Today’s review is of the 2021 Strawberry Shortcake cartoon, “Berry in the Big City.” The series is available on YouTube and Netflix.
“Strawberry Shortcake” franchise summary
For the unfamiliar, the Strawberry Shortcake franchise is about a girl named Strawberry Shortcake. Strawberry’s world is baking/food-themed, with “Flintstones”-style punny dessert/fruit/food names for buildings, cities, people, etc. For instance, the New York City stand-in is “Big Apple City,” complete with places like the “Cumin-Thyme Museum,” “Washington Apple Heights,” and “Bloomingberry’s” department store. Similar to the Smurfs’ use of “smurf” as a verb/noun/adjective, “berry” gets used similarly. In the 2021 series, it seems to replace “body” or “people” as a term: “everyberry loves my desserts!”; “hey, you berries, over here!”; Strawberry referring to herself as a “country berry”; and so on.
Strawberry herself is into baking, well, strawberry-themed desserts, including the eponymous shortcake. Her friends include other girls such as Orange Blossom (an African American girl into oranges/orange juice), Blueberry Muffin (who’s into blueberries), and Raspberry Tart (who’s into raspberries). There’s also Huckleberry Pie, one of the franchise’s few male characters. The franchise’s main villain is a middle-aged, Dick Dastardly-like crooked baker named the Peculiar Purple Pieman of Porcupine Peak.
“Strawberry Shortcake” was originally a line of greeting cards and fruit-scented dolls. In 1980, the first in a series of animated specials aired on TV in syndication. I assume even if anyone complained about it being a half-hour ad, Reagan’s election later that year and subsequent FCC-led TV deregulation would’ve rendered complaints moot. These specials tended toward being very cute and syrupy, complete with a talking sun (similar to the Kellogg’s Raisin Bran mascot) that acts as the narrator.
As far as “cute” cartoons went, Strawberry Shortcake was popular in the 80s, enough so that she still appears in parodies and nostalgic references to this day. A Honda car ad in 2014 played into both.
Like virtually everything else from the 80s and 90s, Strawberry received some reboots and revivals over the years. Along with the 2021 series, previous shows include:
- A 2003 series, “Strawberry Shortcake.” The show has magical/fantasy elements, including Strawberry’s cat Custard being able to talk. Otherwise, it’s a typical 2000s-era “slice of life” cartoon, with the characters learning various life lessons. Strawberry and the others also now wear modern style clothes, including jeans. Later seasons in the run slightly redid the character models, aging up the characters into teens.
- A 2010 series, “Berry Bitty Adventures.” Animated in CGI, this series kept everyone looking like teens. However, they’re now insect-sized characters in the magical garden-like city of “Berry Bitty City,” populated by talking insects and sprite-like creatures. For some reason, this series radically changed the look of Orange Blossom (straightened hair, etc.).
The franchise was sold to a holding company in 2015. In 2017, Canadian media giant DHX (now WildBrain) bought said holding company’s media assets in 2017. DHX likely wanted the other major media asset the holding company owned besides Strawberry: a controlling interest in the “Peanuts” franchise.
As far as I can tell, most of the “Shortcake” fanbase seems split between favoring the 2003 series or the 2010 series, based on fan art, online references, etc. An IDW comic as recently as 2016 came out, based on the 2010 series.
“Berry in the Big City” summary
In 2021, another reboot of “Strawberry Shortcake” debuted, as a cartoon titled “Berry in the Big City.” Unlike all of the previous versions, everything in this series is more “down to earth”: no magical elements, talking animals, or rivers made of chocolate. The tone feels reminiscent of a baking-themed “DC Super Hero Girls” or “My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic.”
“Berry in the Big City” sees Strawberry and her cat Custard move to Big Apple City, where Strawberry and her friends run food trucks at “the Berryworks” marketplace. Most of the core franchise cast is here, though with very different personalities. Strawberry (and some of the other cast) can also talk to the viewers in reality show-like camera cutaways.
Besides Strawberry, the cast includes:
- Orange Blossom: A girl interested in exercise; she runs an orange smoothie stand.
- Blueberry Muffin: A girl who runs an ice cream stand. A kind-hearted, but ditzy, hippie-like person.
- Lemon Meringue: A girl who creates (often malfunctioning or over-the-top) inventions. Runs a lemon/lime themed food cart with…
- Lime Chiffon: A bookish girl interested in reading, mysteries, carefully made plans, and fashion. Has two Dads, one of whom is a famous fashion designer.
- Raspberry Tart: A girl who runs a raspberry food cart. Cast as a rival of Strawberry, Raspberry is arrogant; she also dislikes the attention Strawberry’s food cart gets.
- Sour Grapes: Raspberry’s best friend/coworker; a dour, goth-like girl who talks in a monotone voice.
- Bread Pudding: Raspberry’s other friend, a snobbish boy who manages the Berryworks.
- Huckleberry Pie: A guitar-playing street performer at the Berryworks.
- Aunt Praline: Strawberry’s aunt; Strawberry stays at her apartment.
Also back in this series is Strawberry’s old enemy, the Purple Pieman. Here, he seems to have pulled a “Lex Luthor” and is now a major baked goods businessman and celebrity chef.
- “Bread Pudding’s New BFF”: Bread Pudding tries (badly) to suck up to Lime, after learning her Dad makes a vest he wants but can’t find.
- “Huck’s New Job”: Huck tries to get a job at the Berryworks to comply with the rules, at Bread Pudding’s insistence.
- “Working Out with Orange Blossom”: Orange tries to get Strawberry interested in exercise. (Best part: ORANGE: “It’s 4 AM! Which means it’s…” STRAWBERRY: “Time to sleep four more hours?”)
- “Lucky Berry”: Orange’s favorite superhero is “Tangerine Smash”; the comic’s cover shows a woman in a superhero costume smashing a giant lime wedge against a rock, a la “Action Comics” #1.
- “Strawberry is Sick”: The gang fills in for a sick Strawberry. Orange is tasked with baking one of Strawberry’s dishes, and points out sugar’s unhealthy (true, if ironic for this franchise): “Five cups of sugar?! That’s unhealthy! How about no cups of sugar?” Unfortunately, she substitutes powdered vegetables, with poor results.
- The series earned a nomination for the 2022 GLAAD Media Awards. (It lost to “Sesame Street.”) The show’s Twitter account also took notice of the nomination.
- Some of the songs, including “No Ordinary Berry” and “Try Something New.”
Here’s the show’s full opening theme song, highlighting the entire cast.
Overall, I found the series entertaining, after running across it on Netflix. Before then, I hadn’t thought much about “Strawberry Shortcake” in years, though enjoyed it as a kid. However, some hardcore fans of the previous versions might not like “Berry in the Big City” making major changes in some characters’ personalities. They also might not like (as of this writing) the lack of the previous versions’ fantasy/magical elements.
I also give points to the “Strawberry Shortcake” franchise being LGBTQ-inclusive and normalizing, especially with current events.
Image from “Strawberry Shortcake: Berry in the Big City.” (WildBrain)