It is always interesting looking back at older TV shows, especially those aimed at children, because you get the feeling certain shows would not be made in the same way, or at all, if they were made now.
The animated adaptation of Colin Dann’s Animals of Farthing Wood novels, originally produced by the European Broadcasting Union and shown in the UK on BBC in the mid-1990s, appears to be such a show that would be made differently if it was produced today. For a children’s show there is a surprisingly high body-count, which you suspect is considered allowable because the characters are animals rather than humans.
The first of the three series see the titular animals leave Farthing Wood after humans come in to develop the land, making their way to White Deer Park nature reserve. They make an oath to protect one-another and not to eat each other during their trip. The animals are led by Fox, with the assistance of elderly Badger, pompous Owl, and their guide Toad. Along with them are the mischievous Weasel, sarcastic Adder, and cry-baby Mole. Their journey is full of danger, mostly caused by human activity. This ranges from a fire caused by a burning cigarette, crossing a motorway, and surviving a fox hunt.
In the other two series, the Farthing Wood animals come into conflict with other animals. In the second they come into a territorial dispute with a group of blue foxes, and in the third they deal with an invasion of rats. Several of the animals start their own families, such as Fox who in the first series finds his mate Vixen, and later their have children and grandchildren; other animals become part of the group, like Whistler the Stork who gets his name from the whistling sound his wing makes after a hunter shot a whole in it; and others fail to make through the journey, die in harsh winters, or fall victim to human activity.
As stated, the number of creatures that die in The Animals of Farthing Wood is surprisingly high. Characters die from being shot, poisoned, run-over, trampled, fighting with each other, natural disasters, old age, and failing to survive hibernation. You do see blood as well, which is rare for a series with a “U” certificate. You suspect that the blood would be one thing that might not be shown if the series was made now.
However, it is these scenes that make The Animals of Farthing Wood stand out from other shows at the time. It is a children’s drama that relied on action and plot rather than comedic elements. The thing that makes The Animals of Farthing Wood good is the danger, the tension and the suspense. It is like a proper drama, only aimed at children and made in a much more accessible way. Thus, the death scenes and violence are arguably a good thing, because it provides an alternative to the more escapist cartoons normally aimed at children. The series actually makes you care for the characters, which was a rarity then, and when you compare British children’s cartoons to those of the USA and Japan, still a rarity now.
The Animals of Farthing Wood: The Complete DVD Collection is released by Network and is available to buy now.