Even regular films by the Children’s Film Foundation are known for a slightly ‘detached’ quality. As a result those with intentional fantastical themes were positively bizarre. The Monster of Highgate Ponds (1961), The Boy Who Turned Yellow (1972) and A Hitch in Time (1978), which have been remastered and released on DVD by the BFI under the collective name Weird Adventures, are three such titles. Starring such British stalwarts as Patrick Troughton and Sorcha Cusack, and produced by amongst others Alberto Cavalcanti, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, these films encapsulate an era of British frivolity.
Here are three stories as enchanting as they are downright odd. Featuring a dragon-like monster from Malaysia who causes excitement amongst local inhabitants when he takes up residence in the ponds on Hampstead Heath, a boy who turns yellow when he meets an alien who can travel through the electrical grid system, and a nutty professor who uses two precocious school kids as guinea-pigs in his time-travelling experiments, these tales will both amuse and bemuse in equal measure. Some of the stories are better than others, though each does stand out for its own individual reason. The most enchanting, The Monster of Highgate Ponds, is also the quaintest due to the interaction of the children at centre of the story with their adult counterparts.
It’s also significant as an example of work by Halas and Batchelor who were the biggest animation studio in Britain before Aardman Animation came along, and who created the film’s lovable namesake. Of the other two films the freakiest is undoubtedly The Boy Who Turned Yellow. Largely forgettable it is worth watching for the scene where the central character John turns yellow whilst sitting in an underground carriage, which has the unmistakable surrealist air of filmmakers Powell and Pressburger. As for A Hitch in Time, the casting of Patrick Troughton as an eccentric, time-hopping scientist adds the only real interest to what is the weakest story.
Evocative and reminiscent of a time when children could walk home alone or play on London’s large expanses of parkland in safety and when their mother had tea on the table when they got back, some aspects of the films may seem as alien to the young audiences of today as the premises of their stories. However, in this the BFI’s Weird Adventures collection provides an image of lost innocence and escapism which, if honest, we all still hanker after.