Posts Tagged film


Seeing this diagram by Stephen Wildish, reminded me of the very satisfying formula at the beginning of Allan Ahlberg‘s Funnybones:

Allan and Janet Ahlberg produced so many fantastic picture books, and often what made them so good was the simplicity of the idea.

The opening lines of this one:

In a dark, dark town there was a dark, dark street
and in the dark, dark street there was a dark, dark house,
and in the dark, dark house there were some dark, dark stairs
and down the dark, dark stairs there was a dark, dark cellar
and in the dark dark cellar….

Three skeletons lived!

The pictures work brilliantly too, with the black background throughout. The book worked so well that the Ahlbergs made lots of follow-ups.

The cartoonified version stuck fairly faithfully to it, though there’s not a really good quality version on YouTube. Griff Rhys Jones was the ideal narrator:

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I watched Mirrormask last night. Wonderful animation by Dave McKean. More than animation, direction and the creation of a whole host of wonderful phantasmagorical creatures, weird landscapes, layered dream sequences. Brilliant music by Iain Bellamy. Stephanie Leonidas is great as a the main character, Helena, a circus girl who, when her mother suddenly falls seriously ill, disappears into a fearsome Alice in Wonderland world to sort matters out.

Critics have said that the story is its weak point.  Other critics have said that it is too much an imitation of Labyrinth. (Remember Bowie as the Goblin King?) But I liked it. In fact it’s part of a whole sub-genre isn’t it: Girl disappears into Other World to solve this world problem. I think of Childe Rowland:


Burd Ellen round about the aisle

 To seek the ball is gone,

But long they waited, and longer still,

 And she came not back again.

Then there’s Miyazaki’s Spirited Away of course, where  Chihiro has to face all the challenges of the spirit bath-house to release her parents from their pig-form.

There must be lots of other examples. There’s also another subgenre involved – the swap story. Helena’s and the Princess of the Dark City swap worlds. Helena needs to find the mirrormask to get back to her own world. Dave McKean points out that this type of tale goes back to The Prince and The Pauper – it goes further back still to stories of Harun al-Rashid and The Desert Island in the Talmud.

Have a look at some of Mirrormask, here the beginning:

I love the circus music.

And some more, with its wonderfully eery Close To You:

Here’s Gaiman and McKean talking about their work on the film together:

McKean’s sketch for the giants

Really Useful Book

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Mr Benn

I said before that there were only two of David McKee’s Mr Benn stories published as books. Well, we were at the Tate modern and we saw that this is not true: there were five: Mr Benn – Red KnightBig Game Benn123456789 BennBig Top Benn and Mr Benn – Gladiator.  The Tate is republishing them. Last year was the 40th anniversary of the creation of Mr Benn.

Though the video versions are fantastic, I love the alternate full colour and black and white illustrations of the books. There’s such detail in the black and white pages.

Big-Top Benn was written and illustrated by David McKee 30 years ago and is now made available again in its original format from Tate Publishing.© David McKee. From ‘Big-Top Benn’, Tate Publishing

In Big Top Benn, Mr Benn makes his way to the special costume shop as usual.

McKee was born in Devon in 1935. While studying fine arts at Plymouth Art College he started selling his drawings to the national press, submitting cartoons to Punch and TES. © David McKee. From ‘Big-Top Benn’, Tate Publishing

He sees a clown costume and puts it on.

“Mr Benn has been a part of my life since 1965,” says David McKee, “but it feels as though he’s always been there. Over the years public reaction to him has been very rewarding. The fact that Tate has published him in his original form is really the icing on the cake.”© David McKee. From ‘Big-Top Benn’, Tate Publishing

And off he goes in his clown car.

The hilly landscapes in Big-Top Benn resemble Widemoor in Dartmoor where David McKee grew up as a child.© David McKee. From ‘Big-Top Benn’, Tate Publishing

He meets a travelling circus. They come to a canyon that they can’t cross. Each of the circus acts wants to get across in their own way.

