Friday, 21 September 2018

Wacky Races - "Drive & Driveability"

One of the unexpected reboots to have come out of 2017 has to be Wacky Races. Created by Larz Bourne at Hanna-Barbera, the original series from 1976 saw 11 drivers racing across the continent to become "the world's wackiest racer", resorting to gizmos and contraptions and all things cartoon-related to win each race. Not surprisingly, its biggest inspiration was the equally-wacky 1965 movie 'The Great Race'.

Now this blog post was going to cover the reboot in detail, but I changed my mind. On the one hand, it's nice to see Warner Bros willing to make use of the other franchises they own, for those who are sick and tired of Scooby-Doo / Tom & Jerry / Teen Titans Go all the time.

On the other hand, while I try to keep an open mind on reboots of any shape and form, the creative choices made for the new Wacky Races have been somewhat...baffling from what I've seen of it. And really, the end result would be me constantly comparing it to the original in what they did right and wrong, and what more could be improved upon.

Instead, here's a fun comic book story from wayback to enjoy. Drawn by Gary Fields and written by Matt Wayne, who has also written for many other shows and comic book lines, including Ben 10: Omniverse and Justice League Unlimited. If anything, it might give the creative team of the new Wacky Races some fresh inspiration, if they choose to accept it...

Sunday, 5 August 2018

Mike Pearse - Wild About Harry

Not so very long ago, everyone was celebrating Harry Potter's birthday - which just so happened to have been J. K. Rowling's birthday as well. What are the odds?! ;)

To many Potter fans, it seemed like only yesterday when 'The Philosopher's Stone' was first published. And seven books, eight movies, several supplementary works and over 20 years later, 'The Boy Who Lived' is still going strong to this day.

So it was hardly surprising that, a year after 'The Philosopher's Stone' movie was released in 2001, Mike Pearse decided to get in on the action in Issue #3121 of The Beano while the iron was hot. As with all of his Beano stories before and since, he doesn't disappoint. That one gag on Page 6 is a great example of his wit - you'll see what I mean when you find it...!

Monday, 30 July 2018

The Beano In Motion

Any time someone brings up the subject of comics / comic books, one of the first that comes into the minds of us British is 'The Beano', which celebrates its 80th birthday this year. It's amazing to think that while the comic strip artists come and go, the characters that they've drawn continue to develop, thrive and make kids laugh through each generation. I've already spoken about my favourite Beano Artist and characters before, and there are already countless of articles that detail the history of the Beano, from it's early years to its online presence today.

However, not many people would remember when the Beano first appeared in animated form.

The Orginal VHS Cassette cover!
The joy that six-year-old me expressed could not be described in one word alone when I happened upon The Beano Video on sale at my local Woolworths way back in 1993. To see the likes of Dennis & Gnasher, Minnie the Minx, The Bash Street Kids and The Three Bears brought to life with such fluidity and energy was - as today's generation would put it - "well cool".

Dennis and Gnasher break through!
Incidentally, the opening sequence and structure of The Beano Video was similar to another comic book-like series, by the name of ZZZap! There was no central plot or main focus, just a collection of 15 shorts all featuring the characters mentioned above. And many of these I still remember to this day - Dennis doing battle with 'The Pink Glove', Pa Bear trying to make Hare Soup, Minnie's attempts at scrumping from her Dad's apple tree...

Storyarcs and relating to the target audience are one thing, as today's shows aren't shy of doing, but it's nice to showcase a Variety Show now and again - made purely for the sake of being a fun, goofy cartoon. And at least there'd be something and someone different to watch rather than focusing on the set of characters alone.

The 3 Bears had the most expressive animation in the entire video!
The people who were involved here have just as much history as the Beano characters themselves. The animation directors, Tony Garth (Microscopic Milton, The Poddington Peas, Danger Mouse) and Dave Osbourne (Tube Mice, The Animals of Farthing Wood, Pip Ahoy!), have both worked as animators and writers respectively, while the entire comic book appearance was directed by Derek Modford (Charlie Chalk, Rastamouse).
All the shorts, presumably, were storyboarded by animation entrepreneur Mark Mason (Anglemouse, Philbert Frog, The Forgotten Toys), and the entire production was produced by Jo Pullen (Huxley Pig).

And of course, the voice cast consisted of versatile names like Jonathan Kydd (Bangers and Mash), Gary Martin (The Baskervilles), Enn Reitel (2DTV), Kate Robbins (Spitting Image) and the late, great Susan Sheridan (Jimbo, Noddy, Muzzy).

