“I guess you think you know this story.
You don’t. The real one’s much more gory.
The phoney one, the one you know,
was cooked up years and years ago.
And made to sound all soft and sappy,
just to keep the children happy.”
So once began Roald Dahl’s dark tales,
designed to shock as he regaled
the fairytales we knew of old
– but dressed in something more much bold.
Dark and witty was the plan,
a speck of blood, a touch of ham,
to make a wonderfully warped book filled
with pantomime fun and sinister thrills.
The stories were all almost the same,
but part of Roald Dahl’s naughty game
was to subvert expectations with new twists,
while hooking you with rhyming wits.
The text was published in 82,
but in 2017, it’s just as cool,
and so BBC One decided to take
the book and stylishly animate
it as a Christmas TV treat
– two parts in total, half-hour each.
The result is far from the drawings that make
any fan nostalgic for Quentin Blake,
but Magic Light Pictures do a stand-up job
of making their own visuals without having to rob
your memories of the treasured tome.
Within minutes, you’ll feel at home.
That’s half because of Dominic West
– when it comes to growling, he’s the best.
So he narrates these weird events
with a smile and a cackle that presents
these characters of yesteryear
with a just-right balance of laughs and fear.
The casting is cracking down to the last man.
Tamsim Grieg, Rob Brydon, Gemma Chan
are some of the names you can expect
– the vocals really are quite perfect.
But the script is the true genius here,
as Dahl’s tales are chopped into something non-linear
– a spliced, cut and reworked montage of plot
that would take most forever to unknot.
And so Dahl’s stories are no longer alone
but part of an overlapping, unwinding tome.
Narratives bleed into each other and then
neatly tie strands up in the end.
West’s narrator, for example, is also the Wolf
– a creature with a backstory that really ought
to inspire some sympathy from hard hearts,
even after his piggy house-blowing at the start.
Red and Snow White, we eventually see,
are friends with trials that lead
us to a cliffhanger that’s rather clever and neat
– and will have you on the edge of your seat.
That excitement brings something new to the table
even if you’ve read Dahl’s brilliant fables.
Purists may frown at the updates on screen,
but playing with playfulness is no sin
– siblings, buses, gamblers added, undaunted?
It’s that kind of twist that Dahl would’ve wanted.
The result lives up to The Gruffalo,
which the same studio made not long ago.
Dahl’s rhymes are still revolting – and thankfully,
suitable for viewing by the whole family.
Revolting Rhymes is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription.
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