The beloved book, by author and Children’s Laureate Julia Donaldson and her longtime collaborator illustrator Axel Scheffler, has sold over two and a half million copies since 2001 and has already spawned a stage show and shelves of toys, puzzles and activity books. A favourite in households up and down the land, anticipation for the animation’s debut was high when it aired on the BBC this Christmas. It did not disappoint.
Simon Pegg narrates the witty tale of a generous Witch and her antisocial suspicious cat, accumulating passengers and misplacing possessions as they whoosh through stormy skies and blue. Clever interpretation of the original drawings breathes back-story and charming life into the small menagerie of creatures who find a little room on the Witch’s broom. The element of peril is provided by a large red dragon, shadowing the new friends and running them to ground. The crew of misfits find a surprising camaraderie on their voyage and even the truculent cat comes to realise that great things can be achieved when everyone works together.
Room on the Broom is Martin Pope and Michael Rose’s third page-to-screen journey with Julia and Axel’s work. Magic Light Pictures previously produced both The Gruffalo and The Gruffalo’s Child. Once again they employed a combination of model backgrounds and CGI characters to animate the tale. The blend works well, extracting the sense of whimsy from between the pages perfectly. The cast are an integral part of the transition – if a single voice had jarred the suspension of reality would have been lost entirely. Though the dialogue is sparse it is delightful and every word was faithfully delivered. Simon Pegg is a regular teller of CBeebies bedtime stories and his warm, measured tone works well here. The word which most often springs to mind when discussing Simon Pegg is nice and I do think it terribly important that nice stories be delivered by nice people!
The Witch is voiced by Gillian (Scully) Anderson, a fact which is sure to bring a smile to many dads’ faces – her lines are few so her casting was a lovely cheeky touch. The green-as-can-be Bird is played by a smiley-voiced Sally Hawkins and the very enthusiastic Dog by Martin Clunes while David Walliams and Rob Brydon are the fastidious Frog and curmudgeonly Cat respectively.
I became a little clenched around the shoulders when I saw David Walliams name appear in the opening credits but thankfully he kept theatrics to a minimum and was tonally in keeping with the ensemble. Timothy Spall rounds off the list as a roaring dragon with a liking for chips. Although I would secretly have liked to see Brian Blessed in this role (you can never have enough Brian Blessed) Timothy Spall had good ferocious fun with the part, playing it just scary enough to thrill without sending terrified tots diving for cover.
Room on the Broom is a rare beast – a children’s feature that grown-ups will be happy to turn on. You’ll switch it on to distract tiny minds while you sneak away to get things done then discover yourself perched on the arm of the sofa doing nothing but enjoying the ride.
Room on the Broom is available on DVD and via iTunes from 18th March 2013