Thursday, 24 July 2014

Revivals - The Why and the How

You know, it's pretty amazing how many TV Shows are being revived nowadays, a vast quantity being animated shows of yesteryear. Whether as a new series entirely or, if the producers are daring enough, a feature-length adventure to enhance a new generation.

However, the vast amount of characters past being dug up these days is staggeringly high, many of these being British or American properties. And every time the same old questions and belly-aching are brought up also;

"Will it be exactly like the old series?"
"Will INSERT NAME / COMPANY be involved?"
"Ahh, not another one! It'll be lame! It'll suck!"
"Does nobody have any original ideas anymore?!"

To be honest, so many classic shows are being revived nowadays that there really is no point for me alone to argue or whine online just like everybody else. There are some revivals that, if it gets my attention, I may watch and draw my own conclusions. But for any others, I'll chose not to watch and pretend that they never happened. And for that, I am happier.
So why do particular studios choose to adapt / revive a children's book or cartoon character? And why do long-time fans sometimes have a good moan of it?

For a long, long time, I've been trying to figure this out. And while it's not perfect, I believe that my theories may be part of the answer.

First off, let's look at the argument reg; original ideas in Hollywood. People complain that there is not enough originality in movies or television (scriptwriting clich├ęs aside) and when a different concept with wholly new characters does pop up, they still complain and remain suspicious even before they've seen one trailer or draw up speculations from a lone piece of concept art.

Most of the time, those who do complain of new shows usually repeat similar arguments;

"Why can't cartoons be more like Tex Avery or Chuck Jones?"
"The style of this show reminds me of Ren and Stimpy…"
"Why can't they do more shows like THIS or THAT?"

The fact is, as is the way of human nature, many of us despise change when we're comfortable with how things currently stand - whether seeing new characters take over or watching old friends going through "different phases".

This leads into my Second point - why many prefer older content than new. Some studies show that Nostalgia plays an important part in our lives. Remembering happier times helps to "increase self-esteem, strengthen social bonds and to imbue life with meaning".

This is how events like Comic Con come into play, to allow other nostalgic fans to share their memories with one another. So depending what year you may have been born in, you will remember specific shows from that particular time of your childhood, what you loved about them and how you wouldn't want to see them in any other shape or form.

Others learn the phrase "respecting the past to make the future". This, drawing key elements from particular shows for their own creations. It could be a type of visual style or how a writer structures a plot or joke. Craig McCracken's newest hit for Disney, Wander Over Yonder, draws a lot of elements from the original Looney Tunes in terms of look, feel and storytelling, whilst also embracing the technology readily available to make something amazing and new.

And now the Third reason - why revivals actually happen.

Many companies realise that Nostalgia is, above all else, a goldmine for profit. It's all down to the longevity and popularity of particular characters that makes the world cry out for "more, more, more!"

When one company buys up another that contains nostalgic characters or properties, they're more than free to do what they want with them. Putting the original shows to DVD is one thing…but it's well aware to one and all that if "new" shows were added, it would mean more merchandise to sell, drawing in a whole new audience.

Such is the case when Dreamworks bought up Classic Media a few years back, whose library contains many UK and US properties of old, and how Star Wars was bought out by Disney - both have already made use of their newly-acquired franchises since.

But "with great power comes great responsibility". And sadly, not all revivals work out exactly as we would like. In many cases, as often enough, the wrong decisions are made where some people try too hard to make them more "contemporary" for today's audience - yes, even changing up to CGI animation - or they just go for a full-out "re-imagining", for better or worse.


"George of the Jungle" (2007) and "The Mr. Men Show" (2008) are some examples where too many changes don't always work out. Both shows received radical revamps in art styles while the scriptwriters tried to "reinvent" them to a new audience by nearly abandoning the original source material with (they assume) the type of humour the current viewing audience might like. Farts, snot, etcetera.
However, in case of the Mr. Men Show, at least Renegade Animation tried to make amends in Season 2 with subtle changes relating to feedback from Season 1 - such as bringing Mr. Pernickety much closer to his original persona, Mr. Fussy.

Then of course there are various properties that are more famous for their quantity than their quality - franchises that have been continuing for decades and which try to adapt or "reinvent" themselves to keep up with the times. Some have hit a few rough patches yet manage to improve themselves with time and patience...and proper understanding behind the scenes.

These didn't quite turn out well...
Warner Bros, though, is a different story. Their main long-running properties to date have been Scooby-Doo, Tom and Jerry, Batman and the Looney Tunes - and many of their attempts to keep each franchise fresh with numerous reboots and direct-to-DVD movies have been a very mixed bag. Most companies would allow five to ten years to try reviving a particular franchise - but these days, it's usually shortened from three to five years! Again, more "new" episodes mean more DVDs mean more money...


