Saturday, 23 July 2011

He's Charlie Chalk - make no mistake about that!

He may have a "funny way of walking and a wacky way of talking", but these are a few reasons why folks like myself adore shows like Charlie Chalk:

Simply put, it provides what I like to call "intelligent nonsense". Basically when odd things happen with a somewhat logical reason rather than being LOLrandom with no punchline at all. The Goon Show made a wonderful living with this theory from nonsensical storylines packed to overflowing with bizarre but clever "theories". Just listen to their "What Time is it, Eccles?" sketch for a perfect example of "intelligent nonsense".

Charlie Chalk follows the same wonderfully. Created by Ivor Wood of Woodland Animations (Postman Pat, Bertha and Gran) in 1987, it tells of a clown lost at sea, who washes up on a strange island known as Merrytwit - its inhabitants include Captain Mildred of the Good Ship Buttercup, Edward the lazy Gorilla, know-it-all Lewis T. Duck, Arnold the clumsy Elephant, Trader Jones the odd job man and the aberrant-looking Litterbug.

It may not sound much to some, but with a small cast like this (adding Mary the Hover Fairy and Bert the Mountain Monster), it offers bucketloads of crazy storytelling as demonstrated by Jocelyn Stevenson when she was in her creative prime (Funnybones, Captain Zed, Fraggle Rock, the Magic School Bus). Again, no moral lessons were required quite as often for today's generation - it's the fun of telling a story with solid characters and a lot of imagination that's the best reward =)

Although like many things in this life, Charlie's TV Career was short but sweet - with 13 episodes still on DVD and earning himself a LP Record in 1994 with songs from the episodes themselves. Not bad, eh?

So if you want to find out more about how to write "intelligent nonsense", feel free to watch a few episodes from the Playlist below and learn something... ;D

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Paint the Whole World with a...

I was rather saddened by the passing of Roy Skelton back in June - the name might not sound familiar, but the characters he brought to life would be VERY familiar to fans old and new.

Next to being one of the original voices of the Daleks for Doctor Who (next to Peter Hawkins), Roy was also a puppeteer on the popular children's show Rainbow where he voiced Zippy and George respectively - and at the same time, with great skill!

Whilst I'm more familiar with Blue Peter and Sooty when it comes to naming a classic live-action kids show, Rainbow also has several winning qualities that have made it the British equivalent to Seasame Street in America. The four friends - Zippy, Bungo and George, along with Geoffrey Hayes - not only taught kids numbers and colours and other little lessons like handling jealousy and telling fibs, but also more advanced episodes including learning different languages and cultures across the world. All fantastic stuff =)

But of course, they didn't forget to entertain as well as educate. So we were treated with the odd funny episode (often led by loud-mouthed but loveable Zippy), storytellings from Geoffrey and harmonious interludes from Rod, Jane and Freddy.

Ranking up just over 1000 episodes from its original 20-year run between 1972 to 1992, it's not hard to guess how its gained such a warm and faithful reputation. However, apart from the odd forgettable revival here and there (one featuring Dale Superville as presenter), Zippy and George had obviously proven to be firm favourites, making many present-day appearances outside of Rainbow up till Roy Skelton's death.

It's quite remarkable how many memories can be unlocked by the passing of one person connecting to them. God rest yer soul, Roy...

So here's a collection of Rainbow vids to enjoy, a mixture of old and new:

From 2002, Zippy "celebrates" 100 years of Marmite:

And a hilarious video edited by smallerfilms of YouTube - what would Zippy sound like as a Dalek...!?

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Mark Mason and the Raggy Dolls

You could not have imagined my joy when, on October 2010, Revelation Films announced that they were releasing The Raggy Dolls on DVD.

This was one of my all-time firm favourites from the 80's, which not only surpassed beyond one season (running in fact for 9 seasons and nearly 120 episodes for about 8 years) but it also developed gracefully in terms of production.

The Raggy Dolls were created by Melvyn Jacobson and produced by Yorkshire Television: the series focused on the adventures of seven "reject" dolls, each learning to live with the faults they were made with and looking after each other. The message to "be yourself" was so clear yet discreet amidst the imaginative storytelling as was the importance of friendship and teamwork. Neil Innes of Monty Python wrote/sang the theme tune as well as narrating the stories before writing many new stories later on from Melvyn and Joy Whitby, bringing forth new, exciting ideas - and solid continuity, in terms of reoccurring characters and events!

