Cosgrove Hall's semi-surreal animated escapade Danger Mouse first hit television in Great Britain in 1981, but its heart is planted firmly in the '60s. Most distinctly a parody/camp follower of the '60s secret-agent series Danger Man (Patrick McGoohan's precursor to his more experimental 1967 cult hit The Prisoner), Danger Mouse also follows closely in the footsteps of Bill Scott and Jay Ward's '60s Adventures Of Rocky And Bullwinkle shorts, from the itty-bitty story arcs to the knowing narrator who's no more serious about the proceedings than the characters are. It's a throwback in many respects, but a thoroughly enjoyable one, and it garnered a massive following over the course of its 10 seasons.

Danger Mouse even looks like a '60s cartoon, not quite to its creditâ€"it's not a clever pastiche of '60s style so much as a genuinely low-budget, minimal-motion series that necessarily takes visual shortcuts. Some of them, however, just enhance the charm. The series follows "world's smallest secret agent" Danger Mouse and his cowardly, clumsy, generally incompetent hamster sidekick Penfold as they battle England's animal enemies, primarily nefarious frog Baron Silas Greenback. In the first Danger Mouse DVD collection, which packs the first two seasons and an unaired pilot into an otherwise virtually extras-free two-disc set, Danger Mouse and Penfold fight Greenback almost exclusively. In a typical plot, Greenback creates some sort of mechanical menace, which Danger Mouse defeats primarily through dodging, benevolent coincidence, and unlikely brainstorms. The limited animation precludes elaborate action, but it's actually funnier when Danger Mouse and Penfold stand still and stare, dumbfounded, at whatever's menacing them, or casually trade dry British commentary while waiting for an opening.

The show's weird humor is its strongest point: The first season's 11 10-minute episodes have the heroes recovering a flock of stolen bagpipes (which range freely across Scotland, minded by bagpipe-herders) and wrestling with a giant chicken and a "dream machine" that attacks them with their own words. The second season's six half-hour episodes (which come chopped up into five-minute mini-episodes, complete with intros, outros, and recaps, leaving very little time for forward movement) trot in aliens and a vampire duck who later got his own series, Count Duckula. Pop-culture references abound, as do visual gags and bad puns. Later seasons became far more surreal, but the series' seeds are here in abundance, in the way the sound effects get spelled out across the screen, the characters mumble gags to themselves when no one's available for two-way banter, and the narrator ends most episodes with increasingly ridiculous and irrelevant rhetorical questions. Early or late in its run, Danger Mouse broke little new ground, either for humor or for animation style. But nearly 25 years after its first airing, it maintains the reckless indie vibe of a small group of people paying homage to the television they loved when they were growing up, and having a blast at the same time.

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