Friday, May 19, 2006


There's a type of cartoon for children's television being made at the moment that focuses on ordinary people doing ordinary things in an ordinary way. Sometimes, the ordinary people doing ordinary things are portrayed as animals. This brings an element of surrealism to the cartoon, without diverging too radically from the idea that nothing too exciting should happen to the characters over the fifteen or twenty minutes that it takes the show to end. The idea is not to scare the children: or, to put it another way, not to offend the parents.

It's all a bit silly, really, because there's nothing more anarchic than animation. Animation can do all the things that other filmmakers can't; it can go from one side of the world to the other in a few strokes of the pen just as easily as go from one side of the universe to the other.

Jakers: The Adventures of Piggley Winks - which is showing on the ABC, Mondays to Fridays from 9.00am at the moment - is not completely free of these annoying conventions, but at least it manages to have some fun with them. The main character is a piglet -

- Piggley Winks, obviously. Check out that knitted cardigan!

One of the other conventions in cartoons is that the characters will never change, never get better, never get worse, and never advance in any way. Which is good for dramatic continuity, but can after a while make for a boring type of show. Jakers turns this on its head, for one thing; the show begins and ends with a Grandpa Piggley - in fact, the same Piggley in the modern world - telling stories to his two grandchildren about his own childhood, fifty years ago. So we know before he even starts telling the story that things have changed. And it's usually established fairly early on in the program that he's a bit of a liar, as well, so we know that he's going to exaggerate the story in some places. This level of character development, in itself, is unusual for cartoons.

Piggley is usually seen with his two friends - Ferny (a cow), and Dannan (a duck). Piggley's world is not just multicultural, it's multi-species. And bizarrely, all the different animals are the same size. The 'adventures' that they get up to aren't that adventurous, but are made more entertaining by the interplay of the characters; Piggley is resourceful and impulsive; Ferney, easygoing and gentle; Dannin, shrewd, but up for a good time.
Piggley lives on a farm, and this allows the producers to introduce another surreal element. The other animals on the farm - cows and sheep - are portrayed like ordinary farm animals; not like children or adults. Or, not quite: when Piggley and his friends are not around, bizarrely, the head-ram of the sheep stands up and begins to speak to his flock. This sheep is voiced by Mel Brooks! He alternately lectures and hectors his flock, trying to encourage them into various self-improving activities. In one bizarre program*, he decides to dye the wool of all of the other sheep so that his flock will be easier on the eye, or something. (It's hard to keep up with his train of thought, but hey, he is Mel Brooks after all. It's difficult to not like a sheep with those sort of credentials.) Finally, in a short, surreal segment, the entire flock of sheep have had their coats dyed, and dance around, ballet style, to the tune of Tschaikovsky's Dance of the Flowers from his Nutcracker suite.

Every episode is rounded off with some kind of moral, relating to the story that Piggley has told his grandchildren. You know, 'Hard work is its own reward', that kind of thing. But the producers even deal with this subversively; because, as Piggley says to his parents at the end of one episode, 'Oh no! I'm never going to make that mistake again! From now on, all my mistakes are going to be brand new ones!'

That's rather a good moral. I think we should all try to live up to that. From now on, let's make all our mistakes brand new ones!

*ie: The one I saw today !

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

umofltJakers is very refreshing cartoon comparing to the other that can be seen on TV. To most of the today's children seening what life on farm is, is an advature itself.
I and my family enjoy this every evening - PBS Kids Sprout shows as part of Good Night Show.
It is great change from Dora and other characters.

Email: timhtrain - at -

eXTReMe Tracker

Blog Archive