Sunday, 6 April 2014

British Children's TV Shows that Deserve to Become Movies

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Gerry Anderson's seminal marionette epic Thunderbirds became a live-action flop in 2004, and this summer's CGI Postman Pat should be returned to sender (based on the ghastly trailer), but surely there are some fantastic British children's shows that deserve the big-screen treatment? Of course there is! And no, Telletubbies didn't make the cut. Below are my top 7 choices...

7. The Snowman (1982)
Originally a 1978 picture book by Raymond Briggs, The Snowman achieved family favourite status thanks to a beautiful Oscar-nominated 1982 animation. That hand-drawn cartoon, about a little red-haired boy who creates a snowman that comes to life and whisks him away to the North Pole to meet Father Christmas, has been shown every December in the UK since. It's so popular that a sequel was released for its 30th anniversary in 2012, The Snowman and the Snowdog. But imagine a live-action version with a digital snowman, perhaps using performance-capture to retain the iconic look of Raymond Briggs's illustrations. I'm sure that would be a hit.

6. Captain Pugwash (1957, 1974-75, 1998)
This started life as series of crude animations about a greedy fat pirate in 1957 (based on a 1950 comic strip character from The Eagle), which was later coloured in 1974, before a traditional animated series was released in 1998. That proves there's an ongoing appetite for this character and his colourful crew of The Black Pig (Tom the cabin boy, Willy, Barnabas and Master Mate*), who often battled Cut-Throat Jake of the Flying Dustman. I can't quite imagine a Pirates of the Caribbean-style bonanza, but a slightly bonkers nautical adventure with this character could be fun. Or have Aardman broadly covered Pugwash territory with their oddball Pirates! movie? (*Contrary to pop-culture myth, there was no Seaman Stains or Master Bates aboard the Black Pig.)

5. Worzel Gummidge (1979-81, 1987-89)
Author Barbara Euphan Todd's tales of a living scarecrow was brought to life in 1979 with ex-Doctor Who Jon Pertwee as the eponymous straw-man. A slightly strange and freaky kid's show (mostly because Worzel had interchangeable heads and his creator was the fairly sinister Crowman), I can imagine a rural Tim Burton-esque film based on this concept. A young Peter Jackson was involved in the visual effects when Worzel filmed a Down Under sequel in New Zealand, so maybe ask him to produce? Una Stubbs is still around and could even cameo as aged fairground doll Aunt Sally, Worzel's love-interest. Hey, Barbara Windsor likewise as Saucy Nancy!

4. Captain Scarlet (1967-68)
Gerry Anderson's whole oeuvre would make good films, so it's a pity Thunderbirds was ruined when it had the chance for big-screen glory. The next best Anderson-made puppet series is probably the futuristic sci-fi actioner Captain Scarlet, about an immortal astronaut protecting Earth from the alien Mysterons, with help from a squadron of female pilots known as the Angels. A CGI-animated remake was broadcast in 2005, which was decent enough, but I'm sure a proper movie would be even better.

3. Rentaghost (1976-84)
This 1970s supernatural comedy concerned a dead loser called Fred Mumford, who sets up a business called 'Rentaghost' that hires spooks out for various reasons. The spectres included medieval jester Timothy Claypole, Victorian gent Hubert Davenport, Hazel the McWitch, a Dutch ghost called Nadia Popov (who teleports when she sneezes), cowgirl Catastrophe Kate, and a disobedient panto horse named Dobbin. This series actually has a real chance of being turned into a big Hollywood movie, as Ben Stiller's been trying to make it for years (also intending to play Mumford) and Russell Brand's name has been attached to the project for awhile (as Claypole?). You can certainly see the potential in the concept for some Beetlejuice-y fun.

2. Mr Benn (1971-72)
A simple 1970s animation with a beautiful concept, as bowler-hatted businessman Mr Benn escapes his dreary suburban existence by regularly visiting a costumers (owned by the enigmatic fez-wearing Shopkeeper), and is magically transported into the time or place dictated by the outfit he chooses. The cartoon saw Mr Benn visit mediaeval times, Africa, the Wild West, space, Ancient Rome, and many others. I recall this show being rumoured as a live-action film starring John Hannah in the early-'00s (after his success in The Mummy), but nothing seemed to come of it.

1. Danger Mouse (1981-92)
I'm still astonished nobody has turned Cosgrove Hall's fantastic Danger Mouse into a live-action/CGI hybrid. It's Stuart Little meets James Bond, so how cool is that? A spy mouse helped by a cowardly schoolboy mole called Penfold, living alongside humans in secret underworld full of talking animals. The world needs to see Baron Silas Greenback as a Blofeld like master criminal frog, let's be honest. Danger Mouse would be perfect for an animated feature, retaining its madcap sense of humour and parody. The cartoon even crossed the Atlantic in the '80s, which should make it an easier sell to Americans of a certain age. David Jason's still around to voice the suave rodent spy, too...

Any other suggestions? Leave a comment.