David Walliams, OBE, is something of a big deal. Not as a talent show host or as Matt Lucas’ Little Britain co-creator, or even as the star of BBC sketch show Walliams & Friend, but as a children’s author. It’s on the page that Walliams has really found his calling, with 10 novels to his name, often championing the importance of identity and self-belief for young people. But, of course, they balance such messages with a sense of humour, one that manages to be both light and dark at the same time.
So popular have these books become that several of them have already been adapted into TV specials – and, this year, Sky is getting in on the game too. After Fungus the Bogeyman and The Last Dragonslayer, Sky 1’s big family entertainment for Christmas is Ratburger, a much lower key production, but it makes up for any lack of jaw-dropping CGI or monsters with real charm and frequent laughs.
The story follows Zoe (Talia Barnett), a young schoolgirl whose mother passed away when she was a baby. Today, she lives in a council flat with her dad, Gary (Mark Benton), and her lazy stepmother, Sheila (Sheridan Smith). But life takes a turn for the happier when Armitage comes along. At first, the rat is a much-needed companion, but soon, Zoe realises that he has an uncanny knack for moving in time with the beat of whatever song is on her bedroom speakers – and with the school talent contest on the horizon, she sets her heart on getting him to perform.
The only problem? Local burger van man Burt, who loves selling greasy meat products to the kids at school – and, given the title, you don’t need any help in guessing what his plans are.
It’s a bizarre concept that mashes together several different ideas, as Walliams’ script (adapted by himself from the novel) takes pot-shots at singing shows and celebrity chefs (watch out for Ben Bailey Smith as deliberately cheesy TV star Charlie Jacob), as well as incorporating such fairytale staples such as the evil stepmother, the well-meaning but inept father and the under-appreciated protagonist. But they’re all united by a keen eye for slapstick, particularly when it comes to Walliams’ Burt, all sunglasses and oversized sideburns, and a dark streak (bodies suspecting Burt’s schemes start disappearing) that owes a knowing debt to Roald Dahl. (Smith’s crisp-gobbling slob is wonderfully disgusting.)
It’s the way that Walliams uses these elements to address modern issues, though, that gives Ratburger its pungent taste, from bullying and privilege to, most of all, diet: there’s a gentle nudge away from the unhealthy food of school lunches past (Burt’s vegetarian option is a “bap in a bap”), as well as a wary scepticism of over-enthusiastic healthy-eating TV personalities. The only thing that lets Ratburger slightly is, ironically, Armitage himself, as the CGI never quite sells the idea that his dancing is that impressive. But from the likeable Harish Patel reprising his role as decent shopkeeper Raj to the hammy villains on the menu, Ratburger is a fun treat that kids and parents will gobble up with relish.
Ratburger is available on Sky 1 on-demand. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it on NOW TV, as part of a £7.99 Sky Entertainment Month Pass subscription – with a 14-day free trial.
Photo: Sky UK Limited