BBC Video and Warner Bros. has released Charlie and Lola, Vol. Six: How Many More Minutes Until Christmas, a collection of seven episodes from the second season of the marvelous British children's cartoon (although the title episode doesn't appear to have aired before on television). For my money the best toon out there for small children, Charlie and Lola, Vol. Six: How Many More Minutes Until Christmas is as charming and funny as the previous collections, and weathers a significant cast change just fine.
Now, I've written extensively on Charlie and Lola (please click on Volume 1, Volume 2, Volume 3, and Volume 5 to read those reviews), so I won't get into a lot of background on the show, but loyal fans know that a vocal cast change was called for at the end of Season One, because performers Jethro Lundie Brown's and Masie Cowell's voices matured past the point where they would be believable as eight and five-year-olds. And if you've ever seen any of the first season episodes, you understand the consternation some fans had when they learned that new actors would be voicing the characters. Simply put, despite the imagination and genuine style that goes into the design and execution of these delightful animations, the voice work is the primary reason Charlie and Lola works. And Brown and Cowell were adorable as the brother and sister team.
Luckily, the producers of Charlie and Lola were able to find sound-alikes who are equally skilled at personifying the steady, reliable, ever-patient Charlie, and the flighty, imaginative little dear, Lola. Clementine Cowell, whom I assume is related to Masie, is letter perfect as the sweet, sometimes exasperating Lola, and Daniel Mayers is equally good as the watchful, faithful Charlie. When I heard that new voices were going to be used for the series, I was hesitant; after all, it all seemed like a repeat of my childhood, when I would listen to later Charlie Brown specials, detecting various voices for characters that didn't match previous incarnations. But I needn't have worried about the episodes featured in Charlie and Lola, Vol. Six: How Many More Minutes Until Christmas; if I hadn't known about the voice switches already, I would have had a difficult time detecting them.
That being said, the actual episodes included in Charlie and Lola, Vol. Six: How Many More Minutes Until Christmas are all up to par with previous installments, as well. It's still a most appealing show, with the amusing, irrepressible Lola still managing to make the calm, reasonable Charlie laugh, even when he doesn't want to laugh. In Charlie is Broken, Charlie breaks his arm, and Lola gets a chance to nurse him, as he has done for her in previous episodes. It's a such a delicate, small little episode, beautifully handled by the scriptwriters. I Really Wonder What Plant I'm Growing is a much more informational episode, with plenty of fun facts for kids on how and why plants grow (I particularly like it when they shrink Charlie and Lola down for a ride on a big bumble bee). I Am Extremely Magic is another wonderful look at Lola feeling down about her abilities (she can't seem to do magic as well as Charlie) until Charlie shows her what a success she really is. And How Many More Minutes Until Christmas? should please fans looking for another holiday treat to watch with their children. Highly imaginative (as almost all the episodes are), I particularly liked how Charlie and Lola shrink down (in their imagination, of course), and enter their Christmas Advent calendar, trekking to Christmas Land, where they must tear away the wrapping paper sky to help the elves wrap all the presents for Father Christmas. It's a funny, sweet moment, utilizing the 2-D photo-collage animation process to wonderful effect.
Here are the seven, 11-minute episodes of Charlie and Lola, Vol. Five: How Many More Minutes Until Christmas?:
How Many More Minutes Until Christmas?
Charlie and Lola get ready for Christmas by hanging up their Advent calendar. But the Christmas Day door is missing, so they tear open a new one to enter Christmas Land.
Charlie is Broken
While practicing their acrobatics for circus they want to put on, Charlie breaks his arm, and it's up to Lola to play nursemaid for her disappointed older brother.
I Completely Know About Guinea Pigs
Lola lucks out and gets a chance to take home Bert, her class' guinea pig, for the holiday break. Unfortunately, Bert immediately gets lost in Lola's apartment - with a big surprise waiting for Charlie and Lola when he's found.
I Spy With My Little Eyes
During a game of "I Spy" with her imaginary friend, Soren Lorenson, Lola is convinced that she sees a green ogre - as well as a family of wolves who may have moved in next door!
I Am Really, Really, Really Concentrating
Lola has to find a race she is good at, so she can win a competition on Sports Day at school. However, even the spoon race proves a tough obstacle for her.
I Really Wonder What I'm Growing
Charlie is growing a tomato plant, so Lola wants to grow something, too. But she's having quite a bit of difficulty keeping anything alive.
I Am Extremely Magic
When Charlie astounds Lola with his magic tricks, she wants to learn, as well. But maybe she isn't "extremely magic."
The anamorphically enhanced, 1.85:1 widescreen video image for Charlie and Lola, Vol. Six: How Many More Minutes Until Christmas? is pristine. Colors are bright and vivid, with a 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 minor extras on the Charlie and Lola, Vol. Six: How Many More Minutes Until Christmas? disc. First up is the It's Snowing montage, with clips from the first episode, as well as a short sequence with Lola spinning around some snowflakes. There's also a short Funny Outtakes bonus which has two brief audio clips of the child actors, set to animation. Compared to other volumes of the Charlie and Lola DVDs, that's a pretty meager offering.
Despite a vocal cast change, Charlie and Lola, Vol. Six: How Many More Minutes Until Christmas? continues to be the best early childhood animated series out there. The new actors seamlessly blend in, and the stories are just as cute and charming as they were in the First Season, with the added bonus here of an original Christmas episode. I highly recommend Charlie and Lola, Vol. Six: How Many More Minutes Until Christmas?.
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.