BBC Video and Warner Bros. has released Charlie and Lola Five: But I Am an Alligator and More Stories!, the fifth volume of disarming, delightful animated shorts based on Lauren Child' sweet children's books. I've written reviews for three previous Charlie and Lola volumes (please click on Volume 1, Volume 2, and Volume 3, to read those reviews), so I won't go into a lot of detail about the show. Suffice is to say that Charlie and Lola is one of my favorite animated series, with a lovely, amusing viewpoint to its stories about a lively, imaginative (and ever-so-slightly ornery) little girl named Lola, and her nurturing, endlessly patient older brother, Charlie. In no way saccharine or obvious, but always light and funny and effortlessly charming, Charlie and Lola slips in meaningful lessons about growing up, without your child really knowing it - and that's the best way to do such things.
Charlie and Lola takes a look at five-year-old Lola, a bright little charmer who determinedly goes her own way, not very mindful of whether or not that's the proper way to do things. Her brother, eight-year-old Charlie, a watchful, understanding caretaker, often gently guides Lola around, even if he has to suffer just a little bit at the hands of willful Lola. Often suggesting that she use her imagination when disappointed with the realities of life, Charlie doesn't just order Lola to follow his rules; he helps show her how the world really works, and how she can adapt and fit in, without giving up her individuality or her own authority over herself.
What I always find particularly rewarding about the Charlie and Lola shorts is their facility in being about "something," without that message ever getting in the way of their entertainment value. Each episode, Lola invariably learns something that helps her grow as a person, but your child will never suspect that because the lessons come from within the characters and the plotlines; they're not arbitrary and strident, and just pasted on to satisfy watchdog groups like so many other dopey cartoons that trot out an unmotivated moral at the end of the running time.
Using an amusing 2D cell animation/photo-collage method of animation, with live and still footage incorporated, Charlie and Lola's look is as bouncy and alive as its characters, with Charlie and Lola's frequent flights of fancy wonderfully brought to life by the animators. Particularly funny in this collection is Lola and Charlie's dance with penguins, and Lola's ride atop a giraffe. Friends Marv and Lotta are back, and dog Sizzles makes an appearance, too. And for the dedicated Charlie and Lola fans, who accept only Jethro Lundie Brown (Charlie) and Masie Cowell(Lola), the original voice actors of the first season, they're still here for these episodes.
Here are the seven, 11-minute episodes of Charlie and Lola Five: But I Am an Alligator and More Stories!:
I Like My Hair Completely the Way it Is
Lola's hair is too long and messy, and it's time for Charlie to take her to the hair salon. After imagining her hair in various ways, Charlie discovers that Lola is scared to get her hair cut.
I Do Not Ever, Never Want My Wobbly Tooth to Fall Out
Lola has her first loose tooth, but she doesn't want it to fall out - until she finds out about the Tooth Fairy!
I Must Take Completely Everything
Lola has a sleepover at Lotta's, so she must pack everything to have a satisfactory visit. But when Lola forgets her bag, she learns that imagination can be just as much fun as toys.
I Am Hurrying; I'm Almost Nearly Ready!
Charlie tries to teach Lola to focus on getting ready for school in the morning, but Lola has entirely too many things to do in the morning.
I Want To Be Much More Bigger Like You
Lola wants to ride with Charlie and Marv on the Super Duper Loop-the-Looper at the fair, but she's too little, and Charlie must convince her that there are good reasons for being little.
But I Am an Alligator
Lola loves to play dress up, and she wants to wear her alligator costume everywhere. But she finds she can't play her outside games very well with the heavy costume on.
Snow is My Favorite and My Best
Lola waits and waits for the first snow fall to come, and in the morning, she has an entire park covered in white waiting for her. But the snow only lasts one day, and it's up to Charlie, as usual, to cheer her up.
The anamorphically enhanced, 1.85:1 widescreen video image for Charlie and Lola Three: My Little Town and More Stories! is pristine. Colors are bright and vivid, with snappy sharpness to the picture.
The English 2.0 stereo audio mix is strong and clear, perfectly picking up the jauntiest, coolest cartoon theme song out there. English subtitles are available.
There are a couple of cute extras on the Charlie and Lola Five: But I Am an Alligator and More Stories!. First up is a Mix and Match game, which allows your child to mix and match the bodies and heads of the various animal characters in the show. There's also a Funny Little Clip, which is a 30 second montage clip from several episodes. There's also a short Funny Outtakes bonus which has two brief audio clips of the child actors who voice Marv and Lotta, set to animation. And finally, there's a six-and-a-half minute interview with author Lauren Child, who discusses the characters, and the process of converting her books into animated cartoons.
I can't stress enough how charming and delightful these Charlie and Lola cartoons are; they're perfect for young children who need a break from the more crass animated offerings out there. I highly recommend Charlie and Lola Five: But I Am an Alligator and More Stories!.
Paul Mavis is an internationally published film and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.