After publishing his first children’s book at the age of 29 David McKee went on to create several well-known characters including Mr Benn, King Rollo, Not Now Bernard and Elmer the Patchwork Elephant. © David McKee. From ‘Big-Top Benn’, Tate Publishing

Mr Benn suggests they work together. They do, they cross the gulf and the circus comes to town.

The first Mr Benn TV episode was aired by the BBC on 25th February 1971 and has since been repeated over 60 times, enjoying cult status with succeeding generations.© David McKee. From ‘Big-Top Benn’, Tate Publishing

David McKee has over 100 children’s books to his name and continues to write and draw at the age of 75.© David McKee. From ‘Big-Top Benn’, Tate Publishing

2010 is the 30th anniversary since Big-Top Benn was first published. Tate Publishing’s re-release of the book illustrates David McKee’s original painted and pen and ink drawings.© David McKee. From ‘Big-Top Benn’, Tate Publishing

Here it is on YouTube:

(The DVD is still amazingly cheap.)

The Mr Benn phenomenon seems to be growing, snowballing. Theatre group Tall Stories are performing a theatrical Mr Benn:

Mr Benn Red Knight was the first book.

Here it is on YouTube:

These two books are available:

– but I can’t find Big Game Benn. 

Have a look at this short audio slideshow of David McKee talking about Mr Benn and his other creations.

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watching Hugo

We went to the beach at St Martin de Brehal to try out rollerblades and do cartwheels.

Then we went to see Hugo at the cinema in Granville. It was dubbed in French, but that seemed OK as it’s set in Paris. I was just careful not to look at the lips too carefully.

It was great boxing day entertainment, though the 3D glasses didn’t do a lot for me. One of the things I liked about the film was the layered-ness of it. Behind the story is the real figure of Georges Méliès, who really did create wonderful silent films, disappear from public life to run a toy and sweets shop in Gare Montparnasse, and get rehabilitated in later life.

Then there’s the automaton. There were really automatons that could do such things, the Jaquet-Droz automata. These 18th century figures could really play music, write, draw pictures. I’m impressed that a company, Dick George Creatives, could recreate such a thing, and even get it to work:

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The Reinvention of…

What was most remarkable about Brian Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret was the wonderful drawings that fill the book and tell much of the story.

Interesting to see how the film without the drawings will work…

Here’s Scorsese talking about making the film. It certainly has a good look about it…


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More War Horse

(c) Bridget Worth

It’s curious what fiction can do, how a painting in a story can become a real painting. Such a picture,  invented in War Horse had to be created for real. I’m copying this blog:

Morpurgo’s myth revealed

By Emily Butcher | Published: 31 OCTOBER 2011

After 20 years, Michael Morpurgo reveals the hidden truth behind the opening lines of his hugely popular novel War Horse, in a warm and humorous interview with Clare Balding.

In the old school they now use for the village hall, below the clock that has stood always at one minute past ten, hangs a small dusty painting of a horse. He stands, a splendid red bay with a remarkable white cross emblazoned on his forehead and with four perfectly matched white socks. He looks wistfully out of the picture, his ears pricked forward, his head turned as if he has just noticed us standing there.

War Horse by Michael Morpurgo

Little did Michael know, when he first drafted these fictional lines back in 1981, what a worldwide success his book, and the subsequent National Theatre stage production, would become; nor the havoc it would wreak on a certain Mrs Weeks of Iddesleigh, Devon.

Mrs Weeks, the lady who now lives next to the village hall mentioned in Michael’s opening lines, is regularly inundated with War Horse enthusiasts searching for the painting of Joey. However, their quest has always been in vain as the painting has never existed…until now.

To help Mrs Weeks stave off disappointed visitors, Michael asked Ali Bannister, the equine artist from the upcoming Spielberg-directed film, to create an oil painting ofJoey. And, before it takes pride of place on the wall of Iddesleigh village hall, visitors to the National Army Museum can see the painting displayed for the first time ever in the War Horse: Fact & Fiction exhibition.


