An animated return to 'Corner Gas'
Corner Gas is back, but the town of Dog River and its eccentric inhabitants look a little different than the last time we saw them – dare we say (at the risk of veering into pun territory), everything looks a tad more animated.
The comedy juggernaut (which ran for six seasons on CTV and seemingly bid adieu with a wildly successful movie in 2014) returns to television on April 2 with Corner Gas Animated – and as the title suggests, it serves up a cartoon take on the motley crew of characters that Canadians love as well as their trademark shenanigans.
The gang is all there: gas station owner Brent (Brent Butt), Lacey (Gabrielle Miller), Oscar (Eric Peterson), Hank (Fred Ewanuick), Davis (Lorne Cardinal), Karen (Tara Spencer-Nairn), Wanda (Nancy Robertson), and Emma (Emma’s original portrayer Janet Wright passed away in 2016; the role is voiced by Corrine Koslo).
The shenanigans might be animated, but Corner Gas Animated is still Corner Gas, says Ewanuick.
“It’s still good for the whole family,” he says. “The whole family is going to be able to sit down and get something out of it.”
Ewanuick is seated between Robertson and Cardinal in a control room deep within Vancouver’s Kozmic Sound Studios. It’s May 2017, and the actors have just wrapped on their final recording session for the 13-episode series.
Where original Corner Gas and this animated incarnation diverge, according to Cardinal, is that, in the animated world, “we’re not held back by budget. Do you know how much it costs to build a pirate ship? A lot, but if we can draw it here, it’s easier. It totally knocks down all of the doors and becomes a lot more fun.”
“And when he says, ‘We can draw it,’ we are literally doing everything,” quips Ewanuick.
“I’ve got my HB pencils all sharpened up,” retorts Cardinal.
“And really nice crayons, too,” adds Robertson.
“I’m the collage man,” Cardinal replies.
In actual fact, the animation was spearheaded by a couple of Vancouver animators – Josh Mepham and Greg Huculak – as well as showrunner and star Butt, who got his start in the graphic design sphere before making it big in stand-up comedy and television.
Corner Gas Animated takes place in the timeframe of the live action show's second season, and so the animated characters reflect what the actors looked like at that time.
They describe experiencing a range of emotions when they first saw their animated counterparts.
Says Ewanuick: “I was like, ‘Sweet! I’m going to be 29 for the rest of my life!’”
“I thought it was very flattering, and I really like my new nose,” says Robertson. “It’s like a shiv. It’s really pointed and sharp.”
As for Cardinal, he “had to question whether [the animators] watched the show, otherwise they would have noticed I wear my watch on my left hand. Where’s my pen? Where’s my V-shaped waist?”
It’s clear that the Corner Gas actors are a family – and this close family was devastated when Janet Wright passed away in 2016.
Robertson says that Butt consulted with Wright’s husband, Bruce Davis, to find out what he thought Janet would have wanted for her animated character. “And Bruce said, ‘I have no doubt that Janet would want Emma to live on,’” says Robertson.
In fact, it was Davis who suggested Wright’s longtime friend, Koslo, for the role.
“You hear Janet’s voice in Corrine’s,” says Cardinal. “Some of the deliveries are so spot-on. It makes me smile thinking that Janet’s still with us.” The character of Emma is drawn to look like Wright.
Corner Gas Animated isn’t edgier than its live action progenitor, nor is it weighed down with animated gimmicks; while its fantasy sequences might be more elaborate (“So far I’ve been attacked by a badger and a coyote,” observes Cardinal), it’s still at its heart a family show about a tight-knit group who call Dog River, Saskatchewan home.
“I’m knocking on wood, but I’m pretty sure that people who were fans of the show are going to really dig it, and my only hope is that we can garner new fans,” says Ewanuick. “It’s funny, it’s clever, it’s got stuff for adults, it’s got stuff for kids, it’s a great family show” – just like the original, which is still adding to the fan base thanks to DVDs and syndication.
Cardinal notes that he encounters newly minted Corner Gas fans on a regular basis. “I live up in Squamish and young kids will drive by and pop their head out of their cars and I’m ready for whatever they’re going to yell and they wave and go, ‘Davis, hi!’ And I’m like, ‘Oh, hi, kids!’”
“They’re really just laughing because he stepped out of his condo with his pants off again,” says Ewanuick.
“Again,” deadpans Cardinal.