…but I'm beginning to ramble, so let's get back on topic.


The point is revivals are happening left, right and sideways, and older fans will always be drawn either out of curiosity or pure joy to see an old friend. And at the same time, many will still remain sceptical and will cover up any optimism by moaning.
So yes, there will be a new Danger Mouse series, with the merest possibility that certain characters MAY receive a sex change, and there will be a new Powerpuff Girls show without Craig McCracken involved. And no amount of angry mobbing will stop either from happening.

...unless by chance, some proposed revivals are canned, shelved or quietly fall by the wayside.

But is there a way to handle all this? How can fans accept the reality that revivals of their favourite childhood shows won't be exactly as they remember them?

The obvious answer would be not to watch them. But there is another way...

It was round about the time when Paul Rudish's hugely popular "Mickey Mouse Shorts" first came out and, out of curiosity, I asked one of my favourite cartoonists, Andrew Dickman, his opinion on them. I think that everyone should try and pay attention to the following text. It may help you manage in the future as it's the type of advice that we often forget about;

"If my thoughts on how different takes and styles on a previously established franchise didn’t hit the nail on the head before, THIS SHOULD.
 
For years, I always thought that Disney cartoon characters were being led the wrong way, same with Looney Tunes, and Looney Tunes have always been different depending on the director and the artists working on them. So why not Mickey Mouse and etc?
 
These are great because they bring a new take on Mickey, made by different artists and styles and they WORK because they bring new personalities to the established characters that have different takes to make them WORK.
 
What we always neglect is that things do change, it’s good to have the old ideas and looks, but it’s also good to take them in different directions, and we should never forget that IT’S OKAY TO HAVE AN ALTERNATE. Because for one, we’ll always have the old stuff to look at and enjoy, but the new ideas aren’t canon either. It’s not like we’re getting a permanent staple, otherwise it’ll grow stale and slowly uninteresting. We can have Adam West Batman, Movie Batman, Cartoon Batman, Silly Crazy cartoon Batman etc etc and they are ALL their own entities. To stay with one formula makes it stale and limited. Let’s not be closed minded to our own wants and “needs”
 
So we can have classic Mickey, we can have modern Mickey and we can have silly crazy Mickey! I love it! They are their own entities, so let ‘em have it."

 
LINKS OF INTEREST (or alternative views):
Icon Reboots are freaks of nature
These revivals could lead to Zombie Takeover
Kids React To Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987)

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Snails of Animation!

Before Dreamworks even came up with Turbo, snails haven't really made much of an impact in the animation world with so few being pushed as lead characters. But many have featured in secondary roles - Timon and Pumbaa made friends with "Speedy" (whose mannerisms were inspired by Bing Crosby), Mr. Harrison was one of the stars of 'Creepy Crawlies', Spongebob has his pet sea snail Gary, and of course there is that one little snail hidden in every episode of Adventure Time.

However, it's still a rare treat when a series based around this particular mollusc does turn up. In fact, there have been a few such cases that I remember well;

Snailympics, a Spanish / Canadian 2001 series, was based around a group of athletic snails training for their own tiny versions of the Olympic Games. Very little of this series can be found anywhere as it only had limited airings on YTV and Nick Jr / CBBC respectively, with regular airings overseas such as Japan. But from what I have seen of the show here and there, I found it quite amusing in terms of the premise and the fun character designs of this stop-motion animated show. And as with most shows centring on sports, it also encouraged kids the values of teamwork, perseverance and the importance of exercise.


Almost around the same time at 2003 came Snailsbury Tales from Maverick Entertainment. It focused on the odd goings-on of the residents of Snailsbury, from the pompous Mayor to skateboarding teen Eric. I found this show much more memorable as, being perfectly British, it had its own bizarre sense of humour - for instance, how it would take everyone from a week to 10 days to travel to the shops and back!
And the series itself did its creators very well, topping even Bob the Builder at the time it first aired. Mercifully, several of the best episodes survive today with two "rare" DVD releases floating somewhere in cyberspace...


And then in 2011, voice-actor and scriptwriter Tim Dann created Compost Corner for CITV. Continuing the mad British-type humour for kids, it's a series of short "skits" featuring old Major and young Moss as they embark on the impossible in their little home at the corner of a garden. While it features some brief "potty" humour for today's generation (farts, etc), the stylish models by Mackinnon and Saunders and the rapid-fire scripts have made it a memorable little series.
In fact, it gained additional attention in 2013 when it gave viewers the chance to design a third character to feature in the show - you can find out the results here!

