Imported cartoon provides nostalgia for no one
Directed by Dave Borthwick, Jean Duval, Frank Passingham
Cast: the voices of Kenan Thompson, Whoopi Goldberg, Jon Stewart
Chances are, if you spent your childhood in mid-'60s Paris, your favorite TV show was the stop-motion animation series “Le Manège Enchanté.” If you spent your childhood in late-'60s, early-'70s London, chances are even greater that your favorite TV show was the English language version of the same show, “The Magic Roundabout.” If, however, your childhood fulfilled none of those requirements, odds are pretty good you've never even heard of the show and don't actually have any idea what a “roundabout” is. (It's a merry-go-round.)
Of course, petty cultural and temporal differences haven't stopped The Weinstein Company from dragging the film over to America and shoving it into a thousand or so movie theaters in hopes of luring lazy parents who, it seems, will drop their kids off at the mall for pretty much any G-rated matinée--so long as it leaves them with 90 minutes or so to squander on the sale rack at The Limited and margaritas at T.G.I.Friday's.
On American shores, the film has been retitled Doogal (after the main character), and the vast majority of the English-language voice cast (Robbie Williams, Jim Broadbent, Bill Nighy, Sir Ian McKellen, Tom Baker and Kylie Minogue) has been replaced (with Kenan Thompson, Whoopi Goldberg, William H. Macy, Jimmy Fallon and Jon Stewart). That's great for folks who hate Oscar-winner Jim Broadbent's voice but love former “SNL” star Jimmy Fallon's. Nonetheless, in any language, this haphazard assembly of cheap animation and mild action just isn't up to snuff.
The original kiddie series was a charmingly low-tech stop-motion animation effort that could be classified somewhere between “Sesame Street” and “Davey and Goliath.” The new movie abandons the original style for some simplistic, personality-free computer animation that looks frighteningly like the “Veggie Tales” videos.
The story sticks with the original characters, concentrating on loyal, sweet-loving shaggy dog Doogal (Kenan Thompson), who lives in a colorful, animal-filled hamlet that could easily be mistaken for cut scenes from “Animal Crossing” on the Nintendo GameCube. The film's loose plot centers around an evil magician named Zeebad (Jon Stewart), who wants to freeze the world. Doogal and his animal pals must head out on a quest to rescue Doogal's owner, find some magic crystals, fight some skeleton ninjas and ... do some other stuff. Frankly, it's a little hard to tell what's going on, as the film lacks any real sense of exposition. We end up, instead, with a bunch of random, Shrek-style spoofs of Indiana Jones, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and assorted other fantasy films that may or may not be familiar to toddlers.
If, by some chance, you did grow up on the original series and are hoping to revel in a bit of preschool nostalgia, it should be noted that this glossy, dumbed-down update manages to lose most of the original's trippy humor. (Like “H.R. Pufnstuf” and so many other kiddie shows of the era, “The Magic Roundabout” was often noted—consciously or unconsciously—for its druggy subtext.) Nowadays, about the only druggy side-effect this drab shaggy dog story has is that of a giant CGI Sominex. Stick with the margaritas at T.G.I.Friday's instead.