Weird Adventures is a collection of three vintage films produced by the Children’s Film Foundation (CFF) in the 1960s and 1970s and released by the BFI from the best available elements in the BFI archives. The collection contains The Monster of Highgate Ponds (Cavalcanti, 1961), The Boy Who Turned Yellow (Powell & Pressburger, 1972) and A Hitch in Time (Darnley-Smith, 1978).
For over thirty years the CFF produced quality entertainment for young audiences, utilising some of the biggest names in British Filmmaking talent. As with so much of the BFI’s output, this collection contains some real gems of films that have long since disappeared from the public consciousness, but for those who remember seeing these films first time round it’s a dose of very welcome nostalgia.
The films in this collection are utterly beguiling, both from an entertainment and historical perspective. Each is representative of a long-lost type of children’s filmmaking that was not reliant on being ‘edgy’ to entertain adult audiences; they are entirely constructed for the pleasure of children, and being such, represent an age of innocence within filmmaking that is sadly only rarely practiced today.
First up, The Monster of Highgate Ponds is the story of David who is given an unidentifiable egg to look after by his uncle who has just returned from an expedition in Malaysia. Soon the egg hatches and David finds himself responsible for a monster, Beauty, who is wonderfully brought to life by renowned animators Halas and Bachelor. Beauty grows to such an extent that he can only be kept safely in Highgate ponds; that is until failing animal entertainers decide to steal Beauty for themselves.
The Monster of Highgate Ponds is a wholly charming adventure, which of course makes no logical sense to us sceptical adults, but the ability to suspend your disbelief and just enjoy the magic of the adventure is an advantage. There are many comparisons to be drawn here from Disney’s much later Pete’s Dragon (Chaffey, 1977); of course The Monster of Highgate Ponds is less ‘showy’ than the Disney classic, but so much the better for it.
Next up, The Boy Who Turned Yellow is the story of, well, a boy who turns yellow. Luckily he is able to use this to his advantage to travel through the electrical signal of television sets in order to rescue his pet mouse which has been lost at the tower of London – that’s assuming the guards don’t catch him first. Again, of course this film makes no logical sense for mature audiences, however it is marvellously eccentric, moreover this film carries extra weight in the annals of film history for being the final collaboration of the legendary filmmaking duo Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger (The Red Shoes, Black Narcissus, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp). Following their run of 1940s masterpieces the career of Powell & Pressburger had faltered by the 1970s, and the duo were more or less entirely obscure until the brilliance of their work was rediscovered by a younger generation of critics and filmmakers. The Boy Who Turned Yellow is of course a complete departure from the body of work for which Powell & Pressburger are rightfully celebrated, however it is fascinating to behold when perceived as the last chapter of their career. Many of the Powell & Pressburger hallmarks are obvious here, not least their daring use of colour, which had its peak with their collaboration with legendary cinematography Jack Cardiff. The Boy Who Turned Yellow will of course be wholly repellent to Powell & Pressburger purists, and naturally this film is not the ending to their collaboration that should have been, but nonetheless, it is indeed charming (if not bizarre) entertainment.
Finally we have A Hitch in Time. Patrick Troughton (Doctor Who) is time-travelling Professor Wagstaff, who sends two children on an adventure through time that they will never forget. This film too is simply wonderful in terms of embodying an era of filmmaking. As with The Boy Who Turned Yellow, 1970s audiences’ predilection for sci-fi themed adventures is apparent as we witness that sensibility proliferating children’s entertainment on many occasions. This is Enid Blyton for a generation hugely influenced by the space race of 1960s.
Technically none of the films in this collection are ‘classics’ in the purest sense of the word; there are no revolutions in filmmaking, and will certainly not be remembered as masterpieces, but what they are is a bewitching slice of the history of the development of children’s entertainment, completely and utterly representative of their era, each beautifully crafted to entertain young minds and now those of us with a penchant for nostalgia; Overall a thoroughly wonderful viewing experience.
Weird Adventures is available to buy here