Few remember PORTLANDIA AND FRIENDS, an obscure cartoon from the 90's, but its short history provides an interesting look at a moment in pop culture.
Airing in first-run syndication, the show followed kickball team the Bridgetown Bunch who were coached by Portlandia, an anthropomorphic statue.
The show focused on the rivalry between the Bunch and their cross-town rivals, the Rose City Rowdies who were led by Portlandia's cousin La Liberté, portrayed with a stereotypical French accent and sense of superiority.
Episodes were extremely formulaic: Portlandia would take the Bunch to see Portland mayor Vera Katz (who provided her voice to the series) always sitting on her favorite bench along the Willamette River. Katz would ask the Bunch to fix a problem troubling the city, which took up the bulk of the episode. Most episodes ended in a revelation that the Rowdies were secretly behind that week's problem leading Katz to scold them.
The show ran into problems when its thirteenth episode had the Bridgetown Bunch going into "the bad part of town" to stop crime. In actuality the kids entered the Albina district, a primarily black neighborhood and the only area where African-Americans could find housing during years of racial segregation.
Prior to this episode the show had been popular among African-American families for featuring a black child as a member of the Bunch, but after an NAACP boycott the show's ratings tanked and it was quickly cancelled. The producers planned a direct-to-video movie to re-spark interest in the franchise.
That movie, JOURNEY TO PORTLANDIA, featured Portlandia and the Bridgetown Bunch walking across the Hawthorne Bridge when they are transported to a fantasy world also named Portlandia. There the kids learn that an evil king, Overton, rules the land with the help of Lovejoy the witch, voiced by Jessica Lange.
Portlandia leads them to the castle where they do battle with Overton's minions using newfound magical powers. The scene where the Bridgetown Bunch fight in the throne room while the Kingsmen play "Louie, Louie" is a highlight of the film.
The Bunch confront Lovejoy who flees in her flying covered wagon and Overton yields the throne to Portlandia, who is instated as the rightful ruler of the land.
The movie was a major success, with critics hailing the film as a bold rethink of the controversial TV show. VHS sales were brisk and a sequel was planned.
ESCAPE FROM PORTLANDIA, opens with La Liberté and the Rose City Rowdies having wandered across the Hawthorne Bridge into Portlandia. Surprised the Bridgetown Bunch are in charge, they challenge them to a kickball game for control of the kingdom.
Portlandia serves as umpire for the game, a curious moral choice given her history as the Bunch's coach, but in a ninth-inning call she effectively gives the game to the Rowdies calling the runner from the Bunch out at home plate.
The Bunch are then confronted by a vision of Vera Katz telling them that Portlandia has been hypnotized by Lovejoy and they must find the cure that will release her spell. At the end of the film Portlandia, now speakign with Lovejoy's voice, banishes the Bunch from the kingdom and they flee.
This second movie was met with critical acclaim for the story's dark turns, though proved to be less popular amongst children who did not understand why Portlandia would betray her friends. A third movie to complete the trilogy was announced.
RETURN TO PORTLANDIA finds the Bridgetown Bunch in the distant eastern land, Portlandia Maine. There they meet a wizard, Tom's of Maine, who gives them a potion that will break Lovejoy's spell.
On their way home, the Bunch rescue La Liberté who was kidnapped by orcs. They learn she was also banished from the kingdom as she joins them.
When they arrive, they sneak into the castle with the help of the Rowdies, who have since seen the error of their ways. They put the magic potion into the kingdom's Stumptown Coffee and the spell is broken.
Having regained her senses, Portlandia kills Lovejoy and order is restored. She tells both the Bunch and the Rowdies, who have put aside their differences, that they must go back to protect the real Portland while she and La Liberté stay to protect Portlandia. She opens a portal leading back to the Hawthorne bridge where Vera Katz is waiting.
After a tearful goodbye the closing shot shows both groups, now know as the Bridgetown Rowdy Rose Bunch, beating the Seattle Grungy Gang for the Pacific Northwest Kickball championship.
RETURN TO PORTLANDIA was a bomb. Critics hated it, saying the film was too over the top, contained too much product placement, the kickball championship ending was too contrived and the two-and-a-half hour running time was excessive. The production company went out of business and all three movies went out of print.
Fans refused to believe the two groups could ever be friends after the Rowdies killed the Bunch's pet dog, Bruno, saying it retconned the character's values. "Rowdies Killed Bruno" shirts started to appear at conventions.
Recently after the IFC show, Portlandia, brought the name back into the zeitgeist there were rumors of a PORTLANDIA AND FRIENDS reboot movie. Claire Danes was attached to play Portlandia and Marion Cotillard would provide the voice and motion capture for La Liberté.
But Deadline Hollywood reported the producers were unable to secure financing when word got out that Brad Bird called the script "un-animatable". Fans were outraged at rumors that Anne Hathaway would play Vera Katz, despite the fact that Katz was still alive and willing to reprise her role.
And yet they still head west every year to pay tribute. Fans successfully lobbied for a statue of Vera Katz to be installed on the east bank of the Willamette and they flock to sit beside her. And they walk across the Hawthorne bridge hoping the portal will open and take them where they truly belong.