Stretching my mind back to the early 2000s, before we had Cartoon Network or Nicktoons on the telly, there wasn’t much in the way of good cartoons when I was a boy. Usually, I’d rely on the imported animations provided by the Disney Club (may Mary Kingston live forever!) However, I can just about remember sitting down to the adventures of Matthias the mouse every Saturday morning. Redwall, a series based on the novels by the late Brain Jacques and shown on BBC, focused on the animals inhabiting Redwall abbey.
The first series, which was by far my favourite as a child, showcased the adventures of the novice Matthias. Redwall abbey is based in Mossflower, a forest roughly based on the English countryside. It is peopled by anthropomorphic woodland animals such as mice, otters, hedgehogs and badgers. The young mouse rejects the pacifist teachings of the Redwall monks when an invading force sets their sights on the abbey. He learns that the Redwall order was founded by Martin the Warrior, a courageous mouse who turned to a life of peace and healing. Matthias thus sets out to find the sword of Martin and fight to defend his friends.
The show featured a fun array of animals, each with their own unique talents. Badgers and Hares, for example, tend to speak with rather posh accents and handle most of the fighting whereas Moles and Hedgehogs adopt a more west country dialect, taking care of construction and farming in the abbey. Also, because the novel was written in the Eighties, we see one of the show’s few explicitly political moments in the form of the shrews. G.U.O.S.I.M (Guerilla Union of Shrews in Mossflower) is a group of shrews in perhaps the most heavy-handed satire of communism in all of children’s fiction (out of the way, Orwell, time for the new kid on the block.) These species and their unique qualities do lead to a rather black and white morality within the series. Mice, otters, hedgehogs, hares, moles, and badgers are always heroic, while rats, ferrets, weasels and foxes never fail to be evil. Nevertheless, the series stresses the peaceful ethos of the countryside and sees previously hostile groups, such as sparrows, owls, and cats, brought into the fold.
The plot may seem rather tame nowadays, but the violence of the show was far more than my pre-pubescent brain expected. Cluny the Scourge, the one-eyed leader of the rat army, was a terrifying sight to behold, even more so when he is literally driven to insanity by nightmares of Martin the Warrior. Add to this the venomous Asmodeus the Adder, and you had the makings of a pretty frightening show for a seven-year-old.
The series even managed to secure the menacing voice of Tim Curry as Slagar the Slaver in the show’s second season. While the show was short lived compared to the series it was based on, Redwall nevertheless left an impact. It maintained a talking animal plot suitable for children but introduced more notably mature themes, being perhaps the darkest woodland cartoon apart from the chaotic bloodbath that was Animals of Farthing Wood. In any case, the series encouraged me to begin reading Jacques’ work as a teen, which I really can’t recommend enough, especially if you have kids or younger relatives.
Did you watch Redwall when you were young? Did you read any of the books? Let us know in the comments!