It may not look the most visually appealing but there was something beautiful about a little-known series called Pelswick. Created by Canadian animation studio Nelvana Limited and Chinese company Hong Ying Animation, we are treated to an animated version of the books of John Callahan. Over twenty-six episodes running from 2000-2002, we follow the adventures of Pelswick as he navigates the trials and tribulations of school life. What makes this different is that Pelswick, the thirteen-year-old title character, is in a wheelchair. Callahan, who created the original strips, after becoming a paraplegic during a drink driving accident, drew newspaper cartoons of his experiences, proving that people in wheelchairs live normal lives and are no different to able bodied people. The series, along with Quads! – another Callahan inspired creation, took a light hearted look at everyday situations through these unique protagonist’s eyes.
When the animators created the series, they opted to recreate the simplistic drawing style that Callahan used after his accident. This lighter, more unusual approach to animating allowed for a series that ended up being both enjoyable and visually unique, acting as a nice compliment to the stories of the week. The different point of view ,as well as the strong characterisation, lets the viewer step into Pelswick’s shoes and learn more about the situations of difficulty that he finds himself in. The voice cast here is stunning, each voice fitting the characters and only adding to their appeal. The highlight is clearly from Mr. Jimmy, the comic relief guardian angel character, voiced by David Arquette, who breathes life into the bearded angel, making his personality so believable, his motivations more structurally sound. That brings us to the concept of inter-character relations. This series is very strong when it comes to communication and doesn’t shy away when it comes to having the characters bounce dialogue off one another. This leads to relationships that are both interesting to watch and thought provoking in their underlying messages, examples being the to and fro between Mr. Jimmy and Pelswick as well as the interactions between Julie Smockford, the love interest and her best friend/rival, Sandra Scoddle.
Moving onto the themes of the series, the opening credits are fitting, the music highlighting the lighthearted nature of the series, already poking fun at the serious overarching situation as only Callahan could. His humour more than seeps through the screen here, the slapstick nature reflecting the strips on which they are based. This all brings us back to the animation. Many will look at it and say it is bad, but it allows for a certain charm to run with Pelswick, its style becoming easily recognisable amongst others. The jokes were solid, the characters enjoyable and the themes, good intentioned and morally sound.
John Callahan passed away in 2010, but despite the hardships he went through, his humour was the inspiration for what delivered us a comedy series such as Pelswick. Callahan’s story was explored in the 2018 comedy-drama biopic Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot, starring Joaquin Phoenix and Jonah Hill, an interesting viewing experience for anyone curious about this man and his style.
Sadly, over the years, Pelswick has become one of those largely forgotten series, rarely shown in reruns. Despite that, it was ground breaking in its portrayal of less able-bodied persons as not only protagonists, holding their own against hardship but that just because a person looks or acts differently, it doesn’t mean they are different. This metaphor that can be carried over into all aspects of equality and that in itself is where John Callahan’s Pelswick is really allowed to thrive.