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                                                                     February 2005
Extra! Extra! - Read all the Toon News!
Toy Fair's not fair
Why the UK's toy biz disappoints...   More...

   100 and out
    Channel 4 show not so "great"...

    Scarlet is FAB

    Captain Scarlet's a hit!...

    The big 100

    The 100 Greatest Cartoons...

    Dark and nasty

    The Trapdoor on DVD...

    Scarlet and back

    Captain Scarlet is here...

    A piggin' disc

    Peppa Pig on DVD...

   Floating film
Roger Dean's Floating Islands...

    4 Square

Empire Square hits Channel4...

      news archive »      interviews »      Peppa Pig Q&A »

   100 and out

    Oh dear. Channel4's "100 Greatest Cartoons" finally aired last weekend,
    but sadly failed on nearly every level. The final rundown made no sense
    what so ever (individual Looney Tunes stars were listed, as well as the
    Looney Tunes toons themselves?), industry figures were thin on the ground,
    there were factual errors left, right and center, and - the cardinal sin - the
    end result was simply dull, dull, dull...

    Of course, no one settles into these rundowns expecting detail and
    depth. These are glib, throwaway evenings meant to entertain. But even so,
    the toon rundown was flimsy indeed. On the Brit front we had Brian Cosgrove
    and Mark Hall, Peter Lord, Richard Taylor, Vivien Halas, Bob Godfrey,
    Giles Pilbrow, Bobbie Spargo, Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin, but
    most - if not all - were included simply to describe what their particular
    show was about. Additional facts were almost non-present. Instead, most
    of the show time was given over to a batch of no-name talking heads we'd
    never heard of, searching for any possible innuendo or glibness they could
    get their hands on. Unlike the "100 Greatest Kids Shows" there were
    absoloutely no nuggets or gems to unearth.

    Best let this one just fade away, like some Monday morning hangover...


   Scarlet is FAB 

    FAB, isn't it? - The all-new "Captain Scarlet" has defied its unfortunate 
    scheduling and presentation to bring us a splendid new series of CGI
    adventures. In the UK, Scarlet airs as part of the CiTV's anarchic Saturday
    show "Ministry of Mayhem" (MOM), where initially it was sliced into two
    parts and separated by far too many minutes of in-your-face japes and
    ad-breaks. After its two-part origin story in previous weeks, this
    weekend (25th Feb), we finally settled in to the series proper with
    a confirmed time slot (10.50am-ish) and restricted intermission.
    That meant we could savour "Swarm", a story featuring an infestation
    of Mysteron nanobots on board Skybase. And it was cracking:
    fast-paced, with some splendid "Aliens" style action, and intelligent
    character development. Gosh, we've missed this kind of series
    in recent years...

     Captain Scarlet defies its broadcast slot...

    The new "Captain Scarlet" is an all-CGI production. The premise is
    unchanged, with Colonel White and his Spectrum team protecting the
    world from the malevolence of the alien Mysterons. But the characters,
    the machines and approach have all been suitably upgraded for
    modern-day viewers. Now we're faced with atmospheric action and
    destruction, emotional fallout, death, and the ebb and flow of inter-agent
    conflict and romance. There's a lot going on in these twenty minute

    So are there any negatives? - Yes, indeed. The opening "titles" are
    appalling. Instead of moody Mysteron stylings and a dynamic
    electronic fanfare we're presented with a lazy edit of scenes and a
    dribbly orchestral theme. It completely fails to set the mood and
    actually undermines your expectations for the show. If there's one
    thing we'd normally expect from an Anderson series it's an inspiring
    introduction - and the original Scarlet series had one of the best,
    with its gritty alleyway encounter and narration. What a missed

    Best ignore the titles, then, and allow yourself to be succumbed by
    the visuals, and the involved storytelling. The new Scarlet is dark.
    Captain Blue isn't so accommodating now, and Captain Green has
    changed sex. Scarlet has a thing for Destiny Angel, who also had
    something going with the ill-fated Captain Black. This is great stuff:
    little additions and tweaks which ratchet up the emotion without
    hindering the action. It'll be interesting to see how things develop.
    The visuals have also been improving each episode. Parts of the
    pilot felt like cut-scenes from a computer game. In "Swarm",
    however, it all gelled perfectly.

    Let's hope the high standard can be maintained. And let's hope
    Scarlet can find its audience in all the surrounding Mayhem, because
    we appear to have a bona fide hit here - if the broadcasters don't
    drop the ball...  

Captain Scarlet


   The big 100

    Don't forget folks, Channel4 are broadcasting their rundown of "The 100 Greatest
    Cartoons" this Sunday. Yes, yes, we all know that these kind of shows kick up a
    shed-load of controversy in their wake. But you know, there are always a few
    diamonds lurking in the rough of these broadcasts which makes them
    essential viewing (see November's piece).

