Fungus the Bogeyman a budget Shrek for the younger generation
Another Christmas, another remake of a beloved classic children’s story. This year Raymond Briggs’ Fungus the Bogeyman gets the remake treatment. It’s been reworked into a fun to watch but ultimately lacking new show.
Fungus the Bogeyman is the tale of – unsurprisingly – Fungus, the average bogeyman. He lives a suitably disgusting life underground with wife Mildew and son Mould, emerging above ground only for his night job – scaring humans (known as “drycleaners”). Fungus is the product of many generations of renowned bogeymen, has the ugliest wife around and loves everything revolting – as a good bogeyman should. However, Fungus’ life starts to become complicated when his son Mould comes out as “dry curious” – professing an interest in living above ground and sanitation. It’s a horrific prospect to Fungus and Mildew, but they are left with no other choice but to chase Mould on top after he runs away from home.
The first episode is charming and fun to watch. It’s clear that writer Tom MacRae has had an incredible amount of fun with the script and inventing bogeyman-suitable alternatives for everyday tasks and speech. When Fungus and Mildew question their son’s irritability, Mildew suggests Mould is at the age where “he’s starting to want to lick the boils out of bogey girls’ armpits” and phrases such as “oh my god” translate to “oh my bog”. It is good fun and occasionally rather amusing.
As with any children’s tale, Fungus the Bogeyman is quite blatant with its allegories. And by blatant, I mean its allegory hits you like a speeding car, then backs up over you for good measure. Mould is “dry curious”, which basically means he wants to live a clean life above ground like a human. It’s seen as a terrible affliction that can be severely punished if convicted. Fungus actually takes Mould to the trial of some dry curious bogeymen to try and put him off the idea. After they are convicted of “decency in a public place”, the judge jells “take these fragrant abberations away” while a crowd of bogeymen jeer at the primped and cleaned clothing and hair of the convicted. It makes Disney look subtle, but an interesting parallel to make.
One of the greatest problems I found with Fungus the Bogeyman was its great similarity to the legendary Dreamworks film Shrek. Perhaps it was because the Mike Myers and Eddie Murphy classic is such a staple of Christmas television it might as well become an honorary Christmas film like Die Hard, and so I have seen it very recently. It’s about a big, green, happily disgusting monster (for lack of a better word) who does not want to change his ways. A proud and disgusting individual, but one who ultimately will sacrifice it (somewhat) for love. Shrek. Fungus constantly reminded me of Shrek, and consequently suffered in comparison. The script is nowhere near as sharp – indeed, it seems a bit bloated by its 67 minute length – and we delved very little into any characters outside of Fungus and Mould.
There’s no shortage of acting excellence however, because Timothy Spall is of course involved – and simply brilliant once he gets his own body back when Fungus shape shifts (it’s called face folding) into a human. Victoria Wood is fabulous as Eve, a human who takes in confused bogeymen like Mould.
Speaking of human characters, these are too many to care about. There’s the already mentioned Eve. We have Wendy (Keeley Hawes), the career-driven breadwinner in a family that also contains husband Daryl, the former solicitor now “mostly” gardener, and young daughter Lucy. We have their short-lived neighbours, but I don’t remember their names. We have a local vicar, who Fungus twice reveals himself to (because it doesn’t matter if a vicar sees a bogeyman as no one believes vicars anyway). Then there’s a scarred, Dickensian-style detective who I assume is some kind of villain for future episodes. There were too many to really delve deeply into the characters of any, so consequently I found my mind wandering whenever a non-bogeyperson was taking centre stage.
Another aspect of the show that I couldn’t quite make up my mind about was the presence of the narrator. I don’t think I agree that every children’s show should have a comforting, knowledgeable narrator. Indeed, I don’t think this is something that benefits Fungus. Though that said, I did enjoy some of the guidebook style explanations of Bogeymen habits, even if it seemed like a too obvious plot device to explain face folding.
I enjoyed sitting down to watch Fungus, though I suspect a lot of this was to do with the Christmas-dinner leftovers I ate while watching. The show is fun, light television, though ultimately lacks substance and originality. Children will probably enjoy it, but adults may want for something more.