2015 has already been quite a year for fans of children’s TV classics, with Thunderbirds Are Go and a modern version of The Clangers hitting our screens. Next Monday sees the welcome return of the greatest secret agent in the world: Danger Mouse.
Revived for a new generation, the new series features the vocal talents of comedians Alexander Armstrong (these days best known as the host of quiz show Pointless) and Kevin Eldon in the roles of Danger Mouse and his faithful hamster sidekick Penfold, taking up the reins from David Jason and the late, great Terry Scott.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg of an array of vocal talent that includes Stephen Fry as secret service chief Colonel K, Morwenna Banks (Peppa Pig‘s Mummy Pig and others), Game of Thrones‘ Lena Headey, Rasmus Hardiker (who voices Scott and Alan Tracy in Thunderbirds Are Go) and Armstrong’s Pointless co-host Richard Osman.
The new version is pleasingly faithful to the original. The producers have resisted the temptation to tinker too much with the show’s iconic theme music, and familiar elements from the parent series remain such as the flying yellow Danger Car, Baron Greenback’s frog’s head flyer and the use of a red pillar box as our heroes’ secret base.
There’s also plenty of awful punnery – much of it provided by narrator Dave Lamb (Come Dine With Me) – and sight gags which will leave adults sniggering. For instance, watch out for alternative versions of American TV host Jimmy Kimmel and a certain fruit-based company’s logo in the opening episode.
The show’s villains, characters and missions remain as absurd as ever – the kind of thing that makes Austin Powers look like The Bourne Identity. In addition to Greenback’s usual over-the-top world domination schemes – robot Safety Mouses and giant hybrid mutant sea monsters – the opening run of episodes gives us space bees, giant Welsh-speaking plants, jam-filled missiles, an automated toilet named Dr Loocifer and a megalomaniacal pre-teen girl named Dawn. (Or is that just any pre-teen girl?) There’s even a fight scene portrayed in pitch darkness with only the characters’ glowing eyes visible – a staple feature of the original, which was done deliberately to reduce the animators’ workload.
It’s not all the same, though. While fans of the original will find much that is familiar and reassuring, there’s an unmistakably 21st-century feel to the new show. Distinctive elements of London’s contemporary skyline feature. Danger Mouse’s trademark eye-patch now contains a head-up display. And the lack of a major female character has been addressed with the inclusion of the Q-like Professor Squawkencluck (Shauna Macdonald).
Future episodes will introduce Headey’s American agent Jeopardy Mouse and a return for Count Duckula, who first appeared as a villain in the original before earning his own spin-off show.
Shush. We’ll worry about those problems after we’ve caused them.
But is the new show actually any good?
Yes, it is. Kids will love the slapstick goofiness of it all. The dry delivery of Alexander Armstrong as Danger Mouse makes him a perfect choice as a successor to David Jason. The same goes for Stephen Fry’s Colonel K. And perhaps most importantly it retains much of the sly, anarchic charm of the original series, whose humour and visual style was evocative of Monty Python and The Goodies.
At a time when the James Bond franchise is enjoying a new lease of popularity, it’s good to see his rodent counterpart back in his all-white jump-suit. Judging from the opening five (of 50) episodes, kids of all ages are in for a treat.
Danger Mouse is on at 6pm on weekdays on the CBBC channel from Monday 28th September.