2020 has been a hell of a year for food mascots. First, there was that Baby Nut bullshit. Like really, why did any of that happen. Now, there’s another beloved (Was Mr. Peanut ever beloved?) character getting a makeover that nobody asked for.
Toucan Sam has transmogrified into a lighter, softer shell of his former self known colloquially online as “CalArts style.” This art style, named after the California Institute of the Arts, whose alumni have produced several of today’s most popular cartoons, is often heralded as “everything that’s wrong with modern animation” by grown-ass men with nothing better to complain about than how cartoons telling kids to be nice to each other is some sort of SJW conspiracy.
Regardless of whether Toucan Sam is here to promote a SJW agenda, or, you know, cereal, people are not happy with this redesign. And I mostly agree, although, at first, I couldn’t quite put my finger on why.
So I turned to the only group that I trust to provide insightful commentary on the intricacies of animal character designs: Furries.
[Listen: 2013 Tumblr was a wild place, you make a few friends, one thing leads to another and all of a sudden you’re in a couple of furry Discord servers. Shit happens. Also, I asked them if I could post these screencaps, they said it would be cool, but I’m censoring the usernames anyway. Also also, pretty much everyone on this server hates being associated with furries, and we end up having at least one discussion a month about how furries are the worst.]
Everyone (who responded)’s gut reaction was the same as mine: It’s Not Good.
Eventually, we were able to narrow it down to our first point of contention: the beak.
It’s worth noting here that “M” is an artist and knows way more about character design than I ever will. So instead of trying to say anything more eloquent than that, I’ll focus in on the smiley face comment. Because really, his mouth looks like a sticker that someone slapped on the side of a bird’s beak.
I really wanted to move the conversation towards my other main point of contention: the blobbly, doughy wings that look like chicken wings (the food) than anything that would be found on a living bird. Turns out, this isn’t Toucan Sam’s first wing crime.
This opened up a sort of Berenstain/Berenstein debacle (at least on my end, I refused to believe the beefcake arms were real) that revealed, upon further investigation, that in recent years Kellogg’s has been flip-flopping back and forth between giving him these weird hyperrealistic hands and exaggerated feathers as fingers. The worst offender is the box art for the new Froot Loops Pop Tarts, which allegedly uses art of both designs on the same box (although I couldn’t find pictures of any side other than the front).
“M” also delighted us with some older Toucan Sams that are just so much more aesthetically pleasing to look at.
And as he continued to scroll through Google Images, he informed us that he found fetish art.
The conversation descended into chaos from there, going from accusing the Lucky Charms leprechaun of being a criminal (he’s not, the kids are trying to steal his cereal, not the other way around), to how Barney from The Flintstones is a criminal, to how the main characters of The Flintstones are all canonically guilty of war crimes.
Like most of the topics I discuss here, it seems like another case of “there’s no such thing as bad publicity.” I’m not especially fond of Froot Loops, and yet I can’t stop thinking about them. I’m assuming at this point companies have realized the only way to effectively market their products is to do such a bad job of it that everyone talks about it, so they’re all doing this on purpose. Are these marketing firms all aiming to be “so bad it’s good?” If there isn’t already a term for this, I’d like to call it “Irony Marketing.”
Still, it’s hard to tell how hard they were trying. At least one Twitter user pointed out that whichever graphic designer had to put this together probably had designs that actually looked good, but some executive wanted it to look more like that one cartoon their kid likes so much.
Because at the end of the day, cereal mascots are, in fact, targeted towards children. Whether children will like the new Toucan Sam based solely on how much it looks like something out of The Amazing World of Gumball has yet to be seen, as children aren’t as vocal on Twitter.