March 20, 2008 / 3:25 PM / in 11 years

Gosh! Famous Five get 21st century makeover

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - One of Britain’s best-known children’s book series, Enid Blyton’s “Famous Five”, is to debut on television screens as a cartoon — but the 21st century makeover has received a mixed reception from purists.

An animated depiction of the Famous 5 is seen in a handout image from Disney. REUTERS/Disney/Handout

The “lashings” of ginger beer and cream buns have gone, replaced with mobile phones, laptops, iPods and pizza, as the five teenagers follow in their parents’ daring footsteps.

As the children of the original heroes Julian, Dick, Anne and George, the new adventurers set about catching fake environmentalists, rather than kidnappers and smugglers — along with Timmy the dog.

Almost seven decades after Blyton created the child detectives, the characters are being revived in a new Disney Channel cartoon, “Famous Five On the Case”, along with a book series.

Critics have long branded her books sexist, racist and overly simplistic, but Blyton’s stories are still hugely popular, selling more than 10 million copies a year, drawing readers into a bygone world of carefree kids and “beastly” grown-ups.

The new series, in association with Chorion which holds the titles’ rights, was given the green light by Blyton’s eldest daughter, Gillian Baverstock just before she died last year.

But Vivienne Endecott, from the Enid Blyton Society, said she was “wary” about the makeover.

“Anybody can write about four children and a dog and my concern is that kids who watch this will think that the Famous Five is all about gadgets and multiculturalism,” she told newspapers.

The new series stars Anglo-Indian Jo — George’s daughter whose full name “Jyoti” is Hindu for light — who, like her mother, is a proud tomboy, and loves the outdoors.

Next is 13 year-old Max, Julian’s son, an avid mountain biker and skater. Anne’s daughter, Allie, 12, is a Californian who loves shopping and sending text messages.

Dylan, 11, the son of Dick, is a gadget nerd and aspiring businessman who follows the stock market on his laptop.

“The Famous Five themes of adventure, mystery and friendship are as relevant and appealing to kids today as they were 70 years ago,” said the Disney Channel’s Steve Aranguren in a statement.

Blyton, who penned nearly 700 books ranging from The Famous Five and Secret Seven series to Noddy, was the best-selling English-language author of the 20th century and has sold about 400 million copies. The new 26-part series starts in May.

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