Episode #1 - An In-Depth Review
Cluny the Scourge - Part I
As this is the first In-Depth Review of an Episode, let me explain how this works. Each review will have the same sections, tailored to pertain to their individual episodes. There will be a section transcribing the quotes BJ made in the introduction and additional footage, a section summarizing the completely new footage, a section noting the significant changes from the plot of the book, a critique of the new voices from that episode, additional information if available, and, finally, my critique of the episode. As you might guess, this translates into a lot of work for me. It's worth it, though, as I have an unquenchable thirst to inform my fellow Redwallers of anything BJ related. ;) And, without further ado, let's get into Episode #1 - An In-Depth Review!
[From the Introduction] "Hello! I'm Brian Jacques and welcome to Redwall! In our first episode, we meet the inhabitants of Redwall Abbey. Then, we will celebrate with young Matthias at the Abbot's Jubilee Feast and learn of great Martin the Warrior. But, danger looms to destroy the peace and happiness of Redwall as a searat, named Cluny the Scourge, has his own wicked plans!"
[When asked, "What makes a Hero?"] "Y'know, when you talk about "heroes", y'look at heroes in movies and to most children, the "hero" is a gigantic man! It's somebody as big as the Hollywood stars we see. And, I think, to a child, a "hero" could be smaller. Because size doesn't matter when it comes to courage and bravery and being a hero. And, therefore, I decided that my hero would be a mouse. A little mouse. He's not 6'10" and he doesn't have all sorts of blackbelts in karate and all kinds of weapons of destruction. He's just a little mouse on his own.
"Matthias is every child who ever read the book, or will read the book. Matthias is the mouse, the mouse is the child, and the mouse is the hero. And, it sounds a bit odd, that a mouse can be a hero, but a mouse is a harmless creature. You never heard of a child being lost in the woods and eaten by a "grizzley mouse". Matthias is the little kid who wants to become a Warrior."
[ASK THE AUTHOR Segment] "What inspired you to write the book Redwall?"
"Uhm, I actually created the story for the school for blind children in Liverpool. I just wanted to write a story for them.... a timeless adventure. And, so being a writer, with a writer's imagination, I decided to set it in Redwall, which is just a place in my imagination and a composite of other things. Forests you've been, places, country places, old stone houses, monestaries, abbeys, castles. It's a little conglomerate of it all, I suppose."
SUMMARY OF NEW FOOTAGE
As Matthias trips with his basket of chestnuts, he looks up at the tapestry of Martin and flashes back to how he came to Redwall. We see a village covered in snow. Young Matthias watches as his mother places a crumb on his plate and those of his family, rather reminiscent of the adaptation's of Dicken's "The Christmas Carol" and Tiny Tim. Going by appearances, Matthias has a sister, a brother, and a baby whose gender is impossible to tell. As Matthias is about to eat his crumb, who I assume to be his father comes running in screaming, "RATS!" The family runs out the door, but Matthias is trapped under the table. His crumb rolls onto the floor and as he reaches for it, Cluny the Scourge enters the house, silhouetted by flames. He laughs and snaps his tail like a whip at Matthias, when a burning roofbeam falls between the two. Matthias finally picks up his crumb as the flames envelop him. He backs up against the wall, which is then ripped away by his sister, who pulls him to safety. Matthias clenches his eyes in the present, and we flashback once more to see the charred remains of the village, still blanketed in white. Matthias' sister, Myrtle, has him on her back as she attempts to cross a frozen lake or pond. Matthias asks her where their parents are and she tells him they're all alone now. They approach thin ice and fall into the frigid water. They're pulled to safety by a pair of voles. The voles let the pair warm themselves by the fire and tell them to head west until summer, then give them food for the journey. Matthias and Myrtle continue on their way until they're marching through a forest. A cat begins watching them, waiting for a chance to strike. As the cat leaps, Myrtle and Matthias are pulled under the snow by what I believe are moles. They have hoods on and you only really get a glimpse of their backs, so it's hard to tell. After the cat leaves, Myrtle and Matthias continue on their way, with Matthias asking Myrtle where summer is. Finally, summer arrives and the pair are walking through a field of flowers, although Myrtle doesn't look too well. They hear a rustle, then the quiet hiss "Asmodeus...." Panicking, they run for it and go tumbling down a hill. Coming to a stop in a small stream, Myrtle collapses. Two shadowed figures approach them as Matthias tries waking Myrtle. Upon seeing the newcomers, Matthias grabs Myrtle's walking stick and swings it around, telling them to get away. The big figure tells him to take it easy, then Matthias falls off of Myrtle and passes out. In the present, Matthias opens his eyes to stare at a rose on the tapestry, which fades into another flashback. Young Matthias awakes in Redwall's Infirmary and the two figures stand revealed as Abbot Mortimer and Constance. As they discuss Matthias' condition, two dibbuns peer around Constance's skirt whispering between themselves that his sister has died. Hearing this, Matthias begins calling for Myrtle. Constance goes to comfort him, telling him that Myrtle is simply resting. Constance asks his name, but Matthias falls asleep again. The next scene has Matthias now wearing the green robes of Redwall, standing with the Abbot in front of a tombstone. We see some scenes of general Abbey life, but Matthias appears distant and does not talk. Then, as Matthias is walking through the orchard, three dibbuns spin around him, calling him "No-Name" before running off. Matthias clenches a fist as he stares after them when a young mousemaid walks up, takes his hand, and introduces herself as Cornflower. Matthias finally introduces himself and Brother Alf, who was picking apples from a tree, comments that he's glad to hear Matthias can talk. Abbot Mortimer walks up behind them and welcomes Matthias to Redwall Abbey. Brother Methuselah, who is sitting hunched over a book, sits up when he hears "Matthias". Scanning the book, he says that Redwall has been expecting him. The flashback finally ends and we come back to the present with Matthias staring at Martin's picture on the tapestry. A ghostly voice calls out his name, "Matthias". The scene continues with Mortimer walking up to Matthias, as in the book.
