< Lights go out >
PENFOLD: Aargh! What’s going on?
DM : I don’t know, I’m a bit in the dark myself! Stay close.
< Bump >
DM : Not that close.
< Swishing, dragging noise >
DM : Penfold?
P : Yes?
DM : Pick your feet up.
P : If I do that, I’ll fall over.
DM : Oh good grief, Penfold. I mean don’t
make that dragging sound.
< Sound continues >
DM : Penfold, why are you holding my hand?
P : I was just going to ask you that.
DM : And take those silly fur gloves off!
What great dialogue! No, I mean it. You see, it’s one thing to fill a cartoon with visual jokes and impossible coincidences, but in their absence your characters sound like they’re just talking to each other. Unless, of course, your lines are brilliant and delivered with the timing and loveable excess of, say, David Jason and Terry Scott! No go back and read the “script” again and see what I mean! Even better, do it with a friend.
After that rather oblique introduction, you are probably wondering why I consider the “Danger Mouse” series (originally called “Danger Mouse to the Rescue”) to be among the best cartoons made. Not technically flash or thought provoking perhaps, but with that quality that marks out only the great cartoons – universality. All ages and all backgrounds find DM entertaining. This is probably why Thames TV, who bought all the programs, insisted on showing it at 5 o’clock or earlier so that it missed the huge (cult) audience it should have attracted. I went to a Cosgrove Hall afternoon presentation around the time that their next major undertaking (“The Wind in the Willows”) was in full swing. The audience was, er, a little older than I expected! Looking at the scripts and storyboards, my initial impression was of a cartoon made on a low budget (most of the cost was hiring David Jason for the sound takes) and with whatever resources were at hand (like the xeroxed London panoramas from colour supplements or taping a friend’s souped up Mini blasting round Chorlton). It was obvious that the exceedingly small team thoroughly enjoyed working on DM and that they did what made them laugh. Considering that there was no money to paper over any “dull” bits with deep backgrounds, FX or animation trickery (cf. any Japanese product bar “Akira”), this is what, in the final analysis, makes it all work. And why not (Sorry Barry!).
The storyboards were amazing! Every box and every caption was funny. There was a spontaneous quality about the jokes that made them fall off the page. Like the Pirate King whose singing mates are driving him nuts; “Last time I picks up a crew in Penzance”, or the idiot narrator who sounds like a moonlighting cricket commentator; “Will Danger Mouse and Penfold come round in time to save the world, or will you get lucky!”. Only a fool would consider this a “children’s program”.
Then why am I surrounded by fools? DM certainly doesn’t take itself seriously, and the plots are more versatile than ‘Road Runner’! Watch carefully and you will discover you are laughing at some very subtle satire. Who is the target? Naturally, the English and their public schools, respect for authority, honour and fair play, viewed as if by the child in each of us. The first appearance of Count Duckula, the Hammer vampire duck with a speech impediment, is nothing less than Daffy Duck in a green cape. But where Daffy would do just about anything to get his hands on a million bucks, Count Duckula wants to be on television! Naturally, he is upstaged by Yorick’s skull while reciting Hamlet’s soliloquy…
I was going to expound my theory that DM owes less to Disney than to Monty Python, but with lines like “try Superman – Wednesday is his day off”, a mickey take (sorry!) that only the English would ever find funny, who cares?
So what does our Monocular Mouse, the World’s Greatest Secret Agent, resident of a five bed semi-detached pillar-box in Mayfair actually DO? Well, when he’s not fighting the rotter Baron Silas von Greenback and his evil scheme to reduce the world’s population of elephants into sugarcubes, receiving mumbled orders on the videophone from Agent 57 (Colonel K), swapping puns with a prune juggling vampire parrot or saying “Penfold, shush”, he is probably making mushroom pizza.
If this sounds like a lot of fun, well it is! And if you haven’t seen it, shame on you! Have I made a fool of myself writing this? [No more than normal – The Ed.] Well, if the editor can write serious articles on Sybil Danning… If you’ve got a brown Florence Nightingale sometime, you might like to know that there are three Danger Mouse videos! You’re just going to have to hang around the Childrens’ Section (ho ho). Plug. Plug (plug) plug, plug…
Time for some more dialogue…
DM : I think this clock is some sort of time machine!
P : Er, DM, a clock IS a time machine.
DM : Not that sort of time machine, the sort that takes you THROUGH time.
P : Oh, like that Doctor.
DM : Who?
P : Can’t remember.