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'Room on the Broom' Brings a Smile to Your Child
October 30, 2014  | By Monique Nazareth  | 2 comments

“The witch had a cat and a very tall hat, and long ginger hair which she wore in a plait.”

So begins Room on the Broom, one of the loveliest Halloween cartoons airing this week on the Sprout channel. Except that it’s not a Halloween story.

The animated short is based on the book by Julia Donaldson with illustrations by Axel Scheffler. Donaldson is a British writer, playwright and performer who is best known for her children’s book The Gruffalo. She’s a prolific author, having published over 70 titles and received numerous book awards over the last two-plus decades she’s been writing. Three of her stories have been turned into wonderful animated shorts. And just when you think nothing can be better than the books, the films somehow manage to pull it off. Her first adaptation was The Gruffalo. The talent voicing Donaldson’s characters included Helena Bonham Carter, John Hurt and Tom Wilkinson, among others. It garnered a 2010 Oscar nomination and was then followed by The Gruffalo’s Child

Room on the Broom is her third animated short. It was nominated for a 2014 Academy Award and won at the 2013 BAFTA Children’s Awards in the Animation category. It features the voices of Simon Pegg, Gillian Anderson, Sally Hawkins and Timothy Spall, among others. Pegg and Anderson have both said they were excited to be part of this project as they were big fans of the story.

If you’ve walked into a Barnes and Noble recently, you might have noticed Room on the Broom being heavily promoted on their Halloween books display. While I applaud any and all positive attention given to this wonderful children’s story, I again say it’s not really a Halloween tale.   

Room on the Broom is about a kindly witch who is happily traveling with her cat “over the fields and the forests, the moors and the mountains when a stormy wind” intervenes.   She meets various animals that find they don’t belong in the surrounding to which they’ve been born. This includes a clean frog, a green crow, and a keen dog. Each misfit tells his or her story and asks “Is there room on the broom for a [fill in the blank] like me?”  The witch gives a very enthusiastic “Yes!”

Donaldson often includes misfits in her stories, but celebrates their strengths. The Gruffalo doesn’t focus on the might of a great monster but the ingenuity of a tiny mouse that’s able to defeat his enemies with his wit. Just as in her book The Snail and the Whale, it’s the tiny snail that saves the life of the blue humpback whale. Donaldson’s tales are full of adventure, humor and, at the same time, kindness and morality.

In Room on the Broom, the witch finds space for each of the misfits until her very overcrowded broom snaps in two and everyone, except the witch, falls to the ground and into a bog. That’s when the witch encounters “a dragon, as mean as can be” who plans to have “witch and chips” for his tea  (the American short film version changes chips to fries). Just when you think the witch will meet her end, you find her kindness returned to her in a David and Goliath fashion as the animals she saved now work together to save her from becoming the dragon’s meal.     

Max Lang, who also directed The Gruffalo, directed the film version of Room on the Broom. It was made at Studio Soi, in Ludwigsburg, Germany, with a budget of $2.4 million using 3D animation with some miniature sets. Lang told the Hollywood Reporter, "I love that you feel the handcrafting in the sets; they're not mathematically perfect and this gives it a charm and personality. For some of the trees, they actually used bristles from actual brooms to make tiny twigs; in one scene in a forest, the needles on the ground are spices."

The animation is not only beautiful but it stays true to the book and Scheffler’s wonderful illustrations. Donaldson herself has praised the film adaptations. “It’s a lovely feeling to write any kind of book but when you write a play or something that is made into a film, it really is quite amazing to see it in flesh and blood - or rather in cartoon form,” she told the U.K.’s Daily Record.  “It is almost a God-like feeling of ‘I created them, I dreamed up those characters.’”

Andrew Beecham, Senior Vice President of Programming at Sprout, is one of the many who appreciates Donaldson’s great characters. "I've always been a huge fan of her books, having read them to my kids when they were preschoolers,“ he told TVWorthWatching. "I met Julia after she was invited to be a guest on Sprout's Sunny Side Up Show, and she made my day by signing a copy of The Gruffalo.”

He says Donaldson's films are becoming "a Sprout holiday tradition." Indeed, this is the second year the channel is airing Room on the Broom for Halloween.  

And Beecham hopes the relationship will continue. "We'd love to welcome her back to the Sunshine Barn for another storytelling and, of course, if any new films are made from her books I'll be the first in line to screen them."

If you get the DVD of Room on the Broom, the extras include Donaldson acting out Room on the Broom during a library tour. It’s almost as wonderful to watch as the animated short.

I have to warn parents though. If your toddler is like mine, you’ll find he or she will want much more of Donaldson. And Donaldson has found a way to accommodate. If it wasn’t enough to have her 3 shorts on DVD, now iTunes, Google Play and Amazon have created a Room on the Broom downloadable game.  This includes helping the dragon catch fries, spelling games with the cat, and helping various animals find things the witch dropped when the stormy wind blew. There are also stuffed animals, games, puzzles, coloring books and a bunch of other products for her most popular stories, like The Gruffalo

It was a chance Christmas gift from a friend in London that introduced my family to the world of Julia Donaldson last year. But it’s a world that we have gladly welcomed and, once exposed, you will too.      

Sprout will air Room on the Broom on October 30 at 9pm and midnight ET and October 31 at 1pm ET and will also air November 22, 23, 25 and 28 at numerous times.

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