Here’s a trailer for Molesworth, an upcoming animated feature film based on the books by Geoffrey Willans, illustrated by Roald Searle.
Announced earlier this year, the film stars Matt Lucas, who gives voice to the anarchic post-World War Two public boarding school boy Nigel Molesworth – and from the trailer, it looks like feature will perfectly capture the spirit of the original books.
The project is the work of the producers of the animated feature Ethel & Ernest, based on the graphic by Raymond Briggs – Lupus Films and Melusine Productions – who have teamed up with Uli Meyer Studios to produce the 2D, hand-drawn feature.
The project and trailer were presented to the animation industry at Cartoon Forum, Europe’s leading animated movie co-production forum on 3rd March – the 100th anniversary of Ronald Searle’s birth.
Searle himself, who died in 2011, had time to bless the intent of the author of the project, Uli Meyer, admiring this St. Trinians animation test. The result convinced the much-respected artist that, if someone was able to “give life” to his pestiferous kids, it was Meyer.
Based on the best-selling series of boarding school books written by Geoffrey Willans and illustrated by Ronald Searle, emulating the original illustrations, Molesworth tells the story of Nigel Molesworth, a self-confident, tousle-haired public school boy with a mischievous nature and a penchant for power.
The original adventures of Nigel Molesworth, told in semi-diary style, first appeared in the satirical magazine Punch in August 1939, written by Willans. Ronald Searle, however, who had already achieved considerable success with his St. Trinians cartoons for Lilliput magazine, published by Max Parrish, but had since tired of them, did not become involved with the character until 1952.
Then, as Robert Kirkpatrick relates here on Bear Alley, his wife, Kaye Webb introduced him to Geoffrey Willans, who had, by then, refined Molesworth and was anxious to see if Searle could provide some illustrations.
“Initially appalled at the idea of yet another school, Searle was won over by Willans’s text,” notes Steve, “and the result was Down with Skool, published by Max Parrish in October 1953, which sold almost 54,000 copies before the end of the year and has rarely been out of print since. A second book, How to be Topp, followed in the autumn of 1954.”
Further Molesworth adventures featured in the children’s magazine Young Elizabethan, edited by Kaye Webb, who enlisted both Searle and Willans as contributors, from January 1955 onwards, creating 38 Molesworth features and two more books: Whizz for Atomms and Back in the Jug Agane, the latter published at the same time as the omnibus, The Compleet Molesworth, in 1958 – sadly, the same year that Willans unexpectedly died from a heart attack.
In the film, which is still in development, St Custard’s School for Boys is in dire trouble. Someone has been stealing school funds to pay off shady gangsters and the school is now broke – and may have to close.
Young pupil Nigel Molesworth suspects one of the staff, and gets wind of a devious plan to nobble the school’s star football player, bet against St Custard’s to lose the National Schools’ Cup Final at Wembley, pocket the cash and flee the country.
Determined to stop the culprit, rescue their star player and save the school, Molesworth embarks on a chaotic and hysterical race across 1950’s London involving bank heists, wild animals, smog, the Kray Twin gangsters, stunt driving double-decker buses, Winston Churchill and the Queen!
Produced by Ruth Fielding, Camilla Deakin and Stéphan Roelants, directed by Uli Meyer, with a screenplay by Giles New and Keiron Self, the project has been developed with the support of Creative Europe’s MEDIA programme and Film Fund Luxembourg.
Uli Meyer is an artist and film maker living in London, recognised as one of the world’s leading character animators, whose work ranges from the seminal Who Framed Roger Rabbit, for legendary animation director Richard Williams, to helping to set up Amblimation (later to become Dream Works Animation).
Through his own studio Uli has worked on a number of major animated features including Space Jam, American Tail 2, The Lion King – The Circle of Life‘and Lost in Space and more recently King Arthur, Aladdin and Mary Poppins Returns. He has directed and produced over 750 commercials, and oversaw the work on Warner Bros’ live action/ animation hybrid Tom & Jerry movie.
A life-long fan of Ronald Searle, Uli has been working on bringing Molesworth to life as an animated character for some years with the full blessing of Ronald Searle himself, who Uli met in 2008, and the Geoffrey Willans Estate.
“Ronald Searle was one of the most influential graphic artists of the 20th century, and I’m deeply honoured that before he died, he entrusted me with one of his most memorable creations,” added Uli Meyer. “This film will bring his unique and unmistakable illustrative style to life, as only 2D animation can.”
Multi-award winning London-based studio Lupus Films was set up by Camilla Deakin and Ruth Fielding in 2002 and has since grown to become one of the UK’s leading film and television production companies, with productions that include. Best known for high-quality family entertainment, Lupus Films projects include Ethel & Ernest, The Snowman and the Snowdog, and , more recnetly, The Tiger Who Came to Tea.
“The ‘Molesworth’ series is a wonderful depiction of 1950s prep school life full of brilliantly drawn characters and dark humour,” Camilla Deakin told Variety back in February. “We are delighted to present this hilarious adventure romp in the tradition of classic 1950s comedies, but brought right up to date for today’s family audiences, for a whole new generation to discover.”
Melusine Productions is a division of Studio 352, created in Luxembourg in early 1997 by Stephan Roelants, now one of the oldest animation studios in Europe. Employing some 40 staff, the company offers a 2D/3D pre-production line, from the character, prop and background designs creation to the story-boards, layouts and expo sheets realisation.
“Being part of the ‘Molesworth’ production team is an opportunity we’ve been waiting for,” commented Melusine’s Stéphan Roelants. “Ronald Searle’s talent is an inspiration and a richness that our artists are eager to showcase under the guidance of the talented Uli Meyer. Working with our friends at Lupus Films is, as always, a wonderful opportunity to deliver a funny and intelligent film with a remarkable artistic quality.”
““I is frilled to be hassosiated wiv such a professeshanul-looking cartoon,” said Matt Lucas (Little Britain, Bridesmaids, Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland and Doctor Who). “Pleas can i hav my munny now pleas?”
A release date has not yet been announced.
More about the original Molesworth…
With thanx to swot Philip Rushton for steering me write…