The Magic Roundabout, upon which Doogal is based,
started life as a series of black and white animated shorts
on French TV in the 1960s. They featured the dog Pollux and
his friends having adventures in an idyllic countryside town.
This series would doubtless have remained in obscurity had the
BBC not purchased the rights for it. The BBC gave the translation
duties to Eric Thompson, who narrated it and more importantly
reworked the scripts. Thompson changed character names and personalities
and frequently played fast and loose with the original writing,
occasionally reworking the stories from scratch based entirely
upon the images. With Thompson's flair and ability to write
in a way that appealed to adults and children alike the show
was an immediate success, making it an obvious candidate for
a big screen reimagining.
Candy-loving dog Doogal and his friends Brian, Ermintrude
and Dylan live in an idyllic little country town with a magic
roundabout run by the magical Zebedee. One day, Doogal crashes
a motorbike into the roundabout and manages to accidentally
free Zebedee's arch-nemesis, the evil Zeebad, who is intent
on freezing the sun. The only way to stop Zeebad is by finding
three crystals scattered around the world and reuniting them.
The friends travel across frozen and volcanic landscapes, kung-fu
fight with pirate skeletons, and manage to defeat Zeebad in
a final battle at the magic roundabout, sending him back to
prison and returning their world to its sunny and idyllic state.
It is actually quite difficult to know where to start with
Doogal. It is so grotesque and misshapen that it's surprising
it's being shown in cinemas — it would look better exhibited
by carnies alongside Hitler's reading glasses and the world's
deadliest Siamese twins.
Doogal looks like a poor man's Toy Story, which
is surprising given the highly stylized and unique look of the
original TV series. The problem is that the animators decided
to keep the characters but change the decor, resulting in a
generic fantasy world filled with characters that look slightly
out of place. The design of the original series and the design
of the film clash unpleasantly.
Sadly, the writing is not much better.
It is tempting to blame the witless and craven plagiarism
of this film upon the original format. After all, when all you
have to work from is a series of highly whimsical four-minute
episodes, you obviously need to make some changes to support
a 90-minute film.
Fiddlesticks and flapdoodle! The original series produced a
feature-length film and never once did its creative team feel
the need to steal the plot of a videogame — which is perhaps
a good thing seeing as the only game around at the time was
The problems deepen when you look past the plot to the dialogue
and characterization. One thing can uncontroversially be said
of the old series: It was charming. This is not a word that
springs to mind when watching Doogal. The gentle and
whimsical jokes are replaced by inappropriate and rarely amusing
one-liners howled by B-list celebrities who clearly have little
interest in their characters. Imagine a Disney film entirely
full of wisecracking sidekicks and you begin to get an idea
of how dreadful this is.
However, while the plot may be shaky, the writing deeply suspicious,
and the voice acting utterly unfitting, this film ultimately
commits two utterly unforgivable sins that turn it from a bad
film to a truly terrible one. The filmmakers failed to understand
what made The Magic Roundabout so loved — and then
assumed that you'd all be too stupid to understand it either.
Eric Thompson receives no mention anywhere in this film. His
carefully crafted characterizations have been swept away in
a torrent of cheap sentiment, and his gentle, good-natured humor
has been abandoned in favor of unsubtle gags about taking drugs.
Even the famous and iconic theme tune is binned in favor of
lackluster cover-versions. All that is left of Thompson's work
are the marketable names of the characters. The result is a
stupid, cynical, ugly and hateful film that arrogantly ignores
the history of these little characters in favor of excrement
jokes and a plot that makes Final Fantasy VII look like
The saddest thing, though, is that it could have been different.
There is a moment when Doogal has a flashback to his time
in the garden with Florence, and the friends are seen playing
in the sunshine to the sound of ELO's "Mr. Blue Sky,"
and it is glorious to see. It's whimsical, charming, sweet and
warm, fully in keeping with the feel of the original series
despite being reinvented for a new generation. No stupid celebrity
voices. No jokes about drugs. No kung fu. No zombie pirates.
What is hateful about this film is that it did not just miss
an opportunity to introduce a new generation of children to
characters that have been loved by millions over the last forty
years — it actively turned its back on everything that
made these characters so loveable in the first place.
If not for your sake then for your children's . . .
please avoid this film.