This is the final episode in the series, and I have to say I’m rather glad! As with all the episodes major changes have been made to the plot and cast list.
The book has the Arnold children plus Prince Paul fly to Africa in a Baronian plane to find their parents who have gone missing. Ranni and Pilescu are their pilots and protectors and, with Mafuma (a young African boy) and his uncle guiding them they end up at a mountain inhabited by strange yellow-skinned, red-haired folk who take them prisoner.
THE TV EPISODE IS ONLY LOOSELY BASED ON THE STORY
The whole family fly to Africa to find a mysterious mountain statue, and by whole family I mean the Arnolds, Charlotte, Ruby and Prince. No Baronians whatsoever. They arrive at a small African airport rather than landing in the wild, and meet two men who are to be their guides. The country is called Bolutu, whereas I don’t recall it having a name in the book. It was just Africa.
Blyton’s Africa is very different to what we see on screen. The book has a rocky, boulder-filled expanse, plains with scattered trees and a watering-hole. Considering that the TV episode is clearly not filmed in Africa, it’s hardly surprising that it features similar sorts of forests to previous episodes. It lacks any African wildlife too.
It does however have a Mayan-style priest in the mountain and a host of white-painted men with loincloths and rocks for heads. The native guides look more South American than African, even with their feather headdresses and body art. In fact many of the sets around the mountain seem more South American and Mayan inspired, yet the airport they arrive at has very traditional African people wandering around, so it’s unclear where they are really supposed to be.
Anyway, the Arnolds set off with the guides but leave Ruby and Prince behind. Ruby immediately gets herself into trouble by driving through a river and getting herself stuck there for a day or two.
Not much happens for a while, the Arnolds trek through the forest and are told about the creepy mountain which has an evil god and bad spirits in it. The rock-heads prowl around but are never seen. There’s a weird woman (listed as birdwoman) who talks to a cockatoo which looks very like Kiki. Thaddeus’ compass acts strangely when they’re near the mountain but the guides refuse to take them any closer. They are two of the last three of their tribe, the rest killed by the evil mountain.
THE BIRD-WOMAN AND THE ROCK-HEADS
Laura, always the one to act stupidly, chases the cockatoo after it lands on her and meets ‘birdwoman’. Bird woman warns her that danger and evil are coming her way and prances about waving lots of feathers. Laura doesn’t really remember the encounter but afterward goes into trances saying she wants to go to the mountain.
In the night the rock-heads kidnap the two adults and one of the guides. The children discover this in the morning and set off for the rescue (finally relating back to the original plot) to the background didgeridoo music – I knew they weren’t really in Africa!
Just to add extra drama, Peggy scratches herself on some thorny fruit and quickly collapses. The remaining guide takes Jack to find medicine, but encounter skulls on pikes and a ‘dragon’ blocking their way. The guide says “No! Danger! No go! Bad!” in very broken English – they speak like this all the way through in fact. The ‘dragonman’ as he is listed on IMDB is really just a firebreather and he is quickly dispatched with a deadly-wet-checked-shirt thrown over his head by Jack, and a hard push delivered by the guide.
We then skip to a view inside the mountain where Thaddeus and Charlotte are being held. The Mayan priest turns out to be a very posh English lady who wears glasses. She’s terribly apologetic that they’ve been taken in error. The ‘silverskulls’ as she calls the rock-heads are just terrible servants and cannot be trusted to kidnap people correctly. She really wanted the girl (Laura I assume). However, she isn’t stupid enough to set them free. Instead she has their faces painted with red and white stripes (reminiscent of football fans) and plans to use them as part of a sacrifice later.
The useless rock-heads then manage to capture the children and the guide too. Thaddeus gets the best line of the episode once they are all united inside the mountain – Let go of her pumpkin-head!
The plan is for Laura to become a goddess to accept the sacrifice – of Thaddeus and Charlotte it seems. There is already a goddess there, in a white robe and moon-like mask, but she is to be replaced for no clear reason.
THE ESCAPE PLAN
It’s the children who come up with the plan for escape, and it’s similar to that in the book. In the book Captain Arnold threatens the sun with his knife and throws it, knowing there is to be an eclipse. It is beautifully believable in the book. The TV episode has the goddess (Peggy in disguise) ‘eating’ the moon as it is eclipsed. Their logic is that ‘these people’ won’t ever have heard of an eclipse. This works with a secretive tribe in the 1940s. It’s a bit hard to believe in the 1990s with a posh English woman who has clearly been to Specsavers running things. It works at least, distracting them long enough for Thaddeus and Charlotte to get out of their cage and mount an escape. It’s somewhat hindered by Laura insisting she must stay and fighting them all the way. The cockatoo helps them escape by leading the way – suddenly suggesting the birdwoman is actually a force of good. There is of course no easy way out, they must get past some Indiana-Jones worthy obstacles first.
Ruby, having sent Prince off with a message has been rescued by a random chap in a jeep who just so happens to have a helicopter. Therefore she’s able to arrive just as they have escaped.
We end with Thaddeus deciding to give up adventuring and marrying Charlotte in an aeroplane, wearing fancy clothes and parachutes. They then skydive out, along with all the children! Prince also parachutes out, but you have to wonder how he pulled the cord!
This is probably one of the most similar to the books. The location is quite different but in the end it’s about the children rescuing the adults from a mountain cult. It’s a shame as always it had to be padded out with strange birdwoman, useless Ruby adding nothing at all to the plot, poisonous thorny fruits and firebreathingman. They could easily have stayed closer to the book by having Thaddeus and Charlotte lost, Paul providing a royal plane to take them to Africa, a mean older native and a young boy as their guides and so on. I don’t know why they changed sun worshippers to moon worshippers either. It’s not a brilliant adaptation, but it’s better than some of the others in this series.
I’ve been told the Adventure Series TV Series is much better… so I will start watching and reviewing those soon enough. They certainly can’t be much worse, can they?