“ Genre: Television - Aardman's Darkside / Theatrical Release: 1999 / Suitable for 15 years and over / Director: Darren Walsh / Actors: David Holt, Darren Walsh, Paul Merton, Arthur Smith, Frank Passingham ... / DVD released 2006-09-18 at 2 Entertain Video / Features of the DVD: PAL „
Aardman's Darkside is an anthology of animated series and films (mainly) made by Aardman studios, who are famous for Wallace and Gromit and Creature Comforts. The collection consists of several series and three short films that move away from the typical cute, talking animals and gentle, family-friendly gags of Aaardman's usual fare and tackle slightly edgier themes with more adult humour.
First up is 'Angry Kid', 12 episodes that last just a few minutes each and feature a supremely annoying teenager played by a real man wearing a huge false head. The episodes usually consist of Angry Kid caught up an everyday situation - in trouble at school, arguing with his strange little sister or fighting with his classmate Speccy, both of whom are animated figures rather than real actors. Visually, this is a bit amateurish, although the combination of Angry Kid's human body and animated facial features is quite unusual. The plots are always really puerile and revolve around fighting and farting and not much else - bound to appeal to teenage boys everywhere (and some men!) but a bit repetitive and unoriginal in my opinion. Still, there is occasionally a slightly surrealist element or a twist at the end which raises the series above the toilet humour genre.
Next we have four episodes of the politically-incorrect cartoon series 'Big Jeff', also extremely rude and puerile but in a different way. Jeff is a beer-swilling, naked Australian rollerskater ("the Aussie with no cozzy") who finds everything "bloody marvellous!" and the four episodes see him helping a friend give birth, presenting his own TV show and introducing the educational 'Bushcraft Alphabet', among other things. The episodes are quite a sensory feast, with blasts of the cheapest, tackiest eurodance-style music and strange, psychedelic images and sound bites popping up throughout each episode. It moves so fast that it's hard to get a real grasp on what's happening the first time you watch it. The animation is quite basic but most of of the characters featured are weird and wonderful imaginary creatures. We are warned at the beginning that the carton may cause offence, and I can imagine it would, with its heavy reliance on toilet and adult humour. The whole thing seems made to shock, but it's a little cleverer and more tongue-in-cheek than Angry Kid. All in all, I found it hilarious. The only thing that grates is that the actor who does Jeff's voice cannot keep up the Aussie accent and keeps slipping back in to English pronunciation.
The third series on the DVD is Rex the Runt (4 10-min episodes), which bears the most resemblance to Wallace and Gromit and Creature Comforts. In my opinion it's the best thing on the DVD. It features four little plasticine dogs: foolish Rex, pragmatic Wendy, stupid and greedy Big Bob and doolally Vince, who live together in a semi-detached house in a doggy world not quite unlike our own. They constantly battle with everyday issues, such as debts, intruders, gang culture and dodgy plastic surgeons. It's extremely well-scripted and voiced (with celebrity guest voices from Paul Merton and Phil Jupitus among others). Heavily ironic, it's more for adults but also really funny in a way that also appeals to children, though they might not get all the jokes. It's the kind of thing that benefits from repeated viewing as the visual and verbal gags come thick and fast. My favourite episode is the one where Bad Bob joins a gang so tame that their initiation rite involves pouring a tin of beans over a widow's doorstep. There is also a very clever episode where the friends enter a TV talent show in order to win money to pay their bills. I also love the scenes filmed outside, where the tiny plasticine creatures are walking down real-sized streets. The series was first on TV in the late 1990s and I'm surprised it's not more popular or at least better known.
The final series on the DVD is A Town Called Panic (3 5-min episodes), which was made in Belgium and just distributed by Aardman. This appears really low budget - it features two Cowboy and Indian toys (the little rigid plastic figurines that kids used to play with in the 70s and 80s) and a toy horse who all live together in a house on top of a hill. They lead simple lives but something always seems to cause them problems. This is both really silly and very cleverly made. In one episode Cowboy and Indian house-sit for a farmer whose animals break in, redecorate the house and install a swimming pool and sandy beach. In another, Cowboy, Indian and Horse are menaced by an angry toy bear. It's very funny but not the kind of thing I could watch over and over again. It's also completely suitable for children.
These are made up of three short films:
Boxed In tells the story of an old man trying to catch a mouse - I found this a bit dull, to be honest.
Ramble On is a cartoon about a Welsh climber who gets lost in the wilderness and finds the animals to be very hostile indeed. This was fairly well done, with a good musical score, and pretty to look at.
Out of Joint features a little cartoon figure who is depressed because he doesn't have a nose. When he finally gets one, he realises his world is not as great as he though it was. This was both a humorous story and also visually very charming.
In conclusion, this DVD is an introduction to several Aardman animation series that are not very well known. It has a good mixture of different styles of animation and humour, and I would definitely look out for more episodes of Big Jeff, A Town Called Panic and especially Rex the Runt - all three are original, clever and very funny in their own different ways. I was disappointed with Angry Kid, which I found quite unfunny and repetitive, and while the short films are ok in general they're nothing special. Overall this a watchable DVD and worth a look if you're a fan of animated series.
In case you're wondering where the quote in the title comes from, the DVD case has a sound chip in it, which squawks, "You've just pushed my angry button!" in Angry Kid's voice when pressed.
The DVD lasts 80 mins in total, is rated Cert 15 and is currently on sale for £11.37 at Amazon.
To watch clips of the featured series go to: