Mumfie Searches For A 'White Christmas'

Britt Allcroft, creator of the beloved children's television series Thomas & Friends to Shining Time Station, has a new DVD for the holidays featuring Mumfie, the animated elephant, and friends. Allcroft talks with host Scott Simon about Mumfie's White Christmas, and what's wonderful about being an oddball.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

One winter, a little elephant named Mumfie and his friends - including a walking, talking scarecrow, and a flying pig named Pinky - are decorating for a Christmas skating party when a harsh northerly wind blows through. It dashes their hopes for a white Christmas. But Mumfie is undaunted.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SPECIAL, "MUMFIE'S WHITE CHRISTMAS")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As Mumfie) Don't worry, the party will go on.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) How? The ice is cracked.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: There will be ice and snow, I promise. We're going to have a real white Christmas. And we're going to find it, and bring it back here.

SIMON: Britt Allcroft, who created the children's television series about Thomas the Tank Engine, is the creative mind behind "Mumfie's White Christmas," which is now available on DVD. She joins us now from our studios at NPR West. Thanks so much for being with us.

BRITT ALLCROFT: Thank you for inviting me, Scott.

SIMON: Tell us about Mumfie and his pals.

ALLCROFT: Well, in the '90s, I wanted to do something very different from Thomas that would be very magical and epic and hopefully have lots of music in it and would, in the same way as Thomas but just with different stories, help give children love and security and inspiration and comfort and fun - lots of laughter.

SIMON: Mumfie had his own series in the 1990s and a movie a bit later. I guess he's been taking a rest since then.

(LAUGHTER)

ALLCROFT: Yes. So, in the '90s, it was very popular. But it continued to get lots of letters from the kids of the '90s, now grown, saying when can we see Mumfie again? So, took a big gamble, Scott, my family and I did, and we brought everything back to bring Mumfie back now into the world of the 21st century for kids now. Because I think life can be very tough for kids. You know, they sometimes come out of homes that have got lots of quarrels and they see buses with guns on the side and they need what kids have always needed, you know, love and security and comfort and fun.

SIMON: And are we going to see this Mumfie Christmas story as a kind of celebration of characters who feel that they don't quite fit in - a reindeer with twisted antlers, for examples, a flying pig?

ALLCROFT: Yes, definitely.

SIMON: We want to listen - 'cause you mentioned how important the music is. We wanted to hear a little bit of a song that is a celebration of oddballs.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As Mumfie) (Singing) It's a grand and glorious thing to be an oddball. It's the ones who are you need who must achieve, it could be safe and warm at home but instead, we're sallying forth to travel north...

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) (Singing) ...and must be home by bedtime.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: Yeah, I'm aboard my (unintelligible)...

SIMON: What do you hope children get from Mumfie, from a song like the one we just heard from the interplay between the characters from the overall story?

ALLCROFT: That's it's OK to be an oddball and not be regimented and to have your spirits lifted and to be able to laugh and to be able to be yourself, within some limitations, of course, and to have hope. In Mumfie, they are very hopeful characters. I mean, sometimes they are nervous, like scarecrow or whatever. And he balances off Mumfie's natural way of wanting just to get out there and get on with it. Together, they share hope.

SIMON: What do you think you've learned in your career about what moves children?

ALLCROFT: The way I like to tell stories is more in a gentler way, more in a lyrical way and at a pace that I think is still more in tune with a child's natural way of being. Now, of course, we've got all these gadgets and life is, I say, we're living in the fast-forward lane. But children, they're multi-dimensional and they still like that time where they can be with their stories, be with their characters and feel that they're not being pushed - emotionally pushed or harassed in any way. It's a gentler way of telling stories.

SIMON: Yeah. I am curious about this I like to watch credits and I notice at the end of Mumfie, one of the credits is Dr. Malcolm Coe in the department of zoology at Oxford.

ALLCROFT: Yes, yes.

SIMON: So, did he ever say to you, Britt, I have to tell you pigs do not fly; elephants do not speak?

(LAUGHTER)

ALLCROFT: You know, I wasn't expecting that question. I'm so glad you've asked me, Scott. Oh, I'm so glad you asked me. The wonderful thing about Malcolm Coe is that he is this expert on everything that one would want to know about real young elephants. But he also understands about enchantment. He absolutely got that Mumfie was a special little - is a special little elephant and he absolutely gets that Pinkey could have wings because that's the child in him.

SIMON: Britt Allcroft, who is the creator of Mumfie and "Mumfie's White Christmas," now out on DVD, speaker with us from NPR West. Britt, thanks so much.

ALLCROFT: Thank you very much, Scott.

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