Character Analysis: Rufus and Amberley
Most of my character analysis’s follow main characters who go on centre stage for significant limelight. This one is more obtuse however, it follows a character who is quite clearly not the writers’ favourite, but still resultantly is required to be tweaked recurrently in their role because of it. To emphasise this, the “character” is actually two, but making two separate analysis for either of them would almost be pointless, so here we’re going for a double whammy.
The Dreamstone Opening Special
The earliest conceptual stages building up to the pilot two parter are the closest to justifying the two character’s separate presence. Mike Jupp’s concept notes and ‘The Dream Thief’ pitch clearly pitches Rufus as the main character, with Amberley more a pseudo love interest and supporting character. They’re clearly going for a Disney-esque action adventure approach here, with Rufus the charming fantasy kid hero who goes on a quest.
This is a fragment still existent in the pilot episode, and would largely remain in most merchandise and promotional material, likely because it was a popular genre to endorse to kids over the more unique approach later entries would take. There is clearly a bit of struggling for central stage going on even at the start, we gather that the writers clearly have clicked the Urpney characters and enjoy using them, but the effort is still on Rufus’ character arc, and attempts are still made to maintain his charm and fallibility. He’s something of a naive bumbling underdog, seen as a failure and chaining off the dilemma of the plot, with the climax serving as his vindication arc. We get a lot of his personal insecurities here, he is definitely seen in a far more introspective manner here.
Amberley also has a big role here, but she spends most of the story as a damsel in distress, the arc and development is clearly not devoted to her. Still there is reasonable and heartfelt limelight put into her three dimensional bond with Rufus. I take interest in the fact they go for a more unique twist approach establishing her, she is introduced largely chewing out Rufus for screwing up at work, making her seem a rather cold character who doesn’t tolerate fools. When Rufus is finally fired and left despondent however, her softer empathetic side is seen and she is quickly established as his best friend. It is apparent Amberley is short fused but only because she wants Rufus to succeed. We continue seeing this sugar and ice disposition when the Urpneys take the stone. She is blatantly not going to stand for them endangering her friend’s employment and viciously and furiously charges them, ironically just making the situation worse by getting kidnapped. There’s this curious blend of her being a voice of reason for Rufus while still being ‘not so above it all’, which is something they do try to maintain at least a little throughout the show. Any time Rufus is flawed or bumbling, she is only relatively above him in level headedness.
There is a lingering feel something is kind of skewed about the premise here. The Urpneys have a VERY sympathetic stakes and characterisation from the start, their core stakes in fact are FAR more dire than the heroes (‘getting bad dreams’ vs ‘getting fed to carnivorous fish or turned to stone by their evil boss’). Most of the Urpney cast herd don't even want to do evil bidding and are dragged into action under protest. The heroes don’t remotely acknowledge this throughout the entire series, seeing the Urpneys as just standard evil minions. Even when they demonstrate what Zordrak does to Urpneys who don’t follow his orders, Amberley continues kicking and screaming abuse at them for being ‘evil’ (in her defence she was in the midst of being kidnapped right then) and later on the Noops nonchalantly use stone carcases as bait to get the stone back from the Frazznats. It doesn’t come off quite so intrusive in this case however because the Noops themselves are still clearly the underdog against the villains and Zordrak's more active role maintains mortal stakes for them being in the thick of things, the tensity of the situation makes their actions still feel pretty valid and within the realms of self-defence.
While Season One does follow on from the pilot in areas for a while, it doesn’t much branch off of the heroes’ side of things. Their role is much more mundane, Rufus’ character arc doesn’t really continue and we don’t even get that many dilemmas or personal hardships within their world, everything is pretty placid until the bad guys interfere. It is clear that the Urpneys are taking more central stage at this point, the general formula is the same as the pilot, with them going in to take the stone through elaborate methods, but the heroes’ agency protecting it is dumbed down since the Urpneys are much more clearly the underdog now. They are almost antagonists of the story, the threat the Urpneys must avoid and usually fail to.
This is where the uneven stakes start to become a problem, since with that threat level completely undermined, the heroes go from a bit pragmatic about a legitimate threat to being almost zealot level petty towards a bunch of harmless scapegoats. They are more the comedic ‘vengeful’ heroes, the guys clearly in control and spend most of the cartoon getting their own back at the bad guys in rather sadistic ways, the difference here being the bad guys aren’t quite as much bad guys, they aren’t persistent assholes who clearly walk into punishment after punishment out of stubborn spite, the Urpneys, or at the very least Frizz and Nug most of the time don’t even want to face the heroes, knowing they’ll brutalise them, almost making it kafka comedy where they’re stuck between two wrathful groups.
