The BBC has unveiled one of its showpiece Christmas programmes – an animation of Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s much-loved children’s story Zog.
And there seems little doubt that its story of a dragon who befriends a princess called Pearl who would much rather be a doctor goes – in a way many children’s stories can – to the heart of very contemporary concerns about female empowerment.
In fact the animation, which fleshes out the storybook to add extra scenes including a moment when Pearl is being given sewing lessons – and is shown to be practising surgical techniques on her teddy bear. She also has a governess – who is not in the book – who would rather she practise flower arranging rather than pursuing her dreams of medicine.
Asked if it was a feminist story, BBC director of content Charlotte Moore told RadioTimes.com: “Absolutely it is a feminist story.”
And speaking at the screening, Julia Donaldson said that while she didn’t set out to write a feminist fable admitted that it could be interpreted as such.
“Your underlying principles and ideas subconsciously come out in the stories,” she said adding that the feminist theme is also present in the book’s sequel Zog and the Flying Doctors in which the Princess is told by her Uncle the King that “Princesses can’t be doctors, silly girl”.
“I have received lots of letters from parents of girls saying it had a strong feminist message but I admit I didn’t write it with that in mind,” she told RadioTimes.com. “Nowadays most children’s books girls are quite feisty.”
The story is brought to live by Magic Light, the producers behind other recent animated versions of Donaldson and Scheffler stories including The Gruffalo, Stickman and last year’s The Highway Rat.
The adaptation also boasts a star-studded voice line up with Sir Lenny Henry and Game of Thrones star Kit Harrington in the cast.
Sir Lenny (below) narrates the story, while Harrington, best known as Game of Thrones’ Jon Snow, plays the Knight Sir Gadabout who seeks to rescue the Princess.
Tracey Ullman is Madame Dragon, Zog’s teacher, while W1A star Hugh Skinner plays Zog himself.
A total of 6 million viewers watched The Highway Rat last Christmas, drawn to the story of the rodent who terrorises his fellow animals into handing everything they have over to him before, eventually, getting his comeuppance. It was narrated by David Tennant.
Zog was first published in 2010 and has sold more than 1.5 million copies as well as winning the Galaxy National Children’s Book of the Year Award.
The BBC has also announced the Christmas 2019 will feature another animation of another Donaldson and Scheffler story – The Snail and the Whale.
Zog is due to air on BBC1 on Christmas Day