Keep a watchful eye, Jemima Puddle-Duck. Judge Clark Douglas wants your eggs.
"Mr. McGregor's gone to market for the whole day! We can have the garden all to ourselves!"—Benjamin Bunny
If there's one word that is most often associated with Beatrix Potter, it would be "beloved." Her writings aren't so much admired or enjoyed by the parents and children that read them as they are just plain loved. Known to some as the "Peter Rabbit Books," the stories of Beatrix Potter tell of barnyard and woodland animals trying to fend for themselves in a world full of challenges and difficulties. Between 1992 and 1996, the BBC produced a series of half-hour animated adaptations of her books for television (using the title The World of Peter Rabbit and Friends). All of these have been compiled and released in a box aptly called The Beatrix Potter Collection.
Facts of the Case
There are nine tales spread across three discs. Each disc is housed in a standard DVD case, and the three DVD cases are inside a simple but attractive cardboard box.
• "The Tale of Peter Rabbit and Benjamin Bunny"
• "The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies and Mrs.
• "The Tale of Tom Kitten and Jemima Puddle-Duck"
• "The Tale of Mrs. Tiggly-Winkle and Mr. Jeremy
• "The Tale of Mr. Tod: The Further Adventures of Peter
Rabbit and Benjamin Bunny"
• "The Tale of Two Bad Mice and Johnny Town-Mouse"
• "The Tale of Pigling Bland"
• "The Tale of Samuel Whiskers or The Roly-Poly
• "The Tailor of Gloucester"
In style, the works of Beatrix Potter (who is played sweetly by Niamh Cusack in live-action bookend sequences) come across as a very gentle cross between Aesop, Kenneth Graeme, and Joel Chandler Harris. They are whimsical little tales, and yet very restrained and polite. They feature terrible villains and somewhat scary (for young kids, anyway) moments, but no real harm ever comes to anybody. The characters do learn lessons, yet they never really seem to put them to much good use. More than anything, the characters in Beatrix Potter's stories are very, very, very naïve.
None of the furry protagonists seems to suspect the villains of these stories of anything at all, despite what convention would suggest. You wouldn't think that a duck would trust a silver-tongued fox, but she does. You wouldn't think that a rabbit would trust a hungry badger with his children, but he does. You wouldn't think that a pig would trust the friendly invitation to dinner of a hungry human, but he does. Despite all the foolish decision-making of these very friendly characters, they are all just resourceful enough to escape with their lives. There are certainly some close calls, but everything turns out okay (well, Jemima Puddle-Duck loses her eggs, but these things happen).
Of course, Peter Rabbit and Benjamin Bunny are sharp enough to realize that cranky old Mr. McGregor poses a significant threat, which is perhaps why they were always the most popular of Potter's characters. Then again, their greed always manages to overcome their good sense, as they frequently take ill-fated trips into Mr. McGregor's garden for a quick snack. The two bunnies are at the center of three of these stories, and those tales are certainly delightful, but my own favorites are the slightly less conventional stories.
I'm exceptionally taken with "The Tale of Samuel Whiskers or The Roly-Poly Pudding," which tells us the story of a curious little kitten who is kidnapped by the very mean (but lazy) Samuel Whiskers, a great big rat. Whiskers is quite an amusing villain, greedily thinking about the prospect of a nice Kitten Dumpling, but never managing to work up the energy to do the work involved in making one. So, he delegates the task to his long-suffering wife, who grows increasingly irritable with her louse of a husband. It's a fun, darkly comic little story that will undoubtedly be enjoyed by audiences of all ages.
The animation in these short films is really lovely, very effectively bringing the illustrations from the original books to life onscreen. I recently reviewed the television version of Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who! and observed that the half-hour animated format seemed to be just the right thing for the Seuss book. The format is just right for the Potter books as well, giving just enough time to flesh out the stories without creating a need to pad them. The video quality isn't exactly wonderful—these BBC television productions (even from the 1990s) aren't known for their visual splendor. Still, despite some scratches and flecks here and there, they look okay. The sound is very good, highlighting the genuinely sweet Colin Towns scores.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The only thing to complain about here is the complete lack of extras. Not a single thing can be found anywhere, though we are forced to sit through the same Charlie and Lola promo spot at the beginning of every single disc.
While I'm quite positive that those who already love the Potter books will be delighted with this collection, what about the average child out there? Will young children still respond to something this innocent and simple? So much children's entertainment these days is centered around wacky songs, noisy voice work, and flashy images. These stories are gentle, sweet, restrained, and calm, even during the more turbulent moments. Will the Spongebob Squarepants crowd be able to enjoy the work of Beatrix Potter? I think so; I certainly hope so, anyway. It would be a shame for any young child to miss out on these charming stories. I would never be so presumptuous as to tell you how to parent your child, but permit me to offer you a suggestion: turn off Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network for a few days, pick up this collection, and introduce your children to the wonderful world of Beatrix Potter. You won't regret it.
Not guilty, though Peter Rabbit must be sent to his room without any supper. Not like he'd want any after eating all those carrots, anyway.
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