Cartoons You Probably Don’t Remember: Animals of Farthing Wood

As you may know, Ron Moody passed away more than a month ago. If that name seems vaguely familiar, then this video may jog your memory.

If you’re not a big fan of musicals, and you’re of my generation, then it’s perhaps more likely that you remember as one of the voice actors for Animals of Farthing Wood.

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Animals of Farthing Wood was in many ways quite unique; based on a series of children’s books that started in 1979 (seven years after Watership Down revolutionised the children’s novel) it was also one of the few British cartoons to have an overarching narrative; the titular wood was to be destroyed at the start of the series to make way for housing nasty old humans, so the eponymous animals decide to embark upon a mass exodus to White Deer Park, a nature reserve where they can live in peace. Guiding them there (under the leadership of the wise and brave Fox) is Toad, voiced by the late Ron Moody.

In fact, Moody appears to have voiced half the supporting cast. He was also the most high-profile voice actor on the show. Fun fact: when the show was imported to America as an edited straight-to-video movie, Fox’s dialogue was re-recorded by Ralph Macchio. Yes, that Ralph Macchio.

The rest of this post contains some spoiler warnings. If you haven’t watched the show yet/recently, you’re probably better off just doing so – it stands up really well, and you can get official DVDs off eBay, although apparently you have to rejig the audio options if you want the English dub. Also, most of the pictures I’ll be posting will probably trigger you like billy-oh, so don’t read this while you’re having your tea.

Anyway, back to the show itself. At first, it seemed like it would be a charming tale of loveable woodland creatures with cutesy names like Moley and Mr & Mrs Hedgehog finding a new life by going on a journey with scenes that should not unsettle a child aged around eight years or older, right?

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This promotional art features such lesser-known characters as Kestrel, Off-Model Weasel and Mr. Badly-Drawn Hedgehog

this happened in s1e5

Pictured here is Mrs Pheasant, from the fifth episode of season 1. Yes, FIFTH episode.

One of these will be shot by a poacher in a later episode.

Guess which one of these cute little rabbits will be killed by a poacher. Go on, guess!

In retrospect, it's amazing that I'm not an amateur psychopath or something.

In retrospect, it’s amazing that I didn’t have a mental breakdown as a child.

So…. yeah, it was surprisingly dark, especially for a cartoon shown on straight-laced BBC One in the afternoon. Believe it or not, the show did actually have light-hearted moments, mostly from Weasel getting up to wacky hijinks or Moley being a socially awkward klutz. But, after a dozen episodes of peril and audience-inappropriate death, the group of animals finally reached White Deer Park at the end of Season 1, and nothing bad ever happened to them ever again.

HARDCORE

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Of course things weren’t nice for them. Season 2 was arguably even more disturbing than the previous one, and was definitely more plot-heavy. The latter point was due to it adapting three books in the series, two more than the previous season (I regret to say that I’ve never read any of Colin Dann’s work, although I probably should). I honestly can’t remember that much about it (I was only six at the time) but I’m assuming it was good.

Oddly, I recall quite a bit from the third season, which adapted two books (apparently, it missed out two; one was too dark and the other had only been written the previous year). Shame really, because most people seem to regard it as the worst season. The reasons given are the perfect storm of awful; character designs changed for no reason, Weasel getting into even wackier hijinks (along with her husband and children, making her four times as annoying) and an ending that’s a) not in the book and b) really stupid.

In spite of that, you really should watch the whole show. It was a fun ride when I was little, and I doubt that’s changed much.

The reason I’m discussing this show is because I had the good fortune to meet Ron Moody some years ago at Memorabilia, a local film & tv convention that I’ll probably blog about at some point in the near future. He was with Mark Lester, both signing photos of Fagin and Oliver, with Moody drawing quick sketches of Fagin to anybody who wanted one. That’s why I think he was so pleasantly surprised…

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… to sign this. He had fond memories of working on the show, but clearly didn’t realise that anybody still remembered it. But I did, and I’m glad to have let him know I remembered.

Goodbye, Mr. Moody. You may have been Fagin to some, but you’ll always be Toady and Badger to me.

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