A mascot maker says he will not buckle to legal threats from Ontario’s public broadcaster about his pothead parody of the beloved children’s TV character Polkaroo.
Mark Scott enthralled revellers and international media at a cannabis legalization celebration in a Toronto park last Wednesday with his costume of a joint-toting, red-eyed marsupial called Tokaroo — an unsanctioned riff on Polkaroo, the multicolour muumuu-clad creature who has been a fixture on TVO since the early 1970s.
Scott said he spent more than two decades donning the green-furred, yellow-tailed Polkaroo costume at promotional appearances, but his relationship with TVO has soured after he received a cease-and-desist notice from the publicly funded TV station Tuesday.
In a signed letter, a lawyer wrote that TVO failed to find an “amicable resolution” with Scott over what the broadcaster contends to be an “unauthorized use” of its mascot, which the station claims could pose “a very real threat of tarnishing Polkaroo’s reputation.”
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The letter demands confirmation from Scott that he will cease and desist his activity by Friday afternoon.
“Polkaroo is an established and trusted trademarked TVOkids mascot that is appreciated across generations,” TVO said in a statement to The Canadian Press.
“While we can understand the nostalgia, TVO does not endorse this parody of Polkaroo, or the fact that it is being associated with an activity that is neither legal for children nor recommended for use by children. We are asking Mark Scott to take appropriate action to stop the use of this character.”
While he is considering his options before the Friday deadline, Scott said he is intent on continuing his project, insisting he has been clear that it is in no way affiliated with TVO or Polkaroo.
“I think that TVO is being a little bully-ish about this,” said Scott. “(Their slogan is), ‘Never stop learning,’ and they’re doing a lot of ‘never’ and ‘stopping.’”
Scott maintains that any similarities between Polkaroo and Tokaroo are “purely coincidental,” but he said both are committed to the development of young minds.
While Polkaroo guided kids on psychedelic journeys of imagination, he said Tokaroo teaches adolescents about responsible drug use through irreverent humour.
Scott said Tokaroo is just one character in his troop of “Candoroos,” which he hopes to develop into a mature-themed educational web series.
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There’s also Rainbowroo, who talks about LGBTQ identity; Signaroo, who is deaf and uses sign language and Reddyroo, who has special needs.
“This is not a preschool program. This is for the internet, and is really to deal with the adolescent identity and social issues,” said Scott.
“There will be a clear, no-nonsense discussion about it using whatever language needs to be used, even if it’s foul language or street language, it will be appropriate to the people we’re talking to.”
Despite his legal tensions with Ontario’s public broadcaster, Scott said it wasn’t all that long ago that he wore the wide-grinned Polkaroo mask alongside TVO personalities like Steve Paikin at promotional events, and even got to meet Prince Philip in character during a royal visit.
While other performers played Polkaroo on Polka Dot Door and Polka Dot Shorts, Scott said between 1985 and 2007, he was the one who had to wrangle wailing children overwhelmed by the experience of seeing their TV idol in person.
“There are people who will hand their kids over like they’re giving them up,” he said. “But then there’s those (kids) who instantly fall in love, those are of course why people do mascotting in the first place.”
The self-taught mascot maker said he’s brought hundreds of other drawings into the 3D-realm, including a downsized version of Ella Acapella that toured with the iconic Canadian children’s TV trio Sharon, Lois & Bram.
But Polkaroo has stuck around. Scott lapses into the character’s voice, which he describes as a blend between Julia Child and Kermit the Frog, effortlessly. Even as the weed-smoking Tokaroo, parents stop him on the street to pose for photos with their children. He does his best to keep the joint out of the frame.
Barring a court battle, he dreams of one day expanding the Candoroo universe to embody “many shapes, sizes and colours,” turning the character into an “infinite symbol of representation.”
“The idea is to go with the childlike attraction we have with everything,” he said. “To get past an issue, we have to talk about it, and evolve into an ‘it’s OK’ position. You know, it’s OK to be you.”