Directors – David Elvin & Martin Gates, Screenplay – Martin Gates & Sue Radley, Inspired by the Fairy-Tale by Hans Christian Andersen, Producer – Martin Gates, Music/Songs – Chris Caswell, Animation Supervisor – John Rice, Art Direction – Barry Macey. Production Company – Carrington Productions International/A Martin Gates Production.
Paul Panting (Ugly/Augustus), Imelda Staunton (Scruffy), Mark Jockyer (The Fox), Hugh Laurie (Tarquin), Alison Steadman (Simone), Peter Bayliss (The Actor Manager), Sally Kinghorn (The Actor Manager’s Daughter), Maria Darling (Geraldine), Robert Waiting (Podge)
A mother duck gives birth to a brood of ducks. Everyone around comments how ugly and awkward one of the ducklings, Augustus, is. Augustus, or Ugly, sets out on his own. He falls in with a young girl rat Scruffy who is on her way to find fame as an actress in the theatre. Together the two of them pass through various adventures, including Ugly being taken in at a farmhouse where Scruffy realizes that the farmlady is intending to fatten him up as a meal, and where Scruffy is captured by a fox and put to work making tin pots in the mines.
The Ugly Duckling is a rare animated film to emerge from the UK. (It is slightly odd to see a Disney-styled film where the animals talk with distinctive British accents). However, The Ugly Duckling is a modest and likeable animated effort. The film does a reasonable job of copying the formula of the modern Disney film, albeit with less lavish budget or the artistically flashy animation that Disney wields these days.
The original The Ugly Duckling (1843) was a fairytale written by Hans Christian Andersen. Certainly, the Hans Christian Andersen original is a slim story – it only consists of the birth of a duckling that is regarded as peculiar and ugly by all it encounters, before it matures and realises that it is a different creature – a swan. As a result, the film has to pad the basics of the original out into a picaresque tale where the duckling sets out on a journey, is joined by a talking rat girl and the two undergo various adventures. Indeed, as the picaresque takes over, the ugly duckling part of the story becomes almost entirely forgotten about. Nor for that matter does the duckling seem particularly ugly – more of a brown colour with a blue beak and a slightly waterlogged appearance. (One nice aspect is seeing it get bigger and grow up throughout the course of the film).
The falsetto with which the Scruffy character speaks becomes somewhat annoying after awhile. Despite this, The Ugly Duckling is plaintively told and a likeable and appealing film. The result is not unlike a better-made version of one of Don Bluth’s films from the mid-1990s – say Thumbelina (1994) or The Pebble and the Penguin (1995).
Director Martin Gates has made several other similar modest animated efforts, including the tv series’ The Dream Stone (1989) and Molly’s Gang (1994) and films such as Mole’s Christmas (1994), The Snow Queen (1995), The Adventures of Mole (1995), The Snow Queen’s Revenge (1996) and Jack and the Beanstalk (1997).