Thursday, 13 May 2010

Ruddigore; or, The Witch's Curse

I've heard Yellow Submarine described as Britain's second animated feature film, following Animal Farm. In fact, the previous year saw the release of Ruddigore, Halas & Batchelor's 54-minute abridged adaptation of the comic opera by Gilbert and Sullivan. According to Denis Gifford's filmography the film was made for WBC-TV in America, but released theatrically in Britain. The 5 January 1967 edition of The Times spotlighted the film in a feature on the studio:
While her husband has been directing entertainment series for television and looking after their educational film department, Joy Batchelor has spent three years on Ruddigore. A team of 16 artists worked on the film, which has 100,000 drawings, though Miss Batchelor worked on her own for the first year.
The article quotes Joy Batchelor's account of a tricky area of character design:
Rose May was a problem because it's difficult to draw a pretty cartoon woman. They usually turn out sugar-sweet like Snow White, or a caricature. Eventually, I drew one who looked all right when she was standing still, but not when she moved. We worked on her literally for months, blowing her up on squared paper, so that her proportions were easy to grasp. When we were animating, I was always writing firm memos about her to the artists, such as 'Note: this girl is pretty. She wears a bra and does not sag'.
The paper was less enthusiastic when it came to review the film in its 14 September edition. "Tiresome as it may be watching live actors statically sing to each other, it is infinitely worse to see cartoon figures do the same", said resident critic John Russell Taylor. "Halas and Batdulor [sic] have a bit of fun with the ghosts and their midnight revels, but in general the design of the film is undistinguished." The July 1967 Monthly Film Bulletin review was not much more positive: "Despite its many minor felicities, the animation is generally disappointing: the backgrounds (Ted Pettingell) in a style of pen-and-ink drawings with washes of colour, are attractive; but the more solid colour figures (John Cooper) are little more than conventional cartoon caricatures."

As a cinematic follow-up to Animal Farm the film may well have been a disappointment, but when viewed as a TV movie made by a skeleton crew of sixteen Ruddigore is a perfectly serviceable number. The animators' effort into the female characters - not just Rose but also Mad Margaret - really payed off as both are charming pieces of understated character animation.

The film is available on a British DVD release that also contains the Tales from Hoffnung series, and on a better-value French release that contains a whole array of Halas & Batchelor work (yes, in English!)


  1. One odd drawback from the DVD release I noticed, and I don't know if it's just me, is the rather odd formatting done to the film itself. It appears a bit too wide to view, and normalizing it on my end, I see it's been rather cropped, especially on the sides of the screen, as if it was zoomed in during transfer and handled as a 1:1 aspect ratio stretched to a 4:3 ratio.

    1. I would love to have the movie, but it's on Region 2 wouldn't work on my player

  2. I would love to see that movie! if it is considered a movie - being 54 minutes long