Production Company: Woomera Productions
Budget: n/a, low
Locations: Mallacoota, Victorian east coast, nearby Eden in NSW, and interiors in Sydney at the TV Skippy's Waratah National Park set.
Filmed: exterior filming began 11th October 1968, Sydney interiors in November.
Australian distributor: Regent Films
Theatrical release: Brisbane Hoyts Town Theatre 11th December 1969
Hoyts Palace Theatre Sydney 12th December 1969. It closed in Sydney on 4th January 1970.
Hoyts Paris Theatre, Melbourne 19th December 1969. It closed in Melbourne on 8th January 1970.
35 mm Eastmancolor
Rating: For general exhibition, G (PG on UK DVD)
Running time: 100 mins (Oxford Australian Film)
UK DVD timing: 1'36"20
Box office: details not available, but the show ran only three weeks in its Sydney Christmas break premiere, and for a shorter time in Melbourne.
The results were described as disappointing, as the feature film failed to replicate the success of the television series. It did however achieve a theatrical release in the UK on the back of the huge success of the series in that country.
The film has been released in the UK on DVD, in 4:3. While the print is slightly worn, the colour is good, and the presentation generally acceptable, with only the closing shots showing lots of sparkle and dirt.
The DVD has two extras a 24'17 period black and white television special showing "skippys playground at waratah headquarters" (sic), intended for young viewers, and "The Long Way Home", a 24'19" 1967 episode from the television series, "the first ever episode" according to the DVD slick and featuring the immortal Frank Thring, with reasonable image.
Let's not argue whether it was first episode, it shows the triple-smoked ham Thring going about his business, replete with cane and lap dog, and that's good enough for any extra.
It also has to be said that hostess "bobbie" shown in the extras is severe on her young charges at waratah headquarters, and she wears a spectacular 60s haircut, so for any cultist wanting to remember what it was like in those days for children's entertainment, this is great fun.
As a bonus, within this extra, you get the piano accordion stylings of gus herzi and charles and janie paton's puppets (it seems capitals didn't exist in those days for film credits).
Emphasising the enduring power of the 'roo, Umbrella has also released The Intruders on DVD in region four, in a barebones edition, handy for those who didn't get in early with the UK edition. It also offers a 4:3 format and Dolby 2.0.
Umbrella has also released every episode of the TV 'roo show on disc, making for a digital 'roo feast. And the 'roo still regularly hops into view in the wee hours on free to air television. Clearly the 'roo will never die, such is the love for Skippy that endures in the land.
John McCallum and Lee Robinson got together to devise a children's program for television, and according to McCallum, he wanted to call the show Hoppy while Robinson plumped for Skippy. Wisely, Robinson won.
According to McCallum, three or four of his colleagues each put in $5,000, and they made a pilot.
The television series was picked up with a 39 by half hour episodes commission by the Nine network, and proved to be hugely successful, both domestically and in terms of international sales.
Skippy was also a merchandising bonanza, with book annuals, Skippy money boxes, product placements and branding, perhaps the best film or TV example of the craft in Australia in the nineteen sixties, following on but far exceeding Ken Hall's 1930s example of Chut the kangaroo in Orphan of the Wilderness.
Key location Waratah Park was opened to the public, and was sold as Skippy's home.
The next logical step was a feature film spin-off, with a script by Lee Robinson based on a story by Ross Napier.
Napier was a veteran Australian radio and TV writer, who has a wiki stub here. He was still active in the 1980s, creating the very popular radio serial The Castlegreah Line for Grace Gibson Productions (and remarkably still for sale here with other Grace Gibson radio shows at time of writing August 2015).
The allocated credits are a tad strange - Robinson takes a "written and directed by" credit, while Napier scores an "original story and screen adapation" credit, which suggests a little creative tension, and Robinson exercising his rights as co-creator of the show.
As with the television series, there was a film tie-in involving Golden Books. The Golden Book spin-offs of the TV series and the feature were estimated to have generated nearly a half million sales by January 1973.
(Below: Golden Books film tien-in).
Shooting began in October 1968, using the same crew and some of the same key sets as the TV series. The unit first did location work at the Victorian town of Mallacoota, and then did Sydney interiors in November.
Post production was finished relatively early in 1969 but the film was held back from release.
Underwater photography was done by Ron and Valerie Taylor, then the go-to people for this kind of filming, and while not up to the standard of their evocative reef work for Age of Consent - because of the relatively dull underwater location selected for filming - it is perhaps still the best element in the film. This footage features what was at the time deemed James Bond-style underwater gear, a mini sub used to explore a wreck for gold bullion.
The television series had been an immediate success, with international sales strong, and with the first season screening abroad before it was launched in Australia. According to the Oxford Australian Film, some eighty countries were screening the series by the end of 1969.
The film was in the can relatively early in 1969, but release of the feature film was held back for the 1969-1970 Christmas holiday season. This proved a disappointing strategy. The film failed badly and was soon removed from city screens, enjoying only intermittent bookings thereafter and soon shifting to television.
It is often noted that Skippy is always the sidekick to the action, providing reaction shots, the occasional helpful paw, a 'tch tch' here and there, and a decisive intervention at the point when baddies need to be defeated.
This goes with the genre, but contemporary critics complained that Skippy didn't do enough work in the feature, despite opening the show and being on hand for the climax.
The script for The Intruders, by shifting the action to the sea and the beach - foreign terrain for a bush kangaroo - seems almost wilfully perverse in sidelining Skippy, and this might help explain the film's lack of box office appeal. There's not much a kangaroo can do in relation to a power boat, or an underwater gold heist.
It certainly wouldn't have helped combat, via word of mouth, any sense of overload and Skippy fatigue, then beginning to grow from the abundant merchandising (from Skippy cornflakes to the Skippy club to Skippy moneyboxes), and the ready availability of the high profile series on free to air television.
In 2009 the ABC ran Stephen Oliver's 55 minute documentary on the Skippy phenonemon - Skippy: Australia's First Superstar - and this is available on DVD, with a good selection of extras, and well worth a look for anyone interested in 'roo mania.
There is a very good survey of the Skippy phenomenon in all its 'roo mania forms at Classic Australian TV, here.
Skippy the Bush Kangaroo is an Australian television series for children created by John McCallum, produced from 1966–1968, telling the adventures of a young boy and his intelligent pet kangaroo, in the (fictional) Waratah National Park in Duffys Forest, near Sydney, New South Wales.
Ninety-one 30-minute episodes were made over the three seasons of production. At the time of first screening, Australian television was still in black and white, however, the show was filmed in colour on 16 mm film to increase its international marketability, especially in the United States and Canada, where it aired in syndication between 1969 and 1972. The Nine Network readily repeated the series several times after Australian television switched to colour transmission in 1975.
The series was dubbed into Spanish in Mexico, where it is known as Skippy el canguro, and has been distributed to most Spanish-speaking countries, including Cuba and Spain, where it became very popular. The series crossed the Iron Curtain and was aired in Czechoslovakia in the 1970s and 1980s, and is still being broadcast in Iran. The show was forbidden to be shown in Sweden, where psychologists feared the show would mislead children into believing animals could do things they actually could not.