- Shaun the Sheep (2007)
So here we are, at last, with our number one UK
toon series of the
Noughites. And it's surely no surprise to see
our fleecy friend from
Street bleating his way to the top of our list. Let's
face it, that first series of Shaun the Sheep
was really quite brilliant,
and The Hound has loved every episode, right down to
From the very first bars (baas?) of its clatter-bang,
song, you just know you're in for a treat. And sure
enough, over the next
ten minutes, Shaun and his funny flock proceed to
run rings around that
old whistle-blower Bitzer, the Naughty Pigs and
the gurning Farmer.
On the one hand, it plays out like some fab old-time
Beano strip, with
lots of broad brushstrokes of action and silliness.
And on the other, there
are just so many subtle and sublime extra details
to savour; a glance
here, a gesture there, all those spoof product
labels in the Farmer's
kitchen, and even - yes, we're talking pooh again
- the smatterings
of sheep droppings littering the fields which still
viewer smile, when ever he sees them.
There's something of a Porridge-like relationship
between Shaun and
Bitzer, as they jockey for position and control
of each debacle. Bitzer's
Mr Barrowclough, put in charge of the sheepish
inmates, but rarely
in the driving seat when Norman Shaun-ley Fletcher's
around. In that
sitcom Fletcher has a gift with the gab, but there's
no dialogue here,
which is another stroke of genius about this production,
anywhere can follow the stories. Each bleat and shrug and
whistle blow speaks volumes.
That first season DVD has been played to death
in The Hound's home.
And every time an episode pops up on CBBC, this
toon fan stops what
he's doing to watch and savour the action once
more. And invariably,
he winds up jollying and whistling along to that
darned catchy theme,
until his own two Springer Spaniels catch his eye and
he can clearly
see them thinking their own Bitzer-type thoughts.
Honest. He can read
their minds, clear as day.
Oh yes, the Aardman team brought all their immeasurable
to bear on this series. You really can't see the join
between Shaun's world
and the worlds of Wallace
and Gromit, and Chicken Run.
staged, dressed and lit. Flawless, in fact. But there
is one small grey cloud
hanging over the farm, and it feels almost churlish
to mention it here,
in the midst of our Number One celebration. You
see, whisper it quietly,
but The Hound has struggled to get to grips with
the changes that
have been made in the now-broadcasting second
series. The reasoning
is sound, and completely understandable, and the new-look
and Pigs can be adjusted to. But the new fuzzed-up
Bitzer just looks
odd. In fact, the first time he caught that new
appearance The Hound
thought he was portraying Bitzer's evil twin. After
all, that's a trick
performed throughout the cartoon ages. Only, this
isn't a trick. It's
for keeps. And having spent forty fab episodes
with the original, it looks
like someone's stolen the poor chap away and thrown
him in a tumble
dryer. Ecky-thump, The Hound wants his old pal
back to play!
But that's quite enough whinging. We're here to
party and praise, after all.
Shaun the Sheep is the thoroughly-deserved Number
One on our list.
Although, ultimately, the real winners here are
us, the viewers. We've
had so many UK toon treats during the last decade.
And who knows
what tv delights the next ten years might bring...?
- Summerton Mill (2005)
You know, we're always told they don't make 'em
like they used to.
But they do, they do, they really do. If you look hard
enough. If you
turn over the right stones. And here's Dan and
Fluffa and their special
friends, surprising everyone with their appearance
at number two in in
our rundown. But they've more than earned their inclusion
even one this high in the list, because Summerton
Mill is a once-in-a
lifetime creation, a homemade little world that
crystallized from out of
nowhere in the middle of the Noughties. And it's brilliant.
And the two
promo DVDs that The Hound received in the post
from the film makers
have been on constant rotation over the last few
years. When ever this
dawg wants to escape the world, when he seeks
a little sanctuary,
this is the sunny funny series that hits the sweet
Pete Bryden and Ed Cookson just followed their hearts.
