Friday, 15 November 2013

Ruby Gloom

Ruby Gloom started out as a franchise by American company Mighty Fine, who delivered a stationary line of pencil cases, key-chains and posters with the titular character as its "mascot". Despite its suggested "goth" theme, Ruby sounds a little more upbeat, having been described as "The Happiest Girl In The World" in merchandise bios - and when an animated adaptation was produced by Nelvana in 2006, it became more so.

Usually, cartoons based on franchises can go either way. Sometimes good, or sometimes very, VERY bad...but for Ruby, what they did with the uniqueness of the concept made for some very pleasant viewing.

As one may guess from the designs and settings, a lot of the characters are based on the familiar line-up of monsters we've all seen before - skeletons, ghosts, Frankenstein's Monster, cyclops - as well as animals associated with the same theme like ravens / crows, bats and black cats. However, the characters are anything but monstrous; they each have their own individual quirks and foibles that make them stand out and which they happily play off one another. They're more "human" than "monster" in short, and viewers will find little aspects of each that they could relate to in themselves. Case in point with Skull Boy, whose purpose to discover who he is/was puts an intriguing twist on self-discovery.

The show itself is anything but scary - it's definitely "cute" with a layer of light-hearted darkness somewhere in-between. It may obviously not be everyone's favourite, but having watched its entire run from beginning to end, I found myself taking a fancy to it over time. Beautifully animated, well-written and with a cast of characters who don't outstay their welcome.

Judging each performance also, the voice actors clearly had fun playing their respective roles. Amongst the cast involved, Sarah Gadon makes Ruby ever so innocent and cheerful, Scott McCord nails Skull Boy's awkward but friendly nature, Adrian Truss makes Poe the Raven a perfect theatrical ham, but it's Emily Hampshire who shines through as the unlucky and melancholic Misery...who has a surprisingly cool singing voice when asleep.

Handfuls of DVDs have been scattered across the globe since Ruby Gloom first aired - Canada, Brazil, France, Germany, Japan, Australia - but I'm sure it'll be a while yet before fans are able to find a complete DVD box set.

Now feel free to contradict me here but I think, in my opinion, that this series would have appealed to both boys and girls - girls would like the "cuteness" of the characters while the boys would find the monster theme "orsum". Or perhaps they would be more drawn to Frank and Len's rock-and-roll performances throughout most of the episodes. It just has this strange sort of balance that would draw both genres together without making anyone in the show appear inferior, clich├ęd or pushed aside regardless of gender or character. Each are given their own time in the spotlight, which is great for this sizeable cast.

Whether it was Nelvana's intention or not from the business side of things - by encouraging Mighty Fine's merchandise to the forefront next to DVD sales - it's still a nice example that not all shows with a female lead automatically makes it "girly". Least we forget, Kim Possible and the Powerpuff Girls also buck the trend there...!


Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Fire Safety Shorts

Many historians will know well enough that Animation was created first and foremost to entertain - but there are times when animation can also educate when used correctly. During dire straits, cartoons played their part in keeping spirits up "During the War", encouraging the public to fight back against the enemy and donate war efforts. Warner Bros gave American that old classic 'Any Bonds Today?' and their series of Private Snafu shorts taught soldiers what not to do out in the line of fire.

Today, the United Kingdom has become one of the largest areas for pre-school animation, which continues to entertain today's youth while including vital facts and figures relation to each show's concept. Such examples are The Lingo Show, which teaches children different languages around the world.
But as with America, British Animation educated adults as well as children. Back in the 70's, the British Government's Central Office of Information released a vast number of Public Information Films which covered a variety of subjects - safety in the home, on the street, in the country, at sea, during work. These have since become part of the "Charley Says..." collection, after the cut-out cat that featured in several of these shorts.

One of the main topics covered in such P.I Films has been the vital issue of fire. As Smokey the Bear taught American children how to prevent forest fires, Britain's Fire Safety shorts taught the dangers of fire in the home or school or workplace, how to prevent them, how to raise the alarm and how to escape them quickly and carefully. These were often played in schools whenever Firemen would visit and give demonstrations on how to make sensible use of the fire alarms and exits provided.

Rarely have the following seen repeated airings on British television, except perhaps during Bonfire Night. And even then it's rarer to see them in their original uncut versions - 'till now.

Frances the Firefly is one I remember with great fondness. The original paperback book I once owned may have had the original artwork redrawn and redesigned many times over, but the following animation (narrated by the late, great Richard Briers) shall remain timeless.
When televised in later years, this short was condensed greatly to a single measly minute - not only glossing over the seriousness of Frances' folly, its build-up and the aftermath, but also ignoring a lot of talent and skill that was put into the making of this piece. From background artists to animators, they all played their part however brief;

The second Fire Safety video, Moonlighters, is a little odd given its setting - since there is no atmosphere in space, the fire would be entirely impossible. But then it is a cartoon, so I suppose some bending of reality is required so long as the message is clearly understood...!

But if anyone deserves the honour of teaching children about Fire Safety, then Fireman Sam is your man. Amongst all the episodes made, this particular entry from the classic series was more of a "special", a useful educational episode that isn't painfully moralistic;

It's rather a shame that little appears to be known on who helped create the Frances and Moonlighters videos since the various companies / actors involved have likely been shut down or are long since deceased. But it's gratifying to know that what they've left behind would, with luck, never be forgotten.

Short but sweet films are one thing - but if you want a little action whilst teaching Fire Safety, you can't say more than this familiar TUGS episode, featuring the voice of "Protect and Survive" himself, Patrick Allen...