Background: Spy shows have been a staple of our culture for generations now, not just the Ian Fleming character of James Bond either. The Cold War spanning from the end of WWII until more recent times was the inspiration for some of the best dramatic handling of how spies work, typically undercover and as unobtrusive as possible, usually reserved for gathering information on secrets or taking care of the dirty work governments don't want out in the open. Well, we all have our favorite genres and reviewers that cover them so it should come as no surprise that John Sinnott's look at a spy spoof would get me interested in the series I hadn't seen in almost 25 years, that being the subject of today's review of Danger Mouse: The Complete Series. The series was shown on Nickelodeon, a cable channel that was an up and comer back in the 1980's, dedicated to providing quality children's entertainment, though offering up some shows mislabeled for children only too.
The menus stayed the same from the original releases.
The Series: Danger Mouse: The Complete Series was an animated show from England that starred an animated mouse, Danger Mouse, as a government agent who took on missions involving super villains like Baron Silas Greenback as they sought to dominate the world. The hero was patterned largely after James Bond and some of the characters played by Patrick McGoohan (who had a lesser known show called Danger Man in addition to the more popular cult classic The Prisoner); sporting an eye patch, white jump suit, and proving to be in great shape as he jaunted around the universe righting wrongs. Most of his exploits took place on Earth, though he would freely take some oxygen pills and fly off into space as needed, dragging his man-servant Ernest Penfold along to assist as needed.
Each episode would start with the duo chilling in their secret layer, interrupted by their boss Colonel K (also called Special K in a move that probably made the cereal company quite happy). Danger Mouse, or DM for short, would jump up with Penfold and get into their cool spy car, heading out to save the day without fail, typically resolving whatever problems came up fairly quickly since the episodes were so short in length. The first season had a running time between 10 and 12 minutes with subsequent seasons trying new formats like five "chapters" lasting 5 minutes each in a larger arc as employed in later seasons. Like any time constricted formula, this forced the story to drop any hints of subtlety in favor of getting down to business (the shorter episodes would still require a cliffhanger for all but the last episode though neither style really gave a lot of time to develop a situation in any depth).
Danger Mouse and Penfold in the Mark III.
So, like most Saturday morning cartons, Danger Mouse could get repetitive though unlike the television standards here in the USA, the show was decidedly shorter and there were not many episodes (under a dozen per season; the set holding all 89 of them for the 9 disc, ten season set). Still, fans of British humor will embrace the dry wit employed and pop culture buffs will find the numerous references to television and movies (usually native products but not always) as something to look for. The nostalgia factor also weighs heavily here as those of you with the most disposable income for such a show are likely the ones that watched the show back in the mid 1980's when it aired that might want something for your children to enjoy and share with you rather than the mindless dreck foisted upon them by the "TV show as commercial for toys" style so heavily in evidence today.
As far as the show's evolution over the ten year run, suffice it to say that there really wasn't a lot noticed. I was a casual watcher of the show when it aired and when the familiar voice of David Jason would beckon (along with Edward Kelsey who voiced Penfold), I would sit back and watch the show, usually skipping the filler cartoons tossed in to flesh out the show. As stated previously, the parody elements were strong in the show, many of the titles were barely disguised nods to mainstream efforts like Ice Station Camel, Close Encounters of the Absurd Kind, and The Spy Who Stayed In With A Cold coming to mind among the better known tributes. There was also a rapid fire nature to the jokes and puns used in the show so if you missed something, there wouldn't be much time to figure it out before the episode would be onto the next, and next, and more after that but as bad as most of them were, the overall impression I got watching the show over a three day period was that it had a lot to like and was never the kind of show that I would hesitate recommending to those of you with small children. The lack of swearing, blood, guts, & gore alone were selling points although I would ration out these uncut beauties since I found it easy to overload on them watching multiple seasons at a time.
Baron Greenback schemes with his pet.
As with any show like this one, the bad guys were the ones that made the situations interesting. Most of the time, DM fought against Baron Silas Greenback and his crow henchman Stiletto Mafiosa, figuring out the thinly veiled plots in no time at all before saving the day. The next most common villain was Count Duckula, a combination of Dracula and Daffy Duck that became popular enough to make for a short lived spin off series by the company too. The series dynamic of DM being the primary savior of the day was also changed up from time to time in such episodes as Hear Hear, Beware of Mexicans Delivering Milk, and Public Enemy No. 1 but given the time constraints; the basic formula of the problem arising in the opening seconds, followed by the duo chasing the bad guys down for the confrontation after some slight missteps, and then the happy ending, was followed in every case; albeit more successfully in the longer episodes that came once the show was established. In all then, I liked the boxed set enough to rate it as Recommended, noting that a few of the voices sounded different to me from how I remembered them (the company telling me that this was the uncut, unedited, ORIGINAL version of the show in its entirety so you can't complain that music was changed or scenes edited out).
Who Stole the Bagpipes?
Trouble With Ghosts
The Chicken Run
The Martian Misfit
The Dream Machine
Lord of the Bungle
The World of Machines
Ice Station Camel
The Plague of Pyramids
Stiletto Mafiosa was Greenback's henchman.
