Thursday, 24 November 2016

Glanni Glæpur í Latabæ (aka 'Robbie Rotten in LazyTown') (1999)

Glanni is rather more frightening than Robbie
Today’s film is actually a filmed-for-DVD play, ‘Glanni Glæpur í Latabæ’ (also known as ‘Robbie Rotten in LazyTown’, although ‘Shiny Crimey in LazyTown’ would be a more literal translation). It’s an Icelandic stage-musical which served as a pilot to the hit TV show ‘LazyTown’ (2004-2008).  LazyTown, if you don’t know, is the most expensive children’s TV show in history.

The play is recognisably the same characters in the same world. Local superhero Íþróttaálfurinn (Sportacus, but his Icelandic name literally means ‘sports wizard’) teaches everyone what to eat and how to exercise, and in times of crisis he runs in to save the day. He’s handsome and athletic and he can do the splits in mid-air, which from any other hero would feel like a mating display. His costume in this play owes more to Icelandic elves and folk-heroes than modern athletics, but the basic elements are the same. Here, he lives in a hot air-balloon, not an airship - and he uses it to travel to different towns (we also hear about MayhemTown and BullyTown). He speaks very LOUD in this production, and he wears a magic hat which tells him when people are in trouble.

The Policeman, the Mayor, Glanni and Miss Busybody
All the familiar characters are present - and they’re all played by humans. On TV, most of the cast are human-sized puppets, but now the children are obviously actors in their late twenties. The main impact of this is that Stephanie (the viewpoint character on TV) is just a member of the larger crowd. There are also a few characters who didn’t make the cut: gullible policeman Officer Obtuse (who doesn’t contribute much that the Mayor couldn’t), Jives (a child who raps about how vegetables cancel out pain) and a bird puppet, who doesn’t really do anything.

The character who’s most different from their TV portrayal is Glanni Glæpur. Now, Robbie Rotten is one of my favourite fictional characters, and one I identify with strongly: lazy, self-defeating, and over-keen on dressing up. Glanni Glæpur shares these attributes (and is similarly played, with excellent flair, by Stefán Karl Stefánsson), but whereas Robbie wanted peace and quiet, and so sought to expel Sportacus from town (while usurping his position), Glanni Glæpur wants cash. Robbie carries out his plans on his own, but Glanni hires a gang (of ‘ugly, boring, smelly, thievish’ folk from MayhemTown) to steal all the vegetables so he can sell can sell canned fruit (which is, of course, a great evil). When Sportacus helps the town plant new fruits and vegetables, Glanni resorts to poison. Robbie harboured a secret desire to make friends with the townfolk. Glanni Glæpur is just an evil capitalist, and it’s far less interesting.

Glanni lacks Robbie's fascinating prosthetic chin and eyebrows
Glanni impresses Stingy with his wealth, and he kisses Miss Busybody, and he impresses everybody else with a story about how he once gave the president a foot-massage. He has a seductive philosophy: ‘Never think about the future or the past. Do you know how to add and subtract? There’s nothing else you need to learn, because you know enough to count your money.’ Of course he leads everybody astray and becomes the mayor and so on.

Then there are the songs. Normally a 20-minute episode has one song, but the far greater duration of the play (which is in some ways a hinderance) allows for a lot more singing and dancing. The best of the songs were resurrected for TV. Indeed, certain songs are note-for-note the same as they appear in the series.  Glanni Glæpur’s introductory song goes to precisely the same backing as Robbie Rotten’s ‘Master of Disguise’, and ‘Bing Bang Dingalingaling’ is obviously the same song and instrumentation as ‘Bing Bang Diggiriggidong’. Others are still works in progress. An early version of ‘Gizmo Guy’ pops up, but it lacks finesse.

Stephanie and Trixie sing of their enduring friendship after escaping jail
It’s an enjoyable enough 95 minutes, but it doesn’t hold a candle to such LazyTown classics as ‘Rottenbeard’ or ‘The Greatest Gift’. It’s easy to love Sportacus and Robbie on TV, but at this early point (and with too much stage time) they’re too authoritarian and too criminal respectively. The fact that it’s obviously a filmed stage-play, but without a live audience, leaves it feeling like there ought to be a laugh track. The TV series ups the stylisation, and shoots single-camera, but the compromise in ‘Glanni Glæpur í Latabæ’ leaves you feeling that something is missing.

You can see the musical on Youtube, and you can donate to Stefán Karl (Glanni/Robbie) here - he’s currently undergoing therapy for pancreatic cancer and there’s a movement afoot to raise money to support him and his family through the process. You can see some of his finest work in meme form here and here and here and here because this is 2016.

P.S. I almost forgot the most important thing, which is that Icelandic sounds great. It's a very similar sound to the German accents that I find so satisfying. Good work Iceland!

2 comments:

  1. A couple of corrections.

    One: álfurinn is actually closer to "elf" than "wizard" - note that it sounds like elf. His name literally means "the sporty elf."

    Two: The play did not serve as a pilot for the series. It was a follow-up to the first play, "Áfram Latibær," which was based on Magnus Scheving's book. (You also didn't mention Magnus. Like, at all.) There was actually a pilot made with a different actress playing Stephanie (who was closer to the character's age of eight) and, well, pretty creepy puppets. The puppets were made by the same company that made the puppet of the Rooster.

    Three: Short of spoiling the damn thing, I saw no mention of how the characters changed, save for Glanni's transition to Robbie when it went to TV. (You spent so long discussing the visual changes including the type of camera used, so it was surprising that your critique didn't include anything in the realm of plot or character change.) You also didn't care to mention that he's still called Glanni Glæpur in the Icelandic dub, but that's excusable.

    Overall, a decent review, but largely pedestrian and, even more so than Robbie Rotten, lazy. I would have done a little more research into the lore of the show - not like, every single detail, but underlying your critique there wasn't much by way of, you know, actually knowing the history of LazyTown. Your neglect for the show's background (and your failure to mention the creator of the show, who seems pretty important...I mean, he plays Sportacus) leaves your critique lacking.

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    1. I'm sorry you found my comments so pedestrian and lazy. In person I'm also dull and ugly.

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