The Oral History of Raccacoonie, the Most Beloved Universe in Everything Everywhere All At Once
“The Raccacoonie gag was in there from that first writers’ trip and it never left the script.”
It’s one of the enduring injustices of the 21st century that Ratatouille, Pixar’s 2007 film about a culinary-minded rat who cooks like a world-class human chef, was not nominated for Best Picture. But perhaps there’s a touch of restorative justice in the fact that one of this year’s Best Picture frontrunners, Everything Everywhere All at Once, devotes a chunk of its runtime to a surreal homage to the animated classic.
The genre-defying multiverse hit — written and directed by the duo of Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (collectively, “the Daniels”) — centers around Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh), a Chinese American mother and laundromat owner who is sucked into a multiverse and must connect with bizarre alternate-universe versions of herself in order to defeat a villain (an Alphaverse version of her daughter, Joy), who is threatening to destroy the entire multiverse.
In one fateful scene, Evelyn is trying to explain the cosmic chaos to her bewildered daughter and husband; how they are being controlled by external forces. She compares it to the plot of Ratatouille — mistakenly calling it “Raccacoonie” and believing that the chef is controlled by a raccoon.
What seems at first like a one-off joke ultimately expands into a full-bodied visual gag, and then an elaborate subplot. Evelyn finds herself in an alternate universe where “Raccacoonie” is very much real. She’s working in a teppanyaki restaurant alongside a skilled fellow chef (Harry Shum Jr.), who, she discovers, is hiding a raccoon-sized secret in his chef’s hat. After she exposes his furry friend — the raccoon secretly controlling his movements and guiding his talents — the critter is carted off by animal control.
Although Raccacoonie may seem like one of the sillier elements of the film, it has a poignant origin story. Over the years, the Daniels often heard stories from producer Jonathan Wang about his father, who had a habit of messing up American movie titles. “My dad did love movies. It wasn’t until he passed away that I really realized it,” Wang tells Inverse. “He was an immigrant from Taiwan who worked hard to keep a small bakery afloat. And so him learning how to survive kind of trumped any creative ambitions or anything artistic.”
Realizing that hearing your parents butcher movie titles is a common thread among second-generation Americans, the Daniels came up with the idea of a character who unwittingly manifests a misstated movie title into existence. Like many aspects of Everything Everywhere All at Once, the joke taps into the experience of immigrant families building a life in the United States. In the months since the movie became a sleeper hit last spring, and eventually A24’s highest-grossing release ever, Raccacoonie has been a favorite universe for audiences, inspiring a flood of fan art, DIY costumes, and lingering questions.
So in the hopes of answering some of those questions — and ahead of the 95th Academy Awards, where Everything Everywhere All at Once is nominated for 11 Oscars — Inverse presents the oral history of Raccacoonie. This article features original interviews with five significant cast and crew members of Everything Everywhere All at Once. (Kwan and Scheinert were unavailable to be interviewed for this piece.)
The origin story
Jonathan Wang (producer): I think it’s pretty common when you have parents who are speaking English as a second language: They butcher movie titles. [My dad] would call James Bond “double seven” instead of “double-O seven.” He would just mess up movie titles all the time. My favorite one he would say was “Outside Good People Shooting” — that one is Good Will Hunting.
He wouldn’t just watch trash TV; he’d watch Turner Classic Movies. He’d be watching black-and-white movies, and I’d be sitting there watching Some Like It Hot with him and old musicals and Old Hollywood films. So him butchering the titles was because he couldn’t really care about it in the way I care about movies. But he wanted to connect and he wanted to watch movies.
When we made Swiss Army Man, my father came to the premiere. He came up to Daniels and said, “I’m Chinese. I love eating spicy food. But your movie is too spicy.” Ever since that, I think Daniels fell in love with him. I would always tell stories about him. Sadly, a few months after they met him at the premiere, he passed away from a heart attack. Then, as always happens when someone passes away, they become mythologized and you get to talk about them in a new way once they go. So I would always tell funny stories about my dad, and a lot of them were these funny movie titles.
Shirley Kurata (costume designer): Being an Asian American and having parents where English isn’t their native language, I was used to hearing my parents mispronounce things. I had this memory when I was really young and I saw this word and I didn’t know what it said. I asked my mom. She was like, “Pin-oh-shee-oh.” I think both of us just laughed because we realized she totally mispronounced Pinocchio.