The B-E-A-N-O Videostars!
A 'sequel' was made a year or so later, The Beano Videostars. Unlike the first Beano Video, this one had a structured plot that tied the characters and their shorts together - in that the Beano characters (including Ivy the Terrible and Billy Whizz) were invited to a special cinema screening, which included a pair of curious aliens joining in the fun.
Terry Ward and Richard Everett (Nellie the Elephant, Bananaman) took their turn of directing, writing and producing this video cassette. It also showed the characters adapting to the times - as the Beano continues to do today - particularly with the inclusion of Rap Music...up to you whether or not the following songs have aged well!

Of course, when it comes to animation as whole, it's always a team effort - the writers, the directors, the voice actors and the animators themselves. No one person is better than the rest, and yet it'd be impossible to give thanks to every individual that plays their part in each production made. From time to time, it pays to 'Google search' a few names in the credits that grab your attention, and to find out more about them or any other work they contributed elsewhere. Chances are they may have worked on something else from your childhood, and thus gaining more respect for them than before =)

All Fall In!
The same also applies to the characters they've helped bring to life: while Dennis and Gnasher have had many animated reincarnations over the years, and are the headline characters for The Beano, in truth the comic itself wouldn't be as fondly remembered if not for the many other characters within its pages - and many of which who have not been fortunate enough to have made it into animation themselves.
In fact, it would be nice to see Beano Studios branching out to their other characters someday. I'd love to see how well Calamity James or Biffo the Bear would translate in animated form!

Luckily, as well as YouTube, both Beano VHS cassettes were also released to DVD, even though the 'video' term is slightly lost in translation today. No matter - for so long as the characters are remembered and people continue to draw / write / animate them, then chances are they'll still be going strong for their 100th birthday celebrations!

Friday, 23 February 2018

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Monday, 19 February 2018

Space Dragon

My personal take on the Space-Bat-Angel-Dragon which featured in Ted Hughes' 'The Iron Man' (the book itself was later adapted into 'The Iron Giant', for those who don't know).

Friday, 16 February 2018

The World of Peter Rabbit and Friends (1992)

James Corden. James ruddy Corden. You can't escape from the man nowadays. Ever since Gavin and Stacey took off, he's been in pretty much everything - he's appeared on (among other things) Comic Relief, A League Of Their Own, the Brit Awards, One Man Two Guvnors, Into The Woods, The Wrong Mans, and is currently the face of The Late Late Show in the states.

In short, he's literally everywhere: in theatre, in Hollywood and on television, including the adverts. From insulting the town of Sidcup, to making "surprise" cameos, to making cheap sheep jokes in a bid to sell car insurance, and even lending his voice in animated movies here and there. In fact, his latest addition has been the titular character of the recent Peter Rabbit CGI / live-action movie from Sony Pictures.

And I don't about you, but I for one have had enough of him. So has everyone else apparently. It's not just the over-exposure that's been maddening. For me, Corden just doesn't have the same appeal as, say, Bradley Walsh or Peter Kay when it comes to comedy and acting in general. Or rather he did, but something somehow got lost along the way. Very much like how Sony Pictures went about trying to adapt Peter Rabbit for a modern audience on the big screen., I'm sorry. I'm not going to continue moaning about what was wrong with the film, or why Corden just isn't funny to me. Instead, I'm going to talk about the real Peter Rabbit. The gentler, kinder version from a bygone era. And the animated series that came about in the mid-90's.

Here Endeth The Rant.

Many may have seen or heard the name Beatrix Potter but not know of the person herself. Born way back in 1866, Kensington, she was one of many women who, at the time, had limited opportunities for higher education. However, against the odds, and despite spending her childhood alone, she developed her knowledge and love of the landscape around her (vis, the English countryside), which led her to become a natural scientist and conservationist. She even went so far as to buy up several farms in the Lake District (now the Lake District National Park) in order to help preserve the scenery around her.

