The World of Astley Baker Davis is a retrospective of the work of Mark Baker and Neville Astley – most famous as the creators behind ‘Peppa Pig’. This series of six short animated films and one music video provides a fantastic showcase for these two filmmakers.
Winning a BAFTA and nominated for an Oscar, Mark Baker’s short from 1989, The Hill Farm, is a humorous but increasingly dark examination of the place of humanity in nature. The material is represented neutrally, initially seeming like a cute cartoon about life on a farm with some cute and always hungry animals until the film slowly takes a darker turn. Funny and beautiful but also somewhat nasty – but thoroughly engrossing throughout.
Mark Baker followed this with 1993’s The Village, an even more edgy cynical vision of a cloistered small town and the nosy and mean-spirited people who live within it. The Kafkaesque story of greed, murder and mistaken identity offers a melancholy view of a society so stagnant that a horde of ants are constantly on call to devour any waste, human or otherwise.
While these two are not necessarily recommended for kids, Baker and Astley’s next, Jolly Roger, is a much lighter and funnier adventure yarn about marauding pirates and a maiden out for revenge even if her protectors would rather she didn’t. Also lighter and very funny is ‘The Big Knights’, a very funny TV series co-created and directed by Baker and Astley. Presented here is the episode ‘Lost Doris’ in which the two knights lose their robotic hamster. They track it down while it eats the local population into poverty. What marks these two features out is how funny, fast-paced and inventive they are – each one throwing out enough good ideas and jokes to stay on the right side of madcap.
The last two shorts comprise an episode of ‘Peppa Pig’ called ‘Funfair’ and an episode of ‘Ben and Holly’s Magic Kingdom’ called ‘Granny and Granpapa.’ Though obviously for very young children, a good degree of the visual inventiveness and humour and a little of the edge remains.
In summary, the whole collection of shorts are highly enjoyable and the juxtaposition of darker films with lighter, funnier works surprisingly well as a showcase of both their makers’ talents and their versatility. See it in particular for the fantastic ‘The Hill Farm’ and ‘The Village.’