There was no
roundtable discussion, no creativity by debate. They
went the route
of our animated heroes, Peter Firmin and Oliver Postgate,
of a magical valley that blends wonder and whimsy and
just a pinch of
melancholy. They conceived the stories, put together
a tiny team to
build the models and sets and they filmed them
on their own, outside
of the system, just like those perfect little small
films, constructed in
that Kentish barn. There's a mill in a magical valley,
whose wheel turns
back time to a happier point in the past, where
Dan the mill owner
can step out in to the world again, and Strange
Things Happen. What
we get aren't so much stories as magical interludes
and moments in the
valley. The biggest surprise is that it's so funny,
as Dan and his friends
Dr Naybhur and Mrs Naybhur make fresh discoveries and
valley treasures. Obviously the film makers are
aware of where their
series is coming from, they have one eye on the tv
past and the other
looking forward. Almost anything can happen in the
valley, but it all
makes sense, in a Summerton kind of way.
Alas for us, what doesn't make sense, is the fact
that most folks reading
this rundown won't ever have seen this special
series. You see, Summerton
Mill's olde worlde conception outside of the industry
meant that it didn't
and still doesn't conform to expectations. The
series appears to defy today's
schedules, and has left broadcasters scratching
their heads. What's it
about, exactly? Where can they show it? There's
no place for such
whimsy, nowadays. Teatime TV no longer exists. So it
sits on the
shelf, waiting to be discovered.
But - oh - if they would only stop and listen
to the wind, they might
hear the Oocock calling them.. the soft churn
of the mill wheel, and
Mousey-tongue purring contentedly.. and they
might see that lush green
valley properly, at last, with its blue skies
overhead and its soft breeze that
tussles the hair and whispers funny magic in your ear...
If you air it... they will come!...
- Gerry Anderson's New Captain Scarlet (2005)
This is here because it aimed so very high. This
is here because it tried
so damned hard to reinvent the wheel. This is
here because it was not only
one of the very best animated shows on tv in the
Noughties, it was one of best
tv shows, period. The fact that it fell short,
so near, yet so far from universal
greatness is not the show's fault. It's not
Gerry Anderson's fault, not the
writers, directors or animators. No, the reason
this show has been all-but
consigned to the tv bargain bin is because ITV dropped
the ball so
spectacularly and because the media at large failed
to grab all that
potential and run with it. Woe, for what could
have been, folks.
If you think The Hound is exaggerating, just you
go and dust down that
second series DVD box set. Go on. Go and watch episodes
"Dominion" and "Grey Skulls".
This is fabulous sci-fi tv, streets ahead of
"Dr Who". And unlike that BBC
re-imagining, Captain Scarlet was never afraid
of its genre. It embraced it wholeheartedly, and
packed one heck of a
sci-fi punch in to its 22mins adventures. Sure,
five years on, some of the
first season graphics have lost their sheen, but
the stories they tell are still
rock-solid and the show's central theme of subterfuge
and terror from an
an unseen enemy are still coldly relevant here
All we had to do was to look beyond its animated roots.
That's all. But we
couldn't. The ITV schedulers couldn't, because
they completely failed to get
their heads around the maturity of this series. Gerry
Scarlet demanded a peak-time Saturday slot. Perhaps they still
had Mr Bean on
their mind when they were weighing up their options?
Whatever the reasoning, ITV got cold feet. They
simply let the show
get hacked to pieces and dropped in amongst the
cacophony of a needy kids magazine show, where
every sentence had
to be shouted IN CAPITALS. And what's more, the media
at large failed
us all as well, because they too insisted on treating
this is as just
another toon series. After all, cartoons are for kids,
Recently, The Hound has been feasting on some
thrilling and inspiring
anime films and series. Paprika,
the sublime Mushi-Shi push
the boundaries of fantasy and sci-fi
storytelling. The fact that they happen to be
animated is irrelevant.
