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Shoebox Zoo facts for kids

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Shoebox Zoo
Shoebox Zoo Logo
Genre Fantasy
Starring Vivien Endicott-Douglas
Jason Connery
Peter Mullan
Alan Cumming
Simon Callow
Siobhan Redmond
Rik Mayall
David McKay
Narrated by Bill Paterson
Country of origin United Kingdom
Original language(s) English
No. of series 2
No. of episodes 26
Running time 25 mins
Original network BBC One
Original release 21 September 2004 (2004-09-21) – 27 November 2005 (2005-11-27)

Shoebox Zoo is a children's fantasy TV series made in a collaboration between BBC Scotland and various Canadian television companies. It is mostly live-action, but with CGI used for the animal figurines. It was first broadcast in 2004, by CBBC. The series was broadcast in the United States by the Showtime network and in Jamaica by CVM Television.

Series overview

The series was conceived by then-BBC Scotland director Claire Mundell and television director Justin Molotnikov in 2002, and then further developed by Brian Ward. The series was co-produced by Toronto-based company Blueprint Entertainment, founded by John Morayniss, who previously worked at Alliance Atlantis, where he helped produce another CBBC programme Ace Lightning. The series consists of twenty-six episodes, split between two seasons made up of thirteen episodes each.


Shoebox Zoo mixes Scottish, Celtic, and later, Native American mythology. The first season is set primarily in Edinburgh and other historic locations, while the second season moves to Denver, Colorado, though the season was shot in Canada. The series' protagonist, Marnie McBride, an eleven-year old Scottish-American girl moves to Edinburgh with her father Ross following the unexpected death of her mother Rosemary. On her birthday, Marnie receives a shoebox containing four carved toy animals from a junk shop owner. Marnie discovers she can magically bring the toys to life, referred to collectively as the Shoebox Zoo. The four are in fact humans transformed into toys by their master, Michael Scot, an immortal alchemist and wizard, for stealing his magical codex, the Book of Forbidden Knowledge.

In the series' backstory, Michael Scot lived in 12th century Scotland, where he crafted the Book of Forbidden Knowledge, containing his scholarly work on alchemy and magic. However, the book contained black magic forged from Michael's pride and ambition. He created the series' antagonist, Juan Roberto Montoya de Toledo, a shapeshifting homunculus, using the book's magic. However, Toledo was rejected by Michael, inspiring him to seize the book's power and conquer the world. Michael's four students - Edwin, Bruno, Ailsa, and his own son Wolfgang - steal the book to hide it from Toledo, though Wolfang takes it out of spite towards his negligent father. The book is lost, Michael transforming the four into toys and putting them to sleep until a prophesied Chosen One, identified as Marnie, possesses magic to awaken them and find the book.

The second season further expands the backstory. After being lost at sea, the Book of Forbidden Knowledge washed ashore in Colorado in 1811, discovered by Marnie's ancestor Angus McBride, an explorer, who gave the book to the local Lakota people led by Chief Stonebear in exchange for marrying his daughter. Discovering the book's magic to be evil, Stonebear and other chieftains made preparations to destroy the book, casting it down the Falls of Faith, and designed the Arrow of Truth and Bow of Wisdom to vanquish its magic. The book disappeared into history once again, though Stonebear's descendants were aware of its location in the Denver forests.


The first season begins with Marnie McBride's eleventh birthday. She and her father Ross visit a junk shop, where the shopkeeper gives Marnie a shoebox containing four carved toy animals. Marnie awakens the Shoebox Zoo from their centuries-long slumber and begrudgingly accepts to quest to find the Book of Forbidden Knowledge and transform the toys back to humanity. Michael watches over her from Tantallon Castle, his ancestral home, while Toledo serves as an antagonistic force, aided by McTaggart, actually a mole working for Michael. Toledo poses as John Roberts, Marnie's schoolmate, but his identity is exposed. Wolfgang, jealous that Marnie became Michael's heir apparent, sides with Toledo to act as a spy. Marnie's late mother Rosemary serves in a pivotal role throughout the first season, once considered a potential chosen one by Michael when she briefly owned the toys, but did not possess the magic to awaken them. However, Rosemary appears as a ghost in the series, possessing knowledge of the book and events of the past.

Marnie and the toys follow a series of clues across Scotland, eventually discovering the book hidden in the University of Edinburgh's library. Wolfgang is revealed as a spy, but betrays Toledo upon making amends with his father. Toledo assaults Marnie's home, accompanied by Los Contrarios, evil twins of the Shoebox Zoo fashioned by Toledo's magic. However, when they are destroyed and Marnie refuses to surrender the book, Toledo retaliates by casting Wolfgang into a fire, killing him. Marnie eventually discovers the book is in fact a copy, designed to contain Toledo's magic. Toledo is seemingly defeated, and Marnie experiences a vision, learning the real book was sent out to sea and lies somewhere in the United States of America.

In the second season, Marnie and the Shoebox Zoo fly to Denver, Michael and McTaggart aiding them from afar. Marnie stays with her maternal grandparents, and is aided by her best friend Kyle Stone, a descendant of Chief Stonebear. Kyle's grandfather, Nathaniel, the spiritual medicine man of the Lakota people, aids Marnie, along with Hunter, a Native American spirit who can manifest in a horse-shaped ceremonial dancing stick. Michael learns of a second prophecy in which the book will be obtained by the malevolent Dawn Queen, who will use its magic to corrupt mankind. Toledo rises as a ghost, murders Michael, transforms a captured McTaggart into a weasel, and possesses the Dawn Queen's mortal self, Aurora Dexter, an ambitious television medium. Needing clues to find the book, Ailsa suggests contacting Marnie's mother in the afterlife. However, Marnie is slowly corrupted by the book's magic and plots to use it to resurrect her mother altogether.

Marnie summons Wolfgang's ghost to lead her to the book's location, taking her to the Falls of Faith. Edwin and Ailsa free McTaggart who battles Toledo but is sent plummeting down the falls to his death. Marnie finds the book beneath her grandfather's woodshed, containing an electrical generator which channels the book's energy, but Toledo steals it. Aurora, now the Dawn Queen, restores Toledo's body but enslaves him. Marnie makes the decision to destroy the book using the Bow of Wisdom and Arrow of Truth, but the toys fear losing their one opportunity to regain their humanity. Aurora and Toledo plot to unleash the book's magic on live television.

Marnie resurrects Wolfgang to complete a binding spell designed to suppress the book's magic, and the group confront Aurora, using the Nathaniel's sacred bundle to weaken her magic. Marnie then teleports herself to the Falls of Faith, firing the Arrow of Truth down it, which destroys the book, Toledo, and frees Aurora from her evil persona. At the end of the series, Marnie, now twelve years old, leaves the Shoebox Zoo in the same junk shop her mother found them in years before. In the closing moments, the series' narrator approaches and awakens the toys for his own unseen quest.

Cast and Characters

Marnie McBride (Vivien Endicott-Douglas), is the series' eleven-year old protagonist, a girl who is uprooted from her home in Colorado and moved to Edinburgh by her father Ross McBride (Jason Connery), who works as a librarian at the University of Edinburgh. Connery also plays Marnie's ancestor, Angus McBride, who finds the Book of Forbidden Knowledge in 1811. Marnie's mother Rosemary plays a recurring role as a ghost in the first season. As a child, Rosemary owned the toys for a short while, and was friends with Michael Scot. Marnie's grandparents, Bobby (Paul Coeur) and Dorothy (Valerie Ann Pearson) appear in the second season in supporting roles.

Marnie's mentor figure is Michael Scot (Peter Mullan), an eleven-hundred year old wizard, alchemist, and scholar. He is cantankerous, unreasonable, and proud, but his powers are on the wane and he falls ill during the story. He is based on the Scottish alchemist of the same name. Michael uses an enchanted stone helmet to see across great distances. William McTaggart (David McKay) is Michael's manservant, imprisoned and tortured for eleven years after helping in the theft of the book, and then made immortal until it was recovered. In the first season, he serves as the sycophantic chauffeur for Toledo, though is actually spying on him for Michael.

The series' main antagonist is Toledo (Tony Donaldson), a shapeshifting homunculus created by Michael using the power of the book. Rejected by his master, Toledo turned to evil and desires the book's power above all else. He takes on numerous disguises throughout the series, including Marnie's schoolmate John Roberts (Maxi Moffat), and psychiatrist Joanna Robertson (Kirsty Elkin). Toledo creates Los Contrarios (Latin for "the opposites"), evil, blind twins of the Shoebox Zoo, meant as an insult to Michael's magic. They are voiced by the Shoebox Zoo's actors.