I’m not sure how much of this was intentional on the writers’ part, the first season definitely was the most cynical (the Urpneys seldom got a respite like they often did in later seasons, and there’s a curious focus on ‘menacing grin’ shots of the heroes like they were almost supposed to be a little malicious). It felt like maybe it was supposed to be a bit of a deconstruction but maybe one that was meant to stay within the realms of the usual story. The heroes were never outright painted as callous (Frizz constantly whines how “vicious” they are, it feels like his disposition is meant to be undermined far more than vice versa) it felt like you were still meant to feel they had the moral high ground, after all the Urpneys still started it, they were still kind of selling them out to save their own skin, how many heroes DON’T enjoy delivering retributions a little too much? Just that level of sympathetic personality and situation given to the Urpneys really dumbs down the karma of the matter, and as mentioned the stakes without the added threat level from the villains feel really uneven, thus it really exacerbates what were small inklings of issues in the pilot.
I feel like I should be talking more about Rufus and Amberley specifically, but their role is pretty much within the generic slot of the other heroes, besides being the more novice heroes the others exposition situations to, they mostly act in the group and don’t really stick out as the main characters anymore. They still have shades of their pilot competence when the story requires it, but since the Urpneys don’t remotely put up a fight, it doesn’t feel as remarkable. We also get little hints of Rufus excelling in his job, he manages to materialise a daydream of himself in real life in The Voice of Zordrak and even creates a spell to fool the Urpneys in Blob’s incredible Plan. The two also still have sprinkles of their pilot characterisation here and there, Amberley still has odd temper spats, Rufus still bumbles a little here and there. That’s about it in terms of his characterisation this season however. It is clear that the two have lost the writers’ investment outside as a mandatory hero for the story.
While Season One clearly shown the waning interest in developing the hero side of the show, Season Two capsizes it. They are completely defanged this era, being drained of any developed agency or personality. The writers can’t even bother with them in terms of gags anymore, it was one of the most undiluted cases of ‘good guys are boring’. The idealistic setting of the Land of Dreams is also exaggerated at this point, this season really adds a whole load of sugary sweetness to the whole thing.
Rufus and Amberley’s role is almost superfluous in this regard, outside ironically a necessary negative quality. The two mostly just exist to screw things up. A lot of episodes had awkward padding use because of how easily the Urpneys could be defeated. Season One usually had them quickly stopped and punished by the heroes….and then they keep doing for a little while longer. Season Two kind of reverses it around, having the Noops try and fail to stop the Urpneys before their peers come in with a far swifter (and thus less relentless) resolve near the end of the episode. This situation still has blatant holes, making the two main heroes incompetents who are still always sent into the front first by their overpowered superiors, but it resultantly feels less mean spirited outright.
Rufus in particular holds the idiot ball for a lot of the season, nearly always being the go-to guy whenever a hero needs to screw up to give the Urpneys an opening in their scheme. He doesn’t really get characterised as stupid or jerkish outright, he is just required to be incredibly thoughtless if the plot demands, always ignoring peers’ warnings or doing something stupid with the Dreamstone (this aspect of him does track back to the pilot but the sympathetic motive is lacking here, he put the stone in danger because he finally had a means to look remarkable, here he is just being careless out of whim). His penchant for daydreaming is brought up a lot more this season, but rarely in creative or relevant manners (even in their randomness they're nothing on say the level of Homer Simpson or Doug's hilarious dream sequences), they mostly just exist to remind us this character even has a quirk. Amberley sort of continues that voice of reason role while still being fallible herself and getting easily caught or outdone several times. It is apparent the two are not in control anymore and are for the large part completely ineffective in their job, just insane plot armour means it never really becomes an issue for them, they still always win pretty easily, just never through their own abilities.
The second season seems to really amp up the virtuousness of the heroes as well. Season One kept a bit of cynicism on the whole thing, it just didn’t kept the heroes painted in the right and fairly idealistic, while here they are well and truly painted as an unflappable sugar bowl. They really chime in their motives to melodramatic levels, emphasising how damn precious the dreams are and how no good and underhanded those Urpneys always are for trying to ruin them, often with very dramatic music and ambience to the whole thing, almost like they’re trying to validate to the audience their need to punish them. I feel like the writers caught onto some complaints that the Urpneys’ treatment was a bit too mean spirited last season (hence them getting lax treatment or happy endings in odd episodes here), just they maybe didn’t quite catch what was wrong about it on the heroes’ end of things, they still never address that elephant in the room, they’re just more superficially heroic and perfect. It is like they are trying to spell it in plain writing that they are the good guys, the other side started it, what more can you need?
