The Guardians of the Galaxy, who made their first appearance in print in 1969, bear very little resemblance to the team of superheroes who will grace the big screen this weekend.
Conspiculous by his absence in the original book is Rocket Raccoon, the heroic character voiced by Bradley Cooper in the film. The feisty raccoon appeared years later, created by writer Bill Mantlo and illustrator Keith Giffen, who named the masked creature in tribute to the Beatles’ tune Rocky Raccoon.
They confirmed the Beatle’s influence in 1982 with a story that paraphrased John and Paul’s lyrics for the title. Called Now Somewhere In the Black Holes of Sirius Major There Lived a Young Boy Named Rocket Raccoon, the book saw the Hulk and Rocket Raccoon stop a villain from stealing Gideon’s Bible.
Rocket is latest raccoon, but not the only, to become a mammalian movie star.
Recently Liam Neeson starred in the animated movie The Nut Job, playing the imaginatively named Raccoon, the patriarch of a park, who might not have the best interests of the other animals top of mind.
The sixty-two year old Irish actor says he had never seen a raccoon until he was in his thirties, shooting an episode of Miami Vice in Florida. “Seeing this thing use his little paws and actually lifting a lid of a garbage can, peering in,” he says, “was quite sinister because it almost had a human quality to it, quite sneaky. I just had never seen a raccoon in my life before and the impression stayed with me.”
Other animated raccoons have worked steadily. Meeko, the raccoon from Disney’s Pocahontas and Pocahontas ll: Journey to a New World cartoon also makes appearances in Mickey’s Magical Christmas: Snowed in at the House of Mouse and in the Pocahontas video game. Then there’s RJ from Over the Hedge, a lovable raccoon voiced by Bruce Willis. “The rascally charm Bruce Willis brought to Moonlighting makes RJ a lovable rogue, or at least a likable one,” said director Karey Kirkpatrick.
Real-life raccoons are also getting work—in films like Rascal and The Details—but according to director Steve Carr they can present some problems. Tough guy actor Michael Rappaport voiced Joey, the consigliere raccoon, in Dr. Dolittle 2. The film featured over-250 four-legged cast members—including wolves, giraffes, bears, possums, raccoons, dogs, and owls—so Carr says, “A huge percentage of our work was waiting for the animals to do what they’re trained to do. And the patience that was needed well, it felt at times as if it were Herculean.”