The Shoebox Zoo themselves are four computer-generated Celtic toy animals, actually Michael's students transformed into toys for stealing the book. The voice actors recorded their lines in a London studio before filming for the television series began. Edwin (Rik Mayall), a silver eagle dressed like a knight acts as the self-appointed leader, but he is pompous, vain, hypocritical and cowardly. His name and inability to fly is a nod to British Olympic skier Eddie "The Eagle" Edwards. Bruno (Alan Cumming) is a kindhearted but bumbling, dim-witted bear made of stone and fascinated by the modern world in counterbalance to the others' fear of it. Ailsa (Siobhan Redmond), a cynical, distrusting golden adder is the sole female of the group who has little faith in others. The fourth member is Wolfgang (Simon Callow), a wily and deceitful blue-and-golden wolf made of wood, is Michael's bitter son, and joins forces with Toledo during the first season.

The second season introduces Marnie's best friend Kyle Stone (Yudii Mercredi), and his grandfather Nathaniel (Gordon Tootoosis), a medicine man who is a descendant of the Lakota chieftain Stonebear (Sammy Simon). Kyle possesses "horse magic", which will eventually allow him to speak with Native American spirits and become the next medicine man. The Shoebox Zoo gains a fifth member following Wolfgang's death, Hunter (Callow), a spirit who inhabits a horse-shaped dancing stick. Hunter can transform into an actual horse, and is often involved in a running gag where he introduces himself via a lengthy monologue. The character of the Dawn Queen is established as a major antagonistic force, Toledo possessing the body of television medium Aurora Dexter (Natascha Girgis), who shares the same birthday as Marnie (11 November) and is a potential chosen one. She has a lone daughter Becky (Kelsey Collins).

Other characters include Laura (Krystina Coates), her best friend in Scotland; bullies Stewart (Sean Young) and Dougie (Fergus Nimmo); and Marnie's teacher Ms. McKay (Frances Lowe). Bill Paterson voices the series' narrator, "The Storyteller", who makes an appearance in the final episode as the new master of the Shoebox Zoo.


The programme was first broadcast on 21 September 2004 on BBC One, and the last episode was shown on 27 November 2005.

Series 1:

  • 1. 'The Magic is Awakened' (21 September 2004)
  • 2. 'Friend or Foe?' (28 September 2004)
  • 3. 'Echoes of the Past' (5 October 2004)
  • 4. 'A Guide for the Perplexed' (12 October 2004)
  • 5. 'The Inner Sanctum' (19 October 2004)
  • 6. 'A Strange Birthday Party' (26 October 2004)
  • 7. 'A Little Knowledge' (2 November 2004)
  • 8. 'Mother's Footsteps' (9 November 2004)
  • 9. 'Where the River Flows' (16 November 2004)
  • 10. 'The Sign of the Unicorn' (23 November 2004)
  • 11. 'Where Four Elevens Meet' (30 November 2004)
  • 12. 'Los Contrarios' (7 December 2004)
  • 13. 'The Day of Reckoning' (14 December 2004)

Series 2:

  • 1. 'Across the Great Ocean' (16 October 2005)
  • 2. 'The Balance of Power' (23 October 2005)
  • 3. 'Snakes Alive' (23 October 2005)
  • 4. 'The Pow Wow' (30 October 2005)
  • 5. 'Hunter to the Rescue' (30 October 2005)
  • 6. 'Coming of Age' (6 November 2005)
  • 7. 'Wild Horses' (6 November 2005)
  • 8. 'Bumps in the Night' (13 November 2005)
  • 9. 'The Eagle Has Landed' (13 November 2005)
  • 10. 'The Arrow of Truth' (20 November 2005)
  • 11. 'The Cry of the Wolf' (20 November 2005)
  • 12. 'The Falls of Faith' (27 November 2005)
  • 13. 'Beyond the Beyond' (27 November 2005)


The series makes good use of its Lothian setting, with significant locations including the University of Edinburgh library, Tantallon Castle, Boroughmuir High School and St Giles Cathedral, while Toledo makes his base in the clock tower of the Balmoral Hotel. Many interior sets were built at the Castle Brae Business Centre (formally Castlebrae High School) in Edinburgh. The second season was filmed in Alberta, Canada.

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