He's the greatest
Wherever there is danger, he'll be there...
Oh, how to do justice to the surreal delight that is Dangermouse. Dangermouse is a mouse who fights crime and injustice, but oh so much more. Dangermouse the television show was a British effort that aired in the early-to-mid 1980s. The idea of anthopomorphized rodents fighting crime and saving the planet might not be the most original, but the quirky humor and bizarre subject matter of Dangermouse clearly marks it as one of the most creative animated series of its day.
Dangermouse himself, the lead character, is a noble and courageous mouse who tries to maintain an air of dignity right up to the point where his situation reaches new heights of ridiculousness. Which, of course, generally happens about five minutes into each episode.
Penfold is a jittery hamster who plays the role of "bumbling sidekick" to DM. His hobbies are making daft, hilarious observations and munching jelly babies when nervous, which is most of the time. His signature phrases are "Oooh, crumbs!" (when he realizes he's done something clumsy), and "Oooh, 'eck!" (when he is certain he's about to be flattened, stretched, or blown up).
My absolute favorite line of Penfold's has to be a scene where he was "watching" a UFO land. Dangermouse asks him, "What does it look like, Penfold?", to which Penfold replies,
"It's like...four sausages, with long, narrow windows.
If you can't figure out why this is funny, you are not likely to "get" Dangermouse.
Colonel K is a police chief in the apparent vast underground of English-speaking crime-fighting rodents. He appears on DM's viewscreen at the beginning of every episode to let DM and Penfold know what their assignment is. I wasn't sure what he was for years, however, at one point they showed the back of the Colonel's body and he seemed to be a beaver, judging from the large, flattish tail.
Dangermouse and Penfold live in one of those red, cylindrical, old-style mailboxes seen on London streets. Their main living quarters seem to be in the top bit of the mailbox, and consist of a roundish room furnished with only a viewscreen and a crescent-shaped couch. The couch has special seats that, when duty calls, snap seatbelts around our two heroes and zip them down to their car. The car is a zippy yellow thing that boasts the ability to fly and to magically reassemble itself a scene after being completely blown up. Also, it only seems to run out of gas when it's being chased by a big slimy monster.
The characters are drawn using simple geometric shapes and lines. However the backgrounds and certain "props" in the show often look like cutouts from photographs. Dangermouse's aesthetics seem to share much in common with Monty Python's early animated short skits. You never know when some bizarre amalgamation of machinery and / or body parts and / or random objects is suddenly going to drift across the screen. Two scenes that stand out in this manner are one in which DM and Penfold have somehow ended up in the "potty part" of the universe. Mind you, "potty" in this context does not imply dealings with bathroom fixtures, but seems to be a British slang expression for "insane". There is some guy...at least I think it's a guy...sitting on a planet. (He's really big). His head is made of what looks like a giant human hand, and he has a single eye. He's wearing a business suit and his leg kicks wildly when he talks. He's not a villain or anything, he seems to be just some guy who sits there and lets people know when they've entered the Potty Zone.
Ahem. This is only the beginning of the wackiness and utter WTF?! glory that is Dangermouse. Some of the episodes are standard cartoon adventure fare, with our heroes having to stop their nemesis, a surly frog known as Baron Silas Greenback, from comitting such treacherous acts as filling all the most important seat cushions in the world with cactus spines. If not for the heroics of Dangermouse and Penfold, all the world's kings and queens and Prime Ministers would suffer horrible stabs to the buttocks. Blaming one another for their anal agony, it's likely the world would descend into war and chaos! With Dangermouse on the case, the world is safe from such horrors. Wait a minute...that isn't exactly "standard cartoon adventure fare", but it's about as "normal" as you're going to get on an episode of Dangermouse.
My favorite episodes were always the ones where DM and Penfold ended up in outer space. There, they encountered such mysteries as Pink Holes (which lead to a Universe much like our own except that everything in it is pink!), and a strange planet populated by abandoned technology: classic sewing machines, engines, and kitchen appliances. These obsolete machines all spoke with booming voices and drifted through the air, bemoaning their fate.
There are some strange running gags that appear every so often throughout the episodes. One of them is the elephant thing: it seems that anywhere in the Dangermouse universe, from the jungles of Africa to the deserts of Mexico, all one has to do is let out a Tarzan-like yell, and a herd of elephants will come thundering through the area, trampling everything in sight. Then they are gone, as mysteriously as they arrived.
The humor of Dangermouse, in addition to the outrageous sight gags, leans heavily toward the punny. These puns are stretched to the absolute limits of most peoples' tolerance: for instance, "wheel spider" (a device for removing the bolts on automobile wheels) is confused with "real spider". It's the sort of humor that will send kids into fits of the giggles, and cause adults to groan loudly. But in a good way. As long as you like that sort of thing.
There are plenty of websites where you can read about the people and the history behind Dangermouse. My purpose here was to capture the spirit of the show, to highlight exactly why it is so funny and weird and worth watching. Hopefully I have succeeded in this, and hopefully someday I can find the show on DVD!