Two days ago, it would’ve been Ron Moody’s 92nd birthday. Sadly, he passed away last June. I’ve discussed Ron Moody’s previous work in an earlier blog post, and I thought I might as well discuss another of his other efforts in the world of voice acting, which came after Farthing Wood.
Okay, stop me if you’ve heard this one before: there’s this group of animals, and they want to reach a far-off place that they reckon will be a paradise for them, far away from mankind’s depredations, but to get there they have to promise to get along with each other and follow the directions of a lovable old animal voiced by Ron Moody…Yes, the creators of Noah’s Island (who just happened to have made the Animals of Farthing Wood TV show as well) had found a niche, and they were sticking to it. Not that this show was that derivative of its predecessor – if anything, it was a lot tamer than Farthing Wood. The pastels of the previous show were swapped for more vibrant colours, which suited the tropical locale.
Admittedly, there weren’t that many similarities between the two shows, besides the general premise; the titular Noah is a polar bear who came across a floating island, which was already populated with two mammoths who’d been thawed from the ice by the island’s “fire bowl”, a meteor that had hit the island millennia ago (it’s a kid’s show, just go with it). They’re soon joined by Sparky, a mute rabbit that only exists for pratfalls and similar padding, Vulture Patrol, a group of vultures who somehow survive without any corpses to eat (just go with it), who are already there before the story begins.
The first episode introduces a variety of zoo animals who are washed ashore when the ship transporting them to their new zoo sinks in the first episode. Noah welcomes them, and sells them on the idea of relocating to Diamantina, an island that is not on any map made by a human (go with it…) except the one made by the father of one of the mammoths, and as such is an unspoiled paradise. The majority like the idea, and the “fire bowl” is soon converted into a thermodynamic engine used to steer the island (okay, that bit is still pretty cool).
There are a lot of characters in the show (we’ll get to that in a bit) but there are really only about six that
I remember you need to know about:
- Noah (played by the late Mr Moody), who fulfills the “wise and noble leader” part of the story, who intersperses his wisdom and nobility with the occasional diatribe about how awful humans are and how great it’ll be when they reach Diamantina
- The mammoths Salomi (Jill Shilling) and Mammothsbody (Jon Glover, another Farthing Wood alumni). Mammothsbody is a sad olf duffer often tried to woo Salomi in the hope of marrying her – nice to see his intentions are honourable – but is rebuffed up until the end of Series 1 (note to American readers: Over here in the UK, we call a TV season a “series”. Sorry for any confusion.)
- Rocco (Moody again), a somewhat surly Cockney gorilla who becomes the island’s physician based on the knowledge he acquired via osmosis from watching human vets. He also provide’s most of the show’s pathos, as his mate Hettie drowned in the first episode.
- Woomera (Sally Grace, yet another vestige of Farthing Wood), a kangaroo that helps Rocko in the island’s infirmary and is there to give a literal kick up the backside to anybody being a twit (usually Rocco) and sage advice whenever Noah’s not around.
- Reg (Moody – well, if you’re using an award-winning actor as a series regular, you might as well get your money’s worth), a mandrill who served as the main antagonist due to his love of anything made by humans, like guns and armies.
There were many more animals introduced throughout the show, but to be honest they’re mostly just comic relief. The most memorable of these (for all the wrong reasons) was Sacha, a Russian desman whose main contribution to the show was to go “Oisky Poisky!” whenever he got frustrated at anything, which was often. The main problem with Noah’s Island was that they started with quite a lot of characters to begin with, and kept introducing more as the show went on (quite a few episodes involved rescuing animals from evil humans) to the point where it got a bit silly.
True, Farthing Wood started out with a lot of characters, but most of them kept to the background and didn’t wear out their welcome. Character death was still present, but less frequent (I think maybe two characters died on-screen, and one of them didn’t get any lines). Yes, I know I carped on about the numerous on-screen deaths in Farthing Wood, but if you’ve set a standard then at least maintain it… The whole thing ended up as a bit of a juggling act, hampered by the lack of real continuity in most episodes (“Are we close to Diamantina?” “Yes! Wait… no, no we’re not.” “Oisky Poisky!”) and the occasional human-bashing seems a bit incongruous when you’re using various sciences (engineering and veterinary medicine, to name but two) to create a functional meritocracy. And yet…
And yet… for all my whining, there is something quite charming about this show. It’s not as tense or as compelling as Animals of Farthing Wood, but it’s a fun little thing if you want to while a half hour every now and then (it doesn’t really stand up to binge watching) then you can check out the episodes that various YouTubers have uploaded to their respective channels, which is just as well because I certainly can’t recommend you purchase the DVD boxset, even if such a thing existed.