Friday, 28 June 2013

Joshua Jones

When it came to keeping up with the times, the BBC weren't shy of doing so with their Children's Programmes either - shows like 'Mary, Mungo and Midge' (1969) 'Pigeon Street' (1981) and 'Bertha' (1986) truly stood out by slowly introducing its young audience to the likes of urban living, industry and characters of "mixed ethic groups", which are more apparent than ever these days.

So by the time 'Joshua Jones' came along in 1991, it gave us plenty of looks on life - the calm canals, the open countryside and the busy factories of Biggot Wharf downriver, all featuring different and memorable characters. Such as the retired Indian Admirable Baboo Karia, Joe Laski the Hungarian farmer and even the "Liverpudlian Lovers", Sharon and Spanner!

Joshua Jones was created by Bumper Films for SC4 Wales, the same folks who gave us Fireman Sam back in 1987, so it's no surprise why this has become another favourite of mine. With a mixture of characters, settings and dialects to choose from, every episode is a surprise with sub-plots used to splendid effect. It's also helped by the vocal talents provided by George Layton and Barbara Flynn.

In all, it's a great little series that introduces children to various cultures and lifestyles, blended with captivating storytelling. In case of Mr. Cashmore, some "grown up" stuff reg; business and office-work, from Daphne Peacock the Vet the importance of looking after animals and the wildlife, and even some river-knowledge from Joshua himself. So there's a little for everyone without being too direct.

All the same, given that the United Kingdom today has just about every person from across the globe within our British Waters, the Beeb are always, always careful when handling "foreign" characters in children's television. The days when overly-stereotypic imitations of the 1950's are considered a no-no by today's standards - which I agree, but to a point. Personally, I wouldn't mind as much so long as "foreign" characters are written as interesting ones, not just for Worldwide Marketing or thrown in for contemporary reasons...


Friday, 14 June 2013

The Little Engine That Could (1991)

Long, long before the Rev. W. Awdry first came up with The Three Railway Engines and Casey Junior rolled in with Disney's Dumbo, this age-old story about self-confidence and optimism has been trundling along for decades. Various versions of "The Little Engine That Could" have been published and adapted many times in different forms of media - the strongest version written by one Watty Piper in 1930 - but the one adaptation that many folks remember came in the form of a 1991 animated film.
This version, believe or not, came from a Welsh Animation Co, Kalato Animation, co-financed by Universal Studios and SC4. Directed and produced by Dave Edwards and Mike Young, it is what I consider to be a firm example of what Traditional Animation can still accomplish despite exaggerated rumours that this art form has been "scrapped" following Disney's release of "Paperman". To add, this was also the same animation company that blessed us British with Superted and Hilltop Hospital.

I used to watch this over and over on my little VHS, and it still holds up today in terms of a good story (which, while faithful to the original text, expands nicely on the supporting characters), beautifully-crafted animation and a strong voice cast - all American, of course, which features Kath Soucie, Frank Welker, B.J Ward and Neil Ross among others.

While The Powers That Be may still see the future of CGI animation, there's no denying that even Pixar and Dreamworks had to begin with pencil and paper. In fact, in recent years, Traditional Animation is still being observed and respected as "smear / multiple effects" are applied to Computer Animation today. 

Even so, not even this 2011 CGI adaptation could compare with Dave and Mike's own Little Engine...that could and did!

Friday, 7 June 2013

Ox Tales - Fantazoo

This animated series has gone under various names in other countries - Boes, Fantazoo, Bus Bus, Ollie Ollie Oxen, Bof! - but for the English market, it's simply known as "Ox Tales". Based on the Dutch comic strip by Wil Raymakers and Thijs Wilms, it became an animated series in the early 80's courtesy of a Japanese-Dutch animation studio - which starred Ollie the Ox and his friend Jack Turtleson as they run the Funny Farm containing every animal possible in one setting. It also featured the voice of A.J. Henderson, who also did voice-over work for Arthur, David the Gnome and Sharky and George.
As "Ox Tales" is known in Italy.
The series was in association with Saban Entertainment, whose library also includes the Super Mario Bros Show, Samurai Pizza Cats and, most famous of all, Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers. Amongst their collection of Animé shows, when translated for the English market, Ox Tales was redubbed with dreadful puns and often satiric humour (provided by the "Narrator", Towilla Toucan). Some English dubs worked, some didn't. Rather depends on the writer/s involved.

I have fond memories of this series, though, both in English as part of CITV's afternoon schedule and in Italian during the yearly family abroad. And it's very rare - from what I know anyway, having not watched much of this category myself - for an Animé series to be consistently fun, whereas most Japanese shows tend to go mad with monsters and laser guns and characters with depressing back-stories. Nope, none of that. Ox Tales just goes for laughs, thick and fast, just as Tex Avery would have done so way back in the Golden age.

It's another little winner that, with so many shows as such, deserves a proper DVD release at some point - even then, the animated series had scenes that didn't quite make the transfer when aired for the American market.

But for those who may not have seen the original Dutch comic strip, from which the humour was based heavily from, the gags there are more daring compared to what was made in the animated series...clearly, the Dutch don't have obligations to what was printed in their newspapers!

Even if the original comic's humour sometimes came too close to the bone, it still boasts of beautiful artwork and terrific visual gags from the artists involved, which have made it a success, a "cult" even, in the European market.

All in all, whether you've read the comic or seen the Animé, both are nevertheless tremendously funny, from the silly to the cringe-worthy to the truly weird =P