But as well as that, she is more famously known as an illustrator and writer, her most famous books tell the adventures of Peter Rabbit and his friends. How the very first book came about is a remarkable yet familiar scenario: originally written for her former Governess' five-year-old son, Miss Potter decided to revise her story and see it turned into a proper book. But frustrated by numerous rejections from publishers, she sought out to self-publish the book herself. 250 copies were sent out privately to friends and relations, which included 'Sherlock Holmes' writer Arthur Conan Doyle.
Thus, it wasn't until a decade later that Frederick Warne & Co. finally decided to officially print 'The Tale of Peter Rabbit' for all to enjoy. From then on, 22 further books were written featuring other characters, all who would interact with one another - including Peter Rabbit and his family as they gradually matured and had families of their own. These included Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle, Tom Kitten, Jemima Puddle-Duck and Mrs. Tittlemouse. Towards the end of her writing career, Miss Potter experimented with writing villainous characters like Mr. Tod and Tommy Brock. No doubt some, if not all, the characters were inspired by the many animals she kept on the farm/s and grew up with.

The books remain in print to this day, and are still cherished the world over. These stories are considered old-fashioned yet timeless. Almost Aesop-like in the tales they tell and the morals they deliver somewhere within. The watercolour illustrations are just as beautiful. From the rolling landscapes and numerous types of flowers, to the pain-staking detail put in both the animal characters and the clothes they wore. These were, and still are, considered some of the best British literature for children, and with good reason.

Overtime, the stories themselves have been adapted in various forms - not surprisingly, some of which have come from America. This included an offer from Walt Disney himself to turn Peter Rabbit into an animated feature-length (and one which Miss Potter wisely refused). One of the more memorable attempts has been The Tales of Beatrix Potter, a live-action ballet performance from 1971. Another success has been the biographical film Miss Potter (2006), which starred Renée Zellweger and Ewan McGregor.

But the most faithful and beautiful adaptation of all has to be The World of Peter Rabbit and Friends from 1992 - this time with the BBC involved, along with Japanese companies Pony Canyon Inc and Fuji Television Network Inc. It was my first exposure to Miss Potter's stories, and you couldn't get a better start than that!

Animation director Dianne Jackson (The Snowman, Father Christmas, Yellow Submarine) was deeply involved in the production and planning of this anthology series, although sadly she passed away due to cancer mid-way. Nevertheless, despite the fact that only 9 episodes were made, they remain as wonderful as the books themselves. Most of which contain two stories in the same episode that were adapted to tie-in to one another.

The animation and backgrounds are flawless, made at a time when traditional 2D animation was at its height and quality was key; the music by Colin Towns is simply memorable, right down to the quintessential song 'Perfect Day' which plays during the end credits; and the voice cast involved...!

Naturally, fans overseas may remember the redubbed American cast for certain characters, but I grew up watching the true British version. And I still adore them today, right down to the child stars of the time - Josie Lawrence, Sir Derek Jacobi, Felicity Kendal, Shelia Hancock, Rik Mayall, Prunella Scales, June Whitfield, Alan Bennett, Su Pollard...and bear in mind that these actors and actresses were chosen because they fit the characters they played, not for their popularity alone.

To top it off, all the animated stories were bookended by live-action segments, which featured Niamh Cusack playing the role of Beatrix Potter as she told the stories from the comfort of her farmhouse with her animals and watercolours at hand. All utterly charming!

All of this is why the series was nominated for best animated programme at the Emmy Awards in 1993. And it shows what happens when you put the money and effort into something you love. So to all involved in the making of this series, congratulations! It's still being remembered today alongside the original classics you helped bring to life =)

In conclusion, I implore to all the parents in the UK and hopefully the world...if you want to introduce today's generation to Peter Rabbit, you have two options:

  • Go find the books. They're in nearly every book shop you can think of; they're available for Kindle books from all online stores; or chances are that early editions are being kept in safe storage by a friend or family relation.
  • Track down The World of Peter Rabbit and Friends. The DVD was released in 2016 to commemorate Beatrix Potter's 150th birthday. And for those who can't, there's a handy playlist to watch below, however long it'll remain online.

Personally, if I wanted to see a feature-length Peter Rabbit movie, I'd have been content with a direct-to-DVD special based on the CGI animated series from 2012, which has also done pretty good for itself. While it may not be quite perfect to some, it's still a better example of how to adapt characters for the modern age without losing too much of its original charm.

There are some characters, however, that don't need to be "modernised" to suit today's generation, nor do they require to be adapted for the cinema either. Because the results will nearly always be the same so far as Hollywood is concerned - the characters, their backstories and their settings will be heavily changed to the point where they are only recognised by names alone. As the TVC series has proven, stories such as Miss Potter's work far better on the small screen rather than the big one: short but sweet, with the characters remaining faithful to themselves and the original source. And they don't need some bloke from Uxbridge to be shoehorned in either.

Thank you.


Thursday, 15 February 2018

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Monday, 12 February 2018