These are sophsticated productions, with complex
themes and some
adult situations which utilise their animated
environments to further
their scope. And Gerry Anderson's reimagined series
alongside them on The Hound's DVD shelf. And if
it had just been given
the right chance, we could be talking about a
whole slate of similar
superior UK animated series on air, or en route to
our screens as you
read this. Oh, yes indeed. Woe, for what
could have been.
Darnit. Woe for what should have been!...
- Peppa Pig (2004) / The Koala Brothers (2003)
Yes, yes, so we're cheating. Our number four spot
is a split-vote
between the best new preschool toons of the Noughties.
Hound simply couldn't slip a cigarette paper between
them, so we're
going with the notion that the former is the very
best of the 2D
preschool offerings, whilst its compatriot is
its stop-motion equivalent.
Well, alright, it's still cheating. And we'll
have to apologise to the parents
offended by that smoking analogy. But now we have
the chance to celebrate
two top shows for the price of one. And it's also
the perfect place for us
to talk about the preschool genre in general.
Now, if you've read the
rest of this Top Ten rundown, you'd be forgiven for
thinking that The Hound
has something of a vendetta against the whole
preschool thing. But he
doesn't. Honest. It's just that here in the UK,
we seem to have fallen into
the trap of putting all our animation eggs into
this one basket, though it's
easy to see why. Preschool toons can earn big bucks,
if you get 'em right.
And if you're one of the big rights holders, with
all those big overheads,
they're just perfect for raising your stock and
bringing home the moolah
for your hungry, hungry investors. And if
the end of that last sentence
sounds like a game, that's because it is. It's
actually a very expensive
game, and if it goes wrong you can bring your
whole house of cards
crashing down around you. Preschool toons can
be great. But there
are also a great many of them that just pass this
viewer by as he channel
hops. They kind of merge into one singular gang of
the same old hurdles to overcome. However in the
Frank and Buster stood out from the crowd rather
has been an oinking, squealing triumph, hasn't it? Go on.
Try watching this show with a straight face. Peppa,
and their animal pals snort and snigger their
way through their
mini-big-adventures and you just can't help giggling
along with them.
It was quite inspired to have a young lead character
actually voiced by a
child of around the same age. Or rather, it was
an inspiration back
in 2004. And - oh - the timing of the thing is just
There are some full-term pregnant pauses here,
usually just before
Peppa's brother George bursts into tears, or Peppa
a hissy fit. And that's another wonderful thing
about this show. The
triumvirate of Astley Baker Davies have embraced
all the ups and
downs of childhood. The fun and frolics go hand in
hand with the tears
and tantrums. When these elements are married to those
characters, jigging through frame - snort! - it's
The Koala Brothers
have also captured this viewer's attention, and
affection. There's that big bright Outback setting,
for starters, and
that skiffling theme song that accompanies Frank
and Buster, as they
take to the skies in their buzzing biplane, looking
for folks to help.
The antipodean animals make a delightful change
from all those
so-familiar garden gangs and woodland pals. Ned's
an unsure delight,
who just needs a little confidence boost, now
and again. And young
Mitzi, with her big glasses and sun dress and flip-flops,
is as cute
as a button. The originality even extends to the
voicetrack, with all those
Down Under accents. Back in the day, when The
Hound and his wife
were operating their now defunct web store ToonsToGo.com,
Buster's arrival sent the shop's profits soaring
to the sky. Demand
for the tie-in toys was a real eye-opener. And
in a funny way, their
success opened our eyes to the failings of the
UK's preschool licensing
business, in general, which was simply not geared up
to react to the market
with the immediacy that was required. We didn't
have the clout to buy
direct from the manufacturers, and thus were left
at the mercy
of their resellers and middlemen who just weren't
geared towards such
targeted purchasing. But we're digressing. Never
mind The Hound's woes,
Spellbound Entertainment and Famous Flying Films
flew so high with this
Noughties series. And the fact that they're sharing
this number four spot
with Peppa Pig and co. seems to be quite appropriate.
They're here to help,
and all that...
