Aboard the ship Rubber Ducky, a happy crew sings and works and occasionally struggles in their piratical pursuits. Where they are going, what they have done, how many they've slain, it's anybody's guess. All you need to know is that they're ever-so cute and ever-so deadly. I really wanted some backstory, but meanwhile, I had to watch grainy bits from Ontario TV, five minutes each weekday, and convince my wife that buying the video would be a good investment. Yoho Ahoy was a BBC series of stop-motion animated puppets that aired in the UK, Canada, possibly Australia and Japan around 2000. Fifty-two episodes were made, five minutes each. Yoho Ahoy won Best Animation award at the 2001 Banff World Television Festival. They pumped out some videos and dolls and even a PC game in the UK, but the show disappeared before Johnny Depp could convince everyone that pirates were incredibly hip.
From the handfull of episodes I've seen, and the futile hours I've spent searching for crumbs on the web (footnote 1), I've pieced together a sorta-Freudian reading of the names and images of the show.
Females among the cast include "Booty," "Cutlass," and "Plunder." I haven't seen episodes that show the "origins" of the characters, but other critical writings (footnote 2) about the show describe "Booty" as a princess held hostage by the crew of the Rubber Ducky. Not only does her name literally classify her as an ill-gotten object or treasure, but in some slang circles it means "butt" or the sex act itself.
Cutlass is clearly a member of the pirate crew, not one of its victims or sex objects. She wears a pirate hat with skull and crossbones on the front, gleefully displays a cannonball during the end credits of every episode, wears an eyepatch and has a scar across her face that doubles as her mouth. This imagery immediatly puts me in mind of the front cover of The Monstrous Feminine by Barbara Creed which shows full, red, beautiful lips and a glimpse of teeth, set vertically instead of horizontally. With a name like "Cut-Lass" and a scar embodying her most visible facial feature, how can you not think of your male castration fear, that women are missing their phalluses because they have been wounded, the wounds still visible on their bodies and still bleeding, or that the wounded spots are themselves abject devices for castrating others?
Okay, it's not really that obvious, but if you read that book by Barbara Creed (subtitled "Film, Feminism, Psychoanalysis, it'll seem obvious.
I thought Swab was female, maybe because of the ear-ring in each ear. But the description of the talking plush Yoho Ahoy dolls on bbc's shop says that Swab is male. I still say the voice sounds female, but it's hard to tell with their two word vocabulary.
Plunder is visually plain, practically the same as Booty except for variations in color of hair and dress, height of hair, and lack of the Booty's beauty-mark. Interesting that the two characters who appear more stereotypically feminine are the ones with names that classify them as objects or stolen things, while the boys take their names from their jobs or parts of the ship: Grog, Swab, Poop, Bilge. (See also "Jones" under section 4, DEATH OF INNOCENCE.)
Apart from the captain, none of the males look or act exceptionally masculine. Grog, Poop and Jones seem to go about their tasks with frightened expressions, active but rarely aggressive, and passive Poop only "active" in so far as he carries out commands given by others.
There's no easy way to say it. Having said it, having suggested that it be viewed from a Freudian perspective, there's no need to analyze or interpret the name.
Let's leave his name alone, and discuss his behavior. Eyelids always at half-mast, Poop is perpetually sleepy, his sailor's cap more like a sleeping cap of old. Poop is sometimes treated like his namesake by the other characters. They boss him around, or take care of him when he seems to be ill. When he follows their orders, he seems reluctant, easily distracted by anything he can find (footnote 3). This causes him to fail at the tasks he is given, which earns him derision, which explains why he always seems such a sad figure.
Captain Bilge appears to be a spiky explosion of blue hair extending from the top of his head all around his face and beard, punctuated by champing teeth and a sort of bald forehead, or male pattern baldness. The rounded tips sticking out from Bilge's nose look less like mustachios and more like the legendary cannon fuses that Blackbeard supposedly twined in his hair and lit during battle.
