Pre-school animation appears to have something of a stigma in the United States. Cartoons targeted at children aged 6-11, such as SpongeBob SquarePants, My Little Pony Friendship is Magic and Adventure Time, have picked up adult followings of varying sizes; however, there seems to be an assumption that anything aimed at the 5-and-under crowd will be too simplistic and didactic to interest older viewers.
In Britain, things are slightly different. Most animated television series made in the UK today are aimed at the preschool audience, but often cater to any adult viewers who appreciate gentle whimsy. In this way they can be seen as continuing the tradition of Bagpuss, The Clangers and Noggin the Nog, children’s series which were not intended specifically for the preschool demographic but now find themselves pigeonholed into that area when they are rerun – and yet still maintain fond adult followings.
Sarah and Duck, a recent CBeebies series created by Sarah Gomes Harris and Tim O’Sullivan of Karrot Entertainment, has plenty of charm and is sure to net itself a number of adult admirers. Its appeal for older viewers lies not in any winking asides above the heads of the target audience, but in its way of evoking the more fondly-remembered aspects of our childhoods.
The series follows the exploits of a seven-year-old girl and her pet duck. The third central character is the narrator, who serves as the only true adult presence as he interacts with the characters, giving them advice but never intruding into their world. The storylines deal with simple subjects, such as visiting a shop, building a kite or drinking honey and lemon while poorly, in a way that gently pushes tidbits of information at the audience. Older viewers will be taken back to how, during early childhood, even the most mundane activities can be a fascinating journey of discovery.
This is reflected in the colourful and sometimes strange world which Sarah and Duck inhabit. When they leave their house, a line of talking onions in the garden bids them farewell. They often bump into an elderly woman, well-meaning but somewhat absent-minded, much to the annoyance of her short-tempered talking bag.
There are shades of Tim Burton in Sarah’s quirky, wide-eyed design; meanwhile, the fact that so many inanimate objects are prone to sprouting faces and talking suggests Fleischer Studios. The series is not self-consciously creepy or surreal, however, and merely reflects just how odd the world of childhood imagination can be.
Although the visual style is simple, the characters are injected with genuine vitality. They are not bundles of stock poses and expressions, but instead react to their surroundings in a well-observed and believable manner—such as when heroine develops a slumped posture, dawdling gait and half-closed eyes in the episode “Sarah Gets a Cold”.
As an example of engaging character animation created with a minimalist visual style on a television budget, and a cartoon for pre-school children which does not talk down to its audience, Sarah and Duck is right on target.
Sarah and Duck was developed, designed, written and animated entirely in-house at London-based Karrot Animation.The show is animated in CelAction2D. Visit the Sarah and Duck Facebook page for regular updates.
Director: Tim O’Sullivan
Writer: Sarah Gomes Harris, Benjamin Cook
Producer: Jamie Badminton
Animation director: Tim Fehrenbach
Lead animators: Alastair Park, Rachel Thorn
Storyboard: Tony Clarke
Senior Design Team: Rufus Blacklock
Art Direction: Annes Stevens, Rebecca Whiteman