Jonathan Wang: The very first script [the Daniels] handed in was 240-some pages. Before they delivered this script, they went up to Big Sur on a writing retreat. And one of the earliest gags they wrote was a universe where — at the time it was Jackie [Chan], but we’ll just say Evelyn — her imagination of a butchered title actually exists. The Raccacoonie gag was in there from that first writers’ trip and it never left the script.
Paul Rogers (editor): When the Daniels work, they have this tendency to take something really ridiculous and treat it really seriously. They also have the inverse of taking something really serious and treating it really ridiculously. So when she discovers Raccacoonie for the first time, we treat that whole universe as this really dramatic, scary tragedy. It starts off as this story of this woman who’s bad at her job, and then she discovers this secret, and then it turns into a horror movie and she’s being chased with a knife. So we just leaned into that.
Casting the role
To play the teppanyaki chef controlled by a raccoon, the filmmakers decided to cast Harry Shum Jr., a Costa Rica-born actor and singer/dancer who rose to fame on the show Glee — and who had his own mysterious history with raccoons…
Jonathan Wang: One of the unsung heroes of the movie is Harry Shum Jr. We’ve always been impressed by his ability to contort and dance.
Harry Shum Jr.: When the Daniels called, I was just game for anything. Their weird is my normal. Nothing was too weird for me. Before I read the script, I met with them. I think the physicality was what we talked about first, and seeing if that’s something that would be of interest to play around with. I said, “Hell yeah.”
Jonathan Wang: The way [Harry] can move his body is super impressive. We really wanted someone who could just practically make his body move in a way that looked like it was under the influence of a raccoon. [The Daniels] ended up working with him on Nora From Queens. It was the same episode that they actually met Stephanie Hsu. And we were like, “We should cast them in Everything Everywhere.” I think the movie is that much better for those two.
Harry Shum Jr.: They were just explaining that I was going to have a raccoon on my head, controlling my body. We were workshopping how to run, how he would move. Then, when I read the script, I didn’t know exactly where this fell in line with the whole story, other than I’m playing it very genuinely and it’s about a guy who just has absolutely no confidence in what he’s doing and needs a creature that so many people are scared of.
“Balancing an egg on a spatula is not easy.”
Paul Rogers: Once [the raccoon] gets ripped from Harry Shum Jr., we wanted people to really feel his pain and feel the tragedy of that. As silly as it is, we just tried to stay true to the drama and terror and tragedy of what it would be like to discover a raccoon controlling your co-worker’s body as he cooks hibachi-style Japanese food.
Harry Shum Jr.: I remember watching [Ratatouille]. There’s something really beautiful about the story of being able to make a meal out of anything, especially a gourmet meal. Which I think holds true with this gag or universe.
I lived in a house where raccoons would just start playing in the backyard at 1 in the morning. I used to work really late and I remember these two raccoons — I could hear them through my blinds. Apparently, they were foreplaying? It looked like they were about to get it on. I felt like this creeper watching them. But I couldn’t stop. And they both looked over at me and just stared at me to close the blinds and give them some privacy. You could hear the [imitates raccoon squealing] before I closed it because it looked like they were about to come in. I almost feel like you don't mess with [raccoons], they don’t mess with you. Watch from a distance. So, the idea of putting it on top of your head is kind of the most intimate thing you could do. I was definitely breaking some rules there.
To prepare for the role, Shum had to learn the basic techniques of cooking like a flashy teppanyaki chef. In real life, he didn’t have a talented raccoon guiding him.
Harry Shum Jr.: I went to a restaurant warehouse to try to find the proper tools for teppanyaki. I went almost as far as to go into Benihana and say “Hey... Can I practice?” I would have cuts all over my fingers because I was just trying to watch these videos of chefs doing incredible work. Once I got on the set, it was a hot mess. I made a big mess. And thank god the Daniels saved me with their visual effect skills to make it look like I was doing a great job. Balancing an egg on a spatula is not easy.
Shirley Kurata: We were trying to make each world have its specific color scheme. The hot dog universe was kind of in the shades of a hot dog — dusty pinks, beiges. [The Daniels] mentioned that blue and white could be really good for the Raccacoonie world. That’s when I decided to have the chef’s hat be blue and the scarf blue. Of course, I had to make the custom hat to fit the height of the Raccacoonie. Existing ones were not that tall and big. That was custom built.
