Thursday, 26 January 2012

The Wind in the Willows - Cosgrove Hall

Over the years, Kenneth Grahame's classic story of The Wind in the Willows has been adapted many, many, many times - in Theatre, on Radio, in Animation and live-action. Even a few "sequels", including some by William Horwood, were written in the same familiar style, with one even brought to the small screen.

Really, once Disney pretty much set the ball rolling with their 1949 adaptation, that was it: a timeless classic telling the stories of Mole, Ratty, Badger and pompous Mr. Toad have been told and re-told by just about everybody, British and American alike. Terry Jones, Rankin/Bass, the BBC...and now Ray Griggs is next in line to recreate the stories - not only with a darker view of the book but with hopes that Ricky Gervais would be up voicing Mole...

Oh. Joy. How. can. I. con-tain. my. ex-cite-ment. < / sarcasm>

Honestly, of all the adaptations I've seen so far in this life, sequels and prequels included, while they may each have their own appealing charm, none of them - and I mean none of them - can compare with Cosgrove Hall's vision...which is, by and far, the strongest of the lot.
Next to a memorable cast consisting of David Jason, Richard Pearson, Peter Sallis, Ian Carmichael, and Sir Michael Hordern among others, it also boasted of some of the studio's most beautiful stop-motion animation in its history.

Cosgrove Hall (of Danger Mouse and Count Duckula fame) first adapted the book as a film in 1983, which was met with outstanding ovation for its tranquil theme, beautiful soundtrack and their own personal touches to the original text. As soon as they had bagged a BAFTA award and an international Emmy award, the studio then created the TV Series.

And unlike some Movie-to-TV creations these days, this was just as faithful to Grahame's style and characters as William Horwood's own work, right down to the introductions to each episode describing the changing of the seasons.

Picking up where the film left off, the first series (with Rosemary Anne Sisson co-writing) also made use of the three sole chapters that were omitted from the film - The Further Adventures of Toad, Wayfarers All and The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. And with Brian Trueman handing the writing from Series 2 onwards, it ran for Five Seasons, ranking up 52 episodes between 1983 - 1990, and was granted another TV Special, A Tale of Two Toads.

The writing especially is firmly on par with the animation and voice acting. The continuity Brian Trueman and Rosemary built up throughout is outstanding, with new characters like Auberon, Mole's Cousin, making their mark in the series, and constant references from previous episodes that also come into play for future ones to follow - often as the Chekhov's Gun for a particular storyline or three.

In fact, the storyline of Series 4 throughout, which sees the Riverbankers and Wild Wooders in threat of a foreboding railway company, is exactly the sort of thing that grabs the viewer's attention and urges them to "stay tuned for the next episode". It makes such shows far more interesting to watch, with the sort of careful script writing that makes you believe that these characters, though set in the 1900's, were actually real. The believability in their personalities and the adventures they've had has, for this series at least, much more appeal and curiosity than stand-alone episodes that have little to no connection with the original books they were "based" from...or in some cases, their own continuity created by some TV Executive.

The series also showed a great many sides with Brian in the writer's chair: Plentiful comedy from Toad's stupidity and general wordplay, sentimentality without being too soppy, and at times drama, before the Soccer Moms loomed their interfering heads. Drama really made this series stand out at the time it was made, clearly evident that Cosgrove Hall weren't afraid to push the envelope now and again - which has seen the Chief Weasel caught in a hunter's trap, the Wild Wood and Toad Hall set fire respectively and poor Mole suffering from mushroom poisoning.

However, comedy has always been a major part of the show's charm, in relation to the original book, which has seen Toad play out a number of lead episodes as he goes from one craze to another. In fact, the entire Fifth and last Season, "Oh, Mr. Toad!" became a spin-off focusing on Toad's antics, even though it still maintained the strong continuity from the previous seasons. Despite this, the original opening titles were replaced with the classic theme tune in later broadcasts (and DVD releases) to avoid possible confusion.

In short, if anyone asks what's my favourite version of The Wind in the Willows, there can only be one clear winner as I look now to the complete DVD box set sitting proudly on my shelf above me. And I never tire of rewatching the same episodes over and over, knowing full well that we may never see the likes of such a series least outside of another Hollywood money-maker pipeline.

Oh, and to finish up - Rik Mayall, Charles Nelson Reilly, Matt all did your best, but David Jason's performance of Toad still gets the biggest laughs from me ;-)

Series 1 Playlist - for viewer's interest!

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Theodore Tugboat

Another little something for my friends overseas - this charming Canadian series from the 90's seems like an amalgamation of Thomas the Tank Engine and TUGS. But Theodore Tugboat, for those who remember it fondly, became a series of its own in terms of good storytelling and a fun character base to go round, consisting of the lead tugboats, various ships, barges, and even docks and buildings!

My first experience with Theodore Tugboat, I recall, was rather a strange one when the series had a brief run on Discovery Kids here in the UK during the late 90's (albeit with the Harbour Master scenes, played by Denny Doherty, cut out), which then prompted me to look up the show online. Since then, while it's not as grand as TUGS, my interest for it has grown little by little over time - and though a complete DVD release seems a long way off, we still have the wonders of YouTube to keep the spirit of the series alive until such a thing is possible.

Now updated with a new YT Playlist!

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

He fall down and go BOOM

Thought it was time to show off some arts - since it's been a while...again.

Monday, 2 January 2012

From Here to Timbuctoo

Happy New Year, everyone! Here's to many new, exciting things to come in 2012 for all of us =)

In honour of Ronnie Corbett (one half of UK double act The Two Ronnies) receiving his New Year's Honour, here's another notable series many may remember him from.

Following his success with the Mr. Men and Little Miss series, Roger Hargreaves also wrote another little series called Timbuctoo in the late 70's. The books tell the stories of a group of animals, each named after the sound they make - like Woof (a sort of Dog), Buzz (a sort of Bee), Squeak (a sort of Mouse), and so on. Each book follows a similar patten: some of them have odd little problems that they eventually overcome by even odder methods.

The books were later reprinted in the 90's (and re-illustrated by Roger's son, Adam) when an animated series was created by Flicks Films, who also worked on all the animated Mr. Men animated shows of the 70's and 80's respectively (although Terry Ward did have a hand to play with the 90's series by Marina Productions) as well as Bananaman in the 80's.

In comparison to the Mr. Men / Little Miss books, the original Timbuctoo stories were a little more simpler and didn't quite have the same spark of imagination. Luckily, when it came to adapting them for the animated series, writer Richard Everett (Busy Buses, Nellie the Elephant) was able to give them a much-needed boost in terms of story and character.

And of course, the narration and voices were provided by "Little Ronnie" himself, which is bit as charming as its rather unique theme tune...!