You ever look back at something you liked when you were a kid, and find that it was nowhere near as good as you remember it? As in, you thought it was decent back then, but nowadays it’s an abomination that makes you want to commit seppuku for the crime of actually enjoying it at one point? The Beano…it’s kind of like that.
The Beano is a long-running anthology comic from over here in merry old England. The stories include Dennis the Menace – not to be confused with the American blonde kid – a boy who liked to misbehave, Minnie the Minx, a girl who liked to misbehave, the Bash Street Kids, a class who liked to misbehave, Ivy the Terrible, a girl who liked to misbehave, Roger the Dodger, a boy who liked to misbehave, and The 3 Bears, a family of bears who liked to steal food, and stealing food is naughty so they liked to misbehave. A good variety of characters, I think.
Anyway, Beano comics were okay when I was a kid, but when I reread them, I was greeted by stale stories, lame jokes that were over-explained as if to treat the readers like mongoloids, and…actually-okay art. I’m not expecting “naughty kid throws tomato at policeman” to be an epic comic story that rivals Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes, but it was pretty bad. I mean, seriously, they actually gave speech balloons to the reader. Yes, sometimes the character would be doing something, and there would be a speech balloon, labelled “reader’s voice”, addressing the character on their actions. As if the reader would actually talk to the characters and the characters would talk back. Because if you talk to comic characters and expect an answer, you’re absolutely sane.
The Beano was extremely popular, however, and thus received an animated adaptation. A few, in fact. As in, Dennis the Menace received his own cartoon series a while back, twice, and there were two video releases – The Beano Video, rechristened The Beano Allstars when released to DVD and The Beano Videostars. We’ll be looking at the first of the two.
So what’s wrong with The Beano Allstars? Well, like the comic it’s based on, it’s an anthology, and the shorts are pretty much direct adaptations of comic stories – I think I even have one or two of the comics that inspired the shorts knocking about somewhere. Direct adaptations of comic stories rarely ever work because what works in a comic doesn’t necessarily work on the screen. We may guffaw at a talking gorilla or a superhero turning into a baby in a comic, but we aren’t going to want that in our summer blockbusters. For example, the Nolan Batman movies take storyline ideas from the comics, but weave them together to create their own cinematic plot. Granted, those movies are lightyears away from what we’re about to look at, but The Beano Allstars is still slightly reminiscent of those old Marvel cartoons where they took comic panels and animated them slightly. The truncated storylines of Beano comics, and their way of telling jokes, that require explanations from captions, does not translate well to animation, as we will see.
We open with a giant comic flying towards us, with panels featuring all the characters that this show will focus on; Dennis the Menace, Minnie the Minx, the Bash Street Kids and the Three Bears. The characters instantly come to life, and start breaking out of the panels to interact with each other, and by interact, I mean, pick on. This is actually the best part of the show, the animation is fun and the music is bouncy and full of energy. And yeah, the in-show title is still The Beano Video.
Our first story is a Dennis and Gnasher one: “In On The Act”, complete with title card with Dennis and Gnasher doing Michael Jackson moves in a spotlight. Gee, I wonder if this cartoon will involve the stage at all? It begins with Dennis’ nemesis, Walter the Softy, sees this poster
…and somehow deduces that it’s for a talent competition, when it looks like it’s advertising LSD hallucinations. Walter says out loud to no-one, ‘Goody Gumdrops! A talent contest! I simply must enter!’ and Dennis appears, saying, ‘I can’t let a softy beat me, Gnasher!’ And no, the dialogue doesn’t sound any less stilted when said out loud. A robot probably put out this script. A robot that’s lived in a cave its whole life. And don’t ask me how a cave would have materials to build a robot, or who actually built the robot. Then again, that robot is probably more interesting than this.
Walter is practicing a ventriloquism act with his teddy, and he’s no Seth McFarlane, that’s for sure. It’s pretty sad if you’re not a Seth McFarlane. Dennis has his own ventriloquism act, which just turns out to be a parrot trapped in the dummy. Y’know, because parrots talk and stuff. So Walter decides to enter his string quartet who appear out of nowhere…I think that would have been his first choice on what to do for the contest, wouldn’t you? String quartets are more impressive than fricking teddies.
