An Ode to Morph: The Forefather of Claymation
Before there was Wallace or Gromit, there was Morph.
While not as widely-known as cartoon heavyweights Pixar or Dreamworks, Aardman Animations has established itself as the dominant player in the world of stop-motion animation since its founding in 1972. Before Wallace and Gromit ever headed to the moon to score a lifetime supply of cheese, Aardman first began paving the path of its stop-motion empire with Morph, the mischievous ball of clay who has been making people laugh with his wacky slapstick antics for more than 40 years. And he’s awesome.
Morph first appeared on Tony Hart’s popular BBC show Take Hart in 1977, and he was a natural foil for the mild-mannered artist from the get-go. When Hart briefly steps away from one of his latest illustrations, Morph can’t help but cause a bit of mischief, messing with Hart’s supplies and making a mess with his paint. When Hart returns, he is clearly frustrated with his anthropomorphic friend but carries on with his work without too much complaint. Instead of backing off and letting Hart work, Morph continues to pester him and create unnecessary obstacles, eventually causing Hart to abandon his piece and start over again. And with that, a beautiful, tumultuous friendship was born.
This cheeky, mostly-silent Mr. Bill lookalike was an immediate hit with viewers. Over the years that followed, he continued to be one half of a hilarious odd couple with Hart, gleefully enraging him at every possible turn. He would also have his own short adventures, which usually relied heavily on slapstick. Even as Hart went on to create and star in several new BBC shows, Morph remained a staple. Over time, the once silent star developed the ability to talk, though he speaks exclusively in incoherent gobbledygook, which only made his interactions with Hart even funnier.
Morph became so popular that, in 1980, he was briefly given his own spin-off show, The Amazing Adventures of Morph. Each of the 26 episodes followed a simple but reliable formula: Morph would get himself in and out of a sticky situation in just under five minutes. With time, it seemed that Morph was in danger of becoming a relic of the past, but the claymation hero ended up finding an audience on YouTube, where he racked up millions of views from fans both old and new. That surge in popularity had an incredible side effect: In 2015, the BBC announced that Morph would be returning to TV in a new show.
More than four decades after his inception, Morph remains a beloved figure in the world of stop-motion animation, because he hasn’t really changed. In many ways, you can understand everything you need to know about what makes Morph so damn appealing in his television debut. As viewers, we know nothing about the origins of Morph, yet the minute he appears on screen, you know exactly who he is. Morph is a simple creature, both physically and psychologically. Instead of being weighed down by silly things like aspirations or fears, Morph is merely a ball of clay who somehow came to life and is looking to have as good of a time as he can.
While Morph delights in causing mayhem, he never truly does anything that would be considered outright cruel or destructive. He is not looking to ruin anyone’s day with his behavior, he just enjoys taking the piss out of anything and everything he can, especially when Hart is around. Even when he gained the ability to speak, it was only used to enhance his already-established persona. Despite making no real sense, his indecipherable language never becomes outright obnoxious and, thanks to Morph’s underlying good nature, it can even be endearing. He’s like if the Minions toned it down about 12 notches and stopped making weird sex jokes.
Perhaps a day will come where Morph no longer resonates with audiences and truly fades into the sunset. For now, however, he remains a consistent source of hilarity for millions of people just looking to briefly escape the horror of everyday life. So long as he continues to masterfully blend good old-fashioned slapstick with a dash of goofy absurdism, he will likely always have an audience of adoring fans. So long live Morph, the forefather of claymation and master of misbehavior.