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Literature / What-a-Mess

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He's an Afghan Hound, but it's not apparent through all the mess
What-a-Mess is a series of children's books written by English comedy writer and BBC radio personality Frank Muir. It was thrice adapted for animation: once by Smallfilms in 1979, again as a BBC miniseries by Bevanfield Films which pulled stories directly from the books and again as a Saturday-Morning Cartoon by DiC Entertainment which aired on ABC in the United States in 1995.

The titular What-A-Mess (real name Prince Amir of Kinjan) is a mischievous but good-hearted Afghan Hound puppy whose naïveté and pride often get him into messy situations. Other characters include his beleaguered human family, the snooty Cat Next Door, and a bird who nests in his hair.

The 1995 show, in particular, had a pretty catchy opening song.

Provides examples of:

  • Adaptational Dye-Job: The bird living in WAM's hair is blue in the DiC Entertainment cartoon but yellow in all other works.
  • Adaptation Name Change: WAM's best friend The Archbishop of Canterbury was renamed (and recolored) Norton in the DiC series.
  • A Day in the Limelight: For Trash, he is the focus of episodes like "Talking Trash", "The Bones", "Some Pup To Watch Over Me", "This Hydrant Is Mine", "Trash's Wonderful Life", and "Pound Pals".
  • All There in the Manual: According to some versions of the books, the little creatures running about in each scene are What-A-Mess's imaginary friends.
  • Animal Talk: All the animal characters can understand each other.
  • Animation Bump: As was tradition with this era, the animation in the intro for the DiC Entertainment series is far more fluid and weighty than that seen in the series.
  • Author Avatar: The elderly English Sheepdog, Frank, is voiced by creator Frank Muir himself.
    • Ink-Suit Actor: Frank's facial fur is meant to look like Muir's mustache.
  • Balloon Belly: In "Home Alone, Almost," WAM's family gets him an automatic food dispenser meant to keep him occupied for several hours. He consumes it all in seconds, resulting in one of these.
  • Big Eater: What-A-Mess
  • The Bully: Trash is a hotheaded bully and the neighborhood thief, particularly in his debut episode, "Talking Trash". He mellows into more of a frenemy to the gang throughout the series.
  • Canon Immigrant: Trash didn't appear in the original books.
  • Cats Are Mean: Felicia the cat is self-centered and occasionally malicious.
  • Cats Are Superior: Felicia very much believes this to be true, though it's often disproven.
  • Christmas Episode: "Christmas Mess", complete with an appearance from Santa and his surfer dude reindeer.
  • Crossdressing Voices: Averted with What-A-Mess, as he was voiced by then-child voice actor Ryan O'Donohue.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Trash from the DiC Entertainment series turns this trope into an art form. Felicia also qualifies to a slightly lesser extent.
  • Denser and Wackier: The DiC Entertainment series compared to the books.
  • Depending on the Writer:
    • How mean Trash is depends on the needs of the episode. Sometimes, he's a full-on Jerkass antagonist with little to no redeeming qualities. Other times, he's a Jerk with a Heart of Gold, Big Brother Bully type who's not that good of an influence on What-A-Mess, but has a soft spot for him nonetheless and will take the kid under his wing for a day of fun.
    • Likewise, Felicia can range from being What-A-Mess's closest friend to a rather cruel and manipulative prankster, who would gleefully toy with his naive mind for her own amusement.
  • Dogs Are Dumb: Well, not "dumb" per se, but a lot of the chaos What-A-Mess causes his family is the result of him not knowing any better.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: The first episode is presented with a framing device of Frank telling the stories of What-A-Mess from his front porch, but isn't used in any other episodes.
  • The Faceless: An odd trope in this kind of series. The faces of human characters are always deliberately obscured by things like camera angles or objects and no human faces are ever seen. The one exception being Santa Claus in the Christmas Special.
    • What-A-Mess's mother was this in the books. She becomes a more active character in the series.
  • Funny Background Event: Both the book and the show would have odd little creatures running about in the background getting into shenanigans or reacting to what's going on at the moment.
  • G-Rated Drug: "Only Four More Left" presents excessive shopping as this when Felicia gets addicted to a home shopping network. What-A-Mess, in a rare instance of competence, even tries to block her from the phone by saying that it's for her own good.