So some of Dennis’ friends also appear out of nowhere – is there a portal gun off screen, or something? – and they assault Walter and his quartet, tie string to their limbs, and do a puppet show from atop a long branch. Then the branch breaks and Dennis and his chums fall on Walter and his chums.
Then we cut to the talent contest, which is being hosted by an even more warped version of Jay Leno, but both Dennis and Walter are injured, so they can’t perform. Then Dennis’ dog Gnasher , because dogs are allowed in theatres, gets fleas and begins spazzing out on stage. It seems like Gnasher was the only contestant – wouldn’t you have to sign up for something like this or is this an open mic thing? – so he wins. Aw, that was disappointing. The poster promised a Picasso painting dancing on a floating keyboard in outer space while a gigantic floating head laughs maniacally. That would have been fun to watch when high. Dennis states, ‘You’ve got hidden talent, Gnasher.’ An okay joke, nothing too special but ok…then a disembodied voice says ‘Yes, hidden in his fur.’ SIGH.
Next up is The Bash Street Kids. Since that last cartoon with one misbehaving child was so good, a cartoon with several misbehaving children must be pure gold! It begins with the teacher, called Teacher, telling the class that a guy named Professor Quaver will be teaching them music. Oh yeah, and as he plays with his combover, there’s inexplicably byoing-byoing sound effects. Oh, for the subtlety of Gerald McBoingBoing…
Professor Quaver, who looks like Willy Wonka if he ate too much of his own chocolate, comes in and asks the class if they play an instrument. Thus, the kids attack the teacher with instruments, alliterating as they do so. ‘I’m fantastic on the flute!’ ‘I’m violent on the violin!’ I’m barfing at this boring bane.
Then Quaver plays a record – on his top hat, no less – and the kids sing footy anthems. Um, was I…supposed to laugh? Class is dismissed, and Quaver then teaches the school cat to sing. In his own words: ‘After those children, the singing of Winston, the school cat, is music to my ears.’ Come on, no human talks like that. Maybe he’s actually a machine with a disguise, attempting to overthrow the world with music.
Then a cartoon with Dennis’ dog Gnasher, and his son Gnipper. No, we don’t know who the mum is. Basically, Gnasher and Gnipper try to nick a hot dog. Gnipper gets covered in ketchup while Dennis explains the joke. The 3 Bears. A family of bears consisting of Pa, Ma and their son Ted living in the Wild West, who are always looking for grub. They look for grub, but don’t get it. Next!
Minnie the Minx, who is pretty much Dennis the Menace only as a girl. ‘Minnie Chairs’, this story is called, and involves Minnie jumping up and down on a chair before her dad makes her sit. That disembodied voice returns to say ‘But sitting is far too boring for Minnie.’ Thanks, we couldn’t have figured that out on our own. She then makes a mountain made of chairs before Daddy-kins forces her to play outside. Then she ties the sofa to some dogs and…zzzz…really, who thought chairs would be an interesting subject for a cartoon? Yeah, you can bounce on them, I guess, but watching someone on a trampoline isn’t as fun as actually playing on a trampoline.
Now here’s another Dennis. Oh joy. “Soap Box Cart”, this one’s called, and it doesn’t involve a race or anything. Dennis’ dad has to go to the doctor due to his sprained wrist, and Dennis offers to drive him there in his carty. This one is an indicator of why the Beano doesn’t translate well to the screen; it’s just an extended joke with a predictable punchline: Dennis’ dad ends with every body part bandaged except his wrist. Works for a one-page comic and only just, not so much for a cartoon.
The next Bash Street Kids, believe it or not, attempts to have a semi-substantial story. One of the pupils, Plug, is being picked on for being ugly, so the Headmaster demands that something be done about this, for Plug’s ugliness is ruining the school’s reputation. That’s right, kids, if you look different, you’re ruining your school and thus you must change yourself. What a great message.
Teacher and Headmaster then find there is a magic lake in Tibet called Lake Beautiful, which can turn anything handsome. So the Headmaster digs deep into the school funds so Teacher, Plug and some other kids can go to Tibet. Yes, he’s wasting plenty of school money that could be used to better the place, just so one pupil can be made to look different. And really, some assholes come up to the school, mock one of the pupils for being ugly, and that warrants a trip to Tibet. Granted, Bash Street is intentionally made to make Springfield Elementary look like an esteemed academy of learning, but still.