But the series really took off in terms of animation. The first few seasons were originally designed by Steve Smallman and animated by Roy Evans, which had its own charm at the time it was made. Then when Series 3 was put in production, Yorkshire Television brought forth Mark Mason - head then of Orchid Productions - to redesign the characters with a fresh look.

These, by far, have been my most favourite episodes since. Although limited, Mark's animation and look for the characters is truly wonderful; each of them expressive and colourful, which really matches Neil Inne's narration, voices and storytelling combined.

According to an interview with Mark, his favourite characters to animate were Lucy and Back-to-Front "...because they were fun characters to animate. BtF was a puzzle at times to draw - walking one way and looking another, and Lucy could dismember herself which had a lot of comic potential. My least favourite was Hi-Fi and his striped trousers...At one stage I was having very bad nightmares about Hi-Fi!"

And according to a DVD Commentary from Neil Innes himself, the characters of Mr. Grimes, the Factory Manager, and Florrie Fossdyke the tea lady, were based on the appearances of the producers, John Marsden and Jo Kemp!

And here are some personal favourite scenes that really show Mark's eye for character and design:

Dotty always gives great expressions when she's cross!

Perfect expression for Claude - pure concentration for an arteest!
A nice trademark of Mark's - the "pouty lip" look.
Nice touch of smear animation here, from the episode "The Old Windmill".

Like Dotty, Mr. Grimes also shows hilarious expressions when under pressure!

Some lovely light effects for night scenes =)

Nice perspective of the Raggy Dolls running.

And to sum up, more great expressions, when the Raggy Dolls embark on some amusement park rides!

Roll on Season 5...! :D

More on the Raggy Dolls from the following links:

The Raggy Dolls on DVD - so far!

Friday, 15 July 2011

Eric is "Bananaman"!

When it comes to adapting a popular book series through television or the big screen, almost always people will admit that "the book was better". It can sometimes be done right, in case of the Harry Potter series, or even Charlotte's Web (2006), when the producers opt to staying as faithful to the original text as possible.

But then you look at how certain other titles have been "adapted", which disregards everything about its "roots" from the start and bearing little resemblance to the original book, apart from the use of characters.

But that's another story...

Back in the day, when a children's book or comic was adapted for media it was done properly. Cosgrove Hall, for instance, with Kenneth Grahame's Wind in the Willows and Terry Pratchett's Truckers with no complaint - and of course there's Bananaman!
Drawn by John Geering, Bananaman originally featured in a British Comic known as Nutty during the '80's before it merged with The Dandy. It was a complete farce on the equally-popular Superman, featuring villains galore (regular ones include General Blight and Dr. Gloom). But it still gave plenty of nods towards Silver Age and Marvelman whilst chock-a-blocked with surreal British Humour.

The premise was simple: whenever schoolboy Eric eats a banana, he transforms into Bananaman, "ever alert to the call of action!", with helpful allies Crow and Chief O'Reilly by his side.

Three years after his comic strip debut, the creators approached animator Terry Ward of Flicks Films (Mr Men, Nellie the Elephant, Junglies) to turn their comic into an animated series by the BBC and 101 Productions. As Terry Ward would do so with Beano Videostars later on, he and his team set off with a will - the icing on the cake being that the voices (and ad-libbing) were provided by The Goodies, Tim Brooke-Taylor, Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie, three talented chaps who aren't afraid of still being silly after a successful live-action cartoon-type series of their own.

Which only goes to prove that with the right people involved, a truer adaptation can be made possible without too much meddling involved...!

Goody Goody Yum Yum!
Bananaman continues to fly through the comics to this day - through the 2010 revamp that had Dandy fans riled up at the drastic changes made, before eventually reverting back to his original look for the Digital Dandy comic online. And even then, the original Geering strips have been reprinted in the Beano after the Dandy's printing shop closed up in 2012 - proving he still has massive a-peel to fans old and new!


Thursday, 14 July 2011

"9" - where even Ragdolls have souls...

