Friday, 10 March 2017

Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes

You know the drill. At Christmastime, British TV drowns us in ‘event animation’. Ever since the good old days of Raymond Briggs’ The Snowman and Father Christmas, it seems to have been an unwritten competition ever since to match the quality of these classics. 2016 came close with We’re Going On A Bear Hunt and the television premiere of the recent adaptation of Briggs’ Ethel & Ernest – which, despite having had a cinema release earlier in the year, will always be in my heart as a Christmastime watch now. But we were also given a 2-part adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes.

Brought to us by the same animation team of recent adaptations of The Gruffalo and Stick Man, Revolting Rhymes certainly looks rather beautiful in its simplicity. Bright block colours, simple shapes, little detail – but charming for viewers both young and old. That being said, it also felt like sacrilege. Iconic illustrator Quentin Blake has always crafted the look of a Dahl work on paper, so why change to something so different? I’m all for giving the works a fresh and personal touch, but while this does look charming, it doesn’t feel like Dahl – and isn’t Dahl’s look part of the charm? Blake’s memorable illustrations will always be the correct look for these works and to take these away is like changing the words too. They should’ve adapted another author’s work if they were so intent on using this animation style.

The basic premise of Revolting Rhymes is a selection of classic fairytales reworked with humorous verse, which allows for a quick pace as it’s really just a selection of short films. It makes for very simple and entertaining viewing – if you’re young. For adults, the substance here isn’t particularly meaty. Although the book could bring you a laugh during the Cinderella reworking which used the word ‘slut’. Complaints from the public saw the end of that though. To quote The IT Crowd; “People. What a bunch of bastards.” But yes, narratively this adaptation – and of course, the book itself – is very minimalist. It’s a bedtime story, at the end of the day.

The voices were delightfully predictable for this sort of adaptation – Rob Brydon, David Walliams, Dominic West and Tamsin Grieg, to name a few – and they all brought a little bit of charm to the proceedings. But nobody really stood out as; it seemed like they just turned up, said the lines, took the paycheck and moved on. But hey, if it was that easy to make a few quid for Christmas I’d do it every year. Who wouldn’t?

Something about this adaptation just didn’t click for me though. While the festive works of Raymond Briggs have always been as much for adults as for children, this seemed to be made entirely for the short attention span youngsters who just want to see bright colours and silly jokes. Yes, the animation was rather beautiful in its colourful simplicity – and for The Gruffalo and Stick Man, it worked. But to use it for a Roald Dahl creation was the wrong choice. I found it immediately jarring. As this is only aimed at the young, you may be reading this because you have children of your own. If you do, you’re far better off reading the book with them and letting their imagination soar – instead of being spoon fed with this totally unremarkable adaptation.

This adaptation is an underwhelming and forgettable adaptation of one of Roald Dahl’s lesser-known works, but isn’t completely revolting. It’s just…meh. 


Sam Love

Revolting Rhymes at CeX

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