Being Ian: The cartoon series that paid homage to Burnaby
A show that was "unabashedly about Burnaby.”
If you ever watched Canada’s quintessential children’s channel, YTV, during the early 2000s you may remember coming across Being Ian, an animated series about a kid named Ian and his adventures growing up in Burnaby.
Does it ring a bell? If not, here’s the theme song that may help you remember:
Being Ian aired on YTV from 2005 to 2008 and centres on the life of 12-year-old Ian Kelley and his eccentric family.
Ian is an aspiring filmmaker and is constantly daydreaming about wild scenarios that are based on movie plots. In fact, many of the show’s episodes—“Catch Me if You Cane,” “Planet of the Imps,” “Kelley vs Kelley,” “Million Dollar $andy”—pay homage to famous films in a quirky way that makes the series entertaining for kids, but also allows adults to be in on the jokes.
Ian’s character is based on the show’s creator, Ian James Corlett, who was raised in Burnaby and is now a voice actor splitting his time between Vancouver and California.
Corlett’s passion for film started at a young age when he was at school and entered the Burnaby Film Festival during the late ’70s.
His love for animation and filmmaking eventually led him into voice acting where he notably starred as adult Goku in Funimation/Saban’s original dub of Dragon Ball Z, along with roles in Mega Man, and Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog, to name a few.
“After I was acting in a whole bunch of animation, I decided … I’m still really a filmmaker at heart,” Corlett told the Beacon.
He then started writing for a number of animated series in the US and Canada and decided he wanted to create his own shows.
Corlett’s first cartoon—Yvon of the Yukon—is one many Canadian kids who grew up during the early 2000s will fondly remember.
The show follows the adventures of French explorer Yvon Ducharme who journeys to North America and gets stuck in an iceberg for 300 years until he’s thawed out. He settles in the fictional town of Upyermukluk, Yukon, where he befriends Inuk teenager Tommy Tukyuk.
After Yvon of the Yukon, Corlett wanted to create another show and one day, the idea came to him.
“It was kind of a slow, creative day and I said, ‘What about my life? It’s kind of weird.’ And basically, the framework of the series is my history,” he said.
While the show includes some wild, imaginative touches (for instance, Ian attends the fictional Celine Dion Middle School), there are many aspects that mirror Corlett’s real life.
In the series, Ian has two older brothers, Kyle and Korey, and they all help out at Kelley’s Keyboards, a music shop run by their parents Kenneth and Victoria.
This was based on Corlett’s actual childhood. He has two brothers and they all spent a lot of time at Music Man Pianos in Burnaby, which was owned and operated by Corlett’s parents.
“My family history was at the Music Man Pianos store on Kingsway,” he said.
“It’s one of the oldest buildings in Burnaby because it’s got this weird facade, almost like an old-west town. … The front has this rounded, [old-time] facade, and that’s where the piano store was,” he said.
The Music Man storefront still exists but has now become an adult store, where you’re unlikely to find any instruments of the musical kind.
As for Corlett’s family home located on Royal Oak Ave, it was “essentially the design that’s in Being Ian” with its unique Spanish-styled architecture.
These small details may not be obvious to those who aren’t familiar with the city. But for Corlett, making the show “unabashedly about Burnaby” meant he was authentically representing his hometown while also putting the spotlight on a city that often gets overshadowed by Vancouver.
“I was [in Vancouver] sort of at the beginning of the Hollywood North movement in the ’80s, where American production started coming to Vancouver, and [it] was doubling as every city in the world. It could be anything,” said Corlett.
“And I always just thought it was really kind of funny and ironic that there was a little sleepy suburb of Vancouver with an odd name of Burnaby, which, … when you look it up, it’s not a very common name at all. And I just thought, ‘Why not? Let’s just set it in this place. I’m really from there.’”
Although the show has been off the air for nearly 14 years, there are still fans who continue to watch episodes uploaded to YouTube, with many commenting how they remember the series and feel connected to it because they also grew up in the Metro Vancouver area during the ’90s and early 2000s. Looking back, many moments in the show allow the audience to reminisce on things specific to the region during that time.
For instance, the “Hockey Night in Burnaby” episode takes the audience back to when Rogers Arena was GM place and features cameos by Canucks legends Trevor Linden and Ryan Walter.
In another episode, viewers are reminded of when one of BC’s most well-known broadcasters, Tony Parsons, anchored the evening news. Parsons even made a brief cameo.
Corlett is pleasantly surprised by how the show brings up so much nostalgia for those who used to watch it on TV.
“The older I get, I realize that there’s a huge part of my work, both in voiceover and in writing series, production, and creation, that is now [connected to] lots of people with nostalgia, and it’s like holy cow, when did that happen?”
And for a kid who grew up being obsessed with filmmaking, Corlett has high hopes for the future of Burnaby’s film and production industries. During his visits back home, he often passes by Boundary Road and is continuously amazed by the large studio spaces in the city.
“And I keep thinking 12-year-old Ian, … his brain would have exploded if there were movies being made in Burnaby,” he said.
“It was every dream that I could possibly imagine. Having movies made in Burnaby ultimately, … and it took 30 years for it to really be a reality, but that just floors me to this day.”