- The Secret Show (2006)
Zowee. Here we are now, commencing The Hound's
rundown of the
Big Five toons of the Noughties, and it's Collingwood
multi-coloured zap, bang, pow spy series which has
chopped its way into the number five spot.
It really was a fantastic decade for Tony Collingwood
O'Hare. Animal Stories,
Gordon the Garden Gnome and Yoko!
won them many fans, and industry plaudits, and
indeed the latter of these productions had this number
five slot in
its grasp... until Victor Volt and Anita Knight abseiled
and stole the trophy!
Show is an all-out action-packed homage that takes its cue
from Danger Man and James Bond. It's just lots of fun,
Bad Guys and Super Villains galore, and fluffy pink
bunnies to boot.
It's a series that consistently catches your eye, when
ever it's broadcast.
Seriously, next time you're in your local Currys or
Comet, look how the
heads turn when this crashes on to the tv screens.
It's bright and shouty
Actually, this series grabbed The Hound's attention
even before it was
broadcast, when a black, bomb-like-box of promotional
in the post. The Hound was wanted by U.Z.Z. to join
the fight against
T.H.E.M. with Victor, Anita, Professor Professor and
It was a call that was hard to resist. The Spy
Vs Spy battle has been
raged online too, via a fantastic BAFTA-winning web
site from Complete
Control, which was one of the first tie-in sites
to properly embrace
the potential of the web.
The thing is, we don't really "do" the
whole action-toon thing, here in
the UK. It was never really part of our scheduling.
We let the Yanks fill
the void, whilst we created little whimsical worlds
and went on to
perfect the preschool genre. And, boy, we are
seriously good at that.
Our preschool stars already receive ample attention
from the media. It's one
the reasons The Hound has avoided some of the
more obvious candidates in
this rundown. That, and the fact that there's
a certain familiarity about
a number of them. Oh yes, they're beautifully
made, but the same writers
and voice artistes are often passed from toon to toon.
to tread the same water.
But "The Secret Show" is different.
It's got that big brassy Giacchino-style
theme, and all those suited agents ranging across the
screen. They even
steal an old woman's cloying sing-a-long sequence
out from under her nose.
This show's stories spin out everywhichway, as
we pursue the Bad Guys.
It's F.A.S.T., F.U.N.K.Y. and F.U.N.N.Y.and has snazzy-jazzy
all the way to the end of its credits...
Hi-ya! - Take that, all you preschool toons!
- Pedro and Frankensheep (2007)
If Frankenstein's Cat was odd, then this series
is ... well... let's just say
it drinks deep from the Well of Cartoon
Insanity. Greg and Myles McLeod,
aka The Brothers McLeod irradiated Phil Cooper's
loony toon project and
brought to life a cartoon pairing that's akin
to Animated Marmite.
You may not like it at all, but The Hound loves
its utter lunacy.
This toon is just out there - out of its head
and out on a limb - and its
scrawled, higgledy-piggledy homemade feel sits defiantly
with all the preformed preschool gloss that surrounds
it in the schedules.
This series could have leapt straight out of a
The characters look like they were doodled in
a free period and The Hound
is a sucker for mad Mr Sheep, who speaks all yokel-like.
It's Myles McLeod
channeling Justin Collins and Frank's a laboratory-born
ovine with flitting
wings, and an additional tentacle, and a pair of performing
on his forehead. No wonder he's bonkers!
Okay, now here's the important stuff. The Noughties
witnessed the arrival
of two very distinct forms of tv animation. On
the one hand, we saw how a
batch of multinational conglomerates rose to power,
swallowing up beloved
characters and spitting out "franchises"
and "platforms" that became part of
a Corporate Plan to swell stockholders' profits
and take over the world.
Cue Evil Laugh here. But away from the corridors of
power, we also saw
how the rise of affordable animation software
and technology empowered
the Little Guys. Today, you can make an animated series
in your very
own living room, should you so choose. And it feels
like The Brothers
McLeod are right at the hub of the exciting cartoon
revolution that we're
witnessing everyday on YouTube and Vimeo and on
our daily blogs
and embeds. It's so exciting.
