PAL-ican Brief

You can tell that PALican is a star because he arrives with an entourage. I'd arranged to interview PALican himself, who I assumed was a guy in a bird suit, but the star of KAZ-TV's unbelievably schlocky PALican and Friends (who turned out to be a girl in a bird suit; PALican's voice is dubbed in later, after actress Gina Tleel has sweated her ass off inside the pelican costume) showed up with her publicist and producer in tow. I settled for interviewing Mike Aloisi, the creator of PALican, about why kids want a talking pelican for a friend -- especially one whose beak doesn't move when he talks.

New Times: What's a big bird like PALican doing in a small town like this?

Mike Aloisi: Should I answer as PALican?

NT: If you want.

Aloisi: That's okay. PALican watches after children. And when they get into trouble, he tries to help them out. The whole thing came to me in a dream. I woke up with the name PALican in my head. I got up in the middle of the night and put the name on the refrigerator: PALican. And for six months, all I could think of was the ways and means to get this [TV show] going. I started to prepare a plan of attack.

NT: What kind of research determined a need for a show about a talking pelican -- an animal that's probably the least-often associated with kids?

Aloisi: Well, we interviewed 400 children, and only one child didn't know what a pelican was. Everyone knew what a pelican is because of their beak and because they're so friendly.

NT: I didn't know that. Pelicans are friendly?

Aloisi: Well, children perceive them as being friendly. And they're smart, too. If a pelican can't find food, it will eat from its own body. Nobody knows that.

NT: I'm guessing that PALican won't be depicted eating from his own body on the show.

Aloisi: No! Of course not.

NT: Yea. Now, I know that PALican is meant to be a wholesome role model for kids. But how is a pelican a role model for anyone? I mean, they hang out on piers and eat dead fish.

Aloisi: Well, he's not just a pelican. He's a PALican.

NT: Oh.

Aloisi: Every kid needs a pal. Parents are divided -- 60 percent of our country is divorced, kids are in day-care centers, and PALican kind of takes care of those kids. And also the second part of his name is "I can" -- Pal I Can. Get it? He's a positive reinforcement for kids.

NT: And what's with the "pull my finger, kids" thing?

Aloisi: Right. You pull on his blue feather, and you can travel with PALican. He has warp speed; he gets them to where they're going like that (snaps fingers).

NT: As long as it's in Arizona.

Aloisi: No! He's going to go nationwide. And further! We're going to go to London! It's all about syndication. We're talking to [the company that owns] Barney and Bob the Builder. And we've decided to do something with PALican that those two shows aren't doing: We're going after the bathtub market.

NT: The bathtub market!

Aloisi: Children take a bath every day. So we're going after the bath toy market. PALican bath toys!

NT: You'll be an instant millionaire. But I want to talk about the feather thing some more. What happens when you pull on PALican's other fingers?

Aloisi: Well, I've tried to keep this relatively quiet, but I'm going to open it up a little bit. And this is an exclusive to your newspaper.

NT: I'm ready.

Aloisi: Okay. The red feather means "stop." The yellow feather means "go slow." And the green feather means "go ahead." And no one knows this yet, except you, but we're going to have that be part of our curriculum. So that a child understands stop, slow, and go.

NT: That's amazing. Thank you for letting me break that here. Now, I notice that, in kids' shows, there are usually no adults around. What's that about?

Aloisi: Well, PALican is like an adult. He has the wisdom and the silliness, and Gina, even without direction at times, brings that to the table. The walk, the feel, the things she does intuitively as an actor.

NT: An actor in a bird suit!

Aloisi: Right. Like in the fire station episode, the fireman is explaining fire safety to the kids, and Gina puts her arm on his shoulder and crosses her legs. That cannot be instructed to you as an actor. I told the director, "Don't rein her in too much. Don't constrain her natural ability!" You can't teach that to an actor. Brando had a presence, and this gal has a presence.

NT: I'll say. My niece, Caitlyn, loves the show, by the way.

Aloisi: Well, we're gonna give her a tee shirt. Because she said she likes it. If she said she didn't like it, she wouldn't get anything.

NT: Entire generations of kids were traumatized because they never got a Ladmo bag. Now you're doing a weekly drawing for a PALican tee shirt . . .

Aloisi: Well, in this case, if you write to us and your name doesn't get drawn, you can go out and buy a PALican tee shirt or a plush doll. That's why we're doing the licensing thing.

NT: And I read that you're planning the PALican Palace Theme Park, with a train, a roller coaster, an indoor dolphin show, miniature golf, a rock climbing wall, a movie theater, a hotel, and a shopping mall. A dolphin show?

Aloisi: It's the most popular attraction at any amusement park in the world. You can't get a seat at Hershey Park Arena.

NT: I see a future filled with PALican lunchboxes, headbands and disposable diapers.

Aloisi: We're taking the show and we're driving it toward marketing. Our first goal is to find a pool company. We want to create the PALican Protection Program that will take child drownings to zero in the great state of Arizona.

NT: How do they expect to compete with big-budget shows like Dora the Explorer and Blue's Clues?

Aloisi: I don't think we have any competition. Kids are on the computer all day long, going too fast. PALican is going to slow things down.

NT: How did you decide to cast two white kids?

Aloisi: We had some black children [audition]. We had a mulatto child. We didn't want to force something to happen. We didn't design that they'd be white. There was one finalist who was Hispanic, but he did not relate well to the girl. Now, Gina [Tleel] is Hispanic, and so naturally she's going to try to keep it in the family. She had the chance to say, "Well, I related better to the Hispanic [kid]," but she didn't do that. Fifty-one thousand kids auditioned, and the two we chose were the ones who did the job best.

NT: Is the show educational? Because it seems to me there's a certain amount of tourism involved.

Aloisi: There's terrific places we can go! We're going to do an episode at the Science Center, we're going to [Olga Korbut's] gym, we're going to the museum. Right now we're at the point where, after another couple of three shows, we're going to have an Emmy-winning show.

NT: Maybe you could get a bird suit where the beak moves when he talks.

Aloisi: I think that's hokey. I don't think that the beak moving conveys talking. Not many people wonder why his mouth doesn't move. Did I mention that we've got PALican designer lollipops? PALican has a settling-down effect on people. I feel he's caused me to settle down. He takes a serious situation and makes it silly. Kids love PALican. Your niece likes PALican. Do you like PALican?

NT: Oh, I don't know.

Aloisi: You have to get to know him better.

NT: I guess I could watch the show a few more times.

Aloisi: That's all it takes. Because I'm telling you, in September we're going to see a PALican explosion.

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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela