OK, Enid Blyton fans, get your hankies out. The Famous Five are getting a 21st century makeover, courtesy of Disney. Think multicultural meets technology in the new animated series “Famous Five: On the Case” which premieres in the UK next month. The crime busting gang of George, Dick, Julian, Anne, and Timmy the dog that Enid Blyton created in 1942 with the bestselling book Five on a Treasure Island is going to be replaced with characters who are the children of the original Famous Five, including a lead Anglo-Indian character.
That’s right, the team leader is the daughter of George (the tomboy and the original gang’s leader), Jo, short for Jyoti. According to Jeff Norton at Chorion, which owns the rights to Blyton’s books,
“We tried to imagine where the original Famous Five would go in their lives …Because George was such an intrepid explorer in the original novels we thought it would be only natural that she travelled to India, to the Himalayas, where she fell in love with Ravvi. That’s the back story (to Jo). We spoke to Enid Blyton’s daughter and she thought her mother would love what we have done …” [source: BBC News]
Don’t anyone try to tell me that the Disney executives don’t know how wildly popular Enid Blyton’s books are in India. I’m sure that the decision to have the lead protagonist be connected to the subcontinent somehow had a little something to do with this fact.
Other characters in the revamped series are Allie, a Californian shopaholic (and the daughter of Anne) who is sent to the British countryside to live with her cousins; Julian’s son Max, an “adventure junkie”: and Dylan, the 11-year old son of Dick. Only Timmy the dog gets to keep his original name. Don’t anyone try to tell me that the Disney executives don’t know how wildly popular Enid Blyton’s books are in India. I’m sure that the decision to have the lead protagonist be connected to the subcontinent somehow had a little something to do with this fact.
Other characters in the revamped series are Allie, a Californian shopaholic (and the daughter of Anne) who is sent to the British countryside to live with her cousins; Julian’s son Max, an “adventure junkie”: and Dylan, the 11-year old son of Dick. Only Timmy the dog gets to keep his original name.
You can safely forget about “gay” times or excited expressions such as “gosh”, “golly” and “jolly nice” (think “cool”). And, instead of poring over maps, these famous five will wield web phones with GPS and laptops.
I don’t know about you, but what I loved about reading the Famous Five (and in general Enid Blyton books) was that they took me to a place I did not know, allowed me to be part of a secret club of empowered kids who spoke in a language familiar and yet unfamiliar to me, and immersed me in “exotic” (think ginger beer and creams and the rambling English countryside) landscapes. I’m not so sure that the type of program being created will retain any of the charming qualities of the original Famous Five … besides the crime-solving kids aspect, which we have enough of — eg: Scooby Doo.
And though part of me feels that perhaps I should feel happy about the attempt to multiculturalize the cast of characters, it seems like a token effort, not an authentic extension of Enid Blyton’s vision. But maybe I’m just being a stick in the mud; too tied to my childhood nostalgia. (I know that when I was 9 or 10, I watched Mary Poppins, the original Doctor Dolittle, and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang … and even though they were set in different periods, I could still identify with the themes, the characters, and emotions.)
On the other hand, there is something to be said about diversifying children’s literature so that there are more characters like us to be found in books and movies [see Abhi's post about Sesame Street]. I guess that’s why — as a constant reader of children’s and young adult books and as a writer of children’s stories — I feel so lucky that we have publications like the South Asian children’s literary magazine Kahani which provides kids with authentic and high interest fiction and nonfiction (as well as access to books and films) that speaks to their experiences as kids of South Asian descent growing up in North America. Kahani just won the highly respected 2008 Parents’ Choice Award for magazines for the second year in a row. That’s a huge deal. This is a prestigious award from the Parents’ Choice Foundation which has been reviewing mainstream children’s media since 1978.
When I see that desi kids today have access to reading experiences such as Kahani (in India, there’s Tinkle and Amar Chitra Katha, as well as a host of new children’s books set in the subcontinent and I’m sure there are UK offerings as well), it doesn’t bother me so much that they’re continuing to read Enid Blyton’s original Famous Five … or watch the original TV series. They’re getting the best of both worlds — the contemporary and the classic (yes, to me Enid Blyton is a classic) — and isn’t that what the true reading or cultural experience should be all about? Traveling to both known and unknown places in your imagination?