Review for Magic Ball (The): The Complete Series 2
This release is a very fitting tribute to Cosgrove Hall in a week that saw co-founder and principal animator Mark Hall finally succumb to cancer, aged 74. After all, 'The Magic Ball' would have been very close to his heart as it was his (and co-founder Brian Cosgrove's) very first official television commission in 1971.
The series won two silver medals at the Venice Film Festival of Children's Films and a silver Hugo at the Chicago Film Festival and it has remained a cult favourite since its original airing with its stylised and simplistic graphics and its surreally humorous approach which was to become a vital ingredient in the Cosgrove oeuvre.
Each episode in the series started with scenes of the Magic Ball and then mixed to shots of a seaside town. At this point the narration starts (with the familiar voice of Eric Thompson - The Magic Roundabout) :
Somewhere in England, by the seaside
Is a town called Haythornthwaite
A busy town, full of busy streets,
Busy people and busy shops
Except for one shop
Which never seemed particularly busy
Perhaps because it was in a side street
Away from the main busyness
The Magic Ball features a little boy called Sam who lived in a seaside town called Haythornthwaite. Sam had a magic ball which he carried around with him everywhere, which was just as well because it came in terribly useful every week.
Sam's Aunt Mill owned an antique shop full of curios that Sam would stop and look at during his visits. Whilst holding an object, the Magic Ball would activate and take Sam on wonderful adventures, always bringing him back home safely, and always helping out some problems or injustices along the way. Curiously Sam didn't feel the need to talk about them. On arrival back at the shop Aunt Mill would always ask "And where have you been ?" and he would simply say "Nowhere much."
Every story lasted a mere twenty minutes so there was little messing about - and they generally did what they said on the tin. So if an episode is called 'The Story of the Nervous Bagpipes' then that would be pretty much what you would see - a set of bagpipes giving their owner difficulty as they were too nervous to play.
The animation is very primitive stop-frame (think 'Pugwash') though there is something charming about this. It's certainly enough to communicate the story and, let's face it, was a step up from the stills in 'Jackanory'!
When this aired, it was only the spoiled kids who had colour TV's in their houses. So most original watchers will remember this in black and white, which is a shame as the colours are truly wonderful, all vibrant poster paints and psychedelia.
Series 1 of this series was released some six months ago by Network (a web exclusive I think) and both series will only have a limited shelf-life before being withdrawn, so if you want a copy I would suggest you buy now before you have to pay hopelessly inflated prices on eBay, a pattern now well established for limited releases like this.
It's a charming and nostalgic trip where, for once, the results may be better than you remembered, full of flights of surreal imagination and yet as cozy as a hot water bottle on a cold night.
Here's what you get - along with original air dates.
19/9/1972 The Story Of The Mountie
26/9/1972 The Story Of The Nervous Bagpipes
3/10/1972 Under The Sea
10/10/1972 The Story Of The Giant
17/10/1972 The Story Of The Strange Planet
24/10/1972 The Story Of The Knight And The Dragon
31/10/1972 The Story Of The Hunter
7/11/1972 The Story Of The Bee
14/11/1972 The Story Of The Drawing Book
21/11/1972 The Story Of The Eskimo
28/11/1972 The Story Of The City Of Machines
5/12/1972 The Story Of The Comic Book
12/12/1972 The Story Of The Witch