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THE GRUFFALO: AN INSTANT CLASSIC

Sometimes in literature, cinema, comics or other media, what is called an “instant classic” emerges: a work that, as soon as it is released, immediately receives the approval of both critics and audience, and is automatically considered a “classic” worthy of the major works of the past. This is the case of The Gruffalo, which was originally released as a children’s illustrated book, made by the British writer Julia Donaldson and the German illustrator Axel Scheffer.

 

Sometimes in literature, cinema, comics or other media, what is called an “instant classic” emerges: a work that, as soon as it is released, immediately receives the approval of both critics and audience, and is automatically considered a “classic” worthy of the major works of the past. This is the case of The Gruffalo, which was originally released as a children’s illustrated book, made by the British writer Julia Donaldson and the German illustrator Axel Scheffer.

The leading character of The Gruffalo is a little mouse which throughout the story successively encounters three predators with less than friendly intentions: a fox, an owl and a snake. Each of them separately invite it for a meal but the rodent, suspecting a trap in each case as it knows that it will be the “food”, tells each of them that it has an invitation to have lunch with a gruffalo, a huge hairy beast whose favourite meal is actually the animal the mouse is talking to. After avoiding being eaten thanks to its cunning, the mouse comes face to face with a real gruffalo… which is not a fictional being after all. To gain its respect, the mouse must use its brain again to prove to the gruffalo that, despite its tiny harmless appearance, it is a much more ferocious creature than it looks.

Donaldson based the rhymed verse of The Gruffalo on a Chinese folk legend. Originally, the story was to focus on a tiger, but the author could not easily find words that rhymed with this and decided to replace it with another ferocious animal, whose name contained a “grr” sound − the onomatopoeia of a growl – and this is how she finally arrived at “gruffalo”.

First published in 2001 by Macmillan, The Gruffalo immediately became a commercial success and was the best-selling illustrated book in Great Britain in 2002, giving rise to all kinds of merchandising – soft toys, children’s clothes, stationery, etc. – and was translated into over 30 languages, including Spanish (El Grúfalo) and Catalan (El Grúfal), both by the Spanish division of Macmillan. The critics have elevated The Gruffalo to the same level as works by other great authors of English children’s literature such as Maurice Sendak, Roald Dahl or Dr. Seuss. Like all quality products for children seeking to stimulate their imagination and inventiveness, The Gruffalo also appeals to adults who have not completely lost their spirit of fantasy. Logically, the success of the first book led to a second part, The Gruffalo's Child, which as the title indicates, introduces the Gruffalo’s daughter, along with reintroducing the mouse and other animals from the previous book.

 

FROM THE BOOK TO ANIMATION

 

One decade after the release of the book, the animated adaptation of The Gruffalo took the form of a 30 minute TV special, produced by Magic Light Pictures – an experienced British company specialising both in live action and animation and which participated as a co-producer on Chico & Rita. The animation was the work of Studio Soi, a German studio founded in 2002 and based in Ludwigsburg and Berlin, which within a few years has become one of the most dynamic studios in Germany and has made, among others, the shorts Princess' Painting and The Little Boy and the Beast – the latter awarded the Cartoon d'Or prize at the Cartoon Forum held last September in Sopot (Poland) – and the series The Amazing World of Gumball for Cartoon Network Europe.

For the adaptation, made using computer-generated 3D animation, they sought to respect the spirit and concept of the original as far as possible, although a new character was added: a squirrel who tells the story to its two little children.

The Gruffalo special was first shown on the BBC on Christmas Day 2009, achieving high ratings – almost 10 million viewers – and was considered, like the literary original, an “instant classic”. It was broadcast on television channels in many countries and received awards in several prestigious international festivals such as Annecy and Ottawa and the Chicago International Children's Film Festival, as well as being nominated for the Oscar as Best Animation Short in 2010 (although it finally went to The Lost Thing, by the Australians Shaun Tan and Andrew Ruhemann).

Almost inevitably, the sequel The Gruffalo's Child has recently been animated, also in the format of a 30 minute special, produced and animated by the same teams as its predecessor and shown on the BBC during Christmas 2011.

The exclusive screening in this year’s Animac of The Gruffalo and The Gruffalo's Child introduced by their executive producer Michael Rose (also the producer of two Wallace & Gromit feature films, among other Aardman pieces) will undoubtedly be one of the most exciting moments for our youngest visitors... as well as for the adults accompanying them. So... let’s enter the world of the “Gruffalos”!

 

Alfons Moliné


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