The Re­turn of Mouse and Mole

Animation Magazine - - Tv -

CBBC, Fre­mantleMe­dia and Boul­der Me­dia find clas­sic U.K. se­ries

mod­ern au­di­ence. By Karen Yossman.

With a sleek set of wheels and an arse­nal of gad­gets to ri­val James Bond — not to men­tion an equally de­voted fan base — car­toon su­per spy Dan­ger Mouse was one of Bri­tain’s best-loved ex­ports by the time he hung up his dis­tinc­tive eye patch in 1992.

Now, 34 years af­ter first making his small screen de­but, the quick-wit­ted ro­dent and his faith­ful side­kick Pen­fold are back with a li­cense to thrill a new gen­er­a­tion of view­ers thanks to Fre­mantleMe­dia, which own the rights to the show, plus the BBC’s chil­dren’s net­work, CBBC, and Dublin-based an­i­ma­tion stu­dio Boul­der Me­dia, both of which came on­board as co-pro­duc­ers.

The new Dan­ger Mouse se­ries, which be­gan air­ing in the United King­dom in Septem­ber and comes to Net­flix in the United States and in­ter­na­tion­ally in the spring, opens with a 22-minute dou­ble episode in which Pen­fold and DM, bat­tle their neme­sis of old, Baron Green­back. The Ger­man-ac­cented arch vil­lain man­ages to get the sleuthing two­some fired from the Bri­tish Se­cret Ser­vice (run by Stephen Fry’s char­ac­ter, Colonel K) in or­der to try to take over the world with an army of ro­bots be­fore our hero suc­cess­fully stops him, re­gain­ing his job while saving queen and coun­try.

Re­boot­ing such a beloved property, which had a two-year de­vel­op­ment time, wasn’t quite as straight­for­ward as jump­ing back on DM’s Dan­ger Cy­cle, how­ever. “There is al­ways trep­i­da­tion,” says Bob Hig­gins, ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer for Fre­man­tle. “You don’t want to be the one that ru­ined it.” As such, the team, which in­cluded CBBC ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer Sarah Muller, Boul­der ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer Robert Cullen, and head writer Ben Ward, be­gan the process by watch­ing ev­ery sin­gle episode of the orig­i­nal se­ries, which spanned eleven years.

Part of the in­her­ent chal­lenge of the project

needs min­i­mal fine-tun­ing to work for a

was cap­ti­vat­ing a new gen­er­a­tion of chil­dren who were, ac­cord­ing to CBBC’s re­search, un­fa­mil­iar with Dan­ger Mouse, while at the same time try­ing not to alien­ate their par­ents, many of whom would have been fans of the orig­i­nal se­ries. “You al­most have to be more faith­ful to mem­ory than you do to what ac­tu­ally hap­pened,” says BAFTA-win­ning Ward, re­veal­ing that he watched ev­ery episode twice. “I tried to write the show that I re­mem­ber.”

“Peo­ple are funny,” agrees co­me­dian Kevin El­don, who re­places Terry Scott as the voice Pen­fold. “They’re pos­ses­sive about old stuff, es­pe­cially stuff that be­longs to their child­hood, and you can understand that. You don’t want to be do­ing a hor­ri­ble thing to the mem­ory of

some­thing that was bril­liant, but I think peo­ple who were in­volved with this were re­spect­ful of the orig­i­nal. And whereas it has hauled it­self into the 21st cen­tury, it hasn’t done it at the ex­pense of the orig­i­nal spirit.” Keep­ing the Orig­i­nal’s Fla­vor

The show’s “orig­i­nal spirit” — char­ac­ter­ized by its know­ing tone and bud­get-saving tricks, such as set­ting scenes at the North Pole to save on an­i­ma­tion costs — is largely what at­tracted vet­eran Bri­tish ac­tor Alexan­der Arm­strong to the ti­tle role. “I loved the way it was not only an­ar­chic in its sto­ry­telling but also in the way that it didn’t really bother with high pro­duc­tion val­ues; it was all in the char­ac­ters,” says Arm­strong, who takes over from Only Fools and Horses star David Ja­son as Dan­ger Mouse.

Al­though Arm­strong ad­mits the new se­ries is “a bit shinier” than the pre­vi­ous in­car­na­tion, long-time fans of the show will be re­lieved to see that many of its hall­marks re­main in­tact, in­clud­ing di­a­logue that breaks the fourth wall, black-out scenes in which only the char­ac­ters’ eyes are vis­i­ble (an­other money-saving de­vice em­ployed in the orig­i­nal), and, of course, the theme tune, which there was “never any in­ten­tion of chang­ing,” says Muller. “It’s a fan­tas­tic piece of mu­sic.”

And, un­like many stars his age, Dan­ger Mouse has re­sisted the urge to un­dergo a ton of cos­metic pro­ce­dures. “The char­ac­ter de­signs them­selves were clas­sic so we didn’t really feel the need to tweak them too much,” says Cullen, Boul­der Me­dia’s cre­ative di­rec­tor. “Just a fresh coat of paint and some de­sign tweaks in the faces.”

How­ever, given that it has been more than three decades since the show’s in­cep­tion, some up­dates were nec­es­sary for Dan­ger Mouse to ap­peal to a new — and, in some ways, more dis­cern­ing — gen­er­a­tion, in­clud­ing a high-tech up­grade for DM’s eye-patch, which is now an “iPatch,” with all the com­puter wiz­ardry that sug­gests, while Pen­fold wields a smart­phone. “It was al­ways a gad­get-based show,” El­don says. “So it makes per­fect log­i­cal sense that it has the tech­no­log­i­cal in­no­va­tion which we see now.”

