Case Study 57: Roobarb, Episode 18–“When Roobarb Did The Lion’s Share”

Original Airdate: January 18th, 1974 on BBC1

The most obvious point of reference for Roobarb in the Oryx Vault is Paddington: It’s another five-minute cartoon made by BBC in the 1970s to pad out the hour when other things ran short. But while one series is based on an iconic and beloved children’s book character, the other is about a badly drawn chartreuse dog with a misspelled name. (At least it makes him easy to Google.)

Strengths:

  • Cute. Okay, I’ll admit it. I’m hopelessly devoted to dogs. And, sure, Roobarb only bears an abstract resemblance to any actually existing dog. Sure, it does the same weird thing that Paddington does where all the narration and voices are done by one guy (Richard Briers, The Good Life) so Roobarb doesn’t sound particularly distinctive, despite Briers gamely putting on a silly voice. But, come on, a dog wearing a poorly assembled horse costume? I’m not made of stone, people!

Weaknesses:

  • Rock bottom production values. To say that Roobarb shares Paddington’s lo-fi aesthetic is to put it mildly. As mentioned, there’s only one voice actor, but that’s just the beginning. Everything is a shaky line drawing. The characters’ mouths don’t match up with the audio, and that’s when they move at all. At one point, Roobarb’s foil Custard observes Roobarb in a comically humiliating situation, and it’s not clear if he’s looking through a hole in a fence, coming around a corner on the side of the fence or walking through the gate of the fence, because they didn’t bother to colorize the backgrounds. And the theme song? Let’s just say it’s doesn’t rival “Spin It” from Talespin.
  • Story that goes absolutely nowhere. Here is the plot, such as it is: Roobarb encounters a sad lion. The lion is sad because he’s part of a circus and he’s lost. Roobarb tries to distract him from his woes by putting on an extremely shitty one-man circus. Then the real circus comes back, so the lion books. If you’re going to do a lazy circus thing, just have the characters go to the circus and have misadventures there. It turns out that watching someone attempt to be entertaining and fail is not, in fact, super entertaining on its own.

Final Judgment: 4/10. You know, if there’s one thing I’m learning here it’s that the vast majority of television doesn’t even try to rise out of the endless sea of grey mediocrity that floods every broadcast hour.

NEXT TIME: Hey, they made a TV show out of the movie Limitless, so that’s going to have to make up for the fact that I couldn’t find an extant copy of the Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure cartoon.

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Case Study 57: Roobarb, Episode 18–“When Roobarb Did The Lion’s Share”