Five years ago there was only one thing on Saturday morning’s childrens’ TV worth getting up for and no, I don’t mean Cat Deely. Although probably being far too old for this sort of thing and not even having the excuse of putting it on to entertain the kids, I found a double-bill of an unusual French animated series called Oggy and the Cockroaches filled well the gap left in children's comedy animation after the demise of Animaniacs.
One of the first animation series developed by Marc du Pontavice's Xilan studios (famous for their new Lucky Luke series and the digitally animated Kaena, la Prophétie), in a co-production with the TV station France 3, Oggy and the Cockroaches relies on the universally tried and tested technique of, as the title suggests, pairing a couple of adversaries and setting them up with various (or variations of) sources of conflict, without any need for dialogue (Tom & Jerry/Roadrunner). Oggy is a cat who lives in a big house, where he is cruelly tormented while attempting any activity – whether it is eating, enjoying hobbies or making a living – by three cockroaches called (after The Ramones) Dee Dee, Joey, and Marky. Oggy is very houseproud and has somewhat girly interests – knitting, playing with dolls etc. – which makes him an obvious target for the mischievous cruelty of the cockroaches who eat, burn, destroy, explode and generally cause unending havoc in the Oggy household, cackling heartlessly as they do.
There are a couple of elements that distinguish Oggy and the Cockroaches from other cartoon series. Adding to the Tom & Jerry/Looney Tunes set-up, there is a touch of Tex Avery surrealism and exaggeration combined with a (post-)modernist edge of Ren & Stimpy and Itchy & Scratchy, while still aiming for a young audience. The series also made some effective, appropriate and sparing use of 3D animation, notably for scrolling, freewheeling backgrounds during chase scenes. Each episode clocks in at only 8 minutes, which is time enough to establish a set-up, expand a few ideas, introduce a few secondary characters (Oggy’s hilarious cousin Jack deserves equal billing any time he guest stars in an episode) and provide a few laughs without overstaying its welcome.
Noël au Balcon, Pactisons!
It’s Christmas Eve and Oggy’s efforts to install a Christmas tree in the house from a hitherto (and henceforth) unseen fir-tree forest beside his house are hampered by the “shocking” antics of the cockroaches.
La Soeur d’Oggy
Oggy’s sister arrives on a visit and Jack is in love! However her interests and hobbies are of the dangerous kind, and if that wasn’t recipe enough for trouble, the cockroaches aim to cause further damage to the cool image Jack is trying to present.
Oggy is playing with his new doll, but one of the cockroaches, Marky, has fallen in love and a battle develops as Marky moves into the dollhouse with her.
While feasting on a banquet, Dee Dee gets inadvertently swallowed by Oggy and has to find his way around the cat’s digestive system, fighting Oggy bacteria and boxing on his bladder. Urgh!
Snow antics aplenty as Oggy and Jack go skiing, with the cockroaches tagging along. When Oggy gets onto a precipitous slope, Jack comes to the rescue – but the cockroaches are enjoying the ride and don’t want rescued.
37º2 Toute la Journée
The cockroaches have fun with a balloon pump one night, and Oggy wakes up thinking he is pregnant. Oggy prepares to become a mother, while the cockroaches chuckle.
Jack captures the cockroaches and feels a sudden sense of power that develops into raging megalomania.
Première à l’Opéra
Jack reveals a hitherto (and henceforth) hidden talent as an opera tenor. Dee Dee fancies himself as an opera singer as well, but is quickly dispatched from the opera house stage by Jack and Oggy. Cue Phantom of the Opera style revenge tactics from the cockroaches.
Le Train Completèment Fou
The cockroaches take control of a high-speed train (TGA – Train Grande Accident?) and Oggy is the only passenger on account of the size of his luggage. Jack to the rescue!
Ça, c’est Paris!
Oggy is on a trip to Paris and visits the Eiffel Tower, but – you guessed it – the cockroaches have tagged along and have made off with Oggy’s ticket for a saucy French nightclub show. Lots of maniacal cackling (but that’s just me), and some good use of CGI effects. Best episode of the bunch.
Oggy and the Cockroaches is a French series and has been released on DVD in France under its original title Oggy et les Cafards. This and the French title sequences are the only difference between the episodes on the DVD and how they aired on UK TV. The DVD contains only ten 8-minute episodes on a single-layer disc and is labelled Vol. 1, so while it is disappointing that there aren’t more episodes, there are doubtlessly more on the way.
Each episode is presented in the original 4:3 ratio and the picture quality is practically flawless – clear lines, well-blocked vibrant colours. There is some minor blurring on movement and tracking, possibly a little edge-enhancement – but overall a very pleasing look.
The DVD has a Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack of the original broadcast stereo. It’s clear, functional and quite dynamic without excelling in any area.
No extras on the DVD, just an Internet link to the Xilam site, which you can visit here for character information and clips. The site has an English language option.
Oggy and the Cockroaches is by no means original or classic animation, but as good, well-crafted, funny cartoons for children are rare enough nowadays, this deserves mention. The best episodes of the cartoon series are not on this DVD, but there are better ones to come. It’s a pity they couldn’t have included more on the DVD, but in terms of quality, it can hardly be faulted.