Dave still has his eh game
When it comes to the long life of the McKenzie Brothers, he's no doubting Thomas


Thursday, August 31, 2006
(Sun File photo)

Hosers Bob & Doug McKenzie refuse to die, or even retire. Not now, not just yet.

Why, eh? "Well," muses Great White North co-creator and comic Dave Thomas, "all I can give you is my theories, because I don't really have a definite answer."

We are talking by phone from his base in Los Angeles. The conversation is initiated because Thomas and pal Rick Moranis did a return gig as the hoser moose in Brother Bear 2, after scoring great reviews for their whimsical work in the 2003 original.

Brother Bear 2, one of Disney's direct-to-DVD sequels, arrived in stores on Tuesday. It has the McKenzie-like moose, Rutt (Moranis) and Tuke (Thomas), falling in moosifer love with two fine females (fellow Canadians Andrea Martin and Catherine O'Hara).

"We actually liked it," the 57-year-old Thomas says of working in Brother Bear 2 with the now reclusive Moranis. "Rick is not a big fan of acting any more because of going into the trailer and sitting around for 10 hours for every one hour that you work. But doing voice-overs is quick and clean. And you can do the whole thing in the morning. You can go home and you're done for the day.

"Plus they let us improvise, which was fun because that's how we do those characters and they (animators at Walt Disney Studios) recognize that."

Same thing for the hosers. "As long as the McKenzie Brothers can improvise, Rick and I are comfortable because, when we lock ourselves into a script, it gets uncomfortable. We've never found anyone who we think can write for those characters ... except us."

That brings us back to the why question: Why do Bob & Doug still have a cachet nearly three decades after they were created as Canadian content for SCTV. Why are they so recognizable even when disguised as animated moose in a Disney children's film?

"I always thought," says the amiable Thomas, "that in television, when you do direct address to camera, you're a step ahead of any of the dramatic stuff, when people are turned sideways and talking to each other.

"These characters are like Muppets. They are very non-threatening and very stupid. And stupid characters play really well and travel well in comedy. Smart comedians play to a very small audience, I've found.

"And I think the beer definitely made them perennial with college kids." Specifically, the Bob & Doug movie, Strange Brew, became "a youth college cult film," Thomas says of their only big-screen effort.

As reported here Aug. 15, CBC-TV is backing a one-hour 24th anniversary Strange Brew special next May. The show will include unseen clips, fresh McKenzie Brothers improv and interviews with cast members, as well as with Demi Moore, who auditioned for the female lead but who was rejected. "So that's always been a joke with her," Thomas says.

Thomas and Moranis are also trying to get Warner Home Video, which owns the Strange Brew DVD rights, to wait until next May to put out a planned special edition. "I told them we wanted to synch up in a meaningful way; otherwise we weren't going to give them any bonus material at all."

Thomas' animation company has also signed a development deal with Global TV to produce a flash animation series featuring the McKenzie Brothers, Thomas says.

Meanwhile, there is the Brother Bear movies. And it is no accident that the characters are named Rutt and Tuke, not Bob & Doug.

"We wouldn't give Disney the McKenzie Brothers," Thomas says. "We said: 'Our voices sound similar to the McKenzie Brothers, so you'll get what you want. But we don't want the words McKenzie Brothers appearing anywhere in the Disney contract, or otherwise you'll own it. We own the characters and we didn't want to give them away. So they couldn't use, 'Take off,' or any of our catch phrases."

Thomas and Moranis are aware of how rigorously Disney lawyers protect their alleged character rights. The Winnie the Pooh lawsuits are a good lesson.

"If you give a big company like Disney a legal toehold to the characters at all, they've got you," Thomas says.

Regardless, the Disney filmmakers and much of the audience for the Brother Bear series know who Thomas and Moranis are channeling into their characters. And that has kept the McKenzie Brothers from fading away.

"The weird thing about it is that, every time Rick and I thought these characters were dead, somebody else would want to do it and keep them alive."