How often are revivals of classic kids TV shows actually worthwhile? You’d be hard-pressed to find people who enjoyed the old stop motion wonders of Fireman Sam and Postman Pat to have many positive things to say about the shiny but often soulless CGI zombies that have lurched from the laboratory (watching the new Fireman Sam will make you want to actively burn things). Yet, quietly and without fanfare, the irreverent Danger Mouse has been revived for modern eyes with all the iconic quirky joy still intact.
Originally broadcast in 1981, Danger Mouse was (and still is) a British children’s animated series starring the titular Danger Mouse as the self-proclaimed “World’s Greatest Secret Agent”. Along with Penfold, his loyal (but timid) hamster sidekick, the two agents battle various evil and often bizarre occurrences, as guided by the permanently bewildered chief spy master, Colonel K. The revived series features the voices of Alexander Armstrong as Danger Mouse, Kevin Eldon as Penfold, and Stephen Fry as the Colonel, with all events narrated upon by the frequently fourth wall breaking Dave Lamb.
There are plenty of other colourful characters to round out the cast. In homage to James Bond’s ‘Q’, there is Professor Squawkencluck (Shauna Macdonald) who supplies weird and wonderful devices with exasperation, knowing full well that the blasé attitude of Danger Mouse will lead to their misuse. Main antagonist Baron Silas von Greenback (a slimy toad looking to destabilise the world…just because) rasps threats from atop his latest Armageddon devices. Even the 1981 crossover with sister series Count Duckula is referenced as the conniving vampire mallard makes an appearance.
What sets Danger Mouse apart from its contemporaries is just how funny it is. The show operates with plenty of bombast to keep the small ones entertained, whilst also chucking in plenty of puns or tongue in cheek jingoism to amuse adults. When a show parodies the most famous Victorian English engineer by including a monkey inventor baddie called Isambard King Kong Brunel, you know you are on to a winner. The fourth wall breaking narration often invites the watcher to be in on the jokes which come thick and fast throughout.
It’s easy for nostalgia to gloss over issues with a show. Whilst this reviewer has many a fond memory of watching Danger Mouse back when he was small, thin, and his long afternoons consisted of extended Mega Drive sessions, a recent rewatch dredged up some previously unconsidered flaws. Back when David Jason voiced the rodent super spy, the distinctively weird hand-drawn animation was achieved by being, well, cheap and sparse. Episodes dragged with little purpose at times, and there was at least one very questionable racially insensitive episode that made me wince.
This remake achieves the remarkable by retaining everything that was good from the original, but improving in every aspect. The art style has switched to flash animation which arguably is a little less unique but makes up for it by packing the screen with plenty of visual jokes and inventiveness to enjoy. The episodes are snappier and full of great ideas for plots. Each voice actor nails the tone perfectly. Danger Mouse was always a dashing but vain hero and there is plenty of fun to be had in watching him breeze himself into the very problems he’s trying to prevent.
Similarly, Kevin Eldon (with a virtually perfect impression of original voice actor Terry Scott) imbues his knee-knocking Penfold with a cowardly quiver in the voice combined with righteous irritation when hard done by.
Danger Mouse is a show for fans of the original series, but equally well placed for children who are coming to this Monty Python meets James Bond joy for the first time. If you want to blow away the cobwebs from being stuck indoors, then Danger Mouse will happily chuck in some comedy explosions for you. Ooh, crumbs!
Words by Mike Record