For the Raccacoonie scenes, the Daniels opted for practical effects rather than CGI. They hired makeup and effects supervisor Jason Hamer to bring the surreal creature to life. Hamer’s team used an actual, taxidermied raccoon corpse to create the animatronic critter that would perch atop Shum’s head.
Jonathan Wang: When we did Swiss Army Man, we met this special effects makeup artist named Jason Hamer from Hamer FX. He would always surprise us and go above and beyond. On this movie, we had a handful of gags we wanted to do. We called Hamer because we knew we didn’t have the budget to do the same thing we did on Swiss Army Man, where we could go big. But we had a lot of little things we needed him for, like the hot dog hands or the buff pinky, where she does the pinky push-ups. He hand-sculpted that buff pinky. And then Raccacoonie.
Jason Hamer (special effects and makeup artist): We did the hot dog hands. We did the piano feet. We did a couple things that didn’t make the film actually, like “spaghetti mama.” Or was it “noodle baby and spaghetti mama”?
Jonathan Wang: The Daniels were like, “The Raccacoonie can look like a really bad taxidermy that’s just puppetted on his head. It’ll be funny the worse it is.” And Jason was like, “Nah, I can’t. I’m not going to make it bad.”
Jason Hamer: They said they wanted it to look like bad taxidermy. I was like, “You know, we could do that. But coming from my point of view, they’re going to see my work and think I just didn’t do a good job. Maybe we can split the difference and make it not so, so bad?” They said, “Well, draw the line. The worst you can make it without feeling bad about the work.”
What we did is, we got some taxidermy forms. You can get them from taxidermy stores. You get raccoon forms. They’re just rigid foam forms. Then what we did is just sculpt a face on it. Sculpt teeth and all the other bits. Then that gets molded. And then you core that out and that becomes the foam skin. Then we ended up mounting it to the top of the actor’s head.
Jonathan Wang: Whenever you’re on a movie, there’s always this buzz like, “No. 1’s on set!” and you know the star is on the set. Our movie was such a family summer camp vibe that everyone was very cool. [That was] the one day that everyone was like, “Oh, did you hear? Raccacoonie’s here.”
Harry Shum Jr.: I had to sit for two hours while they molded my face so they could test the brake that was on my shoulders. It was like a little harness over my shoulders to stabilize Raccacoonie. Someone controlled the head; someone controlled the arms and legs. There were two different controllers that were moving on different axes. When they put it on my head, it’s actually pretty heavy. Any time it would move, I would have to balance it so it didn’t look like the raccoon was about to fall off.
Bringing Raccacoonie to life
Jonathan Wang: It takes two different controls. Someone does the body up and down with the hands and then someone else does the face. We were just laughing because of how good he made it. We expected it to be really bad.
Jason Hamer: Tim Ralston, who’s a brilliant mechanic, animated it. It was pretty basic. The movements were just some arm movements, so it could jerk his hair around. And then full head movement with mouth movement. And it had a tail, too.
Paul Rogers: When we were working on [those scenes], we were cracking up. Dan Kwan was actually controlling the animatronic raccoon, and he was doing the voice on set. He was so into it. He loved it.
Shirley Kurata: I was in the room when the Daniels first saw it, and they were playing around with it. We were just laughing and so amazed by how cool it looked. We had to also make sure we were able to keep it on the head and hide the wires and everything.
Harry Shum Jr.: It was like a hybrid between realism and also something you’d find in 1940s Disneyland. The mixture of the two — I think that’s what Daniels really wanted. But putting it on, you can’t really turn your head. Your whole body has to shift with it, too. Which I think made it funnier.
Jason Hamer: It’s such a quirky thing. I love the guys. It’s perfectly in tone with all their stuff.
Harry Shum Jr.: I just miss doing physical work in comedy. I don’t think there’s that much out there anymore. I’m so glad this film asks for that and really brings it alive in such a fun way.
Enter, Randy Newman
The absurdism is heightened by a musical element: Back in the kitchen, Shum’s character sings a jaunty jazz-pop tune called “Now We’re Cookin’” with his beloved raccoon. To up the Pixar quotient, the Daniels got legendary composer Randy Newman, a longtime Pixar collaborator, to provide the voice of Raccacoonie.
