The Return Of Danger Mouse: A rejuvenated rodent reappears on UK TV abroad
The turnover in children’s TV is brutal. Last season’s must-see becomes this year’s schedule filler, and this season’s favourite character is likely to end up in the pile with next year’s remaindered merchandising tie-ins. But it wasn’t always so. The 70s and 80s kids who guzzled the original run of ‘Danger Mouse’ had been raised on warmed-up post-war leftovers like ‘Champion The Wonder Horse’, ‘Casey Jones’ and — least appetizing of all — ‘Andy Pandy’, 26 episodes of which were shot in 1952 and then left on heavy rotation for an incredible 18 years. They were in desperate need of something new.
It’s hard to convey to contemporary audiences just how fresh and exciting this UK cartoon seemed when it first appeared. From the perspective of 2016, its template seems pretty familiar. Crime-fighting rodent spy and hamster sidekick have tongue-in-cheek high-tech adventures battling the criminal empire of a toad called Baron Greenback? Check! But, in 1981, the idea that a children’s show might also function as a knowing parody of a grown-up genre was dynamite. ‘Danger Mouse’ assumed that even its youngest audiences were familiar with a broad spectrum of TV, movies and comics, and, as a result, we all felt as if we’d been allowed to stay up past our bedtimes.
One-eyed mice have more fun
Adults found plenty of reasons to love the show, too. While the prevailing mode of spy fiction in 1981 was the dour realism of John le Carre and Gerald Seymour, ‘Danger Mouse’ referenced classic ‘Bond’, ‘Man From Uncle’, ‘The Prisoner’, Steranko-era ‘Nick Fury’ and of course ‘Danger Man’ — the products of an era that had known how to have fun, still admired by many 80s dads and mums. In other words, a tiny Manchester-based production company had found the pot of gold.
The results were jaw-dropping. Within two years of launch, ‘Danger Mouse’ was pulling peak UK audiences of 21 million, and was reaching audiences worldwide. Ironically, given the thorough kicking it delivered to many old faithful’s, it would run on for nearly a dozen years before retiring gracefully in 1992 when the Cosgrove-Hall engine finally ran out of steam. (That’s a trick from which the team behind ‘The Simpsons’ might learn a thing or two, btw.)
Rebooting the rodent
Dosing DM with that booster serum seems to have worked like a charm. Boulder Media’s visuals retain all the fun of the originals while taking advantage of new computer-generated techniques. The substitution of relative newcomer Alexander Armstrong for the hyperkinetic David Jason as voice-of-the-mouse has been surprisingly seamless, and the arrival of UK comedy stalwarts Morwenna Banks, Miranda Richardson and — best of all — Stephen Fry as Colonel K. has turbocharged the cast.
But the real joy is finding that the scripts, hand-tooled to stay as close to the originals as possible, still draw giggles from ages 5 to 50. There’s a school of thought which holds that the Brits did spy capers first and best. ‘Danger Mouse’ has certainly kept its end up in the cartoon wing of the media. TVMucho is the best way for expats to enjoy ‘Danger Mouse’ and other prime UK TV abroad.