One of the greatest living Englishmen returns to one of his greatest roles…Richard Briers as Roobarb. And Custard, the Birds and a few new additions to the yard in his updating of the 1974 animated children’s show…
“Nana-na-na! Nana-na-na! Nana-na-nah-nana!” And so on. Being, I would think, the most annoying theme music to any television show ever, which welcomes back Roobab to our television screens after an absence of thirty-two years.
Of course, like a good many BBC cartoons, Roobarb never really seemed to be off-air, almost beginning the repeats as soon as the entire run of thirty-nine original episodes came to an end. And so, my era of the late-seventies and early-eighties grew up with Roobarb as did those some years and, once again, even younger than that with millions of kids able to identify the green dog by the opening bars of that fuzz tone guitar and honky-tonk piano. Name that tune, indeed!
This time around, though, Roobarb is joined in the title of the show by Custard, the lazy pink cat who’s most often found lolling about on the fence. Quite right too for anyone, like this viewer, who tended towards the sidekick in shows such as this one. Just as the near-psychotic Sweep ought to have been given equal billing with the frankly rather dull Sooty, so Custard, the Sancho Panza to Roobarb’s enthusiastic but foolish Don Quixote, is now an almost equal partner in the show. And, as one might then expect, somewhat less of a villain than he was previously. In fact, this Custard is rather more energetic than his predecessor, actually managing to heave himself off the fence on occasion to go inventing. Whether terrified at a cacophonous elephant, welcoming aliens or writing a book, Custard isn’t quite the sneering cactus that he was in 1974 but in spite of his occasionally gaining the upper hand in the style of all the best cynics, he tends towards failure as each episode draws to a close.
In many other respects, Roobarb & Custard Too is a worthwhile sequel to Grange Calveley and Bob Godfrey’s 1974 original. Roobarb takes to every task with an boundless amounts of enthusiasm and despite Custard’s interference is somehow never disappointed. The Birds remain, a giggling, cackling chorus in the trees, but there are new characters in Mouse, Mole, Moggy Malone and Poodle Princess, none of which I can remember from the original show although I’m prepared to stand corrected on this matter. In truth, they don’t add a great deal – Mouse veers towards Roobarb in his excitement over new inventions and over the computer Roobarb now has in his shed whereas Mole is something of a no-nonsense presence who interrupts the action in Roobarb’s yard. Moggy Malone and Poodle Princess do not, as you might expect, add a great deal to the show. They are neither interests for Custard and Roobarb, which would have been weird, nor having any particular appeal to young girls, who are already being drawn towards Barbie rather than a wobbly pink poodle.
As for the unique look of Roobarb, this new version updates the old with – look away now, you viewers of archive television – a mix of computer generated and hand-drawn animation. That said, they’ve not done a bad job keeping the appearance of the show intact, which were originally animated with magic markers and gave 1974’s Roobarb a distinctive wobble. How the Dublin-based Monster Animation & Design seem to have done this is to take two drawings of the characters and to flick between them quickly, giving them, as well as Roobarb’s shed, his house, the trees and the fence, a wobble that will be recognisable to past viewers of the show. Unfortunately, though, the hand drawn scribbling of the 1974 is no longer present and there’s a nasty-looking effect whereby the joins between the characters limbs are all-too-obvious. The effect of this particular style of animation is that Roobarb and Custard are left with visible lines between theirs heads and necks, as though they were constructed from blocks in the manner of Lego people.
Most importantly, though, the spirit of the show remains with Roobarb still set on inventing and Custard ensuring that the dog’s plans come to nowt. In When Custard Was Grounded, Roobarb & Custard Too revisits the memories of the 1974 show as the characters take to the skies while in When Custard Was Very Naughty – just when is he ever anything else – he meddles with the contents of Roobarb’s sheds and invites an invasion of floating aliens. When Custard Wrote A Book sees the pink cat put his thoughts on paper – the book consists of nothing but “Zzzzzzzzzzz!” – that causes an intense sleepiness to fall across the garden. Meanwhile, in When Roobarb Finds The Heiroglyphics, the dog is attracted by the vast riches stored underground by Mole while even Custard proves to be a dab hand, or paw, at assisting Roobarb when he’s called upon to help with a pair of clockwork roller skates in When There Was A Wind-Up. Fun those these ten episodes are, they’re a hard watch in one sitting, being the kind of thing that, even with children, one may want to dip in and out of but which would prove difficult over more than half an hour. One volume of this may be quite enough.
With its bright colours on a plain white background, it would have been difficult for Pathe to do a disservice to Roobarb & Custard Too and so it proves. Anamorphically presented in 16:9, this doesn’t have a particularly detailed image but the contrast between the backing and the foreground details looks good whilst the transfer ensures that there is plenty of detail in Monster Animation mimicking of Bob Godfrey’s original stylings.
There are only two extras on the disc – a short feature on the show, Inside The Shed (9m21s), and character profiles for Roobarb and Custard. The latter are the sort of thing you would expect but the feature is, although short, good fun with Grange Calveley and Richard Briers being interviewed. Briers is, in particular, one of the greatest living Englishmen and he’s warmly funny here, describing how his own grandchildren begged him to switch Roobarb & Custard off when he played it to them.
The problem with this set is that there are thirty-nine episodes in the full season but only ten of which are included here. Disappointingly, rather than getting the full series on a few discs – this first volume only runs to seventy-one minutes – we’re going to see all thirty-nine episodes of Roobarb & Custard costing £52 if paying full price. By any stretch and no matter how much one might enjoy the show, that’s an awful lot of money, which would probably be better spent on The Complete Roobarb. At least that would come with any feelings of nostalgia intact.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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