Thursday, 24 January 2019

Mouse and Mole (1996)

There are many characters in children's literature that are considered timeless. No matter how many revivals and adaptations of them are made, the original stories will always be remembered and referenced, and all with good reason. Winnie the Pooh, the Wind in the Willows, Peter Rabbit - each of them still holds a special kind of magic in the characters and their stories that not only entertains but inspires. The kind that makes you stop and think about the world around you. Of how life was more simpler, more kinder, more relaxed before social media and handheld devices.

The same can be said for Joyce Dunbar's Mouse and Mole stories (not to be confused with the books of the same title by Mr Wong Herbert Yee). Although remarkably, Mouse and Mole were only created in 1993, in comparison to Mr. Toad and Pooh Bear who were thought of at the start of the 20th century. However, if you were to read any of the Mouse and Mole stories, you might be fooled into thinking that they actually were.

Joyce Dunbar has been writing children's stories for over 30 years, most of them being picture books. She has been praised for "...her sensitivity, lyrical style and gentle humour..." She has covered various topics and themes in her books, each of them told in their own unique way that not only children but parents can enjoy and learn from. Of all the stories she has written, her most favourite and fondly-remembered are her set of books focusing on the gentle adventures of Mouse and Mole.

Mouse is practical, cheerful, and likes to have things in order. Mole is more thoughtful, rather naive and needs mollycoddling. But in spite of their differences, they're still the best of friends who genuinely care for one another. In much the same spirit as the original Winnie the Pooh books, the Mouse and Mole stories are each a character piece based on a simple premise: one character normally has an idea or thought, and the story develops naturally from that. Whether it's trying to catch a falling leaf for good luck, discovering the secret of happiness or how a game of pebbles can suddenly bring up the poignant subject of how special one truly is among so many...

A few years later, these stories were adapted for animation by TV Producer and Executive Joy Whitby, who was also responsible for Watch With Mother, Play School and The Mousehole Cat. Although 26 stories were written, only 19 episodes were made by Whitby's own production/publishing company Grasshopper Productions. Even so, they are as wondrous and sweet as the books themselves, with the visuals matching the original illustrations by James Mayhew to a tee.

In a time when children's media is becoming more colourful, active and loud, once in a while it's a change of pace to have something calmer to watch with the little ones. The right voice cast helps as well - here we have Richard Briers playing Mouse, and Alan Bennett as Mole. Voices that couldn't be any more perfect!

Sadly, thanks to the growing change in children's media, shows like Mouse and Mouse were quietly pushed aside to the point where only those who have the original books, VHS cassettes or DVDs will remember them.


Joy Whitby was lucky enough to have had one last hurrah with Mouse and Mouse in 2013 when, along with Baird TV and Clive Juster & Associates, a half-hour Christmas Special 'Mouse and Mole at Christmas Time' was created. It would be the last time that Richard Briers and Alan Bennet would be reunited to reprise their roles before Briers sadly passed away. This time, Imelda Staunton joined the voice cast for this one-off special, and for those precious 28-minutes it felt as though the books and the animated series never really went away. In short, it was a lovely way to rekindle those forgotten memories in the back of my mind.

Until only recently, I had though that that Christmas Special would be the only Mouse and Mole-related item still in the public eye (on DVD, with a handful of the original episodes included). But during a Google search whilst gathering my research for this blog review, I came upon the web page of the illustrator of the books, James Mayhew - recently he's posted a blog post of his own, recalling fond memories of collaborating with Joyce Dunbar, sharing her own memories of the stories, and how the books are to be reprinted for 2019...!

Yep, that's right. Miracles do happen.

With any luck, Dunbar's beloved characters will still be around for new generations to enjoy in the years to come. 'Happy Days for Mouse and Mole' indeed!