bigger but decidedly not better.
“Har V and Sue” (11/3/90) – When Tess and Grizzle stop being friends, both compete to win Boink’s friendship.
“Bully Loses His Temper” (11/17/90) – When Bully gets angry, he literally loses his temper which runs amok around the school.
“Share a Chair” (12/1/90) – A dejected Grizzle wanders off when he doesn’t get a special chair like everyone else.
“Ms. Devine’s Blues” (12/15/90) – Rarf attempts to prove to Ms. Devine that he’s special and not worthless.
“No Strings Attached” (1/5/91) – Boink’s imagination allows him to discover invisible strings that end up altering the laws of physics.
“Money for Music” (1/19/91) – The class tries to earn money in different ways for new musical instruments.
“One Single Seed” (N/A) – An alien talent agent lands at the school searching for the galaxy’s next big star.
“Boink’s Rap” (N/A) – The others must help Boink overcome his stage fright in time for the school talent show.

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