Having now returned to the leafy suburbs of Bromley and a house with Sky TV, I noticed that the children’s classic book series The Famous Five has been remade as a contemporary cartoon series on the Disney Channel.
As I read these books as a child I was naturally curious how it had been approached. As many people who grew up with these books will remember, the books involved a group of 4 upper middle class children (all privately educated at boarding school of course!) and one upper middle class dog (for some reason given the status of a person in spite of not being able to talk and having fleas) going on jovial mystery solving adventures in the 1940’s countryside on their own, eating slap up lunches of cakes, sweets and lashings of Ginger beer. Naturally the books seemed to describe a life style which seems archaic, rather lavish and really quite charming in its way. Ginger beer was the real head scratcher for me as I tried it once or twice and thought it tasted vile; certainly not refreshing or even a treat, still each to there own.
Apart from pleasing all ethnic profiles, the show is given more up to date crimes such as DVD pirating (those devils!) and also the children are well versed with modern gadgets such as mobiles laptops etc.
So if the characters are different who are they?
- Jo - Short for Jyoti, a Hindi word meaning light, she is the daughter of George Kirrin who like her mother before her is a tomboy and prefers to shorten her name to a more masculine form. She is of Anglo-Indian descent, her father is man named Raavi who George met in the Himalayas.
- Max - Son of Julian Kirrin, an adrenaline junkie, who enjoys sports such as mountain biking and skateboarding.
- Allie - Daughter of Anne Kirrin, who moved to California after University and who is now a successful Art dealer. Allie, who was born in
Californiabefore moving to Falcongate, is a shopaholic and who uses her cellphone to stay in contact with America.
- Dylan - Son of Dick Kirrin, a fan of gadgets and aspiring entrepreneur who likes to look for ways to make money.
- Timmy - The Famous Five's trusty pet dog.
(information taken from Wikipedia)
Unfortunately the whole idea of the characters living in modern times and being adrenaline junkies, or gadget fans means all the charm is lost and doesn’t extract a glisteny eyed view of a seemingly perfect world where kids can eat sweets until they burst everyday, there is no fear of stabbing and paedophiles and everyone speaks with a charming regional accent or the queen’s English. Of course there are criminals but even they seem to have a sense of fair play, in that they don’t tend to abuse children (save for the occasional clip round the ear) women, or kill people, the threat of death is still there but it’s a low threat at best. Naturally I know the world was never this idealised but who cares as it was a pleasant place to escape to.
In spite of all the changes I noted on my one viewing that some things never change and that goes for the way that these kids talk in the new series. For instance the phrase “a negative nanny” appeared which if I know contemporary English doesn’t really fit into modern slang. Still it’s better than “LOL OMG ROFL” finding its way in to the mix.
At one point I also wondered if Timmy the dog had been replaced with a chimpanzee, which I was rather ambivalent about as on one hand it would prove a funny example about how modernizers try to cash in with exotic or ridiculous characters. On the other I’m pleased that they stuck to a traditional animal sidekick.
Overall I would have to say I don’t think the modern version will last. I know I could be wrong but there really is no charm or sense of adventure that could be found in the books or previous TV adaptations, it all seems a bit Scooby Doo now. Maybe the reason these books worked in the first place was because they were out of touch with reality. Then again Harry Potter and His Dark Materials suggests more than anything that that is what children probably want from fiction. The modern world is hardly escapist in the end.