The ship's cook is named Grog. Nothing too frightening about him, except for the abject horror of hooks where his hands should be. It's historically accurate, in a way, because wounded sailors were often given the job of cook, a la Long John Silver. In this age of robots and cyborgs, children probably won't think much about Grog's funny hooks. They'll just think he's a robot. But older children like me have to ask What happened to his hands? (footnote 4) Can't we see an episode showing where his hands went? Perhaps "Gangrene with Grog" or "Safe Cooking Habits with Grog."
It's cool that he can replace the hooks with spoons or forks or cups, even a wind-up eggbeater. But we're not looking for "cool" here. We're trying to think what Freud would make of it all. Well, quite simply, the boy has had parts cut off his body, parts he likely found important. What do you call that fear when a boy gets body parts cut off? Might he have stood too close to Cutlass, the lass who is cut, the lass who cuts?
Jones is the sad-faced tinker of the crew. When playing hide and seek, Jones can't simply duck behind a barrel. He has to grab a rope on a pulley and haul himself to the ceiling. When a bouncy ball gets stuck in the rafters, Jones uses a broken deckbrush, rungs from a ladder, and spring from a Jack-in-the-box to invent the pogo stick.
So why is he named after death? You can't help but pause after hearing all the sailing and piracy-themed names of the rest of the crew, only to hear this character with the rather common surname. How does it relate to piracy or sailing? The expression "Davy Jones' Locker" is a euphemism for the bottom of the sea, the burial ground for sailors lost at sea.
Apart from his name being associated with death, his face is indirectly linked with death. Dark, round, sunken eye-sockets, a vaguely triangular depression for a nose, dark holes for ears, and only two teeth offset from each other on top and bottom of his mouth. You might notice that Jones seems ghostly or skeletal in his own right, but you can't help noticing it when his face is shown in place of the skull on that flag before each show. Of course, they can't very well show a skull in the opening seconds of a cartoon for pre-schoolers, but Yoho Ahoy always opens with the waving red flag and stylized head and crossbones, precisely the face of poor little Jones.
Why is he sad, emaciated, dying, dead? Because he thinks quicker than the others. Maybe he's older, more mature, too old for the innocent view of life that the others still hold. Maybe he's just generally smarter than the others. Ignorance is bliss for the rest of the crew, but Jones has to face life with full understanding of the potential horrors it holds for him.
The vocabulary of the show is remarkable, but may be their final downfall. Apart from some grunts and mumbles and animal sounds, the only words used by the characters are "yoho" and "ahoy." It's a marvelous gimmick, a secretly brilliant marketing ploy (since the name of the show is repeated constantly throughout the show, for stupid children who might not have memorized it otherwise), and nearly overshadows everything else about the show. Reviews and descriptions of Yoho Ahoy fawn over the cute way everything is expressed with varying inflections and tones of the same two words. You can imagine the way the tiny pirates might shout "yo-HO!" when angry, or pout "yoho" when they're about to cry. But the heartbreaking way they sigh "ahoy" just as easily communicates "boredom, banality, crushing monotony, the horror of workaday existence."
Never mind. I'm working too much overtime lately. The two word gimmick works nicely, demands better expression through voice and facial expressions or body language by the animators to make it work, and it does.
Overall, Yoho Ahoy is the best show on television since Twin Peaks.
Damn it all, why couldn't shelves at Toys R Us be filled with plush Cutlass and Poop and Bilge dolls right now instead of that vile Bob the Builder???
1 Why so little on the bbc website? Why no official site? The buying public is starving for more dolls with prosthetic limbs.
2 By "critical writings," I mean tv schedule listings and one article from Animation World magazine.
3 Perhaps because he wants distraction. Is Poop underemployed, just like me and Jello Biafra and the Unabomber and so many artistes trapped in jobs they hate?
4 An article from Animation World magazine claims he lost both hands in a fondue accident.