Mortimer sits Matthias down and says that he decided long ago to treat Matthias as his own son. The conversation of how Martin renounced the ways of the Warrior is worked into this scene. Mortimer also states that Matthias is now 13 (he was never given an age in the book). Mortimer comments, while trying to dissuade Matthias from the Warrior way, that even Martin hid his sword. Matthias volunteers that he could find it, but Mortimer says no.
We see seven dibbuns and one full-grown mouse ringing the Joseph Bell for the Abbot's Jubilee Feast.
CHANGES FROM BOOK
- Matthias' problem was changed from too-large sandles to a too-large habit. He receives both a new habit and sandles in the second scene following.
- Cluny the Scourge is now a part of the tapestry. I-Am That Is is written above Martin, as well.
- Any reference to Tim and Tess is removed and they are not even shown sitting with Matthias and Cornflower, though a very small squirrel is (doubtful that this is Sam, as it's grey). Colin Vole's taunts are also not featured.
- There are far fewer scenes of Cluny's approach. Some of his curses aren't used, either.
- Given their newfound history, when Matthias sees Cluny drive by he gasps and says, "It's him!" Constance observes he looks like he's seen a ghost, to which Matthias replies, "Maybe I have, Constance."
- Cluny throwing the rat on the horse's back is now to get it to stop and results in the horse breaking free and the cart's tumble by Ninian's gates. Cluny lands deftly on the gatepost and calls for his captains. Shadow is included among them, introducing him early.
- The Redwallers are now convinced of the threat by Matthias' assurances that those rats are the ones who killed his family and destroyed his village. They didn't even know it was Cluny until he arrived at the Abbey.
- Cluny visits Redwall that night without the show of his horde at the gates. Shadow, Redtooth, and Darkclaw accompany him. The Abbeydwellers, not knowing of Cluny in this version, do not tell him to tie his tail around his waist, so Cluny is able to use his whip-like tail in the following scene. Darkclaw is the one to accompany Cluny this time, as well, instead of Redtooth.
- As Darkclaw is reading Cluny's terms of surrender, Matthias is spurred into action by Martin whispering, "I-Am That Is". Matthias shouts out, "I-Am That Is" as he tears the articles of surrender down the middle.
- Cluny's nightmare was omitted, so they lost the significance of his demanding to know who the mouse on the tapestry was. The tapestry part is there, but we have no idea why he'd be so flustered (unless we've read the book).
- Upon leaving the Abbey, Cluny calls Shadow while they're still outside Redwall's gates and orders him to steal the Tapestry that night. The scene is followed by Matthias' talk with Martin and Cornflower binding her kerchief around his arm. Matthias points out that Cluny is on the tapestry and asks why, since it was made ages ago. This is the final scene in Episode 1, changing into a tapestry-like shot of Matthias and Cornflower holding hands inside of Redwall while Shadow scales it's walls.
Matthias (Tyrone Savage) - Tyrone does a pretty good job as Matthias. Youthful, but not too young. Fits the character better than Marc Jacques on the Radio Plays, I thought. Nice job.
Cornflower (Alison Pill) - Another good performance. I was a big fan of the Radio Play Cornflower (Rachel Murphy) and doubted that anyone could duplicate the quality of the role. As it happens, Alison fits the youth the characters were given in the series while still delivering a very nice performance. In some ways, she even surpasses Ms. Murphy's performance. Kudos.
Abbot Mortimer (Chris Wiggins) - Exactly how Mortimer should sound. Wise and fatherly. The Radio Play version always bugged me, but here he's treated just right. Kudos.