  • Growling Gut: A frequent source of contempt for the title character, due to his huge appetite. Occasionally used as a gag, such as when the inside of his stomach is shown to have a little wolf howling and banging on a dinner table furiously.
  • Hates Baths: What-a-Mess. During the theme song for the show, he is shown running away during a bath.
  • He Cleans Up Nicely: In a subversion version of this trope, the male What-a-Mess is bathed and groomed on rare occasions and actually looks like a pedigree Afghan Hound rather than his usual scruffy self.
  • It's a Wonderful Plot: "Trash's Wonderful Life".
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold:
    • Trash, who acts like a street-smart tough guy most of the time, but can be quite nice when push comes to shove, as seen in the episode, "Christmas Mess". Despite Trash being the neighborhood bully, What-A-Mess does consider him to be a friend of his and the two dogs sometimes hang out.
    • Felicia, similarly, is usually arrogant and often even cruel, but there are plenty of times where you can see she and What-A-Mess are good friends deep down.
  • Limited Animation: The BBC cartoons. The DiC Entertainment series had this as well, but nowhere near as noticeable.
  • Literal-Minded: A lot of What-A-Mess's misadventures are the result of this. One cartoon had him opening all of the windows in his house because he heard it would be "raining cats and dogs" and he wanted to give them all a place to stay, resulting in the house being flooded.
  • Meaningful Name: Three guesses as to what people tend to say when What-A-Mess comes crashing in.
  • Musical Episode: "This Hydrant Is Mine", in which Trash gets to show off Joe Niptoe's singing chops and What-A-Mess nearly gets sucked into a gang war.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: What-A-Mess has a moment of this in "Only Four More Left" when he realizes that introducing Felicia to home shopping inadvertently created a monster.
  • Named by the Adaptation: The Cat Next Door became Felicia in the TV show.
    • The random bird in What-A-Mess's hair was not only named Baldwin but was turned into a Running Gag ("Do you know you've got a bird living in your hair?" "That's not a bird. That's Baldwin!").
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Trash's voice is based on Jack Nicholson.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname:
    • What-a-Mess's real name is actually Prince Amir of Kinjan, but in practice, he is rarely called this. Even his mother calls him What-a-Mess most of the time.
    • Trash's birth name? Francis.
  • The Pigpen: JUST GUESS!
  • Pounds Are Animal Prisons: Since "What-A-Mess" is a talking animal series, it naturally has one of these episodes - "Pound Pals", in which, What-A-Mess and Trash are imprisoned in the pound with seemingly no escape until What-A-Mess springs them by tunneling his way out.
  • Sarcasm-Blind: What-A-Mess, though it's probably because he's a puppy. One episode ("Out With The Garbage") has him referring to another dog as "Mr. President" because he introduced himself as Prince Amir of Kinjan, to which the other dog replied, "Yeah, and I'm the president of the united states!"
  • Small Name, Big Ego: Trash and Felica are both very arrogant and have an inflated sense of self-importance (What-A-Mess tends to humor them). Whenever they're pitted against each other, it's ego versus ego.
  • Sensitive Guy and Manly Man: What-A-Mess is the younger, naive, noble, and sensitive guy to Trash's older, tougher, street-smart, and unscrupulous manly man whenever they're paired up for an episode.
  • Standard Snippet: The DiC Entertainment series used a slightly out-of-key version of "Chopsticks" for scenes where characters are in hairy situations.
  • Tertiary Sexual Characteristics: Inverted. Well-groomed Afghan Hounds naturally have long hair on their heads and long hair that tends to make them look like they're wearing fancy clothes. Despite all that, What-a-Mess is a male dog. Played straight with the cat, Felicia. She has long eyelashes and a bow.
  • The Dog Bites Back: It's not uncommon for Trash or Felicia to try to take advantage of What-A-Mess' naivety, and in the episode "Messed-Up What-A-Mess", they both try to do it when he's an amnesiac. What-A-Mess is quite pissed off when he finds out, so he decides to set them up for some well-deserved payback.
  • Truth in Television: Afghan Hounds have notoriously high-maintenance coats. Any owner of an Afghan Hound who grooms their dog anything less than constantly will end up with a dog looking something like What-a-Mess. Frank Muir owned several Afghan Hounds when he wrote the series, which was probably an influence.
  • Unreliable Narrator: The narrator often says the exact opposite of what is going on.
  • Verbal Tic: Ramona has a habit of saying "basically" a lot. She's played by Candi Milo, who used the same voice and tic for Cow and Chicken's teacher.