In 1962, the folks at Quaker Oats wanted to devise a new breakfast cereal. Extensive marketing research had told them that children wanted something really sweet and really crunchy–something that would stay really sweet and really crunchy, even in milk. Wanting a really memorable advertising campaign, they called upon the offbeat humor of Jay Ward, the creator of Rocky and Bullwinkle. The result was one of the most enduring, zaniest and silliest casts of characters in American advertising history: Cap'n Crunch and his crew.
Designed with a free hand by Allan Burns of Ward's studio, and voiced by the familiar bunch who brought us such classics as Fractured Fairy Tales, Rocky and Bullwinkle and Dudley Do-Right,, these commercial spots are far more clever and funny than most ads, especially ads aimed at children. I have heard (in more than one place) that the good Cap'n's likeness and voice was based, with great tongue-in-cheek humor, on Ward himself.
Over the 40 years since the initial design of the characters, the Cap'n has had many adventures and misadventures as well as a few revisions, but even the latest ads largely hold true to the off-the-wall loopiness that the Ward crew started. The story that has unfolded is bizarre, telling the tale of a brave man and a true friend, stalwart explorer and doughty guardian: a man named Crunch.
The Crunch Island Mythos: A Man Called Crunch
Very little is known of H. M. Crunch, Jr. before his promotion to the rank of captain, except that he is the son of the great seaman, Admiral Horatio Magellan Crunch, Sr. A short, jolly fellow, Crunch is always seen in uniform: blue coat and matching bicorn hat (sporting his initial), white trousers and gold epaulets.
Crunch's ship is the SS Guppy, a stout 3-master that rides high in the water. His first mate is an anthropomorphic canine named Seadog, who seems intelligent and sensible, but does not talk. The remainder of the crew is rounded out by four small children, tall and gawky Alfie, tiny Carlyle, slovenly Dave, and blonde Brunhilde. Together, this unlikely group sails the Milk Sea (this name appears to be fanciful, the water seems to be a nice shade of Mediterranean blue).
Their home base is on Crunch Island. One account says that Crunch was born and raised on Crunch Island, and another says that he discovered it. A colleague has suggested that the island was discovered by (and named for) Horatio Crunch, Sr. Later reporters may have been confused by the similarity of the names between father and son. Whatever the case, the good Cap'n has found the ingredients for many different cereals on his trips through the waters of the Milk Sea and beyond.
The Early Challenges
From the outset, there were some challenges to overcome for the Guppy's merry crew. The Milk Sea was the hunting grounds for the notorious, cereal-stealing pirate Jean LaFoote. LaFoote was a grungy-looking type who never wore shoes (thus his moniker, "the Barefoot Pirate"), his one goal was to steal the cereals that Cap'n Crunch and his crew transported. He never succeeded, to my knowledge, but it was not for the lack of trying. Often, LaFoote was caught snacking because the "crunch always gives you away." Eventually, LaFoote seems to have given up, or perhaps he was captured and slapped in irons by the Cap'n.
Jean LaFoote was not the only nemesis that the bright waters of the Milk Sea had to offer for the Cap'n, however. Magnolia Bulkhead, a saucy sailing woman wanted to steal more than the Cap'n's cereal. Many of his early adventures involved avoiding the amorous adventuress' advances.
One of the Captain and his crew's first discoveries was Crunchberry Island (not the same as Crunch Island, which can be a source of confusion to some). The only inhabitant of this remote area was a weird, polka-dotted, snaggle-toothed bipedal creature topped with a splash of red hair—the famed Crunchberry Beast. "CB," as the crew took to calling the creature, became a sort of ship's mascot. CB was the guardian of the Crunchberry bushes which produce small, red berries that taste almost exactly like strawberry and appear, to the non-Crunch Islander, to be made of puffed corn. From this discovery came Cap'n Crunch's Crunch Berries Cereal. Buying and eating a box has shown me that the Crunch botanists seem to have hybridized the berries in several different colors now—purple, green, red and ... sort of an aqua color. They still taste the same, however.
More Adventures Across the Milk Sea
The crew later teamed up with Smedley the Elephant, a clever beast who likes to ride on bicycles, skateboards and do other fun stunts (although he tends to smash the vehicles that he rides). For Smedley, the Cap'n developed Peanut Butter Crunch Cereal. Smedley is often shown in a circus sort of place and dresses like a circus elephant, except that he wears a bicorn identical to the Cap'n's (he is sometimes shown wearing a baseball cap). I theorize that the Cap gave him one of his old hats.
Somewhere along the line, the Cap'n ran across Harry S. Hippo, a pink, anthromorphic hippopotamus who dresses in the uniform of a sailor. Harry could conceivably serve the same navy as the Crunch crew, but this is unconfirmed. Apparently, Harry enjoys the taste of fruit punch, because Crunch developed Punch Crunch cereal for him (the cereal that tastes "...just like fruit punch"). The cereal delighted Harry so much that it could cause him to dance, and he actually helped to defeat some of the Cap'n's foes through the power of dance. The comparison to a huge pink Michael Flatley seems inevitable here. It appears that the little kids did not share Mr. Hippo's love for this flavor, and the cereal is no longer available.
The crew of the Guppy then met Wilma the Winsome White Whale, a sweet, feminine cetacean who tagged along (and presumably had adventures with) the crew. For her, (and for Seadog as well) the good Cap'n developed Vanilly Crunch Cereal, a short-lived product described as "creamy globes of vanilla goodness."
