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"The Mr. Men Show" Mark Risley (2008) Print
Written by Patrick Douglas   
Monday, 02 June 2008

Image    For nearly 40 years, children have been able to giggle with Mr. Tickle, grumble with Mr. Grumpy and smile with Mr. Happy while Little Miss Sunshine was a bubbly character in a children’s book long before it was an award-winning film title.

    Originally conceived by Roger Hargreaves in 1971, the “Mr. Men” series consisted of little books featuring one of 45 characters in their element. That was followed in 1981 with the “Little Miss” series of books.

    Today, the characters have been brought to life on the Cartoon Network series “The Mr. Men Show,” bringing simplistic sketch comedy to an otherwise complicated business. Director Mark Risley shared some insight into the show in an interview with TCS June 2, 2008, while in Glendale, California.


Hi Pat.

How’s it going today Mark?

It’s going well, how are you?

I’m pretty good. Where are  you at today?

I’m at the Renegade offices in beautiful downtown Glendale, California.

Nice. I’m in the beautiful state of Montana.

Oh yeah? What’s the weather like there today?

It’s been really weird lately. It’s been pretty much raining nonstop for the past two weeks and the sun came out today.

Beautiful.

Been doing a lot of fishing in the rain.

(laughs) Nice.

First off, I’m a big fan of the series and watch it regularly with my two-year-old son.

Terrific.

It’s great because it can keep the attention of both of us. First of all talk about the goals of the show in terms of the demographics and entertaining such a wide age range.

I think the question kind of answers itself not to be difficult (laughs). But the intent of the series was to entertain, much like the Warner Brothers cartoons of the ‘40s and early ‘50s. The intent is to entertain young and old alike. I’d like to think we succeeded.

Do you find that audiences not only include children but adults who remember that franchise from when they were young and they’re nostalgic?

Absolutely. It’s funny, whenever grown ups who’ve had experience with the books or grew up with the books learn of the series, they get a special gleam in their eye like being reunited with an old friend. It’s funny how passionate they are about their favorite characters. In the first season, we used 25 of the original, I think, 88 characters and if a persons favorite character wasn’t used in the first season, they get awfully upset about it (laughs).

My wife has this folder that has some cassettes and read along books from 1981 from the original set up. It’s kind of neat. You look at the pictures on there and a lot of the characters stay true to their original form from back in the day.

Right.

Tell me about how the ‘Mr. Men and Little Miss’ series turned into the show that it is today.

ImageI may be the wrong person to ask this question, but as far as I know, I came on late in the development stage in the show and as far as I know, there was talk of starting a new series as far back as when the XX company purchased the property from Adam Hargreaves, the son of Roger.

As far as the show goes, I really like how it has little stories thrown in here and there. It’s almost like an SNL setting, well I shouldn’t use that analogy ‘cause they tend to drag out their skits …

(laughs) We try to keep ‘em nice and short. It is sketch comedy. This is really like a musical variety very much like ‘Saturday Night Live’ or ‘Kids in the Hall’ when in fact, our executive producer Eryk Casemiro, one of our executive producers, is an alum from Broadway Video who produced ‘Saturday Night Live’ and ‘Kids in the Hall.’ It’s no coincidence. He has a lot of experience in sketch comedy. I’m not sure if he was the one that actually created that format for this series, but he’s certainly the one who refined it.

He’s a good source to have.

Absolutely.

Is it more cumbersome to put together an episode that has all these tiny little …

Moving parts? (laughs)

Yeah.

Each episode has so many moving parts, it’s actually pretty maddening to put one together, but it’s also pretty liberating in a sense that you’re able to work with a lot of different characters, a lot of different scenes and scenarios, so it keeps it fresh.

How were you approached to direct the series? Tell me your thoughts when your name started coming up.

At the time, I was directing ‘Tak & the Power of Juju’ at Nickelodeon and I got a call from executive producers Kate Boutilier and Eryk Casemiro asking if I would come on board. I’ve had a great working relationship with them in the past working on ‘As Told By Ginger,’ ‘Rugrats,’ and ‘The Wild Thornberrys.’ So after meeting with them and meeting Diana Manson, Nick Coreon and Ashley Postlewaite at Renegade, I was sold. I packed my bags and said ‘goodbye’ to ‘Tak’ and came on over.

How easy of a transition was that? When you say you said ‘Goodbye to Tak’ did you …

Did I just up and leave (laughs)

How difficult of a transition was it?

It was a fairly difficult transition. I gave ‘Tak’ plenty of notice. That was a huge production. It was a huge CGI production. I was there for a month before I came over here. The most difficult part of the transition was going from a CGI production to a Flash production. They’re at either ends of the spectrum of animation as far as complexity goes. So, that was a little bit difficult. I love the property. I love the ‘Mr. Men’ property so I was eager to come over and work with them.

So you use the program ‘Flash’ to put together the show?

Yes. The entire series is produced in Flash animation. Renegade Animation specializes in Flash.

You used CGI with ‘Tak’ and Flash with this. How different is this from the early days when you first got started in this business?