Oh, alright, so we're wearing rose-tinted spectacles
here. It's not as
rosy in the garden as we're describing. Making
your own toons is one
thing, but actually getting them on air properly
anywhere, so's you can
make a decent return, well, that's probably harder
than ever. But we'll
stick with the dream, if you don't mind. Pedro
and his fleecy pal have
won their place in our top 10 by virtue of their complete
originality. And he loves how they inspire him
to maybe make a
mad tv toon of his own someday...
You can cue that Evil Laugh again now, if you
- Frankenstein's Cat (2007)
Gather round, kids, 'cos here we have a tail,
and a leg and an eye and
plenty more crossstitched body parts belonging
to that mismatched
moggy pal, Nine.
Cat was the first standalone toon project from Bob the
Builder's designer, Curtis Jobling, who teamed up with
puppet masters Mackinnon & Saunders, A Productions
and Kayenta to
bring us the adventures of this fly-infested cat from
a kit, knitted together
so haphazardly by his mad master that he keeps shedding
and organs everywhichway. It's an 'orrible concept,
when you think about it,
but it all works brilliantly thanks to the bright bobbled
design of the characters,
and some fearfully funny storylines, as coralled by
Alan Gilbey. Alan also
penned the series theme song, which is destined
to become a highlight of
future Pub Quizzes around the country. This spooktacular
brings us free-floating brains, giant pustulating spots
and lots of witty
underworld humour. It's a genre buff's delight, packed
with monster movie
references for those in the know. And there's even
a message buried alive
somewhere in the madness, as Nine and his outsider
try to "fit in" to the Oddsburg way of things.
Originally Nine and Lottie were to be brought to life
as stop-motion models,
but that's very hard to envisage, now that we
have this top 2D toon to view,
with its rich, inky backgrounds and action-packed
encounters. And casting
Joe Pasquale as the voice of Nine was an inspired
move. Is there a voice
any "odder" than his?
"Frankenstein's Cat" plays like an animated
Monster Fun strip. And
as regular visitors here will know, The Hound
has a ripe, oozing
softspot for this type of material. And Curtis
Jobling obviously has one,
too, because his next project is titled "Max
Helsing: Monster Hunter".
It sounds like we're going to love him
to bits, as well...
- Mr Bean: The Animated Series (2002)
What were ITV thinking? Back at the beginning
of the Noughties, the
honchos at the UK's main commercial channel decided
their very first primetime animated series, to
be aired on a Saturday
evening. Clearly, they were hoping for another
with across-the-board appeal that would get the
critics and public
squealing with delight and tuning in like mad. Only,
the project they
chose for this esteemed, groundbreaking, commission was
live-action-to-toon translation from Tiger Aspect.
Talk about going out on a limb! Tiger Aspect had
a background in
live-action production. Animation was a whole
new ball game for them.
And then there was the project itself. They were
going to adapt Rowan
Atkinson's monosyllabic buffoon into an animated character.
Now, no one
could deny that Mr Bean was a bona fide star turn
from one of our most
favoured comedians. But the success of the character
Rowan's precise and preposterous live performance.
Translating that in to
animated form was... well... it was quite a ridiculous
notion, and nigh
impossible to pull off.
But they did it. And now we have 52 triumphant
as brought to life by Tiger Aspect and their friends at Richard
Purdum Productions and Varga Holdings. Let's just
come right out and
say it, this series is fab. It's got great design,
the performance capture
is spot on, and - most importantly, even eight
years on - it's very funny
indeed. There are so many little pleasures to be had
with this one.
There's that pliny-plonky Howard Goodall theme
tune, which sets the
mood brilliantly. Mr Bean's emotive interaction
with Teddy is just
marvellous. He loves and hates that bear in equal measure.
then there are lots and lots of little in-jokes
and references for us
cartoon trainspotters to savour. Even the new characters
beautifully. Mr Bean's new girlfriend, Irma, shares
many of his
lifestyle quirks, only she's more grounded and
- well - "normal".
