Monday, 19 June 2017

Cartoon Capers: Dennis the Menace

So, in the last post - technically a cross-post of my Goodreads review but it counts - I mentioned that I had re-watched the Dennis the Menace cartoon that had been aired during the 1990s. Most of this is available on DVD now, but trying to find it can be a right pest. Not the point. The point is this: I thought I would look back and try to document (in my own way) the various television adaptations that the King of Menaces has had. Right? Here we go then.

1. The Dennis the Menace and Gnasher Show: (1990-1991, CiTV/The Children's Channel)
This one is an odd beast as, as far as I can tell, it was never actually a show, more sort of ... linking segments between different shows, that occasionally got their own plot-line. This was the first version of Dennis to hit the telly, predating The Beano Video by a couple of years. Except... this one wasn't a cartoon, but rather puppet animation, and fantastic looking puppets at that!

Seriously, those puppets perfectly match the comic art of the time, and really fit with my personal mental image of the look of the characters from memory. Now, this one first aired when I was just born, so I don't actually have any memories of it. Research tells me that it aired on The Children's Channel, which was available via Sky. Which... not many people in the UK had back then, so I don't actually know how wide reaching the audience was. Further research shows that some awesome person has managed to find about 7 episodes of the thing and upload them to youtube. Having watched all these episodes I can say that for a first attempt this was actually a really solid effort for bringing Dennis to the screen. 

I can't help but wonder what's happened to the puppets since. It'd be cool to see them re-used for something. And before we move on, here's a really awesome interview with the writer of this show! Like I said, this version is a curious beast but it's worth having a look at. Definitely a lot more fun than I thought it would be. 

2. The Beano Video (Beano All-Stars for DVD release) (1993)
The first version I ever remember seeing, this was an hour long video that had a lot of different short cartoons based around certain Beano stars. Dennis, Gnasher, Gnipper, Minnie the Minx, the Bash Street Kids, and the Three Bears all take centre-stage in this particular adaptation. It's released marked 55 years of the comic and was really the first time many of the characters appeared in an animated form. It plays out more like a comic, really, with short funny stories that have different plots but nothing really to connect them all together. 

The opening sequence is of the characters breaking their way through comic panels to annoy each other and it's really fun. I remember wishing as a kid that the stories had been more like that - all the characters interacting with other. Those longer stories that did that had always been my favourite thing in the comics, and especially in the annuals. Side note: I really should try to talk about Mike Pearse. He did some of the best long stories in the comics and is still one of my favourite artists for it. 

All in all, it's okay. Nothing too special, nothing too bad. It's a delight to see Minnie and the Bash Street Kids in animation, even if I'm still a bit confused as to why the Three Bears are there. It's on youtube, but the DVD is easily found. It was followed up the next year by...

3. Beano Video Stars (1994)
More of the same, really. The framing device this time was of all of the stars going to the cinema for the premiere of their movie. As far as I can remember, the only real addition was some shorts from Ivy the Terrible. Not bad, but it would have been cool to have some Roger the Dodger. And yet again I still don't have my wish for an animation that has the characters interacting with each other. It won't happen - the talks of an actual movie have been happening for years with no real progress - but a Beano fan can dream.

4. Dennis and Gnasher (1996, CBBC)
This is the version I remember best of all! It was just so much fun. Okay, so looking back on it I know it's not a perfect cartoon but nostalgia rules and Dennis and Gnasher was just so much of my childhood that it feels weird that it still isn't aired. In this version they did try to make it seem like Dennis was less of a bully, by making Walter a bit more of a conniving little so and so instead of just soft. I'll be honest? It actually worked and this was in the comics as well prior to the show coming around. 

The show started in '96, but it must have been going until at least '99, or thereabouts because I remember that Bea made her first appearance in the comic but it was too late to add her to the show because animation production had essentially finished. Which was a shame really, but this is a good example of pre-Bea Dennis and how he operated. Even now the instrumental theme opening is stuck in my head and it's still something that I don't mind rewatching occasionally. Plus the Dennis here did match the comic art a little better. More than I can say for the next one...

5. Dennis and Gnasher (2009/2013, CBBC)

The way this was titled, you'd think it was just a continuation of the earlier cartoon but no, this was a reboot. That continued over into the comics. And then was rebooted - albeit softer - in 2013 to make Dennis more of a menace. How un-menace was he in the 2009 version? ... Well, I actually am finding it a bit hard to find episodes online of the 2009 version, though they are out on DVD. It's not even that it's bad, it's just that Dennis wasn't very ... well, Dennis. So they changed it and brought it back in 2013 to be more like the comic

Now, here's a fun thing. Like I said, they did reboot the comic - sort of - for this. Official line in the comic now is that this Dennis is the son of the Dennis from the 1980s! Mum and Dad are younger looking because.. well, they are younger than the Mum and Dad. (Some fans theorise that this Mum - red-headed - may actually be an adult Minnie, due to a flash-forward art in one of the Dennis annuals that showed the pair getting married. Again just a theory. According to the Beano website, currently Dennis and Minnie are cousins. Though it also says Minnie has five brothers and we've never seen them sooo.... Yeah, take it as you please.) The 2013 version is actually kind of alright, but I still feel like there's an edge missing now. Like a bite has been taken out of it. 

Theme tune is cool though.

6. Dennis and Gnasher: Unleashed! (2017, CBBC)
This is the newest version, and will make the first time any of the Beano characters have been portrayed in CGI. As of this writing, it hasn't aired yet, all we know is that it's due out later this year. I'm going to assume it'll be roughly when the schools start for the new school year. As we can see from the art, Dennis has been aged up a little - I'm guessing he's probably about 12 instead of 9 or 10 - and the design is ... well, it's different. I'm still not sure how to take it. Animation does actually look quite nice, though, thanks to the small sneak peak available on the official Beano youtube channel

I don't know how this one is going to go, and I don't want to go and try to make any guesses either. I'll report back once it's started but it looks like it'll be interesting, that's the least I can say. Maybe - though I doubt it - my hopes will be answered and this will follow The Diary of Dennis the Menace by having appearances from other Beano characters?

Probably not, but I can hope.  

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