Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Maggie Simpson - "The Longest Daycare"

As many of you might already be aware of, I take little notice of anything Simpsons-related nowadays - which has tried so hard to better Family Guy at "entertainment" over the years (in spite of the vast amount of celebrities shoe-horned in as well) that many friends I know have long since given up on any hope of its redemption. But out of pure curiosity,  I decided to check out this animated short which - in keeping with animation tradition - was shown in theatres before Ice Age 4: Continental Drift, on July 13th, 2012. As it was also up for an Oscar Nomination, and given the fact it was a theatrical release, I wasn't sure what to expect.

Again I have seen very little of Simpsons beyond Season 11, so forgive me for the following review if I've not up to speed with everything...

Some folks have showered it with as much stupefied praise as they had with seth macfarlane's "performance" at this year's Academy Awards. While others have just claimed; "meh".

For a more in-depth view, I'll say this: it was SO nice to see something Simpsons-related that had nothing to do with the obnoxiousness of Homer or the idiocy of Bart. Maggie, as with Lisa for that instance, have been sorely underrated as decent characters throughout the show's legacy, and to focus on a "silent" episode with only Hans Zimmer's wonderful score to accompany it (next to Maggie's trademark pacifier sound-effect) made for a very good break of the usual.

I'm still in two minds with the visual quality, however. The animation crew appeared to have made a better effort at something along the lines of the Simpsons Movie, but in some places the quality is still mechanical-looking. It's been mentioned long ago how much energy in the series has been toned down, and it's a shame as this was directed by David Silverman, whose previous episodes were much more lively in animation than the current crop today. Homie the Clown being one of his finest moments of the show's history in all.

Then there's the plot - Maggie rescuing a butterfly from Gerald "The Monobrow" SamsonThe storyline was good, but what this also suffered from were the number of jokes tossed in; some that fell flat (fat kid eating paste, close up on the lice) and others that, to me at least, were just sadistic. I mean, if done right, sadistic humour can be funny. But I barely chuckled as they separated the "Specially Gifted" kids from the "Nothing Special" group. A very far cry from Maggie's Great Escape as shown in A Streetcar Named Marge.

However, I'll give them credit. There were scenes that truly did hit the nail for chuckles (the timing of the Drumming Monkey), Silverman did a good job of keeping the energy and pace flowing, and the ending was overall very satisfying. Not the best short I'll admit, but for long-time fans (and those that have stuck by the show after so long right from the very beginning) it's something else to glee over.

I just wished that it had the same amount of energy and sharper humour as, say, Do The Bartman, directed by Brad Bird. I need not indulge in a breakdown of what was good there.
In fact, given the quality of the series now - in writing and animation - I think this would make a nice "retirement plan" for the Simpsons: call it quits with the TV Show and stick to theatrical shorts. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, as they say...that and the writers wouldn't worry about churning out more ideas to fill another 25-minute slot. Just sayin'.

Friday, 15 February 2013

Sitting Ducks (2001)

Michael Bedard is considered to be one of the world's most acclaimed artists / writers - and with good reason. An intellectual man, his art and books have received high praise indeed by the quality of his work and how he channels deep, somewhat meaningful messages into each piece - most recognisable of all is one poster known simply as "Sitting Ducks", whose meaning behind the inspiration has made the ducks themselves as popular as Donald or Daffy combined.
In fast, it soon flourished into the best-selling children's book of 1998. Written and illustrated by Bedard, it tells the story about alligators that hatch ducks in a "Duck Factory", which they then send to Ducktown where the ducks live idyllic lives and become too fat to fly - only then do the alligators lure the ducks to the Decoy Cafe to eat them. However, one duck is befriended by an alligator, who helps to encourage the Ducktown residents to lose the fat and fly away to avoid being eaten.

The book became an instant hit, winning three prestigious international awards for children's literature and, evidentially, Michael turned to adapting the book to television.
Launched in 2001, and produced by Creative Capers Entertainment and Kristlin/Elliott Digital, it loosely follows the original premise of the book only now the characters and their settings become more established - the series follows the unlikely friendship of Bill the Duck (Ian James Corlett) and Aldo the Alligator (Dave Ward) as they try to overcome the differences set between Ducktown and the neighbouring Swampwood - which included Aldo's duck cravings.
The series also features Bill's neighbours: three brothers Ed, Oly and Waddle (Louis Chirillo, Phil Hayes and Jay Brazeau), a penguin called Fred (Phil Haye), Decoy Cafe owner Bev (Kathleen Barr), Cecil, Ducktown's only Dentist (Ian James Corlett) and Rawol (Michael Benyaer), a Hispanic crow who heckles the ducks because they can't fly.