Mr Bean's attempts to both appease her and still
do things in his
own unique way takes his character down a clever new
Of course, there is one ironic twist in Mr Bean's
You see, this animated gem wasn't quite the hit
that ITV wanted. It was
shunted around the evening schedule, in pursuit
of viewers, before
quietly sloping off to the children's' slot (back
when ITV still had a
children's' slot). But the show had picked up some
rock solid fans.
And it's continued to accrue a fanbase on DVD,
to this day.
As for Tiger Aspect, well, this was just the start
of a most beautiful
relationship with the animation industry, and
today we have young
Charlie and Lola
sucking on awards like sweeties.
But in the beginning, there was the endearing,
Mr Bean and his put-upon Teddy!
- Fluffy Gardens (2007)
There's certainly a whiff of Roger Hargreaves
around this deceptively simple
series from Jason Tammemagi and the team at Monster
its parpling theme tune and episodes that concentrate
on an individual
character. But to pigeonhole Fluffy
Gardens as an homage, or a spoof
of the Mr Men
or Timbuctoo is to do it a complete disservice, because
Fluffy Gardens exists quite precisely in its own time
and place. And it's
a place where Paolo the clever cat and Colleen the
can co-exist quite happily alongside the likes
of Lenny the lazy octopus
and Lola the muddled mosquito.
That's right. A muddled mosquito. You won't find
that in Misterland!
In Fluffy Gardens, each fluffy creature has an
odd quirk or foible to contend
with, but there's nothing that can't be overcome with
a little help from their
friends. It's a lovely message.
You know, there's such a wonderful, sunny vibe about
this show. And
Michael Maloney brings just the right level of whimsy
and mischief to his
precise narration, with lots of little asides
to the audience that break
the Fourth Wall and invite us to chuckle at the
antics of the characters.
Fluffy Gardens has that small but perfectly-formed
feel to it, as if it's
been created outside the corporate loop, by a
team that's simply been
following their creative instincts. It's a happy
little world in a snowglobe.
Only, there's no snow. Just sun. And Fun. And
it's a place The Hound
can happily visit again and again...
- Little Red Tractor (2004)
Tenth spot on The Hound's list was a tough call
- the toughest of all, in fact,
with several top toons jostling for that coveted final
spot. So why have we gone
with Stan and
Red and the folks at Babblebrook? Well, The Hound was
finally won over by its down-on-the-farm simplicity.
You see, there are no
bells and whistles here, no High Fantasy, no cute or
crazy critters, just
honest-to-goodness everyday country folk going about
their business and
grappling with various farmyard and family dilemmas.
Which means the
accent is most definitely on the writing and production values
what has to be some of the best characterization seen
on kids' TV
during the last decade.
The folks at Little Entertainment have cleverly
pulled an "Emmerdale",
in that they've taken a rather
staid concept and dragged it in to the
Noughties with some thoroughly modern characters
and a field's worth of newfangled machinery. They've
given us a funny
and at times touching series, with a lovely soapy aspect
to it. It's
beautifully produced and animated, and voiced
too, because Derek Griffiths
and co. have been able to take their animated roles
and run with them.
Muttonchopped Stumpy is a legend in the making,
as he zips around on
his out-of-control quadbike. But he's no mere
caricature. He's been given
a lovely chiding relationship with his wife Elsie,
at Babblebrook Windmill.
Similarly, there's Jasper, Walter, and Mr Turvey
forever competing with
one another as their Better Halves look on, bemused.
And the kids
have their own ups and downs to consider, as when
moved to the farm and struggled to fit in.
Little Red Tractor may be bit of an underdog,
next to the stop-motion
juggernauts of Bob the Builder and Postman Pat,
but it's actually a
Tortoise-Hare situation, with the dependable qualities
of this series
coming to the fore. See, you don't need to go
to out on a limb with
every new toon. Sometimes good old-fashioned stories
characters is all you need. Yep, The Hound reckons
Stan and Red
are most definitely King of the Field...