Lest audiences (other than UK audiences who doubtless know better) should think that American Idol‘s Simon Cowell is the apotheosis of British wit, allow me to submit for your consideration the name of Danger Mouse. He is the star of a series of cartoons originally aired during the ‘80s, created by the Cosgrove Hall animation studios (the company that brought you The Wind in the Willows and Count Duckula). American audiences may remember DangerMouse as a mainstay during the early years of Nickelodeon.
For those of you requiring an introduction, Danger Mouse is the eponymous, diminutive, rodent superhero of this surreal serial who, arrayed in a white jumpsuit and an eye patch, continually rescues the world (or at least certain sections of London) from the nefarious clutches of his nemesis Baron Silas Greenback (a toad with a penchant for costume jewelry) with the aid of his pusillanimous sidekick, Penfold (a bespectacled hamster inexplicably attired in a rumpled business suit).
Danger Mouse is a wizard of gadgetry (even if at times the gadgets get the better of him), a master of the martial arts, a paragon of bravery (although he does favor a rubber ducky as a bath companion), an advocate for asinine alliteration, and a preening purveyor of preposterously paltry puns that periodically plummet over the precipice of preciosity. Penfold, on the other hand, excels in timidity to such a degree that he absents himself from the majority of one episode in order to deliver an address titled “Cowardice without Guilt” to the national meeting of Cowards Anonymous, held at a chicken farm. After the lukewarm reception he receives upon his return, he threatens to go back to the farm and would probably carry his threat into execution except he is rather afraid of chickens.
The unlikely duo resides in a mock letterbox on a corner of Baker Street (the famed residence of one Sherlock Holmes) where they receive their orders from Colonel K (a walrus) over a telemonitor. Most episodes begin and/or end with a conversation over the telemonitor featuring large doses of droll dialogue for which the ‘action’ often serves as little more than an excuse. An example: Colonel K informs the heroes that a dragon is menacing Wales and exhorts them to “go forth and vanquish that dragon” whereupon Penfold muses aloud “go fourth?—Who are the other three then?”
Greenback, like so many arch-villains that have preceded him, is bent on world domination. We are told in the brief Bonus Feature biography that the source of his malevolence derived from a trick played on him as a boy at school (someone let the air out of one of the tires of his bicycle). Whatever the cause, his antisocial behavior is effective only insofar as it gives Danger Mouse a subject on which to crack wise; this may be why Danger Mouse never seems concerned that the bad guys continually evade his grasp. The tyrannical toad is joined in his evil quest by his bumbling henchman Stiletto Mafiosa (a black crow) and his pet Nero (a hairy caterpillar cum squeak toy).
The villains are rather underdeveloped and this may strike one as a weakness of the series. Perhaps Stiletto may even ruffle some PC feathers with his Italian accent in the tradition of Chico Marx, but then cartoons almost always rely on such stereotypes. In the original American broadcasts, Stiletto’s voice was dubbed with a Cockney accent, but on these DVDs he is unmistakably Italian in more than name only.
However, the one-dimensionality of the evildoers only serves to sharpen the focus on the hero and his sidekick. Indeed, it is often Penfold who, in his unmitigated yet endearing spinelessness, steals the show.
Briticisms abound but they are never so abstruse that a non-Britisher should have any trouble interpreting the reference. When all the tea in England disappears, Colonel K warns the hero “civil service has gone uncivil.” And when Penfold is informed that the House of Commons was attacked during an “all-night sitting” he remarks that he thought all of the Knights were in the House of Lords. If it sounds droll in my retelling, it is even more so when viewing the show. However, this kind of comedy simply cannot be described adequately. It is a matter of delivery and the voice talents behind this series have the delivery down to an exact (if rather wacky) science.
Moreover, there is an array of additional characters that presents a panorama of types associated with the United Kingdom. There is the Welsh dragon given to fourth-wall shattering asides to the audience in which he makes bad “dragon” jokes and then proceeds to explain in detail why they are funny. There is the Irish gadget salesman Egregious M. Murphy who, when asked, “what is the ‘M’ for”, responds, “The M4 is a motorway that runs from London to South Wales.” There is also an alien with a deep Scottish brogue whose robot companion cannot cease groveling.
Finally, the series features a neurotic narrator who alternates between threats to quit the show in order to promote his poetry career and attempts to derail the proceedings altogether by hijacking the course of events. In one particularly memorable episode (“Once Upon a Timeslip”), he transports the characters into the Robin Hood legend and then has them confronted with angry hordes, an earthquake, a volcano, and a runaway locomotive.
There really isn’t much in the way of extras. The second DVD contains a lukewarm episode of Count Duckula, a karaoke version of the DangerMouse theme song (consisting of the opening credits with the addition of the lyrics and a bouncing bomb) and some rather lame character biographies. However, this is hardly the kind of collection within which one would expect much in the way of extras. The cartoons themselves are entirely sufficient.
These videos should appeal to a range of viewers. Children will enjoy the action and the anthropomorphic animal characters while adults will appreciate the self-aware humor and the groan-inducing one-liners. There is little in the way of a through story. Therefore, viewers can jump from episode to episode without getting lost. And how can you help but love a show that laughs so assiduously at its own jokes? So if you like your wit to resemble a good martini (very, very dry), then join Danger Mouse and Penfold as they fumble their way toward heroism.