Constance (Janet Wright) - Another good job. That's starting to look like a trend, isn't it? A deep voice, but not too deep. Very suitable for a badger, and especially Constance.
Methuselah - Old, wise, but a clear voice befitting a recorder. No complaints from me.
Friar Hugo - While not quite what I envisioned, Hugo's voice is actually pretty good. The right kind of attitude for a chef.
Brother Alf - Pretty good voice. A little older than I had pictured him, but he's given a nice, friendly demeanor and a voice to match.
Cluny the Scourge (Diego Matamoros) - Snarling, contemptuous, and brimming with evil. That just about sums up Cluny as-voiced-by Diego. A great job that does the Scourged-one justice.
Shadow - Shadow is a tad too sniveling for my tastes. He has what would be termed a "wormtongue" in my book. On the flip side, however, the voice does convey the uniqueness of Shadow and easily sets him apart from all the other rats in Cluny's horde. A respectable performance.
Martin the Warrior - As with Matthias, I never thought Marc Jacques fit the role of Martin too well (with all due respect). In the TV series, Martin is given a deep and commanding voice, perfectly befitting the ageless warrior and guardian of Redwall. It's a pity Martin doesn't talk more in Redwall.
Asmodeus - Not quite "hiss"-like and a little deeper than one pictures for a snake, but overall it's a nice job. We have another haunting chant of "Asmo-deus" to add to the archives and the promise of a great performance to come.
Foremole - Well, after you hear Brian Jacques himself do Foremole, you accept no substitutes. This version does an okay accent, but..... you understand him too easily. That's half the fun of molespeak! Not knowing what they're saying! ;) I understand the need to make molespeak coherent in the TV series, but they needed to get a deeper voice. No problems with the acting abilities behind Foremole, it just didn't fit the character.
Redtooth - Placating. Nasal. Your standard vermin fare. Pretty good job, all things told.
Darkclaw - A rather booming voice, with a little guffaw here and there. Fits with the look Darkclaw was given and easily identifiable as vermin. Good job.
It appears that, when airing in Canada, Redwall had commercial breaks. As everyone in the US knows, PBS has no commercials. That leaves PBS with quite a block to fill for the remainder of Redwall's half-hour. Their solution? Talk with students and BJ himself about Redwall! The segment for the first episode consisted of the various answers to the question "What makes a hero?" BJ's own thoughts on the subject were transcribed above. There is also a short section called "Ask the Author" where Brian answers a question posed by a viewer. Again, I have transcribed it above. The final part of the segment is a short "Trivia" section where a question regarding today's episode is asked. Pretty good job, all told.
Well, the question you're no doubt asking is: how did the show fare?
Actually, it turned out pretty good. Wonderful animation with rich, vibrant colors. Excellent voice acting, from what I could tell, with very few voices that didn't fit the characters (as I outlined above). The music was wonderfully done and succeeded in capturing and conveying the atmosphere of Redwall.
Matthias' backstory was a real treat for Redwallers and did not go against anything established in the books.
Are there things I feel the need to nitpick? Absolutely. The first would be having "I-Am That Is" written above Martin's head. The phrase is supposed to be a large mystery in the second act of the book. We're supposed to puzzle over it. It's from an old hidden poem. What's more, Matthias and Methuselah are supposed to spend time puzzling over what "I-Am That Is" means. With this development, it seems that everyone already knows Matthias is who "Am That Is" is, so the fun of that mystery is ruined. It establishes a connection between Matthias and Martin way too early, in my opinion. Of course, that is simply the nitpicking of an old fan.
I can understand the need to speed up events somewhat, but I feel the original circumstances of Cluny's meeting the Redwallers was better. Their knowledge of Cluny the Scourge and how they made him tie his tail around his waist were some of the earliest defining moments of the story. It helped to show that the Redwallers, while peace-loving beasts, were not easily fooled. Establishing Cluny as a boogey-man of sorts, as well, helped heighten the terror surrounding the character.
Finally, the last change I'll nitpick is the absence of Cluny's dreams. As I said above, they weren't included and the series totally lacks the significance of Cluny seeing Martin on the tapestry. It was a very important facet of the entire book-- to see the face that haunts your dreams in the place you most desire. If his dreams are included in the later episodes, it would lead the uneducated viewer (i.e. one who hasn't read the book) to assume Martin haunts Cluny because of the tapestry, not because he was a wicked being.
Enough of the negative, though. Is this series outstanding? Absolutely! Every Redwall fan should watch it! The story is coming to life in ways the Radio Play and books could never accomplish. Suddenly, Redwall is real! The animators, voice-actors, and composers deserve a big round of applause! I'm eagerly awaiting the second episode.
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