Tuesday, 24 September 2013

She's a Little Princess!

As mentioned in a previous blog post, next to David McKee, Tony Ross is one of Britain's top children's authors and illustrators. Tony's art style is easily recognisable as he's most famous (in this generation at least) for illustrating Francesca Simon's Horrid Henry series, as Quentin Blake has been for Roald Dahl and Nick Sharatt for Jacqueline Wilson. In fact, Tony has illustrated literally thousands of children's stories - even the semi-forgotten Story Teller series back in the 80's.

As for his writing, his own stories are just as colourful and whimsical, full of witty characters and mad (but clever) storylines. The maddest and funniest of all has to be Towser, but that's another story...

Some of his books were adapted, along with a few of David McKee's, for the wonderfully underrated Anytime Tales - which saw the animated debut of one of his best-loved characters, the Little Princess.

As with a great number of children's characters, the Little Princess started out as a series of books, which saw the Royal Miss eager to explore everything...and often than not, having to learn things as well. It came as no surprise that the character was brought to animation again in 2006 as an animated series, courtesy of Illuminated Films (who also brought to life The Very Hungry Caterpillar and the brilliant Prince Cinders). And thanks to script editor Rachel Murrell, she more or less ensured that the animation style was as faithful to Tony Ross's illustrations as possible when pitching the character for television.
Featuring the voices of squeaky Jane Horricks and Julian Clary as the Narrator, the series has been a rousing success for both Channel 5 and Tony Ross - and with the birth of the Royal Baby, there'll be no fear of this Little Princess being forgotten yet!


Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Blazing Dragons! (1996)

It is no surprise at all how much the team behind Monty Python's Flying Circus have influenced both the comedy and animation world with their surreal, off-the-wall, totally-and-utterly bonkers sketches and characters. In particular, their ventures on the big screen with Life Of Brian or - most famous of all - the Holy Grail.

In fact, one of the Python players, Terry Jones, seemed to have had an affection with the Holy Grail ever since it hit cinemas in 1975. So much so that, in way or another, he tried to keep the spirit of that movie alive through other projects of his own - which included an award-winning musical on stage.
But back in 1996, he developed a lesser-known animated series known as Blazing Dragons, and shortly after a Playstation Game as a supposed "tie-in". The game - even rarer than the series - was as close to the Python insanity as possible with a number of sexual innuendoes and eccentric characters. It also boasted of an impressive voice cast (including Terry himself).

Another famous parody of King Arthur, the game focused on the Dragon Knights of Castle Camelhot - in particular young Flicker, where the player has to solve puzzles and collect objects in order for him to become a knight, compete in the grand tournament and win the heart of Princess Flame. The game becomes more interesting when a plot to kidnap the princess is uncovered...

The cartoon of the same name was a little different. Unlike the game, much of the humour in the series wasn't as "risque". However, the air of Python was still there as evident in the theme tune - likely inspired by the Holy Grail's "Camelot" number - and the variety of characters involved. From the two-headed Jester, Cinder and Clinker, to the effeminate Sir Blaze (whose behaviour got the series into a spot of bother when it aired in the US...ahem!).

All the same, what the series offered was still jolly good fun - turning the tables (round or otherwise) of the Dragon vs. Knight scenario, which saw Camelhot under constant attack of the Evil Count Geoffrey, forcing Flicker and Princess Flame to save the day.

The show ran for two seasons on CITV in the UK and Toon Disney in the US, during which time Blazing Dragons underwent a complete makeover for the second season. Half-hour episodes were split into two 15-minute segments while characters were redesigned, downsized or removed altogether. The amount of changes made for Season 2 have either improved certain areas or just left viewers scratching their heads - fans especially bring up the dip of quality in the animation.

Otherwise, it's another wee gem that's worth relighting the fire, so far as DVD or TV repeats are concerned ;-)



Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Bugs Bunny in King Arthur's Court (1978)

Not long ago in August, writer / film curator Thad Komorowski reviewed an interesting book, Arthurian Animation, which oversaw how Camelot was "represented" and adapted for animation, from the Golden Age right through to the present day. You can read his review here.

And just for kicks, here's one such take on the King Arthur legend - Chuck Jones' "plagiarisation" of Mark Twain's 'A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court'. 

At the time it was made, Chuck Jones was doing fine running his own animation studio, with a number of TV Specials under his belt that long-time fans are often divided over. If not about story adaptation or animation timing then that "it wasn't as good as when Chuck directed cartoons in the theatres!"

In case of this particular half-hour, it may not have as much belly-laughs as 'Knight-Mare Hare' or as award-winning as Friz Freleng's 'Knighty-Knight Bugs'...but in Chuck's defence he was, in his own way, helping to keep the Looney Tunes in the public eye, as well as teaching up-and-coming animators all the knowledge and skills learnt from the former Termite Terrace.

And besides, at least he was producing some of the better efforts in animation around the time of the 70's, just before the Silver Age helped to pick things up again...

Personally, I've always preferred Disney's Sword in the Stone...!

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

King Rollo (1980)

David McKee is, in my mind, one of Britain's top children's writers / illustrators with a great many books and characters under his belt - Elmer the Patchwork Elephant, Mr Benn and of course King Rollo. The latter, in fact, was the name that David used when he started up his own animation studio, King Rollo Films Ltd, which saw adaptations of his stories, and that of Tony Ross. The company continues to create new shows for today's young generation - Maisy, Humf and Poppy Cat - each a little gem in their own right using the latest technology but maintaining the classic, gentle look of shows gone by.
King Rollo was one of the first characters the studio created. From the original series of books, it tells of the young-at-heart king who is always in need of assistance from his friends - the Magician, the Cook, Queen Gwen and King Frank. The stories were very simple but wonderfully read by Ray Brooks and animated superbly by Leo Beltoft in their (then) trademark cut-out style. It's a nice little series which shows the skill David McKee's crew could produce at such a small number involved.

Arguably, whenever this series is brought up, fans would always remember Hamlet the Cat, and with good reason - there's no fear of viewers getting bored with Hamlet close by, trying to get involved in the story with his on-screen antics!

A few of David McKee's programmes have been put to DVD already - Anytime Tales and the complete Mr Benn - but just recently folks have reported that a few more shows will be following suit this coming September...including, I'm happy to report, King Rollo himself. So whether you remember the series from old or am keen on sharing some "old school" with your little ones, you can't go wrong here!

Pre-order the following DVDs to come from Amazon!