Friday, 19 July 2013

Muddled Up Muddle Earth

A long while ago, I brought up the subject of adapting books / comic book characters to media - whether for the small screen or the big screen, almost always the Producers in charge will decide, for reasons many of us will never know, to take the original content in a completely different direction resulting in varied reviews.

This is one of them.
The original 'Muddle Earth' book cover
Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell are a fantastic writing / drawing duo, who have brought to our bookshelves a great collection of children's books - these include The Edge Chronicles, The Blobheads, Far Flung Adventures and Barnaby Grimes. Another popular title of theirs is Muddle Earth; first published in 2003, it is an unabashed parody of the famous Lord Of The Rings series and, like so, is split into three sections to read.

For anyone who has read Paul and Chris's books, you can be guaranteed of sparkling imagination, humour and adventure each and every time. Chris Riddell's illustrations add more to the fantastical creatures they manage to conjure up. So popular was their novel that it soon earned itself a sequel - Muddle Earth Too! - published in 2011.

So when news came that the BBC were to produce an animated series of the book in 2010, I was readily excited for a number of reasons;

  • This would have been the BBC's first in-house production during the Credit Crunch, with music performed by the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra.
  • David Jason (Count Duckula, Toad of Toad Hall, one half of 'Victor and Hugo') would be part of the voice cast, playing the bumbling wizard Randalf.

With all of this in mind, you'd think it would have been a success, wouldn't you?

...dream on.
When the series did premier - I was furious, absolutely beside myself. The entire Tolkeinesque story of Joe, a boy summoned to Muddle Earth by Randalf the Wizard to become a "warrior hero", was dashed completely for an episodic adventure-of-the-week format - which saw instead Randalf, his assistant Newt and the ogre Norbert the Not-Very-Big trying to protect Muddle Earth against the Evil Dr. Cuddles.

I just didn't see why the original Muddle Earth, which was so carefully planned, laid out and developed throughout, was thrown out of the window completely. Besides the fact that Chris and Paul put a lot of effort into their works, it's been too, too long since we've seen an animated series with an on-going storyline that would have made excellent viewing compared to what CBBC were airing at the time. Heck, it would have happily made up three seasons worth of episodes per section.

But what was worse was the animation. Co-produced by Manchester-based Hullabaloo Studios, the quality of the final output was what one would have expected from a low-budget computer game.
To add insult to injury, London-based studio Freakish Kid produced a Muddle Earth sample reel when going after the animation contract...and comparing their work to what was made for the series, I kept thinking; "The BBC rejected these guys for this!!?"

The additional CGI made no difference either; the 2D animation was as plain as a pikestaff, and did no justice to Chris Riddell's superb character designs whatsoever. In fact, their attempts to to cover up the lacklustre quality with "epic zoom-ins" almost gave me seizure.

I'm aware, of course, that the writers and voice cast did their best in spite of the decisions made, but I just couldn't stomach the visuals beyond the first season. The BBC's one chance to revive interest in home-grown animation, and look what happens...

Still, what comes around goes around, I suppose. BBC's Muddle Earth only lasted two seasons - with, excluding their "official" website, little to show for it, not even a DVD release - and Hullaballo Studios unfortunately closed down soon after, which saw Factory TransMedia take up residence in their place.
Muddle Earth - 2006 version
It's still a great shame because I would have happily had Jackanory 2006 pick up where they left off - the CGI animation might not be of Dreamworks quality, but at least the rest of the story would have been told more faithfully.'s on DVD, along with The Magician Of Samarkand. That shows you, doesn't it?


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