There are very likely a few other snail-related characters I may have left out, but with Dreamworks pushing Turbo into the forefront with the attached-TV Series "Turbo FAST", would we see more snails putting their best foot forward? If so, then it could take a while at the pace they go...

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Thursday, 10 July 2014

Little Robots (2003)

It is no stranger to all in the media biz that these days, any series or movie that features a "big time celebrity" is instantly branded a hit - when in truth, it is partly used as a marketing ploy in order to get the public's attention to what the producers hope will be the next best thing.
That all depends on the quality of the show or the performance of the celebrity (or more importantly, if said celebrities are chosen because they fit the character rather than how important they are). If neither manages to hold up then the efforts of the production team involved will be for none.

However, this show, from what I have seen, succeeds in both categories...

As with many kid's shows, Little Robots started out life as a children's book written and illustrated by Mike Brownlow way back in 1999. It's a cute little read full of rhymes about various types of robots - spotty ones, messy ones, noisy ones of all colours and shapes and sizes. And it caught the eye of Cosgrove Hall / Create TV & Film Ltd at some point, who brought Mike on to adapt his little book as an animated series, which involved designing and defining a full cast based on the many robots he drew.

The series focused on 12 little robots, who create their own special world beneath a scrapyard, proving that it's not just the Wombles who can recycle junk! Next to the fun scripts and the colourful stop-motion models crafted by Mackinnon and Saunders, the cast list is just as impressive - and it's helped greatly that each have a comedy or acting background to boot;

  • Tiny, the helpful little mechanic, was played by Hayley Carmichael (co-founder of theatrical company Told By An Idiot), who lives in the Nut and Bolt tree with his dog Messy
  • Lenny Henry played Sporty, a fitness fanatic
  • The grumpy but organised Stretchy was played by long-standing writer and voice actor Jimmy Hibbert (of Cosgrove Hall fame)
  • Rusty, the shy little lass, was played just adorably by Morwenna Banks (who these days is kept very busy playing 'Mummy Pig' for Peppa Pig)
  • The gentle giant Stripy, who is never without his Teddy, was played by Martin Clunes (who is best remembered for his work on Men Behaving Badly and Doc Martin)
  • Su Pollard (Penny Crayon, Hi-De-Hi!) fits into her role very nicely as Noisy...no questions asked!
  • The (literally) well-rounded Spotty was performed by Emma Chambers. Very different to her role as the naive Alice Tinker from The Vicar Of Dibley!
  • Comedian Mike Hayley played one of my favourite characters - the theatrical Scary, with a touch of Donald Sinden involved...and like Tiny, he has his own companion in the form of Flappy the Bat
  • The Sparky Twins were played by then comedian duo Mel and Sue (Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins respectively) Mel has also lent her voice for Mist: Sheepdog Tales and is currently the presenter for the 4 0'Clock Show for BBC Radio 4 Extra, whilst Sue became recognised for her work presenting The Great British Bake Off.

 
As I've said before, unless celebrities involved in any production don't fit their characters at all (or at least perform them well) then the show or movie will very likely flop. As it is, for this series, each and every one played their parts just beautifully. With so many characters to play off from, each with their own distinctive personalities, it allowed the writers to come up with many clever episodes, enough to teach the kids a subtle moral while also giving their parents something to giggle at, too.

And it has since paid off - the series became more recognised when it was broadcast overseas via BBC Worldwide, and the characters have even taken part in Peter Kay's All-Star Animated Band for Children in Need.

All four seasons can still be watched today on the cBeebies digital channel - proving how an electrifying series like this can make proper, careful decisions when casting celebrities into their ideal roles. It helps as well that pre-school shows such as these don't have to be Dora the Explorer clones to keep kids amused ;-)

SEASON 2 PLAYLIST


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Thursday, 19 June 2014

Little Designs - June 2014

Found myself tinkering with character styles and brushes again - the lineart was "inked" in Illustrator while the colouring was done in Photoshop. Nuthin' much, but it was fun.





Thursday, 12 June 2014

Mike Pearse - "It's A Funny Old Game"

In the past I have shared and gushed over Mike Pearse's contributions to the Beano in previous blog posts. But just in time for this year's World Cup, here's his first-ever "extra long" story that truly established his creativity and fresh approach to these old friends of ours. ie; telling a superb storyline in the look and style of European Comics like Asterix.