An ex­ec­u­tive de­ci­sion was also made to re­move hu­mans from the Dan­ger Mouse uni­verse, elim­i­nat­ing the scale in­con­sis­tency in the orig­i­nal se­ries that saw DM vac­il­late be­tween ro­dent and hu­man-size, while the length of each episode has been in­creased from five min­utes to 11. “It’s a very dif­fer­ent au­di­ence and a very dif­fer­ent me­dia-scape for the kids,” says Hig­gins. “We needed to change the blueprint to fit what the au­di­ence is de­mand­ing.”

Adding Girl Power Most sig­nif­i­cantly, that in­cluded adding an em­pow­ered fe­male char­ac­ter to the cast, in the form of Squawken­cluck, “a pro­fes­sor of ev­ery­thing gad­gety,” ac­cord­ing to Shauna Macdonald, who voices the brainy bird. “It was really im­por­tant for me to see a strong fe­male fig­ure who’s lis­tened to and is not just some­body who’s nark­ing or per­ceived to just be whin­ing,” she says.

In later episodes, Squawken­cluck is joined by Game of Thrones’ Lena Headey, who voices DM’s Amer­i­can coun­ter­part, Jeop­ardy Mouse, and Harry Pot­ter ac­tress Mi­randa Richard­son as a Malef­i­cent- in­spired vil­lain called the Queen of Wee­vils. “There were lit­er­ally no women in the orig­i­nal,” says CBBC’s Muller, who says that, this time around, the pro­duc­ers also made a point of bring­ing women onto the writ­ing team. “It repli­cated a man’s world, but that’s un­rec­og­niz­able to the mod­ern au­di­ence.”

Join­ing some of Bri­tain’s most dis­tinc­tive voices on the show are other home-grown tal­ents, such as co­me­dian John Oliver and ac­tor Brian Blessed. Like Bond, the Bri­tish­ness of the show is part of its sell­ing point. “I think it was the first Bri­tish TV an­i­ma­tion to go big in the States, so it had quite a pedi­gree to it,” says El­don, who con­fesses that he and Arm­strong fas­tid­i­ously kept an eye out for Amer­i­can­isms in the scripts, which were drafted by a transat­lantic writ­ing team. “That’s only be­cause I’m sort of ridicu­lous about it,” he says.

Arm­strong is con­fi­dent that “over­seas they’ll enjoy its Bri­tish­ness.” “I do feel, and I’m sure Kevin feels, that we are in some way rep­re­sent­ing our coun­try,” he says. “I’ve sort of given up on play­ing Bond, and I think this scratches that itch quite nicely.” [

USA Pre­mieres Sept. 27 on Fox The sixth sea­son of the Belcher fam­ily chron­i­cles kicks off with Gene and Tina each re­count­ing their un­der­stand­ing of how Bob met Linda. USA Pre­mieres Sept. 27 on Fox Sea­son 13 of Seth MacFar­lane’s an­i­mated sit­com kicks off with Peter telling a scary story about a gi­ant ra­bid house­cat in “Peter­nor­mal Ac­tiv­ity.” The sea­son’s sec­ond episode sees Stewie pre­scribed the ADHD drug Ad­der­all, which Brian uses to write a 2,000-word book pro­posal to Game of Thrones au­thor Ge­orge R.R. Martin, while Peter and Quaqmire start com­pet­ing cook­ing shows. Pre­mieres De­cem­ber on Net­flix USA This co-pro­duc­tion be­tween Net­flix, Gau­mont and Wild West tele­vi­sion is a fam­ily com­edy based on the work of standup comic Bill Burr, fo­cus­ing in par­tic­u­lar on com­plain­ing about po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness. Ja­pan Pre­mieres Oct. 1 on NTV The fourth anime se­ries based on the manga by Mon­key Punch sees Lupin in Italy fak­ing a mar­riage to shield his plans to steal the Royal Crown of Lib­erty. Ja­pan Pre­mieres Oct. 4 on JNN The 14th in­car­na­tion of the ever-pop­u­lar Gun­dam se­ries cen­ters on a group of or­phans caught up in the strug­gle for Mars in­de­pen­dence when their leader stum­bles across a leg­endary Gun­dam suit. USA Pre­mieres Sept. 27 on Fox Lena Dun­ham and Ed­ward James Ol­mos are among the guest voices in the first episodes of sea­son 27 in the long­est-run­ning scripted TV pro­gram of all time. Canada Pre­mieres Sept. 7 on Tele­toon The re­al­ity spoof se­ries turns its eyes to­ward The Amaz­ing Race, with a mostly new cast of char­ac­ters show­ing up for the big event. Ja­pan Pre­mieres Oct. 2 on TBS, CBC, SUN and BS-TBS This se­ries up­dates the clas­sic se­ries about a bril­liant rogue doc­tor, this time it’s a pre­quel about Black Jack when he was a med­i­cal stu­dio in the 1960s. Adapted from the comic se­ries cre­ated from by “fa­ther of manga” him­self, Osamu Tezuka. [

Dan­ger Mouse gets a tech up­grade, above, for his 21st cen­tury de­but. But old en­e­mies like Baron Green­back are ready for him, op­po­site.

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