Saturday, 31 August 2013

Shakespeare: The Animated Tales

I wrote about S4C's Canterbury Tales a while ago. That series was a follow-up to an earlier project, Shakespeare: The Animated Tales.

Like Canterbury Tales this was a Welsh/Russian co-production. This time, however, the animation was handled entirely in Russia. Novelist Leon Garfield was responsible for adapting the plays into half-hour format.



Romeo & Juliet


Twelfth Night

As You Like It

A Midsummer Night's Dream

The Taming of the Shrew

A Winter's Tale

The Tempest

Julius Caesar

Richard III

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Unscripted audio and early Aardman

Confessions of a Foyer Girl

I recently wrote an article for Cartoon Brew about animated films which use unscripted audio in the manner of Creature Comforts. I took the chance to touch upon some of Aardman's pre-Comforts films, including the Animated Conversations shorts Down and Out and Confessions of a Foyer Girl.

I've already written about Animated Conversations on this blog a couple of times before, in this post and in my interview with William Mather, who conceived the series. There's something I find fascinating about Aardman's two contributions, along with the studio's later Conversation Pieces studio. It's always interesting to take a familiar studio and look at what it produced before it found its groove: the rougher, less assured work which hints at a range of different future directions. There's still a lot which young animators can learn from these films.

Monday, 26 August 2013

The digital Dandy

In late 2012 The Dandy, Britain's longest-running comic, ceased publication. In its place, a part-animated digital version was launched - although that too is currently on hiatus and facing an uncertain future.

I've mentioned before that it is surprisingly rare for British comics to be adapted into animation, so I was intrigued by this development. I kept meaning to pay for access to the digital Dandy, but never got round to it; right now it appears that there is no way for me to see any of the pay-per-view issues.

Thankfully, the free preview issue is still available and so I have an idea of what the online version of The Dandy looks like.

The characters who made the jump to the digital Dandy range from the familiar (Desperate Dan) to the more obscure (The Laughing Planet). Most arrived in a very traditional form and artists such as Tom Paterson are instantly recognisable, the only changes being the addition of limited animation and, in the case of Desperate Dan, voice acting. Some characters received more comprehensive overhauls, however...

Keyhole Kate, old and new.

The strip I found most interesting was Keyhole Kate. This character was introduced into The Dandy in its very first issue, back in 1937, but was never a perennial favourite and was later dropped. In her original incarnation Kate was simply a girl who enjoyed spying on people through keyholes; the digital version instead casts her as a reporter for a school newspaper, who ends up playing amateur detective after a run-in with a mysterious stranger.

When cartoon characters are given overhauls as heavy as this, it can often come across as a cynical attempt to fit a square peg into a round hole. Here, however, it makes a lot of sense: the schoolgirl detective was a stock character in British girls' comics such as Bunty and Tammy, a field which largely dried up in the eighties. By taking this approach with Kate, the creators of the digital Dandy are kicking new life into a septuagenarian cartoon character while also reviving a genre from the past.

The digital Dandy also featured a strip called Retro Active, which repackaged various long-forgotten superhero characters from the DC Thomson vault such as King Cobra and the Amazing Mr. X. With the current popularity of the superhero genre, this seems a sensible choice.

I'll admit, most of the digital comics I've read are the ones which hew closely to the model set forth by print. The few I've sampled which dabble in sound, motion and interactivity tend to be rather gimmicky and fall between two stools: too distracting to satisfy as comics, too limited to work as animation. The one exception I've seen is this Korean horror comic, but even that case relies on a trick which would only work so many times.

The sample from the digital Dandy which is currently available is not free from these flaws, but there is much scope for improvement should it ever return. Perhaps there could even be a line of Dandy animated shorts?

The biggest problem faced by The Dandy and compatriots such as The Beano is that they became an embarrassment to many of their former readers, remembered not with nostalgic fondness but with genuine resentment. Charlie Brooker sums up this viewpoint:

I never really liked the Dandy back when I was sufficiently young enough to be able to openly read it on the bus without people taking a Twitpic and circulating it as a warning to any parents in the area. Even then – and we're talking late 70s, early 80s here – the Dandy and its sister title the Beano felt to me like staid relics bought by sentimental parents for their unappreciative offspring. I was more of a Whizzer and Chips kid, preferring the London-based Fleetway/IPC stable of comics (Buster, Whoopee, Krazy, Jackpot, etc) which seemed a shade more anarchic, and weren't hamstrung by having to include characters created in the 1930s who still walked around wearing monocles.
I enjoyed them for the artwork, but I don't think I ever actually laughed at the stories, which is odd because not only were the strips themselves routinely peppered with slightly boastful depictions of readers weeping with laughter over the latest issue, the characters themselves would often break the fourth wall, looking you in the eye in the final panel, saying something like "Ho ho, readers! Looks like Dad's having a thumping good time!" while their father was violently assaulted by a boxing kangaroo in the background.

That said, Brooker is being a little unfair, as the printed Dandy showed real promise shortly before its cancellation: see Colin Smith's blog Too Busy Thinking About My Comics for a more favourable assessment of the physical Dandy's dying days.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Ray Harryhausen in the UK: First Men in the Moon

After tackling ancient Greece, Ray Harryhausen lent his talents to a Victorian lunar expedition in his second British film: 1964's First Men in the Moon. Nathan Juran directed, while Nigel Kneale (of Quatermass fame) and Jan Read adapted the script from the novel by H.G. Wells.

The overall aesthetic of the film is an odd mix of what is now known as steampunk alongside the slightly gaudy Technicolour fantasy of the period - some scenes make the interior of the moon look like Willy Wonka's chocolate factory.

Most of the Selenites are portrayed by men in suits, but Ray Harryhausen provided the bulbous-headed leaders, the giant caterpillar-like creature and even one of his trademark skeletons (thanks to a brief sequence involving an x-ray machine). Unfortunately, his skills are not put to their best use in this film: his aliens get very little to do, with a short tussle against the caterpillar being the high point of the animation in First Men in the Moon.

Still, Harryhausen's models are as beautifully designed as ever, and his fans will find something to appreciate here.

The following images were scanned from the books The Art of Ray Harryhausen and Ray Harryhausen: An Animated Life.