Although it wasn't given an official story title as such, this was republished, recoloured and edited in the 2009 Bash Street Kids Annual (alias "Space Cadets") under the name "It's a Funny Old Game". However, I thought it was time to show off the original in all its glory. For die-hard Beano fans, try to name all the characters featured in the crowd scenes whilst you're reading!

PS: I apologie for the quality of the double-spread pages. They were hardest to scan and edit...

  

Saturday, 31 May 2014

Creepy Crawlies (1987)

Throughout its legacy, Cosgrove Hall Films have brought to the world a great many shows, feature-lengths and TV Specials for audiences of all ages to adore. But with such hits like Danger Mouse, Count Duckula and the Wind in the Willows, it is rather a shame that Brian Cosgrove and Mark Hall's other lesser-known pieces are left behind and forgotten about - that is until a DVD release graces them for a second wind.

Take the case of this show then...

Created by Bridget Appleby, Creepy Crawlies told the stories of a band of insects who all lived near "an old broken sundial that nobody wanted". It starred Lambeth the strong-but-dim beetle, Suppose the mopy red-nosed worm, the snooty snail Mr. Harrison, Ariadne the friendly spider, Anorak the woodlouse (who insisted that he was a Pillbug), the gentle Ladybird who has trouble with her R's and the very old caterpillar known as The Ancient.

Yes, long before Anthony Ant, long before A Bug's Life, even longer then before Insektors, these little insects gave us a look in to the everyday lives of an Invertebrate...which, for this series, may not seem much to some. Compared to Cosgrove Hall's other shows like the Avenger Penguins or Victor and Hugo, there's not a lot that actually happens here that one may call exciting.

However, after finally getting the chance to watch this series for the first time, I am actually quite taken with the writing here. All 52 episodes were written by Peter Richard Reeves - who contributed a sizeable number of scripts for Count Duckula - and in my personal opinion, it feels as though he might have been inspired by the lines of A. A. Milne and Kenneth Grahames in terms of the writing style for Creepy Crawlies. In that there is a lot of verbal humour and vast amount of character interactions that glitters with intellectual dialogue...even Lambeth's muddled way of speaking feels very BFG-ish.

Mr. Harrison, Lambeth and Suppose
Then of course, equal amount of phrase goes to the modelling dept of Cosgrove Hall. The characters all look the part in their scaled up garden settings, which makes it all the more beautiful with every episode ending with the lead characters watching the sunset after every "adventure".

The character voices were provided by Paul Nicholas - who has done a lot of work on stage and in the charts over the years, but is probably remembered more for starring in the BBC sitcom "Just Good Friends". And the perfect package to this series is Keith Hopwood and Malcolm Rowe, who contributed the catchy theme tune and credit song.

With many modern-day animated shows becoming more colourful and wackier nowadays, it's no wonder why Creepy Crawlies has been left behind. Yet those that know me would know that I embrace the obscure, the diamonds in the rough - and I find that this show's slow yet timeless style of entertainment that has made it different amongst Cosgrove Hall's vast library. It's really a shame therefore that there have only been a handful of VHS cassettes and hardly anything else since.

But then we've seen several of Cosgrove Hall's other lesser-known productions make the jump to DVD, like their adaptations of Truckers and The Fool Of The World And The Flying Ship. So one can only keep one's eyes open for that old broken sundial and its residents to be given the same chance one day...

In keeping with the theme of gardens, Bridget Appleby went on to redesign Bill and Ben for a brief comeback return in 2001 as well as create the look for Fifi and the Flowertots in 2005 - all part of her 30 year career in animation!



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Saturday, 3 May 2014

Booklet Designs - August 2013

Back in August last year, I was placed on a "Mandatory Volunteer" Course, being one of a handful to assist a Community Centre in outer London. Recognising that I had Graphic Design skills, I was tasked with designing the layout of their booklet. The result was very different to what I thought would be useful and attractive in comparison to their ideas, but all the same I managed to gain some experience during my short time there.

Below are some of the original illustrations I created to headline each topic they wanted to cover in the booklet. These were considered "too abstract" to use;

Below is a double-page spread of the page outline. The purple, they thought, seemed too "feminine" so I swapped it with yellow. And the arrow-fingered hand was meant to be pointing to a map, until I was instructed to shrink the map itself down to a quarter of the page (about as big as two of the people in the running boarder below);

In the end, we worked out a compromise - they did allow some illustrations to decorate the booklet as long as they were "universal but friendly". So I did some fast workarounds;

 I can't think why I didn't think of sharing these until now. Maybe because I was tired of seeing them sitting in the Draft section for so long. So here ya go :P