After watching this 1980s cable favorite, Appellate Judge James A. Stewart wants someone to come up with a DVD of the best of Australian Rules Football, too.
"This must be the end of an episode…because that stupid scriptwriter always has to end on a cliffhanger."—Dangermouse to Penfold, as the two secret agent rodents hang off a cliff at the end of an episode
A person born in 1984, when Dangermouse first hit American screens on Nickelodeon, is unlikely to remember that cable once was merely a means of boosting signals in urban or rural areas with bad TV reception. That started to change in most places in the early 1980s, when networks such as MTV, ESPN, and Nickelodeon started turning up on the cable television dial—shortly before the dial itself became a thing of the forgotten past, making way for the desktop box or remote. If your parents got a good enough signal from their rotating rooftop antenna, you recall, as I do, hearing about early cable shows you didn't get to see from other kids in school. As a DVD reviewer, I took the opportunity to fill in one of the gaps in my pop culture knowledge and check out Dangermouse.
The gap is ironic, because Dangermouse is a cartoon parody of the sort of British adventure shows that I watched on local broadcast stations…because I couldn't watch shows like Dangermouse on cable. Shows like The Avengers, The Saint, and The Persuaders, and, most particularly, a show I caught up with myself on VHS, Patrick McGoohan's Danger Man (known stateside as Secret Agent and remembered mainly for a hit theme song—"Secret Agent Man"—that wasn't a part of the original British broadcasts).
Dangermouse (voiced by Terry Jason), "the world's greatest secret agent," lives in a secret penthouse apartment in the top of a Royal Mail box on Baker Street, which he shares with his timid hamster assistant Penfold (voiced by Terry Scott). He receives assignments via video screen from mutton-chopped human British intelligence chief Colonel K (voiced by Edward Kelsey), and does battle with the villainous frog Baron Greenback (also Kelsey). He and his adversaries engage in bad puns and obvious jokes as he escapes oddball traps. Since it's a cartoon, the bad puns, obvious jokes, and oddball traps are even more pronounced than the ones you'd find in the live-action British adventure shows mentioned above, of course.
This two-disc set contains 14 episodes covering two British seasons of the series:
• "The Invasion of Colonel 'K'"
• "Dangermouse Saves the World…Again"
• "The Odd Ball Runaround"
• "The Strange Case of the Ghost Bus"
• "The Trip to America"
• "The Wild, Wild Goose Chase"
• "The Return of Count Duckula"
• "Demons Aren't Dull"
Extras here include character descriptions and "Theme Song Karaoke."
• "150 Million Years Lost"
• "Planet of the Cats"
• "Four Heads are Better than Two"
• "Tower of Terror"
• "The Great Bone Idol"
• "Public Enemy No. 1"
As you might have guessed just by the teasing quote atop my review, there's a lot of repetition to Dangermouse gags. I lost count of how many times Dangermouse and/or Penfold went plunging from a great height, only to be rescued by a passing bird (á la Arthur Dent in the original radio version of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy), land in their stylized car, or just be saved by their fortunate precaution of wearing especially thick socks that day ( as in the 1960s Batman series). Other repetitive gags include timid Penfold's reaction to danger ("Oh, crumbs") and DM's response ("Penfold, shush"). There are also plenty of scenes with DM and/or Penfold falling through trap doors, and finding themselves in those dark rooms where you know they really don't want to light a match to see what's there. Plus, famous landmarks get mislaid a lot in Dangermouse's universe.
From what I gleaned on a surveying surf of the Web, there's a little more repetition than Nickelodeon fans remember. While DM's adventures were edited there into one episode, here they're mostly split into five five-minute segments, as they appeared in Britain, which means that you'll get to hear the Dangermouse theme ("He's the greatest / He's fantastic / Whenever there is danger, he'll be there / Dangermouse," and so on) every five minutes, a great boon if you're looking to increase your speed with the remote. If the theme has failed to lodge itself in your brain after, oh, 62 repetitions, there's a "Theme Song Karaoke" as an extra. Oh, crumbs. Penfold, shush already. Parents introducing DM to their kids might rethink their stances on uncut TV box sets after, oh, about the third time through.
The humor here is punny ("Good day, knight. I suppose you're looking for a fortnight," as Dangermouse says to a suit of armor), droll ("I'm here, but I'm sorry I couldn't stay for tea," the time-traveling Dangermouse tells Penfold as he's carried off by a pterodactyl), parodic (as with the narrator's comments such as "Is it curtains for our heroes, and elevenses for the crocodile?" at a cliffhanger), and just plain silly (such as Count Duckula trying to sing "Thanks for the Memories" and humming all the words he can't remember).
David Jason gives Dangermouse the voice of a dashing, droll hero (think Roger Moore or Patrick McGoohan here), with Terry Scott childlike and mousy as the hamster Penfold. Edmund Kelsey sounds absent-minded and daffy as Colonel K, and essentially mimics Blofeld from the James Bond movies as Baron Greenback. From what I've read, the voice of Stiletto (Brian Trueman), here with a sorta Italian accent reminiscent of Chico Marx, switched to cockney for Nickelodeon.
As with many old cartoons, you'll find a few things that wouldn't fly today, like caricatured Hong Kong rats with buck teeth, and Agent 57, disguised as a St. Bernard, eluding the Baron and his gang by giving them a large brandy so they'd see double. Those bits are rare, but glaring in an otherwise harmless show.
The technical quality of this transfer is, well, crappy. With lots of grain and some images with double-vision, the picture looks like it was taped off one of those UHF stations that didn't come in so well on the rotating rooftop antenna. No problems with the Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo sound, other than a slight headache from overdosing on the Dangermouse theme. As you should have guessed from my comments above, the extras are nothing exciting.
If you're already a Dangermouse fan, you'll probably want to buy this set despite A&E's botched job of it. If you're a newbie but enjoyed the British adventure shows it mocks, you'll probably enjoy it despite the flaws.
The original show is not guilty, but A&E should be held for trial over that troublesome transfer.
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Scales of Justice
• Theme Song Karaoke
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