Season Three has another writer change, and while the Noops remain largely bland throughout, it is probably the most dynamic season in readjusting their role and agency.
The earliest episodes are largely a mish mash of Season One and Two’s approach, Rufus and Amberley shift between being competent or not depending on whether the plot requires it. They have a mix of that virtuous and unforgiving streak with the Urpneys as usual, but interestingly it is a bit more undermined here. It is probably the closest the writers catching on they looked a bit unsympathetic and self righteous against the Urpneys. In ‘Moon of Doom’ Amberley starts pontificating at Frizz and Nug and successfully shut up when they show their usual lack of motivation in the matter. ‘The Dream Beam Invasion’ in particular seems divided over the whole matter. The whole episode sets up on building on the heroes’ motives throughout the show, with the Urpneys shown directly sabotaging the dreams in this episode. Not only do we see dreams for a rare time onscreen this episode, but we get mythos building into how they are made and how cherished they are to the heroes’ community. We even see little kids crying after awakening from a bad one. The writers seem to want to strengthen the heroes' main provocation with substance in this episode, and yet, in the climax, the Noops suffer a comical backfire after making yet another eye, arm, leg, and left pinky for an eye, perhaps the one and only time the show intentionally punished them for going excessive on Frizz and Nug, to the point of even conveying them as cowardly frauds when they become a real danger.
Or maybe the writers just thought it would be fun to have the heroes do a gag for a change. I am probably overthinking the whole dynamic of a very light hearted episode. But I don’t think it was a coincidence that the remainder of Season Three tries much harder than any previous point to bulk up the Noops in their hero role. Not only are their retaliations downplayed from more cartoon sadism to pragmatic mischief, but they gain a slightly more beefed up amount of limelight, not necessarily in terms of characterisation, they’re still pretty bland (if anything this might be the one season they are most interchangeable) but their role is far more effective within many episodes. The biggest pivot comes in a ‘A Day Out’, after a fairly dull B plot at the start going skiing, which is largely another screw up to chain off the plot, the heroes then start off a far more concise and effortful method to getting the stone back. They are very nearly the underdogs again in this one. They also bother to give sense to the elder heroes’ role in their home turf and the Noops going out into Viltheed (and now competently doing their job), it is not a clear afterthought to the role of Urpneys (who are mostly absent during the climax). The key changer in this episode however is Zordrak’s speech, at face value it’s superfluous (but glorious) ham courtesy of Gary Martin, but it also establishes MUCH greater stakes for him having the stone for the rest of the show. Every time the Urpneys try giving it to him now is genuine life and death stakes for the heroes.
The following couple of episodes practice the Noops with relatively more malicious and challenging opponents like Urpgor or the one-time antagonist the Basilic, the final episode in the Season has them back to an oblivious role but ends with a comedic downer ending for both sides. There is clearer attempts here to make the Noops more sympathetic (or at least more provoked) in their role, even if they remain blander secondary characters.
With Season Three mostly mending the Noops base roles as the heroes, Season Four makes some core attempts to develop them in their agency. From the start of the season we are established a more individual formula for the Noops, while they were mostly just the kids of the group in previous season, here they are more evidently the dogsbodies of their side, given a job to do each episode that mostly helps develop the heroes’ mythos and world building. This nearly always merges with the Urpneys’ own formula since their two occupations nearly always collide and the Noops are made to stop them just so they can continue with their own work.
While the Noops still aren’t much for individual character development this season, there are at least some token attempts at giving them enjoyable personalities here. They usually supply at least a few jokes and funny lines at this point and get in odd bits of slapstick, even if it’s still lighter and more forced than the Urpneys’ humour. The writers are clearly still struggling to care about them compared to the villain side, but we’ve got to the point they are at least trying to ‘click’ them. Rufus and Amberley also go back to having their personalities branched out into more idiosyncrasies, Amberley is more blatantly the strategist or smart one of the two, while Rufus is more the dippy comic relief, supplying zoned out one liners and buffoonery until the story asks him to show a more eccentric supply of competence on the fly. These elements do sort of compliment their original characterisations, even if they’re still not quite as depthful, though it does at least make them more compatible with the current formula.
