Some children’s TV shows run for years, others – like the Magic Ball, have only a short run before disappearing from our screens. Well, the Magic Ball is back on DVD – and despite the well-aged animation and dodgy film quality, it’s actually rather good.
That’s probably down to two things – the writer and the animator. The writer (and narrator) was Eric Thompson, best-known doing just that for the original Magic Roundabout. The animator was Brian Cosgrove – best known for later works under the Cosgrove Hall banner, including Dangermouse, Count Duckula and Chorlton and the Wheelies.
But this was his earlier work, basic (but very stylised) 2D animation – like a late 60s cartoon book or a piece of psychedelic artwork, with all the colour you’d expect from the era. And at times, the animation gets more than a little quirky, with the odd bit of inspiration taken from the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine and in some episodes (like The Story Of The Chimney Sweep), mixing in some live footage of the day. It might look a bit primitive today, but remember – this was 35 years ago.
What really keeps The Magic Ball fresh all these years later are the stories. Eric Thompson is a master storyteller – with an uncanny ability to give the most basic hand-drawn characters genuine personality. Each episode was limited to around 10 minutes and each story constrained to by having to feature a small boy with a ball, but somehow, Thompson is able to produce around 13 fascinating (and often surreal) little tales about everything from cavemen and ancient China to talking chimpanzees claiming to be pirates and a clock making the world go backwards. Yes, it gets that odd.
There is obviously a similarity in each tale, the introduction of Sam, a small boy in a town called Haythornethwaite, who happens to have a magic ball (no explanation as to why). Each episode sees Sam finding an object in the junk shop of his Aunt Mill – the ball then taking Sam into the story behind it. And finally Sam returns, with the object changed after his positive intervention. It might get repetitive, but it’s never dull.
For fans of 60s/70s animation, it’s well worth seeking out. Likewise, fans of vintage kids TV. The picture might pop and hiss occasionally, but the stories really do stand the test of time. I’m already looking forward to the release of series two.
Extras on the DVD: