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An expensive film to produce, it won the Prix Jeunesse International award for excellence in children's television programming in 1990.
If all adaptations were conceived with the skill and grace of Granpa, a great slab of moviegoers' current cynicism could be sent packing once and for all. The 30-minute feature, based on the John Burningham children's book, romances audiences with lighter-than-air, sketch-style animation; dreamy, endearing characters; and a serene, story-enhancing score that expertly melds a 40-piece orchestra and a middle school choir. Its loveliness to look at aside, the video's triumph is its loyalty to the tale--Granpa celebrates the relationship between Emily, an eager, young explorer of especially fanciful fantasies, and the affable old man who's never too busy being a grown-up to indulge her. Together, through the power of in-synch imaginations, they're transported to a Victorian-era ball, where they dance the night away. They also go on a picnic in which a parade of stuffed animals come pleasantly and politely to life; they conduct a jungle safari; they go on a high-seas fishing expedition that puts them at the mercy of a speed-demon whale; and they share a sometimes high-flying, sometimes warm and fuzzy panoply of other momentary yet memorable adventures. It's a gentle exploration of a genuinely touching child-adult relationship that erects no age barriers and, to its credit, doesn't duck a difficult subject--Granpa's gradual decline. Sarah Brightman's performance of "Make Believe" further bolsters the film's sky-high charm factor. --Tammy La Gorce Amazon 1/1/2007
Great and overlooked achievement in British animation, 13 03 2006
Granpa, based on the children's book by John Burningham, is the second (and sadly last) animation to be directed by the late Dianne Jackson. She will be forever remembered for the legendary Christmas animation The Snowman, from the book by Raymond Briggs. But she went on to direct Granpa in 1989 She died tragically young in 1992, leaving Granpa as her final work as full director.
Granpa is a beautiful and very British half hour animation about a little girl called Emily and her kindly but ailing old grandfather. Emily's developing personality, imagination and childhood memories are being formed by her days spent listening to Granpa's stories. The stories come to life in animated images brilliantly designed to look like a child's crayoned drawings. Vivid, bright and seemingly inherently childish, the images are actually highly sophisticated animations from director Jackson and her team of artists. Remember that all of these animated frames were created lovingly by hand in 1989, before computer generated imagery came to dominate the business of animation and rendered hand drawn, beautifully detailed cartoon films like Granpa obsolete!
The tone of the film is initially warm and exhilarating, with Emily untroubled by notions of time or mortality. She lives fully within the moment, a child's viewpoint. For Granpa however, things are rather different. Aware that his days with her are numbered, he lovingly preserves her innocence and passes on to her a heritage within stories from his own distant childhood.
As the seasons pass by (symbolically from spring to winter, and then to spring once more), Granpa becomes visibly frailer until finally, during a magical story that has the pair swinging through jungle branches, he concedes that "I just can't reach those branches...the way I used to be able to." In a heartbreaking coda that echoes the famous finale of The Snowman, Emily finds herself (along with the old man's sad, loyal old dog) to be alone; her young life before her and Granpa inevitably consigned to live on only in her memories.
It's an astonishing finish, brave and sad and with an awareness of mortality and the sacredness of memory. In that sense, Granpa has much in common with all the great children's tales (Watership Down, Peter Pan, The Wind in the Willows, The Once and Future King, The Snowman, and many others), and in its so very British way it subtly and with great understatement covers the most serious themes of life, death, time and the rites of passage between old and new. A great piece of work, deserving of so very much more attention than it has received over the years. A neglected masterpiece that hardly ever gets screened, I recommend Granpa unreservedly. If you get the opportunity to watch this beautiful rarity, do so! Duke-verity 13/3/2006
Howard Blake writes: Sony both in UK and USA were extremely enthusiastic to back and promote Granpa, initially injecting £96,000 into the recording of the music track. However John Coates and Iain Harvey, film producers of Snowman and now its sequel Granpa, suddenly and for no apparent reason broke off all further relations with Sony and did not support any effective launch or promotion of the film. This was a very great disappointment.
Symphonic Film 11 – ‘The Bear’ 1998
John Coates contacted me ten years later and I should have known better than to pick up the phone. But perhaps he wanted me to forgive him for the disaster of 'Granpa'? Raymond Briggs had drawn a new book and Channel 4 were eager to have a new animated film. They insisted I did the score. Would I do it? I looked at the book which was smothered in dialogue, which is not Raymond's forte. The drawings of course were divine and the story of a little girl keeping a polar bear in her bedroom was cute and cranky. I said I'd compose the score providing there were no words in the film, like 'The Snowman'. Peter Gelb head of Sony Music New York offered me Placido Domingo and Carreras to sing the role of the two bears, earthly and heavenly. Everybody seemed agreed and I started work on 'The Bear' spotting it on March 11-15. What I didn't know at that point was that Harvey Weinstein (which also meant Miramax and Disney) were involved and that became one of the seismic faults in the pyramid. The first piano score was complete by April 17th and a revised version by May 15th. As with Granpa I took a hand in the script and story. I felt strongly that the episode of the little girl skating down a frozen Thames with The Bear and The Star-Bear accompanying her was by far the most magical sequence. It had been dropped for some ludicrous 'health and safety' reason. It was put back at my request and I now felt it would be a great place for a song. However as before John did his best to temper its success - he did NOT want another 'Walking in the Air'. This may seem strange to understand but in his view the film was the thing to watch and the music must not 'steal his thunder'- even though Channel 4 clearly wanted such a thing to happen. I also suggested the scene of a merchant ship cutting its way through the ice and The Bear rescuing Tilly. I had thought of a possible musical skating song but John did not want a song
However, when we got to the point John seemed to have a change of heart. A song might be a good idea after all. He suggested a lyric that said something like 'maybe everybody has a star that shines only for them'. Not the first time it's been thought of but it would suit the film perhaps. I wrote the song and the lyric 'Somewhere a star shines for everyone' and thought about who could sing it for the recording, set for 30th March at Whitfield Street. It was to be sung first as Tilly skates down the frozen Thames accompanied by the Star-Bear from the skies and the Polar-Bear from the North Pole, which was a delightful idea for a setting.