Close Encounters of the Absurd Kind
The Day of the Suds
The Bad Luck Eye of the Little Yellow God
The Four Tasks of Danger Mouse
The Invasion of Colonel 'K'
Danger Mouse Saves the World ... Again
The Odd Ball Runaround
The Strange Case of the Ghost Bus
Trip to America
The Wild, Wild Goose Chase
The Return of Count Duckula
Demons Aren't Dull
150 Million Years Lost
The Planet of the Cats
4 Heads Are Better than 2
Tower of Terror
The Great Bone Idol
Public Enemy No. 1
Count Duckla proved to be a popular character, earning a spin off series.
Long Lost Crown Affair
By George It's a Dragon
Tiptoe Through the Penfolds
The Next Ice Age Begins at Midnight
The Aliens are Coming
The Man From Gadget
Tampering With Time Tickles
Once Upon a Time Slip
Viva Danger Mouse
Play it Again, Wufgang
The Spy Who Stayed in With a Cold
It's All White, White Wonder
The Hickory Dickory Dock Dilemma
What a Three-Point Turn-Up For the Book
Alping is Snow Easy Matter
One of Our Stately Homes is Missing
Afternoon Off - With the Fangboner
Beware of Mexicans Delivering Milk
The Good, the Bad and the Motionless
The Clock Strikes Back!
Bandits, Beans and Ballyhoo!
Have You Fled Any Good Books Lately?
Tut, Tut, It's Not Pharaoh
Lost, Found and Spellbound
Journey to the Earth's Cor!
Colonel K starred in a few episodes but was typically relegated to the second fiddle role.
Danger Mouse On The Orient Express
The Ultra Secret Secret
Duckula Meets Frankenstoat
Where There's A Well There's A Way
All Fall Down
Turn Of The Tide
Cor! What A Picture!
I Spy With My Little Eye
The Statue Of Liberty Caper
A Dune With A View
Don Coyote And Sancho Penfold
Crumhorn Strikes Back
Ants, Trees And Whoops-A-Daisy
There's A Penfold In My Suit
Rhyme And Punishment
The Intergalactic 147
Penfold had a propensity for getting in trouble.
Picture: Danger Mouse: The Complete Series was presented in the same 1.33:1 ratio full frame as shot by director Brian Cosgrove for airing on television in England starting in 1981 (the first bunch of episodes had a copyright date of 1080) and subsequent airing in the USA in 1984. The picture does not appear to have been remastered from the previous releases, looking like the original releases were simply banded together in a new box for those of you that hoped the animation might be cleaned up a bit. There was a significant amount of grain, print scratches, dirt, and other flaws, with some mosquito noise present in most of the episodes that had large areas of a single color. The clarity of the focus was off a bit too but that was how I remembered the show looking long ago and given how it looked when I lasted caught a few episodes on cable, this is distinctly better in all ways. As far as the animation itself is concerned, there really wasn't much of it; the show typically sticking with ways to cut production costs and time by using static shots with some limited mouth movements. As John reminded me, even the lips moving were covered up a lot and many of the shots were merely repeated throughout the seasons to get to the meat of the episodes but given the age of the material, this is to be expected.
Sound: The audio was presented in English with no other languages or subtitles. The 2.0 Dolby Digital lable on the package was confirmed on my receiver but I detected no separation until the very end of the series, even then proving to be a weak use of the format. The voices were easy to hear and the music was okay (though repetitive; I think they used the same five or six pieces throughout the ten seasons) but the dynamic range was nothing to speak of either. In short, it sounded like it had a low budget even though this got the job done. As far as reported distortions and flaws on the tracks, I can admit that I heard more than a couple of them over the 89 episodes but it seemed in keeping with the show and I have been assured that no better prints of the series exist, said flaws being part of the original material used when it aired too (though some of them might have been edited or filtered out).
Extras: Considering there were 9 discs holding all 89 episodes, I really wasn't expecting a lot of extras so I wasn't disappointed. There is reportedly a Region 2 set out with 12 discs that has a lot more extras but the cost is prohibitive to all but the most serious completist. In this package were the original extras for the season sets that came out over the last few years, including 2 episodes from the now released Count Duckula series, a set of repeated character descriptions, some sing along and karaoke options, a few music tracks that competed to become the theme song (but were used almost as much from what I heard), and the original pilot episode "The Mystery of the Lost Chord" which was a slightly longer version of Who Stole The Bagpipes that became the second released episode of the series. The discs were all in their original boxes with a new cardboard box holding them together, no paper inserts to be found outside of some A&E catalogs.
Final Thoughts: Danger Mouse: The Complete Series was a cute send up of the many secret agent series that have graced the small and large screen over the years. Borrowing from such a wealth of sources, and reminding me greatly of the old Secret Squirrel series in terms of humanizing animals as well as the silly puns and catch phrases, the show reflected the British culture that spawned it very closely. If you like the dry wit the Brits are known for and have a decent understanding of their culture, especially circa the 1980's, Danger Mouse: The Complete Series should be on your short list for shows that pay tribute to pop culture, the spy dynamic, and television shows in general. Don't watch it all at once and don't dwell too heavily on some of the references made but expect to have a good, clean time with your family as you watch this one in this unedited, uncut Region One version. If you happen to know what extras the limited Region Two version has (varying sources suggested different extras so I won't list them), let me know but this is as good as most people expect of this time tested animation classic for now.
If you enjoy anime and animation such as this one, take a look at some of the recommendations by DVD Talk's twisted cast of reviewers in their Best Of Anime 2003, Best Of Anime 2004, Best of Anime 2005, and Best of Anime 2006 articles or their regular column Anime Talk.