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The Highway Rat (BBC) - Review

The Highway Rat

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

JULIA Donaldson’s popular book The Highway Rat has been adapted by the BBC in beautiful fashion, delivering a heart-warming Christmas gift to the festive viewing schedule.

Aired on Christmas Day, the 30-minute special provided a genuinely uplifting experience for viewers of all ages, bringing to life in vivid fashion the characters who have undoubtedly been a mainstay of many a bedtime tale over the time since it was first published.

It also delivered a timely message about the pitfalls of selfishness and greed, as well as a potent reminder of how good deeds can beget even better ones.

The highway rat of the title (voiced by David Tennant) begins the tale as a good-for-nothing bully… a swashbuckling rodent who terrorises his local neighbourhood for the food needed to fill his belly. But no creature is safe from his tyranny – no matter how useless the food to himself.

Hence, a squirrel is forced to relinquish his nuts, and a rabbit is forced to hand over her clover, just so that the rat can maintain the vice-like grip he holds over anyone foolhardy enough to be caught on his highway stretch.

Things change, however, when a duck lures the rat to a cave, high up a mountain, and traps him inside to ponder his ill-gotten gains.

It’s at this point that the BBC series expands on the source material, dropping in some greater explanations and a few more creative touches. A sequence in which the exhausted rat is forced to confront himself in a dirty puddle was particularly effective in visualising the turning point in the rat’s journey.

But a finale set back among the townspeople, in which the rat’s journey towards forgiveness and personal redemption is fully realised, afforded the BBC version greater depth and layering, as well as an even more feel-good ending than that which is contained within Donaldson’s text. It was a fitting message for Christmas Day, particularly for anyone who remembers the Christian values that come to the fore this time of year.

But throughout, there was much to savour in this richly vibrant piece of animation. It looked warm, was packed with charming moments – a swashbuckling encounter with a swarm of bees, a cameo from another of Donaldson’s creations, The Gruffalo – and combined humour with drama well.

What’s more, it felt enjoyable and timeless enough to hold up to repeat viewings, meaning that its position among the annual list of must watches this time of year (led by The Snowman) is all but guaranteed.