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Western Animation / Mr. Benn

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"As if by magic, the shopkeeper appeared."

Mr. Benn is a character created by David McKee. He appears in several children's books, and was later adapted into an animated television series broadcast by The BBC in 1971 and 1972. The show would enjoy reruns in other countries until sometime in the 1990s. A one off revival episode based on the final book, "Gladiator", was broadcast on Noggin in 2005. The character also appeared on stage in 2011 and was used in an television insurance advertising campaign in 2018.

The premise revolves around the titular character, living at 52 Festive Road, who would go to a "special costume shop", wherein he'd try on one new costume each episode, but instead of walking out of the fitting room, he'd exit through another door that would take him to a location befitting his new costume and then embark on an adventure. After overcoming whatever challenge he would face in these fantasy lands, he'd always return to the real world with a small token to remember the adventure by.

No relation to Mr. Bean.

This show includes examples of:

  • Actual Pacifist: Mr Benn is a very gentle man. Even when dressed up as a character who'd normally be expected to fight or at least use weapons (Knight, Hunter, Cowboy, Pirate and Gladiator), Mr Benn uses diplomacy and persuasion to resolve the problem at hand without ever even raising his voice.
  • Adaptation Expansion: The television series adapted most of the original books, and even had a one-off revival to adapt a later novel. Later books, in fact, adapted episodes of the television series.
  • Adapted Out: Only one Mr Benn book published at the time didn't get made into an episode, 123456789 Benn, due to the more dubious situation of Benn becoming a convict. The outfit is still shown hanging up in the shop however. As a result of skipping his debut appearance, Smasher Lagru, the one recurring character in the books besides Mr Benn and the shopkeeper, does not appear in "Clown", though he does make an appearance in "Gladiator".
  • "Arabian Nights" Days: The outfit that Mr. Benn said reminded him of a carpet seller he'd seen while on his way out of his house in "Aladdin (Magic Carpet)". It even came with a flying carpet. The ensuing adventure took place in a very predictable locale, complete with a genie in a bottle.
  • Becoming the Costume: The premise of the show has Mr. Benn (a bowler-hatted Everyman) visit a magical costume shop, try on a costume and become that character — spaceman, cowboy, prisoner, clown... — for the episode.
  • Black Bead Eyes: Mr Benn's eyes are simple vertical lines. Most other people depicted have normal eyes.
  • British Brevity: The original series ran for only 13 episodes like many British cartoons of its era. A one-off episode based on a book McKee made after the original series, Mr Benn - Gladiator was made in 2005.
  • Circus Episode: In "Clown", a clown suit sees Mr. Benn join a circus troupe, which had been stopped at a cliff on account of a collapsed bridge. It would take all their combined efforts to build a new bridge to get across so they could get on with their planned show.
  • Cowboy: In "Cowboy", Mr. Benn was originally going to watch a cowboy film, but the queue outside the cinema was so dreadfully long, he decided instead to be a cowboy. You wouldn't expect this adventure would turn into a game of hide-and-seek with him and the Indians. The Indian team would seek Mr. Benn, and the cowboy team would seek one of the Indians, who turned out to be hiding at the top of their totem pole where no one else would think to look. If not for Mr. Benn's ingenuity, the cowboys would have lost that game, as they already had done so many times before.
  • Cowboy Episode: In "Cowboy", the Indians have always beaten the cowboys in a weekly game of hide-and-seek. When Mr Benn joins in as the cowboy to hide, he helps the cowboys to win for the first time by exposing the very clever hiding place of the hidden Indian.
  • Dashingly Dapper Derby: The title character was always dressed in a black suit and bowler before changing into the costume that would transport him to that week's adventure. At the end of the episode, he would change back into his black suit and bowler hat.
  • Fantasy Keepsake: Every episode ended with the title character returning home after a magical adventure and finding a souvenir of that week's story in his pocket.
  • Fixing the Game: In "Balloonist", Mr. Benn gets involved in a balloon race only to discover that one of the competitors, Baron Burtrum, has sabotaged all the other balloons, including Mr Benn's, which he has tied to a drain pipe.
  • Gladiator Games: In "Gladiator", Mr. Benn is transported to Ancient Rome, where he meets his friend Smasher Lagru. But he has forgotten that prisoners are made to fight gladiators in the arena, and those who aren't beaten will end up facing the lions.
  • Hollywood Prehistory: In "Caveman", Mr. Benn visits a stone-age community who live right next to a dusty and dangerous road, frequented by dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals, but want to live in the fresh green countryside. There's just one problem: there are no caves. Mr Benn has the answer; they can build stone huts.
  • Indy Ploy: Every story would have a conundrum for Mr. Benn to solve. It's only thanks to his timely genius that they get solved at all, often with little time to think. One wonders if he and MacGyver are sharing notes.
  • Knight in Shining Armor: In the first animated episode ("Red Knight"), an invitation to a fancy dress party enticed Mr. Benn to seek it out. In a bit of irony, he's not fond of parties, but he loves dressing up. There was no party to find anywhere, which eventually lead Mr. Benn to the costume shop at which he would become a regular, and then go on to wear a bright red suit of armour. Rather unusually, Mr. Benn goes on to subvert the typical dragon slaying, instead ending up befriending the dragon he encounters, who goes on to tell Benn about how he was framed for burning buildings by a greedy matchstick maker.
  • Limited Animation: The series was hand drawn and most of the time the story was narrated and illustrated with static images with zooms, closeups, fades and overlays to give the illusion of action. When animation was used, it was Stop Motion, done by moving cut-outs of characters over the background illustrations.
  • The Middle Ages: Mr. Benn would travel to this particular era at least thrice, as a knight, wizard and cook in one story each.
  • The Narrator: Actor Ray Brooks narrated the animated series.
  • Non-Ironic Clown: In "Clown", a clown suit saw Mr. Benn join a circus troupe, which had been stopped at a cliff on account of a collapsed bridge. It would take all their combined efforts to build a new bridge to get across so they could get on with their planned show.
  • Pirate: In "Pirate", Mr. Benn dons a a pirate costume and helps the crew of a pirate ship, who are determined not to be pirates, turn their Captain into an honest man, and see that he gets a very different sort of treasure for his island: trees from a crew of gardeners whose ship the pirates pretend to capture, but actually rescue, during a storm.
  • Plot Hole: If you haven't read the unfilmed book, you'll be mystified as to how Smasher Lagru and Mr Benn know each other in "Gladiator" as they never meet onscreen beforehand. Smasher also reappeared in "Clown" though was Adapted Out of the TV version for this reason.
  • Supreme Chef: In "Cook", a cook's attire led Mr. Benn to a palace whose princess refused all manner of foodstuffs. He got the idea to set things right by inviting all the poor children he saw before entering the palace to the feast in the palace, which finally persuaded the princess to eat.
  • Wizard Classic: After watching a stage magician put on a performance in his town in "Wizard", Mr. Benn would later find a wizard robe and cone hat in the costume shop, taking on the role of a court magician for a king and a somewhat demanding queen.