Sunday, 1 March 2015

Just So Stories (1991)

Personally speaking, it seems a little unfair that of all the books and stories written by Rudyard Kipling, the only one film-makers seem to be interested in adapting is 'The Jungle Book'. Even before Disney's 1967 animated feature became widely recognised, the story of Mowgli has been told and retold in live-action, audio, theatre and various animated forms from Animé to CGI, as well as earning itself a lesser-known sequel 'The Third Jungle Book'.

With this in mind, anyone would think that Jungle Book was the only story Kipling had ever written. Very rarely has anyone else attempted to adapt any of his other tales - small exceptions being Chuck Jones, who took a stab at The White Seal and Rikki-Tikki-Tavi sometime in the 70's.

Born in Bombay during the late 1800's, Kipling spent much of his life writing poems of British Soliders in India as well as various stories for adults and children - The Day's Work, Rewards and Fairies, Puck of Pook's Hill - but his most famous collection of tales has been the 'Just So Stories'.

My copy of the Just So Stories - printed in 1987
First published in 1902, these twelve stories told how things in this world came to be as they are, to be "just so". It mostly tells how particular animals were given their distinctive traits - How the Leopard got his Spots, How the Camel got his Hump and How the satiable Elephant's Child got his Trunk. But some stories featured a little cave girl called Taffy, which told how she and her Father created the first alphabet. It is said that Taffy was based on Kipling's own daughter, Josephine.

Each story has its own flavour, inspired by Kipling's travels across the world - family holidays in South Africa, seeing the shores of Arabia from a ship's deck and even brief visits to Australia. These have been enjoyed by children and adults alike, and have rarely been out of print since.

Long before my Grandparents gave me their copy of the original book, which sits with pride on my book shelf, I became aware of the Just So Stories by a little-known animated series on the BBC in the early 90's.

This particular series was adapted by Timothy Forder, who also directed the episodes - though much of Kipling's detailed and colourful descriptions had to be edited to fit within the 8-minute format, what was televised was still adapted fairly well. The animation itself isn't anything grand, but basic enough for its intended audience to enjoy.
'The Butterfly That Stamped'
Curiously, the company who made the series, Bevanfield Films, seemed to have done a lot better here than when they tried to make their versions of Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast at about the same time, shortly before going bankrupt for reasons as yet unknown...
'The Elephant's Child'
However, as with most animation companies, at least there are other positive aspects when the visual quality is somewhat lacking;
  • The music composed by Kick Productions is delightfully catchy and suits the timeless feel of Kipling's stories well. 
  • The narration by Geoffrey Matthews is enjoyable where, next to his variety of voices, he also throws in aside mutterings and improvisations for the characters, leading or secondary.
  • And the background artwork - let's take a moment to marvel at the quality put into them here by one Ian Henderson;
Sadly, this particular animated series is one of the hardest to find. Even the DVD which was released in 2001 seems to have disappeared without trace...and which I was fortunate enough to have found a copy somewhere online. The only signs that this series existed are VHS cassette covers scattered across Amazon and a recreation of the theme tune...

Perhaps one day, Classic Media might be tempted to reissue the DVD. But for now...who knows?

'How the Whale got his Throat'

1 comment:

  1. I do have a faint memory of these airing on Nickelodeon as part of their "Special Delivery" block in the 90's, which often stuck up all sorts of foreign goodies if you had two hours to blow on the weekends in front of the tube than to be outside with your friends (which I never had friends so TV was my last resort).

    I see even VHS tapes were out for this too, through Family Home Entertainment (FHE), I do recall seeing one of these on the shelves of a rental shop once.

    Perhaps the only Bevanfield Films-involved thing that came over here at all, unless something else by them also showed up behind my back (if only Murun Buchstansangur had love, too)!

    "Perhaps one day, Classic Media might be tempted to reissue the DVD. But for now...who knows?"

    At present, it's all under Dreamworks' banner (funny how these things happen)! I say they have enough problems as it is with laying off it's staff and selling off its property.
    Too bad their website doesn't give you a run-down directory of shows/properties they currently have. Seems pretty lousy compared to Canada's DHX Media giving you a pretty comprehensive listing of their acquisitions. Nice though you found that older page from 6 years ago, but if you check out the rights bit, it would be unavailable to you anyway since we Americans get first pick here it seems.

    "View an earlier animated version of Just So Stories, created by animator Shelia Graber"

    Her stuff even found a release in the US too! I remember seeing her shorts on USA Network's "Calliope" program in the 80's, they often played a lot of exotic, cooky stuff. I miss what cable TV use to be when they were still in this "Red-Headed Stepchild" phase...

    Vestron Video also released these on VHS....

    Hope I didn't bore you here!