The Gruffalo

tv special / 27 minutes

for bbc & zdf / 2009

Magic Light Pictures and Studio Soi produced a half hour animated film for the BBC based on The Gruffalo, the best selling children’s picture book by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler in 2008/09. The book is written in brilliant rhyming verse which is very well known and hugely popular with parents and children alike. The film celebrates 'storytelling' itself (of which the book is such a great example) and tries to honor the place this book holds in family life through the opening and closing of the film itself.

 

When we pitched our take on The Gruffalo to Magic Light in 2008 we wanted to tell the story of two characters: The Squirrel, a caring and anxious mother, and the Mouse, a clever and rather uninhibited little man. A narrator and his protagonist, both with different mindsets, different views on life. Their story is driven to its conclusion by four overarching sujets, all of them front and center in the original story: There's a fantastic tale about the power and perils of imagination, there's the small yet grateful and ubiquitous leitmotif of hunger, a clever look at the funny nature of fear and finally, the all encompassing celebration of the beauty of storytelling, all at hand in Julia's book.

 

With the wood, Julia has set a great stage for her story: Almost every word uttered here is about eating or being eaten. Hunger seems to propel all the characters towards another, it seems to set every aspect of the story into motion. But told in Julia's light tone, it almost seems to stand as a gentle metaphor for a larger driving force behind everyone's daily strivings.

The Mouse seems to be new in this world. He appears young, light-hearted, seemingly bordering on the naïve in the beginning. When he first encounters the gigantic Fox, he has no routine to revert to, even the role designated for his kind (that of the prey, to either run or be eaten) seems unknown to him. And here it happens: a mouse is kissed by a muse... Inspired (maybe even challenged) by the Fox's shameless fabrications, his own imagination kicks in, and it's far from mouse-sized. It's bigger and more outrageous than both Fox and his lies. The Mouse's fierce imagination literally saves his life. Later, when in the claws of the Owl, the trick might still feel a little shaky, but when meeting the Snake the mouse feels on top of his game, confident in his new ability to create.

But the viewer can sense a subtle discrepancy now between initial creativity and the Mouse's somewhat smug routine. We know that this won't turn out good. On a purely theoretical level, the mouse, after being alone again, comes to discover that the paranoia he has unleashed into the woods has come to manifest itself. Next to the Mouse's still ingenuous core, there is now a second aspect of him out in the woods, one that so far can't be threatened by anyone. Soon, creation stands before his creator, unflinchingly threatening to eat him up. The Mouse no longer lives in a world solely inhabited by foxes, owls and snakes, but also by claws, warts and poison. A thought once thought, can't be made unthought, it is forever out there now. But in an incredibly clever (and in beautiful ways slightly amoral) twist, the story turns things on their head once more. In order to bail himself out of the mess he has created, there's just one thing left to do for the mouse: Keep on telling stories.

about

The Mouse knows the wood is a place that's all about hunger and being eaten. But where a mouse can scare off a fox, nobody can be secure, not even the Gruffalo himself! This is a parable about unflinching swindle just as much as it is a celebration of the power of imagination. Size and strength are not everything, is the message. If you are small, clever and you put trust in your own strength (whatever it is!!!) you will do well in life!

 

The tale of the Squirrel and the imaginative Mouse, might be read as a tale about how we deal with fear, and how fear deals with us. The Squirrel is always in fear, but he is aware of it. The young Mouse is inexperienced and gets to know fear only when he meets the fox. And – like every child would do - he wishes deeply to be something more, to have terrible tusks, claws and jaws because then, he would be safe. After meeting the three animals and being alone again he realizes that he has become something everyone is very much afraid of now. In a way he decides to be small again, getting rid of the terrible golem that had protected him, to be mouse again, aware of fear and how it works. Even aware of his own fears. Like this, at the end of a long day he can pause and enjoy a nut at last, while the Squirrel realizes at his childrens' beds that a bit more faith and utopian dream might not harm, might even help… The Gruffalo is a film about being very careful what you wish to become, because you might become just that.

Steffen Anger, Remi Tjon Ajong, Manuel Arenas, Ingrid Aspöck, Matthias Bäuerle, Maria Bogade, Sandra Brandstätter, Ole Bukowsky, Carsten Bunte, Tobias von Burkersroda, Andreas Dahn, Lea Dohle, Harry Fast, Waldemar Fast, Mark Feller, Maciek Gliwa, Ebru Gönül, Ulle Hadding, Uwe Heidschötter, Thomas Hinke, Jonas Jarvers, Wolfram Kampfmeyer, Sebastian Koch, Jan Lachauer, Max Lang, Helena Lauber, Alexander Lindner, Thorsten Löffler, Hubert Märkl, Julia Maucher, Gottfried Mentor,

Torben Meier, Klaus Morschheuser, Kathrin Julia Mueller, Jan Oberhauser, Hendrik Panz, Sunith Parek-GaihedeNina Pries, Roland Petrizza, Christian Puille, Nele Marie Rojek, Parzival Röthlein, Philip Rudolph, Peter Ruschel, Alli Sadegiani,, Kariem Saleh, Felix Schaller, Sabrina Schmid, Anja Schneck, Jakob Schuh, Jan Phillip Schwarz, Michael Sieber, Harald Siepermann, Max Stöhr, Paolo Tamburrino, Monika Tenhündfeld, Bettina Teusch, Bin-Han To, Saschka Unseld, Joerg Unterberg, Thomas Ziegler.

team

artwork

Producer Michael Rose approached our studio in 2007. He intended to make a film based on the Gruffalo. Back then, Michael’s production company he runs together with Martin Pope was competing against Disney to get an option agreement from writer and creator of The Gruffalo, Julia Donaldson.

Soi‘s directors Jakob Schuh and Saschka Unseld decided to pitch a look that stays true to the

style Axel Scheffler had chosen for his illustrations but also make it possible to produce a film in budget. It was clear that our studio could never compete against high budgeted film made in the US. A full cgi film would have looked mediocre in comparison to feature films with higher budgets. Jakob and Saschka decided to only build cgi characters. The sets were miniatur models built by Soi’s director and set designer Klaus Morschheuser.  

mixed media

rené aubry

The Gruffalo had its premiere on 25th December 2009 on BBC1. The film’s audience rating in the UK ranked at place 14 of the years 2009 with 10.08 million viewers (43%). The film was nominated by the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences for an OSCAR in 2011. It also got nominated for the British Film Award (BAFTA) in 2010. Further awards The Gruffalo has received are: winner Prix Jeunesse 2010, 7-11 Fiction und Prize of the Children's Jury // winner in Annecy 2010 // .

awards

winner at the  International Trickfilm Festival in Stuttgart 2010 //winner Shanghai TV Festival 2011 // winner Anima Mundi 2010 // winner Cartoons on the Bay 2010 // winner Ottawa International Animation Festival 2010 // winner Chicago International Children's Film Festival 2010 // winner Broadcast Awards 2011 // winner Curtas Vila do Conde 2010 // winner Rhode Island International Film Festival // winner ReAnimania Yerevan