Shane Acker may be "new" in the big game of directing an animated-feature, but if you've not seen "9" yet, you should - it shows plenty of untapped potential to what I feel is a long, great career for him.

Originating from a student film made by Shane, which took him 4 years to make, "9" is set in a scientific-mythology world, which feels like Earth in a sort of parallel universe - starting off in a post-apocalypse where machines have revolted against the humans and have killed all living beings...apart from 9 rag dolls, each literally containing a part of the scientist who created them, and who all hold the key to fight against the monstrous machines and begin new life.

Co-produced by Tim Burton (Corpse Bride, Nightmare Before Christmas) and story contribution by Pamela Pettler (Clueless, Monster House), this CGI feature-length is, without a doubt, 115% original. Rated 12, it is not for the faint-hearted with its nightmare fuel and creepy settings...yet despite the fear factor, there is a sense of emotion and thought for the future. Of the world as we know it or our own lives, how we choose to live them.

It is brilliant. Absolutely fantastical.

What makes this movie even more perfect is not just making each character their own - both in design and personality - it's the all-important and often neglected rule of showing rather than telling what goes on. The characters move the story along terrifically, only speaking when necessary, often to explain the past or express thoughts to one another, leaving plenty of theatrical pantomime for the vast action sequences.

The designs and setting for the movie appear to be set in the future or even on a different Earth-like planet. But looking more closely, there are plenty of nods towards the 1920's and '30's in the use of derelict tanks, spitfires and architectural buildings yet indulges a futuristic/fantastical feel for the mutinous machines - the Seamstress, the Cat-Beast, the Winged Beast, the Fabrication Machine - these mute, expressionless beasts each have nods towards the Mystical Greek Monsters to an artistic eye while, amazingly, also maintain some form of character within them...

Shane admits himself on the DVD special features that it was more of a collaborative effort than all his own, and it really shows. Working from his original 10-minute student project, expanding it for the theatre with additional characters, their origins and a fuller storyline, Shane is clearly open to new ideas and accepting feedback from others; sharing out creativity from others - from story artists to animators to the voice cast - while inputting his own. Least of all that the team behind this movie opted for ideal voice actors, who become the characters they play, rather than forking out for big names who put little effort in their know which ones.

In short, Shane has filled me with hope for future animated-features to come. To run alongside Pixar and, hopefully, stamp out the bland, cut-and-paste clich├ęs of Hollywood storytelling by being, like all the "stitchpunk" ragdolls, different. Unique. Special =)

What really peaked my interest in Shane's work in recent months was hearing the news of him being brought forth to direct a new Thomas the Tank Engine movie for 2014, with visual designs by Weta Digital. Having been spellbound by 9, and after laying eyes on this stunning teaser poster (an actual Billington E2 locomotive, the original Thomas form in The Railway Series books, modelled by Nitrogen Studios of Canada), I seriously hope that the prepared script would showcase Shane's talents and skills further still, even injecting some of his own if possible.

While I do not wish for this Thomas movie to be as dark as 9, I honestly hope that it would do him proud - while also breathing new life into the Thomas brand in a respectable, mature light as opposed to the current flawed TV Series for the pre-school market...

Not what we could expect from the 2014 movie, but it's a tempting idea anyway - Oliver and his crew escaping from scrap in the Rev. W. Awdry's Enterprising Engines.

Friday, 8 July 2011

A New Dream Everyday, Huxley Pig...

FilmFair produced many wonderful stop-motions programmes back in the day, a seemingly vast portfolio back in the mid-60's consisting of The Herbs, Paddington Bear, The Wombles, The Gingerbread Man, Hattytown Tales, Astro Farm and many others. And like all of these, Huxley Pig was uniquely funny in premise and characters =)

Huxley Pig began life as a series of picture books by Rodney Peppe (who also created Angelmouse for the BBC), which was about a young pig and his seagull mate Sam letting their imaginations run wild thanks to costume box. And once the stories were brought to television, their daydreams really ran amok, featuring vampire pigs, lisping snakes, giant monster pigs and "rotten rodents".