In 1982, they encountered the Chockle, an amorphous glob of chocolate chip cookie dough. It was this creature who was the inspiration for Choco Crunch Cereal. Whether the Chockle was intelligent or not is unclear, but it was a cunning beasty. The Chockle loved the new cereal, and would change itself into clever shapes to get close to Cap'n Crunch and steal his cereal. This question remains: was this creature's hunger the result of 'like attracts like,' or was it a case of knowing cannibalism? No information has been forthcoming.
In 1985, the Cap'n disappeared. His loyal fans collected clues from the cereal boxes to find out where he had gone. It turns out he was in the "Milky Way" having some sort of space adventure, as will happen when you are a cereal mascot.
War of the Soggies
The Soggies, Sydney and Sydney, were some rough customers that the Cap’n and his doughty crew met in the late 80s. The soggies are weird milky-looking, vaguely-polymorphic fellows whose very being was dedicated to a single goal–making cereal soggy. This pathetic existence reminds one of the Cavity Creeps of Toothopolis (so brilliantly dramatized in the classic Crest Toothpaste ads), and it may be theorized that the Soggies are related, at least in spirit, to those creepy characters.
Sydney and Sydney were the pawns of Squish the Sogmaster, a wicked robot who got his kicks by spoiling kids' breakfasts. To this end, the Soggies travelled around, searching for small children who enjoy crunchy cereal. Then, they would leap into the cereal bowl and squish up the cereal. A fiendish plan, indeed.
Ever vigilant, the Cap’n employed a high-tech arsenal against the soggies: sophisticated surveillance equipment and a gigantic mecha-style robot with a monstrous cereal box for a chest. This mecha-suit is somewhat reminiscent of Roger Smith's megadeus from Big O. I would suggest a humorous connection between the two robots, but I don't wish to seem absurd!
The Cap'n also used a massive telekinetic or energy-manifestation style attack against the soggies. This is termed the Power of the Crunch and could perhaps be the result of a mutation brought on by repeated exposure to the isotope Crunchium (which gets explained later in our tale). The Power of the Crunch does somewhat remind one of the X-Men's Havok, but again, to suggest a connection would defy the sober conventions of journalism to which I am attempting to adhere.
In 1997, Cap'n Crunch was promoted to the rank of Admiral. The fine people at Quaker Oats needed to fill his position as the cereal-maker-in-charge. Enter Captains Munch and Scrinch, who don't seem to have been the brightest crunchberries on the bush.
While Crunch was at a desk job (hardly what that man of action wanted), the two new captains were trying hard to impress him. Fighting, they broke the controls for the Crunchberry Cereal machine, leading to a flood of crunchberries being boxed up with no golden biscuits at all. Thinking quickly, the Admiral had the Art Department create a new box and thus was born "Oops! All Berries" Cereal, which was only crunchberries, but I guess the name kind of implies that. Television ads were created, blaming the mishap on little kids, but the truth was out. Munch and Scrinch were filled with shame.
Following this mishap, the Cap'n requested his old posting back, and received it. He has reportedly been much happier since helming the Guppy once more.
Cap'n Crunch, the Later Years
In 1999, the Cap'n vanished once again. He returned in the Spring of 2000. The ever-adventurous seaman had discovered an insidious threat to the world's supply of the rare mineral crunchium, the secret ingredient that gives the cereal its amazing crunch (I suppose there must be crunchium mines somewhere in the Milk Sea). The Cap'n travelled to the secret land of Volcania, at the core of the Earth, to fight the Crunchium Thieves. With the brave help of the Cap'n, the Crunchlings of Volcania, cute little fuzzy crunchium-dependent critters, were saved and the Crunchium Thieves* foiled.
No one can say for sure what the future holds for Cap'n H.M. Crunch and his perpetually youthful crew, but you can bet that where ever there is a big robot trying to make cereal soggy, where ever there is a goony pirate trying to plunder your breakfast or large and silly pastel-colored demons shanghaiing the supply of a rare mineral–where ever there is a breakfast-related crime or injustice ...
Crunch will be there!
* Seriously, though, what ... did the writers go on coffee break? I mean, you come up with good and loony stuff like a land beneath the earth, a kooky mineral, cute little imps being victimized by yucky demons–you are doing great ... then you name the demons ... Crunchium Thieves?? Seriously, guys–the best name you can come up with for the crunchium-pilfering monsters is Crunchium Thieves? I just think they dropped the ball a bit on this one.
Praise for Cap'n Crunch (sorry, I could not resist putting in some of the favourable comments I've gotten:
avalyn: "Wow, this is top notch..."
teleny: "Ah, /me remembers an early comic given out with the cereal that claims that Crunch (or his dad) sailed with Magellan. He, himself is more than 500 years old."
(It's true ... I've seen other references to the antiquity of the cap ... That seems like a really weird detail for the cartoon guys to have added!)
jclast: "Wow, just wow. This thing is fantastic!"
artman2003: "man, now I really want a bowl of Cap'n Crunch!! heh, great w/u"
My friend Ben says: "I just read the chronology of Cap'n Crunch! A mythology to rival Tolkien!"
An absolutely magnificent collection of information on cereals and cereal mascots: http://www.lavasurfer.com/cereal-quakeroats.html
Dan Markstein's Toonopedia: http://www.toonopedia.com/crunch.htm
X-Entertainment: Cap'n Crunch Cereal Commercials:
Evil has a new face. And it's soggy. (where you can actually WATCH some commercials) http://www.x-entertainment.com/messages/598.html
IMDB biography of Jay Ward: http://imdb.com/name/nm0911599/bio