The jarring nostalgia of kids' TV reboots

Feature Rob Smedley 23 Jun 2014 - 07:00

How likely is the current crop of kids' TV reboots, from Danger Mouse to The Clangers, Morph and more, to harm your childhood memories?

The period June 9th to 15th 2014 was an unpleasant raid on the collective VHS cassette memory of our youth. Not only did Eric Hill, the creator of Spot the Dog, pass away, but so too did Casey Kasem, who for forty years had been the voice of Scooby-Doo's snack wingman Shaggy. Francis Matthews, the stiff upper lip behind Captain Scarlet's stiff puppet lip, departed to be with a different angel squadron. And before that Earth lost Rik Mayall, who performed the best Jackanory ever. Sorry Prince Charles. He did.

So if you felt a part of your formative years had suddenly melted away like a Funny Feet ice cream abandoned on a see-saw, then that's perfectly normal. It's always sad and strangely personal when a childhood telly hero dies, as if a small part of your youth has died with them.

However it's an even more complicated, more jarring emotion when your Past collides with the i-Present and a part of your childhood memory is suddenly resurrected. We'll call it 'Nostal-jarr' - jarring nostalgia. And much like grief, the nostal-jarr reaction to the re-making of an old show comes in seven stages. There's Surprise, followed by Excitement, Apprehension, Scepticism, Tweeting, Re-Tweeting, and then finally Acceptance. I felt them just the other day when I saw that Funny Feet lollies were back in the freezer section after a two decade absence. On a stick or on TV, taste is cyclical.

Following in the strawberry footsteps of frozen podiatry treats from the Eighties, we've been nostal-jarring all over the place lately, as TV execs of a certain age (or whose children are of a certain age) have decided we'll buy into the past like the greedy kids we once were, and scoured their Filofaxes for the best-loved shows of yesteryear.

Should you be worried? Perhaps. Lately reboots of old favourites such as Fireman Sam, Postman Pat, and Captain Scarlet have had all the charm of a Cyberman's handshake. But what is sacrilege for today's adults is nostalgia for tomorrow's kids. So with an open mind, let's take a look at shows are returning and what their chances of destroying your childhood are. And let me know if you hear the ice cream van, and we'll pause this article and run out and get a couple of Toffee Crumbles, yeah?

 

Morph

Plasticine nudist and stop-motion stationery hassler Morph is back, and it's all thanks to you, you wonderful people. After a wildly successful Kickstarter, Aardman Animations have created fifteen new short animations that will premier on the Morph YouTube channel this summer. Made of good old fashioned clay, sweat, and probably a drop or too of real ale, it's a delightful counterpoint to the other techno-obessed reboots occurring. The only way it could be better is if Tony Hart were still alive to interrupt and show you Timmy from Basildon's watercolour of a cat stuck in a rosebush. Al together now with The Noveltones' Left Bank Two: 'Doo-dee-doo-dee-doo-dee-doo...'

Chances of ruining your childhood memories: Zero. It's Aardman, it's Morph, it's free. Your childhood remains as intact as a lovely big lump of clay. This might be even better than the originals. The only downside will likely be any 'Skip this ad >|' intrusion.

 

Teletubbies

It's not known exactly when Tinky-Winky, Dipsy, La-La, and Po will return, but when Teletubbies does, according to exec producer Maddy Darrell, it will feature CGI and be given 'technological sparkle to match the viewing expectations of a new generation'.

What expectations does a three year old have? It's a shame that people think technological sparkle is what keeps kids' attention. I remember watching Fingerbobs and being enthralled by what was essentially just a man wearing a series of Etsy-ready gloves. They'd probably airbrush Yoffy out now, the bastards.

Mind you, given that the Teletubbies lived in an eco-friendly habitat to shelter them from the burning gaze of a main sequence star baby head; owned a robotic hoover, a complex artificial carbohydrate manufacturing system, and, in a feat of techno-ergonomics that Google can only dream of, possessed wireless screens in their stomachs on which they could Netflix all of human life, perhaps a pixel brush-up is in order. Tinky-Winky's handbag might even get 4G.

Chances of ruining your childhood memories: It doesn't sound like there'll be any departure from before. Besides, you'll probably have been too young, too tired from parenting, or too stoned to properly remember it the first time anyway.

 

Danger Mouse

The Internet treated news of a Danger Mouse return with a level of disgust you imagine would normally be reserved for if Simon Cowell ever attempted to exhume Queen Victoria with a view to using her as a Britain's Got Talent judge. Crumbs!

