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Doogal
Reviewed by Jonathan McCalmont, © 2006

Format: Movie
By:   Frank Passingham (director) and Satan (executive producer)
Genre:   Animated fantasy
Released:   February 24, 2006
Review Date:   February 21, 2006
Audience Rating:   G
RevSF Rating:   2/10 (What Is This?)

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 Pong.

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 Ibsen.

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.

RevSF contributor Jonathan McCalmont would like to apologize to those of you who thought that Final Fantasy VII was in fact written by Ibsen. Actually, he would like to point at you and laugh, but instead, he will apologize.

 
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