Once again, this show ruins what could have been a decent joke by over-explaining it. The class is on a rickety airplane that they have to help hold together. Ha ha, they couldn’t afford a good airplane. Thing is, the stewardess actually calls it ‘Cheapo Airlines’, which pretty much ruins the joke by pointing out what we all figured out.
Then we pretty much have skits to pad out the short. One involves the class finding a burger bar, which heralds the return of our friend, The Occasional Narrator. ‘It’s not just the mountains that are sky-high around here, heh heh,’ he says as the kids order shitloads of food, ‘the prices are too!’ Now, really, there was no need for the narrator. One of the kids could have said that line. That narrator is unnecessary.
Soon Teacher and the kids find the Keeper of the Lake, and are you ready for THE SHOCKING AND FUNNY TWEEEST? The Keeper looks like Plug, and the lake makes people look like Plug! To tell the truth, I think that’s a pretty decent ending for the whole “eye of the beholder” thing and it would be karma for the headmaster. Not enough to redeem it though. I mean, Plug is the catalyst for the plot and he doesn’t speak until the end.
Another 3 Bears, and this one involves them finding a dragon named Scorcher. They use him to raid the food store and Scorcher breathes fire on Pa’s face. The End. Oddly enough, I actually have the annual that includes the comic they’ve adapted here, and said annual actually includes several strips with Scorcher. It also ends with the most racist comic panel in history, one that makes the Silver Age ‘Slap a Jap’ look sensitive.
A Dennis follows, which just involves Gnasher stealing sausages. The next cartoon is a Minnie, called “Minnie Apples”. Yes, the title of every Minnie cartoon has to begin with Minnie, followed by the subject of the episode. Minnie steals a nuclear warhead? “Minnie Bombs”! Minnie is struck with a deadly illness? “Minnie Pneumonia”! Minnie does what Dennis does only it’s different because she’s a girl? “Minnie Fuck It Kids Are Dumb”! Anyway, Minnie tries to get some apples down from a tree they fall down the end. Would you believe we’re only halfway through?
The Bash Street Kids then star in some story about one of the kids pretending to be an alien, and then we have another cartoon which attempts to have more of a story: a Dennis called “Pink Glove”. Dennis goes out, and the narrator returns again to say in the most monotonous way, ‘Oh no, what dastardly deed lurks on Dennis’ doorstep?’ It sounds like even he’s bored of the show at this point. The deed is that someone has put a tub full of soapy water outside Dennis’ door so he can fall into it.
This cruel villain is none other than The Pink Glove, and he is such a stupid villain he makes J Wilbur Wolfingham look like Darkseid. He looks like a cross between the mysterious figure from Psychoville and a garden gnome, rides a hobby horse and tidies up Dennis’ pet pig’s sty. Yes, Dennis has a pet pig. So Dennis tries to get revenge on the Pink Glove by following him to a cafe and throwing a boxing glove filled with socks inside the cafe. Not even going in to see if he could find the Glove. Sadly, the Glove put a trampoline in the cafe so Dennis got hit with his own glove. Do trampolines work that way? How would it have fit in the cafe anyway?
Dennis thinks he sees the Glove, but it turns out to be a cloaked teddy bear, embarrassing Dennis in front of some random family. Hey, what’s wrong with hugging teddies? Teddies are cool, I think of plenty of great teddies. There’s Ted, but I already made a reference to that movie earlier…and…next morning, Dennis awakes to find his room filled with flowers and soft toys. Hmmm, so maybe the Pink Glove is pretty evil after all. Breaking and entering, invasion of privacy and what not. It would at least be the type of story you’d see on Russell Howard’s Good News.
Dennis thinks the Glove must be Walter the Softy, or Walter’s friends Berty and Spotty, so he hatches a plan to sort them out. He then goes to the ice factory, and we know this because the narrator returns to say, ‘At the ice factory…’. Couldn’t we just have had a big sign or something? Anyway, Dennis steals a big block of ice and shoves it into the Softie’s wendy house. His plan is that the softies will need gloves to remove the ice so he will be able to spot the one with pink gloves. Why bother? Why not just pick on all three of the softies since they hang out with each other and are pretty interchangeable? No matter, for the Pink Glove locks Dennis in the wendy house until the softies return.
