The Gruffalo (2009)

2009 #89a
Max Lang & Jakob Schuh | 27 mins | TV

The GruffaloJulia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler children’s book The Gruffalo was a bit after my time but, I’m told, is incredibly popular with The Youth Of Today (not the ones that hang out on street corners earning ASBOs, obviously). It’s certainly a pleasant read, with rhythmic poetry and the kind of repetition that allows children to join in with ease, but it’s also quite short — fine for a children’s book, but not so good for attempting a screen adaptation of any length.

Having turned down numerous offers for feature-length versions, Donaldson accepted the half-hour short film treatment. Thank God she did, because even at under 30 minutes there’s some padding in evidence. There’s a brief bookend narrative featuring some squirrels, plus a leisurely pace throughout that takes in the scenery and wildlife of the forest world these character inhabit. Seeing a segment in isolation the film can look far too slow, with uncomfortably long pauses between each line of the original verse. As a whole, however, the viewer settles into its style and it rarely if ever feels forced.

The CG animation is well pitched. The textures and style at times left me wondering if the film was actually stop-motion animation, and consequently it carries the warm, cosy, intimate feel that such productions achieve and CGI almost universally fails at (even from Pixar). Whether it was the intention to emulate claymation or just a side effect, it’s certainly more effective than the work on Flushed Away, Aardman’s first CG outing that deliberately set out to look like their traditional stop-motion.

The voicework is equally spot on. John Hurt sounds fabulous in anything, Rob Brydon’s vocal changeability lends appropriate sibilance to the snake, it’s difficult to imagine anyone other than Robbie Coltrane providing the monsterly tones of the titular beast, and even James Corden fits as the mouse. Tom Wilkinson and Helena Bonham Carter also do fine work, meaning there’s not a weak link among them.

Despite being primarily aimed at kids — who hopefully won’t struggle too much with the languid pace — the very listenable poetry of the text and hand-made look of the visuals provide much for older children and adults to enjoy as well. Super.

4 out of 5

The Gruffalo can still be seen on the BBC iPlayer until 7:29pm today. It is also available in HD.

(Originally posted on 2nd January 2010.)

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