Its opening is reminiscent of both Time Bandits and the TV adaptation of Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy: a benevolent computer exposits for us over a synthscape, with jaunty country-infused title music. Thirteen ten-minute episodes ensue, as the tiny Nomes who live in a department store discover their home is going to be demolished.
There are some folk who dismiss the notion of watching children’s telly because it’s “for children” and this somehow means that it can’t possibly be good – as if Doctor Who, The Sarah Jane Adventures, Horrible Histories, Knightmare, Round the Twist and all the other good children’s shows can’t be enjoyed by adults. This is one of those shows that has a lot of jokes aimed at adults, with a religion based on misunderstandings and the semantics of a department store.
The entire thing is played totally straight, which makes it seem somewhat dry due to its deadpan style. The story plays out slowly, and it’s not heavy on action. Fantasy segues into science-fiction effortlessly, and there’s a lot of hovering over the border between ‘Cleverness’ and ‘Silly Puns’.
It’s also one of the most matter-of-factly grim children’s shows you’ll see. Someone gets partly eaten in the first episode. A funeral is full of pitch-black humour, with joyfully ludicrous events being delivered with religious reverence. You could, if you wanted, take it as a parody of organised religion, with a discussion of Scientific versus Religious Beliefs. Or you could take it as a grotesque spectacle that you’d expect from The League of Gentlemen.
Stop-motion animation really works for this scenario. Considering the other alternatives (CSO, forced perspective) available at the time, it makes sense for a series about tiny people to use animation to achieve the sense of scale. After a while you stop noticing the animation, and just accept the world you’re watching.
It’s helped by the characterisation – when a new character appears you get an impression of them very quickly through the script, the animation, and the acting. It’s very well made, with only the pacing an issue. The digital restoration has done well with the source material, which is still fuzzy at times, but a dark palette suits the story. There are no extras on the disc however.
The other two books in the series weren’t adapted, which is a shame. Rumours of a film version linger on, but as with many of Pratchett’s works it sadly seems stuck in development hell. In the meantime, this is ideal as a treat for adults who read the books as a child.
Released on DVD on Monday 7 October 2013.
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