Dennis then hatches another plan to find the Glove’s identity. He makes a paper chain to catch the softies, and since they’re a hairdresser job away from being gay stereotypes, the chain is too tough for them to break. And check it, when they’re in silhouette, their arms and legs become string-like as if they are living toys. What’s up with that?
A trap is then set for the Pink Glove, and oh look, they remembered what Charlie Chaplin said about the banana peel. So, guess who the Pink Glove is? It’s…Walter’s mum! Who hasn’t appeared in the cartoon before this! You know, instead of someone who has appeared before or might be genuinely unsuspected. Maybe it could have been one of Dennis’ friends trying to pay him back for screwing up a plan or something, hell, I’d prefer it if it were Professor Quaver. Instead, here’s a character affiliated with the softies that is both expected and not set up.
After a parody of, of all things, “The Teddy Bears’ Picnic” – Henry Hall is spinning in his grave – we now have “Minnie Flying”. Minnie wants to fly, and she gets her wish through a hang-glider. That means all the birds are grounded because they’re apparently “safer” down there even though Minnie isn’t doing anything wrong while airborne.
Another Dennis, called “Big Surprise”. I bet the surprise is that the cartoon sucks, hahahahahaha! Oh crap, the bad jokes are rubbing off on me. Dennis’ dad warns Dennis that if he overfeeds Gnasher, Gnasher’ll grow as big as an elephant. Then an elephant escapes the zoo and ends up making itself look like Gnasher. Dennis’s dad sees the elephant looking like Gnasher and the cartoon ends. In most cartoons, Dennis’ dad seeing the elephant looking like Gnasher would be the beginning of an episode, where Dad would try to stupidly make the elephant exercise with silly results, but here, it’s the “punchline”. Humour, thy name is Beano.
The 3 Bears. “Hare Soup”. To tell the truth, I think the 3 Bears sketches are probably the best in this collection. They have a slightly more interesting art style than the other sketches, and the slapstick and gags are better executed. Sadly, they’re straddled with sub-par voice acting and uninteresting stories. Pa tries to catch a hare for supper, but fails. The hare offers to cook him soup, but ends up eating all the soup he made. The hare is officially the best character in this show.
In the next cartoon (just three more, just three more), the Bash Street Kids promise “Molar Mirth”. Let’s see if they’ll deliver. A dentist, called Professor Molaroid (a lot of professors sure visit, don’t they) comes round to the school to talk about taking care of teeth. Molaroid, with his Mr. Sardonicus-esque grin, asks to see everyone’s teeth, including Teacher’s. The class get him to reveal his teeth through tickling his feet in a scene sure to appease fanartists. Teacher has worse teeth than the class and Molaroid has false teeth. Thus you see why so many kids liked the Beano. Kids like misbehaving, and they like adults being as bad as they are to make them feel better about misbehaving.
The next toon is called “Gnipper Pecker” and at the risk of making juvenile jokes about the title, I’ll skip that one.
The final cartoon (thank god) is “Minnie Clones” where Minnie is walking along, and like anyone would, says to no-one, ‘It’s a nice day so I’m out for a walk.’ Then she is approached by a group of girls dressed exactly like her, saying they’re her fans and want to be like her. In this show, we’ve seen her destroy a chair, fail to make apples come down and attempt to fly. Yup, that sure warrants a fanclub.
Minnie then shows the fans how to be minxes. It involves her holding a balloon until some bully demands that he have it. When the bully takes the balloon, he lifts up into the air –Minnie was wearing diving boots – and Minnie gets him down by shooting a cactus at the balloon, causing the bully to land in the duck pond. So…did someone tell the bully Minnie had a balloon? What if no-one noticed her – would she have waited until someone did? And really, she could have killed the poor kid if the cactus had missed or he landed somewhere other than the duck pond. There’s being naughty and there’s attempted murder.
The fans follow up this despicable act with putting jam on people’s faces and tying two peoples’ tailcoats together. This leads to Minnie being chased by the fuzz until her dad comes and punishes her. Then Minnie’s fans…become fans of Minnie’s dad.
This cartoon sucked. The worst elements of the source material were magnified when put on the screen – the obvious, yet over-explained jokes, the sterile animation and art and the lack of variety in story and characters. Some comics were just not meant to be put into animation, and this pretty much shows it.