Jonathan Wang: This is how Daniels always do things. They take a really silly idea, but then treat it really seriously. [We thought] it would just be so great if we could get Randy Newman to voice the raccoon and sing the song. And then it would just be parody upon parody. A hat on a hat on a hat. Shockingly, he said yes.
Harry Shum Jr.: Going into it, they were like, “Hey, you’re going to sing this song.” I was like, “OK, whatever you want me to sing.” So I’m singing this song with this raccoon on my head.
Jonathan Wang: I never even thought about whether or not we would get a call from Disney or if Pixar was going to be mad. We did a tour of the Pixar campus and got to hang out with [animator/director] Domee Shi, and she’s so great. We were like, “Have you guys talked about, uh… us ripping off Ratatouille?” Everyone loves it there, and it seemed like no one was really upset. That was the only thing we thought of: Are we going to get flagged for this? But lawyers cleared it; everyone cleared it.
The world reacts
Everything Everywhere All at Once was released in March 2022 and became a sleeper hit, eventually earning more than $100 million at the box office. But it wasn’t until Halloween that the team realized the full influence of Raccacoonie.
Shirley Kurata: One of the first meetings I had with the Daniels, they said, “When you’re making costumes, you know you’ve succeeded if they start dressing up for Halloween in these costumes. So aim for that.” Last Halloween was the first year I was able to see I was successful.
Paul Rogers: It’s something we talked about while we were cutting it. Because we were cutting it through Halloween in 2020, we were all just like, “Man, these would make some great Halloween costumes — Raccacoonie and hot dog fingers and all that.”
Shirley Kurata: It started off at Comic-Con. There were several people dressed up as the chef with the raccoon on their head. Some of them made the raccoon from scratch. Others were able to sort of move it even? I was really impressed.
Harry Shum Jr.: I’ve played many characters, and I’ve never had a character like this, where people are dressing up not just on Halloween but randomly. We did some screenings and Q&As and people would come in the whole chef Raccacoonie [costume]. Some had a raccoon stuffed animal. Some people had their cats on their hair. I almost didn’t know how to react.
Jonathan Wang: There’s tons of fan art, which makes us really happy. I think it was one of the most popular cosplays at Comic-Con for our movie, outside of the hot dog hands.
Harry Shum Jr.: It just blew my mind that [the Daniels] actually went ahead and really did this. When you write it on paper, when you talk about it, I was like, “OK, maybe things will change.” They follow through with their vision.
‘It’s kind of nice to be heard’
As much as it’s a comedic element, Raccacoonie retains a deeper poignant weight for the people involved with the film.
Jonathan Wang: We ran into [playwright and screenwriter] Jeremy O. Harris randomly after an award show in New York, and we were hitting it off and talking. He’s the only person I’ve heard that cried during the Raccacoonie scene. He said his grandma would always butcher movie titles in the same way as my dad. [His family] also butchered book titles. He viewed it as them being uneducated: “Ugh, you guys are so backwards and Southern.” Then, when he watched our movie, he realized his parents worked two to three jobs to pay for him to be the first college-educated person. Of course, they didn’t have time to learn the movie titles. So he was feeling this really cathartic, emotional response
Shirley Kurata: The experiences of being a child of immigrant parents and the disconnect and generational trauma that gets passed on — it’s an important theme that a lot of us deal with. I’ve had people DM me and tell me “I’m dealing with this myself.”
“Speaking on behalf of my dad, his very life was a multiverse.”
Harry Shum Jr.: Fans have come up to me. There’s a particular fan that said they went through the whole phase of what they go through with their parents. To see it realized on screen was something they never thought they would see — someone’s mistake would become something very real in another universe.
Shirley Kurata: We’re a country of immigrants. There’s a good number of us that have grown up in this country with immigrant parents. Yet we rarely hear really compelling stories that we can relate to. I think this movie does that. It’s kind of nice to be heard.
Jonathan Wang: Speaking on behalf of my dad, his very life was a multiverse. He’d have to speak Mandarin and then English and then would have to speak Spanish to a lot of the people that we had working with us. His existence was always feeling like he was whiplashed between these crazy things. While it is fun and hilarious and touching with the Raccacoonie story, the thing I am always moved by is just how much Michelle was able to embody the experience of what immigrant parents go through.