Friday, 22 April 2016

The Animals of Farthing Wood Do America: Part 2

Happy Earth Day, everyone!  To celebrate, let's go global and take a closer look at Journey Home, the direct-to-video US release of Europe's much-beloved The Animals of Farthing Wood.

Note that whenever I refer to the "original" I am, of course, referring to the UK version of the series, which was used as the basis for Journey Home.  On occasion I might use the German version (the only other version that I have to hand) as an additional point of reference.

00.46 - Journey Home opens in the exact same manner as the TV series, with a few establishing shots of Farthing Wood looking pretty and peaceful, only for a barrage of bulldozers and chainsaws to appear and swiftly put a stop to that.  The first obvious difference is that Journey Home, being a feature film, places its opening titles here:

Curiously, the onscreen titles read "The Animals of Farthing Wood", instead of the title it was officially released under, Journey Home: The Animals of Farthing Wood, making me wonder if the latter was the result of a last minute modification.

00.51 - Journey Home opens with this piece of voice-over narration from Fox (now voiced by Ralph Macchio):

"Farthing Wood had been our home ever since the first stream flowed through the forest and the trees grew tall to protect us.  But then the humans came.  And everything changed."

In the original TV series, the very first character we meet is Toad, who is returning to Farthing Wood after his long journey from White Deer Park, only to be buried underneath a pile of rubble (in a particularly macabre touch, a "tombstone" even lands at the top of the pile).  Journey Home skips over him for now and doesn't establish Toad's existence until the animals' meeting is already underway.

01.18 - Journey Home forgoes a number of basic character introductions, meaning that characters do have a tendency to keep popping up out of nowhere during the opening scene (which is actually a mishmash of moments from a number of separate scenes).  Badger and Weasel swap observations upon the situation, Owl tallies up the amount of recent damage, then suddenly we cut to Fox speaking and see that Mrs. Rabbit and Mr. Hedgehog are also hanging around nearby.  Missing here is quite a lot of connective tissue, including a scene in which Kestrel informs Badger, Weasel and Owl that the pond has been filled in, prompting Badger and Weasel to head over to the wood's last remaining water source (a muddy trickle), where Mrs. Rabbit and Mr. Hedgehog are drinking.  Fox (initially shown to be quite a threatening figure to the smaller creatures) then wanders over and suggests to Badger that the situation is dire enough for them to consider holding an assembly.  Journey Home, on the other hand, strives to create the illusion that these characters were all together in the same place from the beginning.

02.37 - In Journey Home, when Mrs. Rabbit suggests that someone at the meeting might come up with a solution, Weasel claps her hands and chants, "Clever Fox!  Clever Fox!", apparently in agreement that it's a fantastic idea.  In the original UK version, however, Weasel was actually saying "Clever clogs!  Clever clogs!" (British slang indicating that someone is being a pretentious know-it-all), in mockery of Mrs. Rabbit.  Presumably, the change was implemented because the term "clever clogs" wouldn't have as much meaning to a US audience.  A minor adjustment, although it does completely change the essence of what Weasel is saying.

Omitted from Journey Home is the portion of the scene in which Fox quite brazenly unloads all responsibility for organising the meeting that he himself suggested onto Badger.  Fox really was a wily bastard in the very beginning.

Journey Home also leaves out a number of scenes in which Badger and Weasel are seen preparing for meeting.  All that survives of this is a brief moment with Badger instructing Weasel to make herself useful by informing the Voles.

03.02 - From that, Journey Home cuts directly to a scene showing the animals on their way to the meeting, with Fox's voice-over narration filling in a few more details:

"And that's how it started.  Every animal in Farthing Wood came to the assembly.  Rabbits, Squirrels, Voles and Field-Mice.  Even Owl was there."

Skipped over is Owl's initial refusal to go underground, using a hilarious mixture of wordplay and pseudo-Biblical speak ("He who dwells in the soil, himself becomes soiled!  He who dwells in the light shall find enlightenment!").

Also noteworthy is that Journey Home goes to careful lengths to removal all scenes with/references to the Newts, so as to avoid any continuity errors when their departure arc is skipped.  Gone is the moment in which the Newts are seen entering Badger's sett, and Badger telling the Squirrels to follow them.

03.24 - Upon arriving at Badger's sett, Mr. Pheasant states that he hopes that he and his wife aren't late, at which point we cut to a completely different shot of him musing that, "The wife and I don't venture out of the wood very often.  Always the danger of being shot at."  This part was actually taken from much later on in meeting, when Fox asks the birds if they know of any other suitable habitats beyond the wood (you can see that the background behind the Pheasants has changed, as they were underground in Badger's sett at the time).  Putting it here implies that Badger's sett actually isn't in Farthing Wood, which of course isn't true at all.

In the original, Mr. Pheasant's statement was also intersected by sudden, startling imagery of a shotgun being loaded and fired, but Journey Home replaces this with a considerably more benign image of Fox overlooking the arriving animals.

03.53 -  Finally, Toad makes his first appearance in Journey Home.  There's a scene with him hopping past a signpost with a squirrel on it.  Toad can be heard saying, "I'm coming! I'm coming!" but his lips don't actually move.  Just to be clear, the exact same error occurs in the original version too; it isn't a result of dodgy editing in Journey Home.  The German version likewise contains this error, so it was blatantly a screw-up at the animation level.

06.18 - Some of Fox's dialogue during the meeting has been rewritten.  In Journey Home:

Fox: In fact, even a human can see that...

Owl: If we don't find a new watering hole within the next few days...

Fox: Then we're gonna have to kiss our fur and our feathers goodbye, and I think you all know what I mean.

And here's what Fox said in the original:

Fox: In fact, it should be obvious to all of you here that...

