Saturday, 12 September 2009


You may remember in my last review we discussed the two genes in all animations – they either have good animation/bad writing or bad animation/good writing. Well today, I’m going to take that up on a higher level, by a fair comparison of two shows who, some argue, are identical to each other.

Let’s find out, shall we?

The shows we have in mind are “Little Howard’s Big Question” and “ROY” – two shows which share some similarities. They both feature an animated character living in the real world and use clever animation/live-action blending tricks...and are both being shown on CBBC. Sure, there’s that, but now we start to tear them apart with their differences and to further my animation/writing thingy.


This series, created by comedian and animator Howard Reed, started off as a human/cartoon double act on such UK shows such as “The Slammer”. The character in question is Howard’s “mini me”, an animated 6-year-old version of himself, where he and “Big Howard” started off in a series of very clever stage shows eventually spanning their own TV Series, “Little Howard’s Big Question”. Before that, even, Big Howard brought to us the pilot for “Starlift to Heaven”, but that’s another story…

First difference between Little Howard and Roy is Little Howard is animated on computer using Flash and/or ToonBoom (I’m not completely sure). This allows plenty of tweened animation to be performed with slices of frame-by-frame animation if necessary, for say mouths or walking movements. This gives the little chap a rather inferior look, to some possibly cheap.

But the true brilliance of this series comes from the writing – the basis for the series is Little Howard (with a nifty air horn) asking Big Howard a pondering question and they spend the next half hour working it out through research then testing their theories. It’s like Sooty meets Tennessee Tuxedo; it’s informative with interesting facts, but at the same time tremendously witty with plenty of in-jokes for adults to enjoy and the usual slapstick for the young ‘uns to giggle at. The real fun is seeing how they work out the answer and doesn’t require them to talk down on the kiddies like they’re brainless moons. Cartoon pleasantry with historical/scientific/natural facts sandwiched amongst mayhem and fourth wall smashing. YEEAH, BRILLIANT!!

Amongst the wild stuff that goes on, there are a few key characters that join “the Two Howards” to be helpful to their question or add more to the story. Mother the Computer, who provides all the useful facts for our heroes to learn from, Roger the Pigeon, their on/off agent with a habit of nicking the show’s budgie…er, budget…and Dorris the daredevil little granny who isn’t all that she seems. Another clever trick with LHBQ that I’ve picked up is how every object suddenly becomes “animated” whenever Little Howard grabs it.

Granted, it’s no work based from Disney or Warner Bros, but in the end this little series has earned biiiiig reception from his fans – and I mean that for both Howards. Where else would you learn “why we can’t fly”, “would the dinosaurs ever come back” and “what’s the world’s most dangerous food?” :)


And now we start to move onto Roy. Again, there is another difference between this and Little Howard. Roy is traditionally animated with good ol’ pencil and paper (so it appears anyway) and rather than created from a computer, he is born in a real family in Dublin, Ireland (Little Howard lived with Big Howard somewhere in Hitchin, Hertfordshire, methinks). The series actually plays out as a mock documentary databasing the “real life happenings” of this wee chap as he tries to adapt to life alongside humans and experiencing life as a “normal” child.

Originally, Roy started out in a similar format back in 2006 entitled “Badly Drawn Roy”, which was a 20 minute “mockumentary” of an adult Roy’s experience of being an unfinished cartoon character in the real world. I happened across this after finding out the series and thought it wonderful; a lot of effort has obviously been put into making the animation of Roy so believable and human yet maintaining the classic cartoon traits – squash and stretch, eyes bulging out, and a clever trick of hiding behind lampposts. I can see when this was picked up as a series they opted to de-age Roy into a 10-year-old to suit the younger audience, and here I believe is where it starts to falter a little.

While the animation of Roy is brilliant (and top props for wee Scott Graham for providing his voice) the episodes themselves aren’t exactly…erm…outstanding. They still keep the documentary theme intact here and there, but after viewing several episodes so far, they seem to tread into common territory. We’ve all been too familiar with dozens and dozens of shows that feature kids as the main stars, and here we wind up cropping up against “lessons” and “issues” that have already been covered – for instance, Roy doing something that he later regrets and yet struggles about telling the truth or trying to feign illness to escape school. At times, the characters alone seem to forget they’re being followed by “camera crews” (only addressing them occasionally) and even we forget that this is meant to be a “documentary”; sure, we get to have words from Roy’s parents and Headmaster from time to time, but I’d really love to see proper full-on interviews with the other characters discussing what they think of Roy or even convincing some sceptics to adapt to his “animated” personality. Very much as how “Badly Drawn Roy” was planned out before. Instead all we’re seeing is a quieter version of Grange Hill with Roger Rabbit…and shaky camera work.

Talking of characters, unlike Little Howard, several of the cast just seem too one-sided and samy, some already covered from previous kid-related shows – the jealous older sibling, the love interest, the deceiving, unfair Headmaster and the spiteful, snobby school bully. Unless any of these receive further development on who they really are instead of who we assume they are, then I’ll just have to be content.

Another problem to work from is with so much live action footage to work from, it kind of slows the series down a bit when the only lively character is Roy. The only true saving grace of this series so far is Roy maintaining his impossible cartoon tricks – his reactions alone to any situation are a marvel to study from. Proof that there is still hope for 2D animation in this world of CGI. It just hasn’t had enough room to fully release itself.

So while I do give top props to the animation team for their smooth animations and clever live-action/animation blendings, I secretly wish we didn’t have to focus so much on Roy facing the same issues that every 10-year-old has to put up with or learn from. As a one-off 20-minute documentary it was genius, one of a kind; but as a series it doesn’t actually work that well. Not to say that the writing is awful; it just needs to remind the audience that what we’re seeing is a documentary, not another kids show, or at last spice up the storylines to separate Roy’s series from every other animated 10-year-old character we’ve seen already – and that includes Eliot Kid, Tommy Zoom, even Arthur the flippin’ aardvark. XP


So there you are – two shows who appear and sound similar but actually aren’t. I hope you’ve enjoyed this interesting insight and that you may have learnt a thing or three. Oh, and I also wish both Howard and Roy the best of luck for their futures in animation and TV land.


  1. Now when I play Smash Bros. Melee, I can't help but picture Roy as a cartoon character wielding a wooden sword attacking others with cartoon tricks....

    I've watched both shows and like them very much.

  2. "Roy" is a complete rip-off of "Little Howard's Big Question"