London's Greatest Cartoon Characters

By M@
London's Greatest Cartoon Characters

A dozen animated heroes from London, in no particular order...

1. Danger Mouse

We begin with the greatest. He's fantastic. And wherever there is danger he'll be there. Danger Mouse and sidekick Penfold reside within a postbox on Baker Street. Their regular battles with malevolent toad Baron Greenback often occur in a London setting, with Willesden Green popping up more often than it has any right to. Danger Mouse first hit screens in 1981, with the voice talents of David Jason and Terry Scott. The 2015 reboot, with Alexander Armstrong and Kevin Eldon, is written with a similar sharp humour, and is every bit as good as the original.

2. Basil the Great Mouse Detective

A still from Basil the great mouse detective showing the Sherlock-like mouse looking at a paper with a magnifying glass as some kind of whiskered mouse looks on

Danger Mouse isn't the only fictional rodent on Baker Street. Disney's Basil the Great Mouse Detective is basically a murine Sherlock Holmes (fittingly named after Basil Rathbone). It's a thoroughly London tale, with major scenes at Buckingham Palace and Big Ben. The movie was well received at the time, but doesn't seem to have enjoyed the lasting appeal of other Disney classics.

3. Roddy St James

If you thought Danger Mouse had the monopoly on the whole "Action mouse saves London from repugnant toad" genre, then you're sadly mistaken. This underrated Aardman animation treads similar ground, though in a very different way. Protagonist mouse Roddy St James begins his adventure in an upmarket Georgian townhouse just off Kensington High Street. After getting 'flushed away', he washes up in a subterranean city of rodents called Ratropolis, which is something of a pastiche London. Here he meets Kate Winslet's Rita mouse (who totally steals the show), and battles against Ian McKellen's Toad. It's one of those films with dozens of hidden details and Easter eggs, including multiple Wallace and Gromit references. Deserves more love.

4. 101 Dalmatians

Let's move onto a different animal, shall we? In fact, let's have 101 of them. Disney's made many a visit to London over the years, but this 1961 adaptation of Dodie Smith's novel was the first to use the capital as the main setting (although see Peter Pan). The dotted dogs live with owner Roger somewhere in the environs of Regent's Park (the source novel puts them on the Outer Circle). Cruela De Vil's address isn't given in the cartoon, but she's a Hampsteadite in the 1996 live action feature.

5. Peter Pan

The characters from Peter Pan in front of the golden dial of the big ben clockface

Does Peter Pan consider himself a Londoner? The boy who never grew up seems most at home in the fabulous Neverland, but he started life as a London infant, and he's inspired two London statues, at Kensington Gardens and Great Ormond Street Hospital. JM Barrie's much-loved character has appeared in various guises on stage and screen but is perhaps best known from the 1953 Disney animation. This begins and ends with London scenes, including the famous flight to Big Ben and on to Tower Bridge.

6. Paddington bear

Paddington Bear standing in front of a brown fence on which a goal has been painted in white

Paddington is another of those characters to be endlessly reinvented in different media — films, books, TV shows... we've even seen him as a dancing-on-ice-show. Michael Bond's perennially popular character first hit the screen in 1976 with a delightful stop-motion animation, whose theme tune sticks with you for life. The movies are, of course, sublime, but check out also The Adventures of Paddington Bear preschool animation. It's a delight, and features Ben Whishaw reprising his role from the films. The Peruvian émigré lives near Portobello Road in the books, but was seemingly transported to Primrose Hill for the movies and recent animation.

7. Willy Fogg

Around the World With Willy Fogg was a retelling of Jules Verne's 80-day caper, but with a benevolent lion in the title role. It was bloody brilliant, and had the catchiest theme tune of the 1980s. The travelogue begins and ends in London, with lengthy scenes in the Reform Club. Fogg's address is never given, but the character he's based on, Phileas Fogg, was resident on Savile Row.

8. Mr Benn

A london street sign on a post. It says festive walk sw15

Readers with emerging wrinkles will recall the bowler-hatted Benn with much fondness. Created by David McKee (who also gave us Elmer), Mr Benn would periodically leave his home at 52 Festive Road to visit a costume shop. There he would try on a new outfit and embark on a sartorially suitable adventure. Festive Road was based on Putney's Festing Road, which was McKee's home for many years. A commemorative plaque can be found among the flagstones of the street, and the recently named "Festive Walk" footpath at the end of the street is also a nod to the show.

9. Mr Bean

Mr Bean, though best known in his original live action form, has also been very successful as a cartoon character. The animated series, also featuring the voice of Rowan Atkinson, has clocked up 134 episodes. His London address is given as 12 Arbour Road, Highbury. Arbour Road is fictional, but we can imagine it up against the tree-lined Highbury Fields.

10. The pearly kings and queens of Mary Poppins

Mary Poppins was recently voted one of the best London films in a Londonist poll. Yet the 1964 Disney musical was shot entirely on stage sets in Burbank, California. Despite this lack of geographic authenticity, the film boasts a trove of London highlights as deep as Mary's carpet bag. Among them is the 'jolly holiday' interlude featuring a cartoon group of pearly kings and queens. The ensuing song and dance is so good that it's... well, it's... oh, if only there were a special word we could summon up.

Bonus fact: two of the pearly band make a cameo in 101 Dalmatians II.

11. Steamboy

And now for something completely different. This 2004 anime posits an alt.history Victorian London with genocidal weaponry and anachronistic aircraft. The 'Steamboy' of the title isn't just a boy with steampunk technology. He's actually called Steam, James Steam. The plot revolves around an unfeasible flying fortress that takes off from an 1866 Great Exhibition in Rotherhithe. Aerial battles and a smashed up Tower Bridge (which hadn't even been built yet in our timeline) ensue.

12. Underground Ernie

Imagine Thomas the Tank Engine set on the London Underground and featuring the unlikely voice talents of Gary Lineker and Margaret Thatcher-impersonator Janet Brown. That's Underground Ernie. Although the show proved a hit, it only ran for one series thanks to behind-the-scenes wrangling. Deserves a much-delayed second series, if only so we can make "Mind the gap" jokes.

And a few almost, sort-ofs...

Budgie the Little Helicopter: These 1990s animated tales of an anthropomorphic helicopter were set at the fictional Harefield Airfield. Evidence points to a coastal location, but a blinkered, London-centric website like Londonist might equate it with the village of Harefield in north-west London.

The Snowman and Snowdog: During this Snowman sequel's it's-not-quite-Walking-in-the-Air-is-it? flight sequence, the boy and his dog and his snowman glide past various London sights, including the London Eye and the Shard. The capital plays no useful part in the story, however.

Winnie the Pooh: The Hundred Acre Wood is most definitely not in London, but the real-life bear who inspired AA Milne (and later Disney's animation) did reside in the capital. London Zoo, to be precise. That puts him a few hundred metres away from the Primrose Hill-dwelling Paddington Bear of the movies.

The Simpsons, Peppa Pig, Family Guy... All shows that have visited London, but their characters are not indigenous.

Ebenezer Scrooge: The Dickens miser has featured in several animated versions of A Christmas Carol, most notably the 2009 Jim Carrey version. We only accept the Muppet Christmas Carol in this parish, however.

Last Updated 19 March 2024

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