There is also a vague underlying pang of cynicism to their role here, there are odd gags that like to shrewdly make fun of the fact they’re as much grunts to the hero side as Frizz and Nug are to the villain side. Wildit outright sends them to do all the work in ‘The Stowaways’ and the two seem quietly aware they’re being screwed over for example. Perhaps due to this more jaded agency, the writers seem to be more eager to make them work for more victories, while their other occupation not connected to protecting the Dreamstone gives them a more freely decided fallibility. They sometimes fail at their job unlike stopping the Urpneys. In ‘Little Urpip’ both sides fail at their job, but while Frizz and Nug couldn’t care less and laugh off their failure when Blob plays fall guy, Rufus and Amberley, who do actually care about their job, seem more mournful.
It is perhaps because of this more put-upon element that the writers seem to manage click a more genuinely sympathetic element to them. There’s a slightly greater sense of self awareness to them this season as well, they sometimes seem as aware as the Urpneys of the ridiculousness of the situations at hand, and while they still don’t really have much of a chemistry with them, they seem more aware their opponents are just buffoonish nuisances, with their reactions often more bewilderment and apathy than righteous fury. The Noops positive aspects seem more genuine this season because of this. They still seem very optimistic and eager to help in spite of their job sometimes coming off as a farce (and them sometimes being more suspect to it). They are clearly not in a perfectly cushioned situation anymore, they actually suffer comedic pain and failure at times this season, but they will still always give things the old college try, making them interesting counterparts to Frizz and Nug who just don't want to be involved at all.
Perhaps because of this, the writers don’t feel the need to hash in too much superficial cutesy righteous behaviour here, they’re still idealistically portrayed but it’s not as in your face. Episodes like ‘Trouble with the Miners’ are in fact one of the most clear cut cases of the two sides doing absolutely horrible things to each other, but unlike previous episodes, there isn’t much direct malice to it, both sides clearly aren’t going to lose any sleep about it, but they really just want to get the other out of the way so they can get their job done. I like how the Noops have been kind of integrated into the same motif as the Urpneys here, being stuck in the same line of work with the other side making it worse for them. It’s a funny mix of fantasy whimsy mixed with a cynical tint of real life, the crushing style of employment and trying to just apathetically get things done with in spite of other equally downtrodden employee in other departments causing a hinderance.
This still doesn’t make them fully fledged stars however, they remain relatively bland heroes and counterparts to the Urpneys, just they have a role and characterisation that makes everything flow reasonable well. They’re more or less akin to Urpgor in earlier episodes, they figured out a role that works and gives entertainment value, but they’re still not developed into stars, they mostly come in, do their skit and then the Urpneys do the rest. It is for that reason I think it’s a shame they didn’t get a Season Five, they might have actually got round to fully realising them at last.
Rufus and Amberley are a very unique case to delve into, in that while they aren’t given a whole lot of depth throughout the work and are very clearly not the writers’ favourites, their subtle evolution throughout the show still offers a lot to delve into. I will admit that a HUGE amount of this is just speculation, I can’t prove this was all a deliberate process, especially since only so many interviews and development notes exist from creative members of the show, barely any of them discussing the Noops’ role in the show, though that should only further explain some things.
The same creative team worked on shows like Bimble’s Bucket and the 1995 Snow Queen TV animations, however while the dynamic is better adjusted there, the heroes remain fairly stagnant and bland, the writers clearly don’t feel the need to richen them, they work. It is clear the hero characters are not their passion. In The Dreamstone however, while the Noops similarly start off apathetically written, the earlier establishment as main characters and the broken more complicated dynamic they are working on clearly requires a greater need to adjust and develop them. The show seems to acknowledge the need to make them work more intricately as it goes on. As such they probably exist as Martin Gates’ productions best AND worst attempts at developing a hero character. They are barely even characters or even heroes early on, but by the end of the series they have a more unique agency designed to work more in their comfort zone and make them less generic.
At the end of the day, the only reason I'm likely even obsessing such a preposterous amount of intricacy into the handling of two mostly bland supporting characters is because of the charm they shown in the pilot episode that never really got fully following on from. It is a constantly dumbfounding and frustrating personal niggle how badly they downgraded from it afterwards (my guess is Mike Jupp had a bigger hand in the pilot), thus I came to relish even the mildest return to form afterwards. I mean seriously, this has to be my largest character analysis thus far and these are by far the least developed characters to be subject to one.
It is a true shame they were never really the apple in the creative team's eye and thus never quite fully realised, the pilot is the nearest to achieving this and it shows off their potential. What happened afterwards to make the team lose that investment in them is purely up for speculation but that wavering care for them is probably the nearest to a dynamic narrative force in The Dreamstone, compared to the more favoured Urpney characters, who are largely fully realised from the beginning.