“I go about once every six weeks to make sure it’s still there”!

… and now, watching this, I realise there’s a sequel, and one of those beautifully drawn and painted books by Michael Foreman (I’ve mentioned these before), and Morpurgo’s favourite among his books…

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I’d read Neil Gaiman‘s Coraline a while back: scary, creepy, delightful… a little door that leads Coraline to another part of the house where the Other Mother and Other Father live, just like Coraline’s mother and father, but “better”… and with buttons for their eyes.

We watched the scary, creepy, beautiful stop-motion animation of the story this week. Very true to the spirit of the book, wonderfully put together, very satisfying.

There are some great bonus features with the DVD too – showing how the film was made, in all its myriad details. The woman who knits the minute jumpers Coraline wears, the people who made the mist, the puppet makers… Some of them are on the Coraline The Movie youtube channel. (The website is .)

Most of all I like the story (even though I’m not a fan of creepy stories). The Other Mother, it emerges, is creating this Other World to please Coraline. But it’s not real. Coraline and the cat walk out of the garden into a world where the trees are just bare ideas of trees, everything is just white. The parts of the world the Other Mother hadn’t bothered with. And it all starts falling apart. Somehow, it was all a kind of Nothing, an alluring nothing, that you sense from the start with a kind of dread is just a trap. Now there’s a metaphor for all sorts of things.

(As if that wasn’t enough there’s a graphic novel too, which I haven’t read. You can hear Neil Gaiman interviewed by his daughter about this on this MP3 podcast here.)

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Lost and Found  How to catch a star  The Incredible Book Eating Boy   The Way Back Home  The Great Paper Caper   The Great Paper Caper  The Great Paper Caper

Now one of the rising stars of the children’s picture book…. Oliver Jeffers. See some of his art-work in this gallery at The Guardian.

Here he is reading his latest:

Lost and Found was made into an award-winning animated film:

Here he is telling us how he makes his books:


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Howl’s moving castle

This is good… feeling decidedly under the weather this weekend and, instead of me reading to Sam… he reads to me!! Luxury!

We’d seen Hayao Miyazaki’s cartoon version before we read Diana Wynne Jones’s book. Both are brilliant. The two seem made for each other: transformations, flights, quests, battles…

The story is about a girl called Sophie who, for no reason that she can understand, is turned by the Witch of the Waste into a 90 year old, at least in body. She can’t stay at home, and so wonders out onto the moor where she encounters the castle of the notorious Wizard Howl…

Sam pulled this one off the shelf because he’s such a Miyazaki fan, but the book is different from the film, still very inventive, perfectly written, full of surprises, even if you’ve seen the film. There’s even a poem by Donne, which Howl’s apprentice and Sophie mistake for a spell and try to execute:

Go, and catch a falling star,
Get with child a mandrake root,
Tell me, where all past years are,
Or who cleft the Devil’s foot,
Teach me to hear mermaids singing,
Or to keep off envy’s stinging,
And find
What wind
Serves to advance an honest mind.

There are two other books set in the same fantasy world too, Castle in the Air (1990)  and  House of Many Ways  (2008).

Diane Wynne Jones says of all this wild humour and chaos she has created:

‘It’s a terrible thing to be a child, particularly if you’re one down for personal reasons. I set out to provide comfort for those… One of the things I can do is put a problem in a way that they can walk all around it without pain and with a certain amount of joy, making it funny on purpose. Children use jokes in order to make things bearable.’

To those who don’t understand the importance of children’s books she says:

‘I do find that there is a tremendous responsibility. It’s always on the cards that you’ll write a children’s book which will shape them as an adult… Really what a book can give is experience in all meanings of the word, not just being exciting or entertaining but experience in the world with people. I lend my own experience to children.’

Sophie cleans up Howl's castle

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I didn’t say – too many books! – that I really enjoyed Millions. The book not the film which I haven’t seen yet. Great to read a – funny – kids’ books that looks at money and religion in such a fresh and quirky way! Thanks to Isobel for lending it to me.

The film…

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