    Here's a reminder of the Brits involved:

    • Animal Farm                            Monkey Dust
BOD                                      Noggin the Nog
Captain Kremmen                     Roobarb
Captain Pugwash                     The Snowman
Charley Says...                        Wallace & Gromit
Creature Comforts                    Watership Down
DangerMouse                          Willo the Wisp
Ivor the Engine                        Wind in the Willows
Jamie and the Magic Torch         Yellow Submarine                  
The Magic Roundabout             • 2DTV
Mary, Mungo and Midge

    So who will win? - Who knows. Who cares. The outcome is irrelevant. It's getting
    there that's fun. The rundown commences this Sunday, 26th at 8.00pm. And the
    results will be posted online here for our continued perusal, digestion and
    discussion after the show.

Channel 4   


   Dark and nasty

    If you've been away in the dark and nasty regions recently, you may not
    know that Burk, Boni, Drutt and a sackful of globbits have at last found their
    way on to DVD.

     The Trapdoor on DVD...

    That's right, The Trapdoor is here for your viewing pleasure!

    This fab release features all 40 episodes of the claymation classic from
    Charles Mills, Terry Brain and Steve Box and snuggles up beautifully next
    to the previously-released Stoppit & Tidyup - another CMTB gem which
    escaped on to disc last year with little fanfare...

    Dare you open it? - I'm already re-watching mine...

The Trapdoor  Stoppit & Tidyup


   Scarlet and back

    Settle down and buckle up for espionage and adventure this weekend, because
    the all-new, all-CGI "Captain Scarlet" finally starts broadcasting on CiTV.
    Mind you, it's been a long wait. The series has spent almost five years
    in development...

    Surely everyone knows about the indestructible captain and his and Spectrum's
    ongoing battle against Captain Black and the alien Mysterons? - Well here we
    have the mixture exactly as before, sans strings. And that's enabled Gerry
    Anderson and his team to let the action and adventure flow. At least, that's
    what the publicity tells us. But we'll finally be able to judge for ourselves
    from Saturday 12th February, when the new show starts it's run. Get the
    popcorn ready for 10.30am when the first part of "Instrument of Destruction"

    "Captain Scarlet" has always been a particular favourite, and in the current
    climate of fear and misinformation, its themes seem particularly apt. The
    official site promises us a more complex captain, with an equally complex
    love life and a new array of fantastic machinery and equipment with which
    to do battle. Anderson's team have been slaving away tirelessly at their
    facilities in Pinewood Studios and the results look very promising indeed...
Captain Scarlet


   A piggin' disc

    Great news for Astley Baker Davies fans this week, with the arrival of
    "Peppa Pig" on DVD. Peppa's been "hogging" the limelight on Five over
    the last year and "Peppa Pig: Muddy Puddles" is her first release on disc,
    courtesy of Contender. The DVD features 10 tales, plus two bonus episodes,
    giving fans a whole hour of piggin' brilliance in which to wallow...

      Peppa Pig: Muddy Puddles

    Peppa's arrival on disc is way overdue for some. The Hound resides
    in the wilds of north-east Scotland where the delights of Channel Five are
    often out of reach of terrestrial tv, and all but snowed under, even with a
    Freeview box. It'll be great to see her flicker free!

Peppa Pig


   Floating film

    For many, Roger Dean's fantasy art landscapes are iconic creations of
    the seventies and early eighties. These incredible alien images graced the
    LP covers of prog rock stars Yes, and later, Asia. They spawned a mini
    industry of poster prints, and via Roger's publishing firm Paper Tiger, they
    graced a million or more coffee tables in a series of mega-popular art books.
    So fans of the era will no doubt be thrilled to hear that Roger is now
    planning to make a computer animated film based on his works...

   "Floating Islands" reveals a secret story connecting all of those incredible
    Yes covers. It tells of a boy called Loki, his search for a missing space
    ark, and his quest to rescue the pieces of a fragmenting world.

    According to Roger's web site, $500K of developent money needs to be
    raised to take the film to the next level of production. And that's where
    we, the fans, come in to play. Roger has produced a series of highly
    desirable serigraph, digital and etched prints which folks can buy, with
    the proceeds going towards the production accounts. They're not cheap,
    but artwork of this nature never is. But if you have the money to hand,
    you'll be buying yourself some glorious art to hang proudly on your wall,
    and contributing to an ambitious artistic concept too ...

   Of course, Roger's not the only fantasy artist with film plans on the table.
   Patrick Woodroffe has his own bizarre works in development. Patrick's
   mind-bending creations have to be seen to be believed. They have
   layers of creative detail and texture that fascinates and beguiles and
   confounds in equal measure. Personally, I think he's a genius...

   And let's not forget the fantastic works of Rodney Matthews.
His work
   has reached our screens via Gerry Anderson and Cosgrove Hall, but he
   too is awash with ideas for film and television.

   Who knows, with all this new attention being turned upon Mr. Dean,
   maybe we'll see more of those fantasy artists on our screens?