Let's look at this rationally. Pros are that series co-creator Brian Cosgrove has signed off on it; one of the Horrible Histories writers, Ben Ward, will be on scripting duties; and DM will still have his HQ in a red PO letterbox, LOL. Cons are that it won't feature David Jason's vocal talents, and will certainly be so shiny as to lack any of the scribbly charm of the hand-drawn original. That doesn't mean it'll be terrible, just a different take on a character.

What is worrying though, is that its producers say it has been 'brought up to date'. Because having a flying car clearly isn't up to date enough for what Freemantle cringingly call 'today's tech-savvy and content-hungry kids'. Or as they're otherwise known, 'kids'. Kids have always been tech-savvy and content-hungry. And again, it wasn't technology that made Danger Mouse fun, it was the irreverent humour. That's not stopped them giving Danger Mouse a gadget-packed 'iPatch', because everything has to have an 'I' in front of it to be culturally relevant these days. Any rumours that Penfold will be played by a /r/sidekick subreddit are entirely made up. By me.

Chances of ruining your childhood memories: CBBC have had great form of late, so I'm going to be optimistic here and bet that it'll be a decent effort let down only by its need to appear relevant to the tablet generation.

 

Powerpuff Girls

It feels like Blossom, Bubbles, and Buttercup have never gone away, perhaps because of constant re-runs and comic books, and a couple of specials in recent years. But the world can always use more sugar and spice and Chemical X. That's what Cartoon Network is counting on.

It hasn't yet been announced if the show's creator Craig McCracken is onboard (he had no input in the 2014 feature release of Powerpuff Girls: Dance Pantsed), nor has it been made clear whether it will follow the hand-drawn style of the 1998-2005 episodes, or whether it will go with the new computer generated style shown in the 2014 special. I quite liked the new animation, but judging by many comments, ardent viewers prefer the traditional look and are prepared to yell at YouTube as though something could be done about it.

Chances of ruining your childhood memories: Slim to none. Only if Mojo Jojo does not appear will this be considered a failure. Probably no need to bring Ringo Starr back though after his appearance/song in Dance Pantsed. Much peace and love Ringo.

 

Thunderbirds Are Go!

Thunderbirds is old enough now for three generations to have watched it as children. That's a lot of people to disappoint with a bad remake. But bear in mind that before his death creator Gerry Anderson was on the record as wanting an updated Thunderbirds. Thunderbirds Are Go! might well be Anderson's wishes come true.

Next year - fifty years after the original episodes aired in SUPERMARIONATION (Explosions!) -  twenty-six new adventures will air on CITV, made by the do-no-wrong special effect's whizzes at Weta Workshop's Pukeko Pictures and written by Rob Hoegee, who's previously worked on Ben 10 and Teen Titans. Add to that a solid voice cast, including Rosamund Pike as Lady Penelope, Kayvan Novak as Brains, and best of all, David Graham reprising his voice duties as Parker, and things are starting to look very F.A.B indeed.

So there'll be no strings, so what? We didn't tune in to look at threads. We wanted to see action, and adventure, close-ups of real people's hands, The Hood shouting 'KYRANO!', and something cool emerging from Thunderbird 2's belly. Ideally The Mole. I loved The Mole.

Chances of ruining your childhood memories: Having fed all the data into the Cham-Cham, I actually think this could be something special. Nothing that can rival the imagination and hard work of the Gerry Anderson series, but something that may renew everyone's – young and old - love of Thunderbirds. Break out that Blue Peter papier-mache Tracy Island! Can I come play at yours? Mine never set.

 

The Clangers

In talking about the return of The Clangers, CBeebies controller Kay Benbow openly referenced the nostalgia factor, and promised 'we always think very carefully about remakes or re-imaginings'. Good start, and one backed up by five million Earth pounds, which have been poured, like currency broth from the Soup Dragon's ladle, into a co-production cauldron with the US pre-school channel Sprout. Pounds five million. That could buy you an awful lot of blue string pudding.

But really money is of no sway here. The Clangers was made on the budget of a sixpence and, as with all of Oliver Postgate's works, the intergalactic whistling sock mice felt delightfully  home-made; that was their charm. Watching an episode was like seeing something that a kindly uncle had made for you in his shed and filmed with his old JVC compact, just for your next visit. It made you feel loved. No amount of money can replicate that sensation.

Chances of ruining your childhood memories: It's difficult to see how they'll capture any of the original magic Oliver Postgate imbued the show with, but if they stick to the original spirit, it should be enough to melt even the rustiest heart in the most curmudgeonly Iron Chicken. Melt it like a Funny Feet lolly abandoned on a – oh I've already done that simile.

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