From Charlie Brown and The Snowman to Wallace and Gromit and Robbie the Reindeer, there’s long been a place at the heart of the Christmas telly schedules for some kids’ cartoonery. This year, the BBC served up The Gruffalo, a charming little animation based on the 1999 book by writer Julia Donaldson.
At the heart of The Gruffalo is a small mouse (voiced by Gavin and Stacey star James Corden), who encounters various predators as he takes a stroll through the deep, dark wood in which he lives. In an effort to persuade them not to gobble him up, our small hero tells tall tales of a fictional beast, The Gruffalo, who seems like every hungry forest animal’s worst nightmare. However, as the mouse continues on his journey, he learns that nightmares sometimes come true…
As is probably the case with some other people reading this, I’d never heard of The Gruffalo until it popped up in BBC One’s Christmas Day schedule. And I can’t help but feel that I’ve missed out, to an extent; while the film’s main target audience is very clearly young (pre-school) children, with its charming use of rhyming and repetition, the story of a little mouse who has nought but a big imagination with which to protect himself is a timeless one that can be appreciated by young and old alike. It is also one which, at 27 minutes, never outstays its welcome.
It helps, of course, that the makers of The Gruffalo have managed to pull together a very impressive voice cast. Helena Bonham-Carter adopts a suitably fairytale tone as the motherly narrator of the piece, while John Hurt, Tom Wilkinson and Rob Brydon all put in brilliantly creepy (yet different) turns as the owl, the fox and the snake, all of whom would just as soon devour the mouse as look at him.
But, quite rightly, the show belongs to James Corden and Robbie Coltrane; Coltrane plays the fearsome Gruffalo with all the relish you’d expect, while Corden puts in possibly the finest performance of his career, presenting a mouse you can’t help but love as his tall tales become ever taller and more audacious.
The Gruffalo also, frankly, looks amazing. Combining CGI animation and model work, a lot of work has clearly gone into making this cartoonish fantasy come to life. I watched the show on a 14″ portable television, and it looked wonderful enough on that, but I would urge HD-enabled viewers to try and catch it in high definition, as the level of detail and depth of colour apparent on even my most basic apparatus suggests that this is a true visual treat. Not only that, but there’s a real sense of humour and character laced into the animation, from the cowardice of the fox upon hearing about the Gruffalo to the mouse’s sly expression as he devises his plan to escape the Gruffalo.
The Gruffalo is an utterly charming piece of magic that truly deserved its pride of place in the Christmas Day schedules, and it’s hard not to love no matter how old or young you are. And if you didn’t find yourself shouting along at the screen (“Doesn’t he know? There’s no such thing as a Gruffalo!”) by the end of it, then I’ll eat my very festive hat.