                                                                      More: Roger Dean


   4 Square

    Now here's an interesting move from Channel4. They've just announced the
    imminent debut of a production billed as the world's first interactive animation
    series. "Empire Square" is a very crude and rude creation focusing on life in
    an inner-city community. Think "South Park" meets "The Sims", if you will.
    The series and concept have been devised by the drummer from Blurr - Dave
    Rowntree - and writer Matt Morgan, and there are currently three streetwise
    lowlifes at the heart of the show. Rabbit is a geek who dresses in a pink
    bunny costume, Hooks is a savvy lass with attitude, and Richie is a
    street-tuff idiot. 12 x 3mins episodes have thus far been animated and
    will be aired on Channel4 later this month...

    You can already view some of the episodes online at the Empire Square
    web site, but be warned,  they're certainly not for kiddies, with sex, street
    slang and swearing to the fore. Indeed, they're destined to divide audiences
    with their explicit references and storylines about bestiality, necrophilia and
    more. But looking beyond any controversy, the important thing here is that
    "Empire Square" is
attempting to be much more than just an animated series,
    rather, it's setting itself up as a growing online community of shops and
    buildings and people in which we the public are invited to participate.

    It's this combination of a tv series with an online world  that makes "Empire
    Square" a "first", and it will be intriguing to see if the concept strikes a chord,
    and if it does, to watch the community grow and develop over time. And looking
    further forward, who knows what might follow in its wake...?

    "Empire Square" premieres on Channel4 on February 18th.

                                                  More: Empire Square (adults only)


   Toy Fair's not fair  

    Toy Fair is the UK's premier event for toys and games. It's held every January
    in London's Expo building and
attracts all the major players in the industry,
    who set up their stalls and showcase their forthcoming wares. And those
    wares include numerous character-based creations - of great interest to
    me, and most likely, most of you too (and let's face it, if you're not here
    to read up about toons in all their forms, what are you here for?).

    Now TheHound and his so-called "London Media Buddies" have been making a
    round trip to this special event
for the last four years. We participate under
    the banner of ToonsToGo, which means we are present as a legitimate
    business concern, on the lookout for new products to stock at the store,
    as well as seeking info on other things pertinent to Toonhound. The Toy
    Fair promotion and publicity identify the arena as being an exciting place
    to roam and discover all that's new on the UK toy scene.

    But you know what? - Toy Fair stinks. Every year, we're met with pokerfaced
    staff on the major brand stalls who appear to do their utmost to treat me and
    mine with disdain. We either can't get on the stands at all, plead ridiculously
    until some sourpuss breaks, or we have to come back for a shambling guided
    "tour" two, three or more hours later. It's hugely frustrating and more-than-a-little
    humiliating. Whilst I can understand that firms want to "present" their new
    lines in a  certain way and maximize sales, the chilly atmosphere that
    pervades is downright disheartening. I'm sure if we were reps for a High
    Street chain the welcome would be altogether different...

    Now, I could swallow all of this, if when you finally get on to a stall there was
    something to impress; some superb and informed presentation and display.
    But there invariably isn't. And worse, when it comes to character licenses, 
    outside of the Preschool arena, the majority - if not all - the major UK brand
    players don't appear to have a clue about the creation they've just licensed.
    Oh sure, they can recite the demographics involved, the key markets they
you should be selling to. But they rarely appear to know the shows,
    the films, the people who made them and - more importantly - whether
    they're actually any good in the first place.  And worse yet - and this the
    cardinal sin - we've lost track of the times we've encountered shoddy licensed
    character figures and apparel: Talking toys which don't employ the original
    voice artiste, or cheap flimsy action figures which have zero appeal to a
    collector and zero playability for the kids. Or indeed, that other common
    sin; lots of different  versions of a TV/film hero, but precious little featuring
    his nemesis.

    There is an exception here, though, and it's that aforementioned Preschool
    arena. This is an area in which we thrive. It's taken a while, but the brand
    leaders have realised that quality sells. And why? - Because it's the adults
    who buy the toys for their kids. And what's more, there's no creative effort
    required because "Postman Pat" doesn't fight any bad guys or adopt any
    magic powers on his round.

    This whole sorry state of affairs happens because the UK toy scene is simply
    about Suits. It's about dull, middle-aged men and women  trading sales figures
    over a glass and either talking down to, or over the heads of their market
    altogether. And it's why you find great gluts of trashy "Ninja Turtles" and
    "Spiderman" figures gathering dust on the shelves at Woolworth's. I'm
    reminded here of that classic scene in "Big" where Tom Hanks queries the
    reasoning behind a bunch of new toys. When was the last time these people
    played  with, or collected, anything?

    And this all contrasts so completely with the American approach. In the
    USA, February's Toy Fair is an "Event". It's all about razzmatazz, sparkle
    and the enjoyment of toys. Every year a few hardened  American firms
    squeeze their stalls in to Expo alongside the Brits. And every year their
    licensed products simply blow the UK opposition away in terms of design,
    build, presentation and - and this is the cruncher - sheer enthusiasm for
    the creation they've licensed. They're so far ahead of the UK crowd, it's
    almost embarrassing.

    So will we be going to Toy Fair next year? Probably. And we'll be clutching
    some slim hope that attitudes have changed since the year before - same
    as we've done for the last four years.

    But we're not holding our breath.

    Till next time!    

        Pooch says 'Stay tooned!'     thehound@toonhound.com

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