We needed a girl singer to record it and I rang Roxy Bellamy at Sony Classical. She said: 'We've just signed a 12-year old girl called Charlotte Church. We'll send a demo over.' Charlotte recorded it beautifully, at the same time becoming the star of a one-hour documentary on the making of the film made by 'Screen First' and called 'The Bear's Tale', produced and directed by Paul Madden, the commissioning editor for Channel 4, as he had also been on 'The Snowman' and 'Granpa'.
Unfortunately, when it came to dub the song onto the lovely skating scene, John suddenly insisted there should be no words and the film was released at Christmas with la la la, la la la, la la laaa.. Worse was to come because when a marketing executive of Sony enthusiastically rushed round to see us with a similar record deal as the Snowman had enjoyed, the producers, John Coates and Paul Madden refused point-blank. For this reason there has never been an album of 'The Bear' - or a success. I should have known better than to work with them again.
Symphonic Film 12 – ‘The Land of Counterpane’ 2015
In 1993 I had been asked repeatedly if I would compose a work for the tercentenary of the Mary Erskine girls school in Edinburgh and had spoken to the head of music, a wonderfully forthright and energetic musician called Helen Mitchell. I had vaguely suggested a Robert Louis Stevenson song-cycle or some songs on classic Scottish poems. I was busy as usual and not over-enthusiastic about writing for a school. On a visit to Edinburgh I dropped in to make my apologies, saying that I didn't really believe that such an idea would be very interesting. The headmaster, Patrick Tobin fixed me with an iron gaze and asked why not. I said I thought RLS was pretty old-fashioned and the girls would think it a bit twee. Tobin said he was not at all interested in what the girls thought - he wanted to hear what I would compose! I said rather nervously that the only way such a piece might work would be to write very simple voice lines and put all the colour in the orchestra. He glared at me suddenly and said: 'Well that didn't put Mahler off!' As he said this I could suddenly hear the whole thing. I agreed to do it and the school were delighted. Tobin’s intervention had caused an inspiration! I called the piece The Land of Counterpane and wrote the vocal/piano score in five days flat (May 9th - 14th.)
The premiere of the song-cycle took place in the Usher Hall on 25th March 1995 and was a great success. We had Scottish actor David Rentoul to read the epilogue as RLS and the excellent girls’ choir almost 300-strong to sing the melodic lines, accompanied by their own school orchestra. That was that , I thought . But later, turning it over in my mind, I thought – would it make another 'Snowman' - an animated film? I wrote a script, turning the song-cycle into a series of images of RLS's sickly childhood and how his Imagination caused him to live and fight for recovery.
The first attempt to make a film was with TV film-maker Chris Hunt and Pat Gavin, designer of the South Bank Show who set out on a 500-page storyboard. BBC 2 Music, BBC Enterprises and Scottish Film Fund together proposed to put up more than £1,000,000 to make it. I was asked to add an overture and a demo was made by a London children's session choir in late 1994. The film was to be hand-drawn, but time passed and at the very last minute Pat reneged on hand-drawn and decided to make clay models and animate them by computer technology. The result was less than astounding and Scottish Film Fund pulled out, BBC close behind them.
In 2010 I approached the well-known animation company Hibbert-Ralph in Soho. Gerry Hibbert became very excited about the project and suggested that Hilary Audus, who had directed the Bear, would be ideal to do it. Meetings were scheduled, phone calls took place but suddenly Hilary had dropped out. On the day that ‘The Snowman and the Snowdog’ was released in 2012 I discovered why. She had been asked to desert my project and direct ‘the dog’ instead.
Third and final attempt
In late 2013 I was contacted by Taylor Grant who had worked as music editor with me on many different animation projects: The Snowman, Granpa and The Bear . He was still incensed by what he called 'the dog thing' and we met for lunch to let off steam about it. Suddenly Taylor said:
'What's happened to your Land of Counterpane project?'
I told him how once again I'd been let down by a production company and how I'd more or less given up on the whole idea.
'Well, why don't you direct it yourself?'
'Do you think I could?'
'Well of course you could. When you worked with us (on ‘Granpa’ for instance) you wrote and laid down the sound-track first , the music, the songs and the dialogue and then the animators just followed you note by note. I then just put together the timing-charts for you to work from.'
This was a novel angle and I turned it over in my mind. In the new year 2014 I formed my own new production company 'Howard Blake Entertainmants Ltd' and took on the graphic artist Mark Reeve and his animator colleague Emmett Elvin. A production of 'The Land of Counterpane' was under way.[HB]