I utterly adored this series from the many times I recall watching them on my aging VHS videos me Mum used to record for me regularly. Let's say this was part of the fuel that set alight my love for terrible jokes! XD

What makes this series so memorable was the British-ness of it all - the manic slapstick, the groan-worthy jokes and the brilliant voices all provided by versatile actor Martin Jarvis (Fourways Farm, Doctor Who-1965). When shows for kids wasn't all about teaching lessons or morals about everything - it was a chance to just have fun telling a story and enjoying it.

There are a couple of DVD releases already out, but this series demands SO much more. If you check out a sample episode below, you may find yourself agreeing with me...

Be sure to also check out:

Wednesday, 6 July 2011


Among many artists and shows that have influenced me greatly, Peter Maddocks is one of them. Born and bred in Birmingham, he made a name of himself by drawing cartoons for British Newspapers such as the Daily Express, next to a collection of glorious paintings which he creates in Southern Spain to this day.

Penny Crayon can draw anything she likes...
But my first experience of Maddock's work was through Children's BBC in the form of three individual shows: The Family-Ness, Penny Crayon and Jimbo and the Jet-Set. Each have Peter's trademark of resembling an "animated comic strip" - with on-screen sound effects displayed - and like a proper comic should (here's looking at YOU, Marvel =P ), they just have fun telling a good story with memorable characters.

All three of Maddock's shows probably wouldn't have received the same fond memories to date without the vocal talents of Peter Hawkins and Susan Sheridan (Su Pollard for Penny Crayon) and Father and Son composers Roger and Gavin Greenaway.

Yes, these were my top faves at that young age I saw them, but it was Jimbo I first saw on a little VHS video, which I still have tucked away somewhere for memories' sake. I'll never forget how much me and Mum would giggle madly at the silly but clever episodes featuring that junior jet-plane. And the Greenaway's soundtrack also sowed the seeds for my love of synthesized music - corny to some, but the 80's / 90's just wasn't complete without memorable music to go with.
The Nessies have come out to play.
And it was when I first discovered Family-Ness and Penny I couldn't help but think: "why does Penny's friend sound like the Chief Controller?" or; "Hey, that boy almost sort of sounds like Jimbo!" before I finally made the connections...

Why not check out Peter Maddock's official website to view more of his work - or check out an episode of Jimbo below to revive those old memories...or make new ones, one or the other ;-)


Monday, 4 July 2011

TUGS - Regatta

In honour of our American Friends, here's a 4th of July-related episode of TUGS for nostalgic fans to enjoy!
By the way, hawk-eyed fans would also recognise this parade float bearing a resemblance to a certain company logo...


Sunday, 3 July 2011

Foster's Home - CocoNuts

Although Craig McCracken's Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends has been THE most imaginative series made so far, it's stuff like this that make me feel how much better suited the characters are in a 2-minute / 5-minute format as opposed to a half-hour episode. Short but sweet, in other words!

So consider the above artwork a "tribute" of sorts to one of the funniest short made by the Foster's crew =)

Friday, 1 July 2011

Follow Mr Spoon

With so many Classic Kids Shows being released on DVD these days, from all corners of the globe in many different languages, I feel it's a shame that FremantleMedia Enterprises haven't thought of releasing a complete DVD collection of Button Moon, considering they've already granted the same wishes for fans of Danger Mouse, the Wind in the Willows and Count Duckula with box sets of their own.

Button Moon...gad how do I - how can I - describe this series? It's a quirky kids show from the 80's, featuring the spoon family making regular trips to Button Moon in blanket sky, where they often come across the "regulars" up there - the Bottle Army, Freddy Teddy and Ragdoll and the kazoo-sounding Vacuum Cleaner.

There's no strict theme nailed down. No moral lessons required. Just surreal, clever humour that'll win the hearts and interest of kids and adults alike.

Oh, and did I mention that everything in the series is made out of kitchen utensils and other bits 'n' bobs?

The same folks who gave us this jolly series - Playboard Puppets - also brought forth the Spooks of Bottle Bay, which had a fair bit more "nightmare fuel" than this innocently mad show...but still remains as classic ;)

Here's a few Button Moon eps to watch for yourselves, which demonstrates how to create something crazy while still being inventive - and without being stupid for the sake of stupidity: