I’m not usually eager to watch film adaptations, especially for books I particularly like, but I came across the trailer for BBC’s “Esio Trot” while watching a Doctor Who episode and thought it was worth a watch.
“Esio Trot” is the last book Roald Dahl published in his lifetime, and for me it’s one of his funniest. It’s a short and silly story about an elderly gentleman named Mr. Hoppy, his down-the-balcony neighbor Mrs. Silver, Alfie the tortoise (and 140 other tortoises), and yes, that thing that makes the world go round — love!
Mrs. Silver is worried about her titchy tortoise Alfie, and Mr. Hoppy wants to make her happy (and get her to notice him) so he gives her an “ancient” spell to help Alfie grow:
ESIO TROT, ESIO TROT,
TEG REGGIB REGGIB!
EMOC NO, ESIO TROT,
WORG PU, FFUP PU, TOOHS PU!
GNIRPS PU, WOLB PU, LLEWS PU!
EGROG! ELZZUG! FFUTS! PLUG!
TUP NO TAF, ESIO TROT, TUP NO TAF!
TEG NO, TEG NO, ELBBOG DOOF!
(In case you haven’t worked that out, ‘esio trot’ is tortoise backwards.)
Of course, Alfie doesn’t really grow — Mr. Hoppy has a plan: he buys over a hundred tortoises and performs the ol’ switcheroo down the balcony, swapping a bigger tortoise for Alfie periodically so that he appears to grow.
I’ve read the book many times in recent years, mainly because I’ve been using it for coaching reading – the story’s the perfect length for reluctant readers, great for both boys and girls, and the kids (and I) always get a kick out of chanting the spell.
The tv movie, which aired on BBC this New Year’s Day, stars Dustin Hoffman and Dame Judi Dench, and is narrated by James Corden (Craig from Doctor Who!).
It’s not a fancy film by all means (possibly why they opted for a tv movie instead of the big screen) but it’s lovely all the same. It’s warm, light-hearted and funny, and Roald Dahl fans — young and old — will not be disappointed. Dustin Hoffman makes a delightfully bashful Mr. Hoppy and Judi Dench is (like I’ve never seen her before!) perfect as the sweet (yet slow on the uptake) Mrs. Silver and James Corden is quite engaging as the narrator.
There are a lot of laugh out loud moments in the movie, especially as Mr. Hoppy executes his tortoise-swapping scheme (easter egg: one of the tortoises is named Voldemort!), and while the ending slightly differs from the book, I must say the movie captures its spirit (and Roald Dahl’s stories in general) quite wonderfully (and I was sniffly by the time Mr. Hoppy says, “You don’t stop loving someone just because they don’t love you back”!).
Also, I haven’t been near a tortoise since I took home one from our grade school library (our library allowed us to “borrow” pets on weekends), and I’ve never really thought of them as cute, but they certainly are in this film!
Next to Matilda (my all-time favorite!), “Esio Trot” is now one of my favorite Roald Dahl adaptations.
Esio Trot, BBC TV Movie, 4.5/5 stars