It’s Saturday morning, I’ve woken up early, and in front of me are ten discs (that’s over 20 hours…) of one of the greatest cartoons ever made: Dangermouse. My childhood dream has finally been fulfilled, and, thanks to the included never before seen special features, then some. As a long time advocate of the brilliance of children’s TV, I’m very pleased to be able to view this slice of British brilliance, and great mile stone in the history of cartoons, restored by Freemantle Media Enterprises to its correct screening order and entirety.
Dangermouse is the epitome of the children’s spy comedy; recounting the many many escapades of its eponymous eye-patch and turtleneck wearing super agent mouse and his always trusted (to mess up) assistant Penfold. Each episode sees the pair thwarting the plans of the villainous toad Baron Silas Greenback or other archenemies Doctor Augustus P. Crumhorn III and Count Duckula.
Above all, what gave Dangermouse its iconic status is the quality and style of its humour. Whilst its premise is that of a spy spoof, such a parodical source is barely invoked, instead it scores laughs through its self-aware, ludicrous and sometimes subdued form of comedy. The inherent Britishness of its main characters was definitely always a reliable gag resource, resulting in nearly every second line being a priceless gem designed to send you into hysterics. It gets very silly sometimes, as any children’s show tends to do, but its cult adult fan base demonstrates there’s an extra level of intelligence behind it all, from the narrator’s occasional breaking of the fourth wall, the ridiculous nature of Greenback’s Earth conquering plans, to ever y single utterance of Dangermouse’s catchphrase ‘good grief…’ (Charlie Brown can go suck it).
What else championed the TV show was the superb casting. David Jason provides the voices for Dangermouse, the narrator and Count Duckula (though, for the latter, this was before the character was re-written for his spin-off show, thus he has an annoying Daffy Duck lisp). As pointed out by the original producers he didn’t simply read a script in a silly voice; he became the character. This was at the start of ‘Only Fools and Horses’ so there was no ego behind the role like in so many animated films today; just one man doing a stiff upper lip and keeping the straight man funny. Alongside him was ‘Carry On’ Star Terry Scott as Penfold. Whilst occasionally his high pitch may irritate, he speaks the lines with such energy and whimsy so well they fit, suiting the part of a mole in a fitted suit perfectly.
Dangermouse’s only real flaw comes with age. Back in its time it was full of cost cutting measures to ensure each 10 minute episode came to fruition, and whilst you could give it a pass in a time when British animation was still finding its legs, nowadays the standard has risen so much higher it just doesn’t flow at a speed a newcomer would be comfortable with, even in its later seasons. This is not an excuse to remake it as some CGI abomination, but just a note that mainly Dangermouse fans will get the most out this release.
This is something Free Mantle have accounted for though by including ‘Dangermouse and Friends’, a featurette that recounts the elaborative and exciting process Cosgrove Hall went through to bring to life Dangermouse, alongside other shows like Jamie and the Magic Torch and The Wind and The Willows.
It’s a near perfect blend of daft one-liners and antics, brought together through timeless performances from a vocally gifted cast, and whilst it’s animation may not be as timeless, it has still survived to this day as a true classic, one that can now be viewed in its full length glory….”Shut up Penfold!”
Words > Graham Ashton