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Mouse and Mole at Christmas Time, an interview with Joy Whitby

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For the uninitiated Mouse and Mole were a series of children’s animated tales created by Joyce Dunbar before being turned into an animated mini series. After a break of over a decade the pair have returned with old friends and new in a christmas adventure starring original voice artists Alan Bennett and the late Richard Briars who recorded his role before passing away earlier this year. They are also joined by Shrew, voiced by Imelda Staunton who wreaks havoc in the house whilst Mole takes a dangerous trip to an icy pond where wishes come true.


The charming children’s short is available on the BBC iPlayer here and can be viewed over the christmas period until the 2nd January 2014. The short has been produced by Laughing Gravy Media with all the animation direction, animation, illustration, production co-ordination, pipeline development and all post production put together by Manchester based Studio Liddell. We talked to Director and Producer Joy Whitby about the short as well as the hopeful future for the characters

Mouse and Mole were animated a few years ago, what lead to the decision to bring them back for Christmas?

The chronology tells its own story: The original stories were first published in 1996 when I bought the rights for my company, Grasshopper Productions. By 2002 we had produced 19 five-minuters which sold all over the world. We always intended to complete a series of 26 but were advised to divert and make a Christmas Special. This was the start of problems: funding fell through and after that, sources of finance became more and more difficult to access. I had such an affection for the characters that in 2007 I teamed up with Baird TV and Clive Juster & Associates (trusted colleagues from past ventures) and we set up Mouse and Mole Ltd specifically to work on a Christmas Special. It took years to secure enough finance so our production this Christmas was a triumph of faith in the subject-matter and persistence in the face of innumerable set-backs.


Although still 2D, the animation is different. Can you explain the animation choices made when deciding to revive the characters given that technology has moved on since the original series?

Our original animator, the award-winning Alison de Vere, sadly died in 2001 but she left us a beautiful storyboard. Her work still looks fresh and original – small children watch the five-minute episodes again and again on DVD, as do adults because of their charm and many levels of appeal. But we were aware of the danger of looking old-fashioned if we didn’t take account of today’s “look” so we searched for a new team of animators who would respect Alison’s style but adapt it to current technology. Out of a short-list we choseLaughing Gravy Media who have done us proud.

Alan Bennett and the late Richard Briers reprise their roles as Mouse and Mole with Imelda Staunton joining them, what makes their voices so iconic for the roles?

These marvellous actors interpreted Joyce Dunbar’s characters with unique understanding. They enjoyed working together and it shows in the results. The Shrew was a newcomer for the half-hour Special and because there are songs in this Christmas story, we needed an actress who was also able to sing really well – which Imelda Staunton does to perfection. As the years accumulated, we were concerned about the danger of ill health along the way and decided to record the voice/overs in 2008 as a first step towards completing the whole project. It was a key decision because without Richard Briers’ contribution, I doubt if I would have had the heart to persist. There are still 7 sound tracks for the remaining five-minuters for which we hope to raise enough finance to commission further animation.


Why do you think Children enjoy animated animal characters so much?

An interesting question but I don’t know the answer – perhaps it’s because you can attach human characteristics to a dog or a frog without the limitations of a human body. Certainly anthropomorphic animals have featured in literature for thousands of years: Aesop’s Fables in 650 BC, Beatrix Potter etc

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