 Owl: If we don't find a new watering hole within the next few days...

Fox: Then we're going to be in the very worst kind of distress, if you know what I mean.

Fox's "even a human can see that" line is a bit of a strange alteration, since it implies that Fox has rather a low opinion of human intelligence/perception, something which has absolutely no basis in the original.

07.28 - Badger asks Fox what he thinks of Toad's suggestion that the animals vacate to White Deer Park, to which Fox responds, "I don't think we have a choice."

In the original UK version, Fox's response was, "Does it look like we have any alternative?"  A minor change, although one that neatly illustrates the difference between Macchio and Farley's respective takes on the character.  Macchio's delivery is entirely straight, whereas Farley's drips with the kind of heavy sarcasm with which he loved to imbue the character.

07.35 - And now we move onto our very first musical number, "There's A World Out There".  Some examples of the lyrics therein:

We're going!  We're going! We're going to be going!
It's clear that we can do no longer stay!
The humans' machinery is messing up our greenery,
And soon we will be going away!

There's a world out there just waiting for us,
There's a world we will explore!
There's a world out there for the adventurous,
And it can't be any stranger
Than our present danger!

Our depart is waiting, it's time for celebrating,
We're going to be going away!
I hear it's peaceful and sunny,
A perfect place for bunnies,
Where all they do is play all day!

Accompanying this sequence is footage of the animals locking paws and dancing (which comes from the closest thing that the series itself did to a musical number, when a number of animals, overjoyed at the prospect of finding a new home, started leaping around and chanting some silly improvised tune about going to White Deer Park) but also features a montage of clips taken from all over the series.  Ostensibly, they're all very cheerful scenes, so as to match up with the song's super-buoyant tone, although anyone who's familiar with the original series and knows the correct context for many of them might find this montage a tad awkward.  Here are some examples of what's included:

  • Mr. Hare using a twig to imitate a violinist (in mockery of Mr. Pheasant's display of sorrow upon losing Mrs. Pheasant).
  • Baby Rabbit blowing on some dandelion seeds (immediately before getting his neck caught in a snare).
  • One of the Squirrels about to take a bite out of an apple (which has been doused with pesticides). 

The reason why I consider the addition of a few musical numbers in Journey Home to be misguided is because songs this ridiculously bouncy and upbeat simply don't mesh with the overall tone of the series, which was generally quite sombre.  Glancing through this selection of clips merely reminds me of just how much underlying darkness and danger was ever-present in the Farthing animals' world, even when things were looking momentarily rosy.  Journey Home as a whole doesn't completely shy away from this point either, making these musical sequences feel like total mood anomalies even in the context of their own film.

10.19 - Badger calls for the "re-introduction of the ancient woodland vow" (aka the Oath of Mutual Protection).  In Journey Home, he doesn't give the Oath any kind of context, nor refer to it as something that was remembered by his late father, although in fairness the original series was itself quite vague on this point.  If you want to know what Badger is talking about, then you'll have to pick up one of Colin Dann's books.

12.28 - The meeting scene fades out in the exact same way that the original episode ended, with Adder devouring a glowworm.

13.25 - The scene in which Badger convinces Mole not to stay behind has been left entirely intact, one of the very few scenes in the film which wasn't truncated in some way.

15.30 - Journey Home skips over most of the scenes with the animals traveling across the building site/housing estate.  These include Adder questioning if Toad can really be trusted to lead the animals to White Deer Park and assuring him that she herself is merely "along for the ride", the Newts crying out that their baby is dying of dehydration and Fox asking Owl to find them a nearby source of water.  In the series, Owl purposely leads the animals to the swimming pool, whereas in Journey Home, they just appear to have stumbled upon it by happenstance.

Naturally, Journey Home forgoes all scenes of the Newts limping into the pool and finding a new lease of life in there.

16.17 - The newly-dubbed dialogue using Adder and Weasel's American voices is more-or-less identical to what was said the original.  The only notable differences are Weasel observing that Adder looks thirsty and Adder calling Weasel a "stinker" rather than a "sharper".

17.45 - As the animals attract unwelcome attention and lights go on in the house, we hear the sounds of a dog barking.  The barking dog was entirely Journey's Home's addition, and does not feature in the original series.

18.22 - It's here that Journey Home makes its single slip-up with regards to keeping the Newts out of the picture.  They can be seen vacating the pool along with Toad.

18.41 - The dialogue between Fox and Adder as he attempts to remove her from the pool with a garden cane has been truncated/altered.  In Journey Home:

Adder: Psst, still here, Foxy.

Fox: No foolin'. (grabs garden cane)

In the original, Adder's full line was, "Psst, still here, Foxy.  Submerged, but not sunk."  Farely's Fox is a fair bit ruder than Macchio's and just tells Adder to shut up at this point.

The part with Fox using the garden cane to hoist Adder out of the water has likewise been truncated so that the two characters come off as less jerky to one another.  Missing from Journey Home is Adder sarcastically asking if Fox expects her to eat cane, Fox addressing Adder as "you silly, slithering..." and Adder sullenly demanding an apology.  In Journey Home they seem more co-operative, although Adder still appears visibly sullen before finally latching onto the cane, which in Journey Home isn't given any context.

American Adder is also a lot noisier than her British and German counterparts, both in the chomping noises she makes when she bites onto the cane, and her screaming while being flung.

19.58 - As the animals flee the garden, Owl's reference to Chinese philosopher Confucius has, I'm pleased to report, been left entirely intact:

"So, Fox's cunning saved the day.  Still, as Confucius say, let's see what tomorrow brings."

I have to question how the heck Owl even knows who Confucius is, but whatever, I find it strangely hilarious that she does.

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