It’s very different. When I started in the business, everything was hand drawn and shot in camera and it was a big, laborious process (laughs). Not that it’s not a laborious process now, mind you, but everything’s digital now and all the animation is done in CGI like ‘Tak’ or ‘Father of the Pride,’ which was another CG program that I worked on. Everything’s done in the computer and here, even the story boards are done on the computer. They’re drawn on computer and timed on computer and the entire process is digital.

You have been part of some great ‘toons like ‘Rugrats’ and ‘The Wild Thornberrys.’ What are some of the biggest differences as far as your responsibilities comparing those projects to what you do today?

On the other series’ you mentioned, those series were already launched and well on their way when I joined on to direct. With ‘Mr. Men,’ I’ve been here since the development stage, so I’ve been involved with the look and the style and the format of the series. Additionally on ‘Thornberry’s’ ‘Rugrats,’ there were teams of directors and each director would take his shot for every five or so episodes. A director might only direct four or five episodes per season in a situation like that. On ‘Mr. Men’ I’m a supervising director as well as a director on all the episodes. All 52 11-minute episodes (laughs). It’s an exhausting but also really gratifying gig.

ImageDo you have any particular favorite characters on ‘Mr. Men.’

I hate to single anyone out (laughs). I don’t wanna hurt any of the character’s feelings. I love Mr. Bump and I love the way he looks and the way he sounds. I guess most of all, I love his spirit. He knows going into every sketch that he’s gonna get clobbered, yet he gives it his all. I think a good example of that is in a sketch called ‘The Dark,’ where he’s helping Miss Helpful change a light bulb above a staircase and she makes him fall every time but he keeps coming back for more. I think it’s his goodnaturedness, I guess. It just slays me every time (laughs). I attribute much of that to the actor who plays Mr. Bump, Aaron Albertus, in the U.S. version. The guy is an absolute riot. He’s absolutely hilarious.

I remember that episode. He gets more and more timid, but he keeps doing it.

He keeps going for it. He’s always game.

I consider myself a cross between Mr. Messy and Mr. Bump.

(laughs).

That’s about it.

I love Mr. Messy as well. He’s beautifully written, beautifully designed. He’s a great looking character but I attribute his appeal to Peter Michail who plays Mr. Messy and he’s also the art director here at Renegade, which is an interesting factoid that most people don’t know. He actually designed the TV version of Mr. Messy and he provides his voice as well, which is pretty interesting.

The draw of these characters is the range of emotions that they represent. Like I said, we probably have a little bit of every character in us somewhere. What’s the best part about putting together the episodes having so many diverse personalities to deal with? You don’t have this on any other cartoon.

No, you wouldn’t. I think diversity itself. After 52 11-minute episodes and another 52 to come, I’ve yet to get bored with any of the characters. I think in a regular series like ‘As Told By Ginger,’ a series that I worked on prior to this, you’re really focusing on one character and in a case of ‘Mr. Men’ you can really go on indefinitely. I never get tired of these characters honestly.

You could branch off and have individual TV shows based on any number of these characters.

Absolutely (laughs). I could watch a series that was based on interactions between Mr. Grumpy and Mr. Stubborn forever (laughs).

It would be interesting to figure out mathematically how many different shows you could put together based on the characters you guys have done in the first season.

(laughs) right.

I really enjoy the late ‘70s, early ‘80s vibe and art direction. That’s where I was when I was a little guy so I remember that era as representing my early childhood. Tell me about the attention to detail paid to that era.

There’s a great deal of attention put to that. I think early on when we were developing the series, we had a box set of the episodes of ‘Laugh In’ from the ‘60s and Jared Faber, who supplies the music for the series, specializes in that vibe. It’s something that we’re constantly thinking of visually, music, sound, everything to make it seem like it’s a ‘Brady Variety Hour’ from 1975 (laughs).

Was that always the intention or did you toy around with the idea of having it in a modern scene?

I think as far back as I can remember, we wanted it to have that ‘70s variety show vibe. From the very inception.

Talk about the art direction and the flat backgrounds and how it differs from a lot of the shows that are on.

I mention Peter Michail the art director again, who created the look of the show and is absolutely brilliant. We wanted to create a show that had the vibe of the old UPA cartoons from the ‘50s like ‘Gerald McBoing-Boing,’ the old ‘Mr. Magoo’ shorts. Fortunately, Flash is perfect to create that style in. You’ll see the show is very flat, but it’s rich. Peter was able to create a very rich looking world with the confines of having to work in this flat format. It’s been a lot of fun. I think the show looks great this way. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

ImageMy two-year-old loves watching it and following the characters and that theme song gets him going. He’ll just jam to it.

Isn’t the theme song great? It’s so catchy. Jared just recently did a dance remix of the theme song that you should be hearing sometime soon. I’m not sure when it will show up. It should show up on Cartoon Network sometime soon. It’s great. I think that was very close to the very first pass that Jared took to the theme song that we were all in love with from the get go.

I like the horns. For me, it’s like the intro to an old game show.

(laughs) Like ‘Matchgame.’ Herb Albert and the Tijuana Brass. Like the original ‘Casino Royale.’ That’s what it really reminds me of.

Alright Mark. I appreciate the conversation and I can’t wait to see what the future brings for all these new characters.

Great. It was a pleasure talking to you.

You too. Talk to you later.

Bye, bye.

 

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