Every so often, a piece of media crops up that is unlike anything you have seen or heard before; Rare Americans’ Searching for Strawberries: The Story of Jongo Bongo is one such example.
Rare Americans are a Canadian alt-rock band who double up as animators via their production company, Crooked City Studios. Their latest release is accompanied by a 30-minute animated film that, as the title suggests, follows the story of how Jongo Bongo, the multi-instrumentalist member of the band, ditched the rat race and hit the road on a journey of discovery, meeting his future bandmates on the way.
It’s a fun project that seems to rejoice in being a little rough around the edges, with animation on a par with Beavis and Butthead, colourful, fast-moving and charmingly wobbly. The Chilli Peppers’ “Rollercoaster” video from the Beavis and Butthead movie could be a blueprint for this short.
There is a heart to the story as it opens with Young Jongo learning how to play “Strawberry Fields Forever” with his Dad, who we learn late on has since passed away. The first of three chapters is probably the most problematic, as Jongo contends with the go-getting world of big business before his inevitable escape. There is a lot of narrative to be packed into this short film, so the first couple of tunes are lyrically heavy and literal. First track, “Money,” echoes Beck’s “Loser” a little too closely and this is followed by “Milk and Honey,” which also closely resembles Gorillaz’ “Clint Eastwood.” The accompanying visuals are made up of brash business execs bawling Young Jongo out to the point where he has no option but to leave.
The early sequences establish the film as a mini rock opera, and whilst this is no Tommy, there are similarities in the storytelling tropes that unfold. Once on the road, the tunes become lighter and more enjoyable, and less reliant on labouring with a heavy plotline.
The mantra of “Stay Curious” is repeated as Jongo, following the advice of a wise man on a bus, takes a pilgrimage across Spain to Camino de Santiago.
The inevitable temptations of sex and drugs become available and are told through psychedelic musical sequences, and various characters come and go. Once he meets and falls in bed with Mel, a fellow traveller, his journey becomes more positive, and the film ups the ante on fun.
Once Jongo and Mel meet up with the existing members of Rare Americans and he is seduced into joining the band on his return home, it is clear that music and love have beaten drugs, and there is a clear path ahead.
The final chapter sees Jongo back home, but before long, his relationship with Mel is strained, and he turns to strawberry acid tabs for solace. A song entitled “Fuck You Elmo” covers this period well.
So far, the music has straddled narrative pop and dipped now and again into pure goofiness, which depending on your taste, can be joyful or irritating. Similarities with the Jellyfish album, Spilt Milk are unavoidable, a release that was great but uneven in equal measure.
The best music is saved ’til the end when Jongo joins the band, and they break out into pure pop/rock, notably “Moving Beyond” and “Odd Ducks.” Before their gig, Jongo finds and eats a perfect strawberry, and his journey is complete.
The video so far has attracted many streamers online and is a fun way to spend half an hour. The characters are likeable, and the music is different, to say the least. Apart from the heavily literal nature of the lyrics, there are good tunes to be pulled from the project, and the band will likely gain new followers via the movie.
Director: Pasquale LaMontagna
Producer: Rare Americans
Starring: Rare Americans
Production Company: Crooked City Studios
Distributed by: WMA
Release Date: July 10, 2023
Run Time: 35 minutes