Another of the earliest CGI shows for its time, the animation isn't quite Pixar, but it translates Michael's character illustrations very well, and the team at Creative Capers obviously put a good deal of effort in the visuals as they have with the many other clients they've worked for. And of course, it clearly shows that the voice actors and writers have had a lot of fun with working on the show, which ran for two seasons and earned itself a good deal of merchandise: Books, DVDs, PC Games, and even rumours of a supposed feature-length movie around the time...

While the show may not have tapped America's interest a great deal, the rest of Europe adored it as indeed I have. The comedy feels every bit of Michael Bedard in its own quirky way: silly but sophisticated, the type of show that would apply to both children and parents. All in all, it's definitely won a place in my heart and on my DVD shelf - of which only a handful of episodes have been released in the UK as opposed to everywhere else overseas, where the first complete series has been on DVD since 2004 and the rest to view on Hulu. And that's as the Duck flies...matter of speaking!


If you're unable to find the original book anywhere, then view it online from this College Assignment video!

Monday, 11 February 2013

Make Waves

Music is one of the most wonderful forms of art ever - songs that were inspired by the original artist can, in itself, inspire many others with a good beat or lyrics with a sound message. And in this way, those who become inspired turn that particular musical piece into another art-form...thus inspiring other artists, and so on, and so on!

I listen to a lot of music whenever I'm drawing, and in this case it was Sesame Street's "Make Waves" that put this funky Alien in my head =)

Sunday, 10 February 2013


A llama / emu mismatch. 

When animals moult - feathers or fur - it's rather messy. So a mixture of both must be quite uncomfortable...

Saturday, 2 February 2013

The Foxbusters (1999)

The subject for this blog post has a first-and-last theme to it. It was one of the first books written by the famous Dick King-Smith (Babe, the Water Horse) which set the bar for a lifetime career as a children's writer, and one of Cosgrove Hall's last "great" shows before turning their focus to the pre-school market for the remainder of its lifespan.

The original book, first published in 1978, tells the story of the chickens of Foxearth Farm, a special breed by the fact that they could fly - in particular, three of the more gifted hens (Ransom, Sims and Jeffries) help rage war against their age-old enemy the foxes, in what has been described as "Dambusters for kids"!

Many of Dick's stories were based on his years as a farmer himself, which comes as no surprise here. This particular book has a slightly dark but comedic tone, in which blood is spilt, feathers ruffled and containing "fowl language" throughout (all hen-related puns, of course!). And where the balance between predator and prey is thrown off completely with logical, clever storytelling.
How this came to animation was an interesting one. Before the turn of the millennium, David Freedman and Alan Gilbey (The Mr Hell Show) developed the book for Cosgrove Hall Films. A "pilot" had been made in 1997 to promote the series, which was intended to be based during WW2 (in fact, some of the original animation from there was reused in the final title sequence). However, such is the way, further changes were made until few elements of the book remained saved for character and location names, although by then only the titular characters themselves could fly.

Still, it seemed to have been worth it. Along with co-writer Joel Jessup, the show ran for two seasons and picked up several BAFTA awards along the way. Thanks to its sparkling comedy, perfectly British through 'n' through, it sits very nicely alongside Danger Mouse, Count Duckula and Victor and Hugo for insane plots and even madder characters.

Credit also due to the voice actors involved, with old favourites Jimmy Hibbert and Rob Rackstraw supporting the leading ladies - Jane Horricks as "Jolly Jeffries", Joanne Lumley as "Serious Sims" but most surprising of all, Whoopi Goldberg as "Ransome the Ringleader". How I'd love to hear the story behind that casting...!!

Sadly, only the first season has been made available to DVD in the UK. And as always it's a shame on account that the episodes become madder and funnier in the season that followed. Still, perhaps there's hope yet if only the rights to the series weren't quite so "scrambled"...!