Review: Children’s Film Foundation Collection – Weird Adventures / Cert: U / Director: Various / Screenplay: Various / Starring: Michael Wade, Terry Raven, Mark Dightam, Robert Eddison, Michael McVey, Patrick Troughton, Jeff Rawle / Release Date: June 17th
Volume 3 of the BFI’s themed compilations of classic sixty-minute feature films from the Children’s Film Foundation (1950-87) takes a turn for the weird in what might be generously described as three science fiction or fantasy tales dabbling with perennial kid’s obsessions such as time travel, monsters and… er… turning bright yellow and travelling through electrical wavelengths. The earliest of the three is 1961’s black-and-white Monster of Highgate Ponds in which three terribly posh kids come into possession of a mysterious egg which has been brought back from darkest Malaysia by a top scientist. The egg soon hatches into a baby dragon – sometimes depicted by way of a cute stop-motion creature courtesy of the legendary animators Halas and Batchelor – and the kids have to save the animal from falling into the hands of ruthless crooks as it grows into a full-size monster (i.e. a man in a bad rubber suit). Directed by Brazilian-born Alberto Cavalcanti, Monster of Highgate Ponds is silly, knockabout stuff but worthwhile for its generous and endlessly fascinating location filming in and around London at the turn of the decade complete with pre-TARDIS Police Box footage.
In a trendier, flarier 1973 we meet The Boy Who Turned Yellow – an inauspicious final project for Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger – in which schoolboy John Saunders turns yellow when he loses his pet mouse during a visit to the Tower of London. During the night John is visited by Nic, a mysterious old man dressed in yellow with a flashing light on his head who teaches John how to travel via electrical frequencies but their rescue attempt nearly turns into disaster when John is captured by the Beefeaters. We’re not sure what Powell and Pressburger were knocking back when they came up with this one but its highlight is surely the idea that, in 1973, Tower Beefeaters could randomly behead trespassers. It’s a wild flight of fantasy and Robert Eddison’s performance as Nic is seriously creepy for all sorts of wrong reasons. The collection is rounded off by 1978’s A Hitch In Time in which former Doctor Troughton projects two school kids progressively further back in time (with the help of his ramshackle knobs-and-levers time machine) where they keep meeting up with the ancestors of their irritating school teacher (Rawle). With hilarious, slapstick consequences.
The fantastical nature of these three ‘weird adventures’ makes this an oddly less relatable and identifiable release than the previous two in the series. The humour is broader, the action less subtle and the special effects, inevitably, strive to reach the level of homespun. But in their own way they serve to sum up the pioneering spirit and intent of the CFF as they sought, on tiny budgets, to tell good, moralistic adventure stories for Britain’s increasingly sophisticated kids. Achingly dated but beautifully spruced-up for DVD, Weird Adventures can’t help but leave a warm glow.
Extras: Commemorative booklet