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Friday, February 24, 2006

Doogal

Doogal is the biggest secret in America right now. When I got to the Essex Cinemas to check out this allegedly new release from the Weinstein Brothers none of the regular crew seemed to know who Doogal was. Perhaps the problem is that he has been Americanized and even the name he has been known by for more than forty years in Europe has now been spelled differently for audiences over here. In Great Britain he is known as Dougal, and in French, as Pollux, where he has entertained children and adults since 1964. Why he never made the trip across the pond until now is anybody's guess, but I'm certainly glad he did.

In France and England,
Doogal aka Dougal/Pollux has been a staple cartoon on television with more than 500 episodes to his credit. You can buy Doogal/Dougal/Pollux sheets, pajamas, backpacks, coloring books, tee shirts, and a whole series of books and dvds. Why, it seems like he has his face on more stuff than Oprah and Martha Stewart put together and he's been a toy in a McDonald's "Happy Meal" more than once (Take that, Ms. Winfrey!). He's even starred in his own television series and movie, The Magic Roundabout, which is where the story in this feature is derived.

For those not in the know, a roundabout is a carousel (or merry-go-round) and it is here that
Doogal's best friend, a human girl named Florence, and her friends are playing when Doogal accidentally unleashes a horrible wizard named ZeeBad (voiced by The Daily Show's John Stewart) who has been imprisoned in the carousel for more than a millennium. His plan, of course, is to take over the world, as all good villans will do. This one is going to freeze everything and black out the sun. In order to do this, however, he will need three magical diamonds that have been hidden in different parts of the land to prevent just such an evil plan from ever coming to fruition. Okay, logic would tell me that if they are hidden they should stay that way, but the good wizard Zeebedee (Ian McKellen, practically reprising his Gandalf role from The Lord of the Rings trilogy) sends Doogal and his ragtag group of friends on a quest to retrieve the gems before ZeeBad can find them. There is an urgency in their search for ZeeBad has frozen the carousel before hopping away into the sunset, trapping Florence and her group inside. High drama is bound to ensue ~ Can Doogal and company find the diamonds and reverse the curse before Florence becomes a permanent popsicle? Oh, and did I mention ZeeBadd and Zebedee have no lower extremities but bounce around on giant spring bodies like Jack-in-the-Boxes? It really has nothing to do with the plot, but it definitely adds Spring! to their characters. And, to digress for just a moment, it also leaves me wondering where little wizards come from, but that is for a whole other conversation at some other time.

So off goes
Doogal, accompanied by an operatic cow, Ermintrude (Whoopi Goldberg), Brian (William H. Macy), a love-struck snail whose heart belongs only to the singing cow, and a lackadaisical bunny named Dylan (Jimmy Fallon) who could very well be stoned throughout the entire movie as he is just a little too mellow to be on a natural high. Along the way they meet an assortment of colorful characters, including a flatulent moose (director and actor Kevin Smith), and Train (Chevy Chase), a, well, a train, who proves a great help when it comes to transportation.

Now if you are groaning at the thought of being forced to take your four or five year old to see
Doogal and imagine it will be as painful as sitting through a Yoko Ono salutes the Genius of Barry Manilow Concert, let me cheer you up. Despite the simple plot, the movie itself is fresh and funny, packed full of clever and current one-liners that only the adults will be savvy enough to get. There are dozens of pop culture references, from The Matrix to CSI along with various groaner moments, such as when Brian the snail, after almost being killed, announces that "I just slimed [my] shell."

The cinematography is beautifully done. For those who have been spoiled by the magic of Pixar
and Disney, the computer generated images may seen less than "realistic" but then we are talking about snails, rabbits, and a funny-looking dog here. The different look marks the film much like the Weinsteins' last animated release, Hoodwinked, but Doogal has a lighter, almost cotton candy feel to it.

It is odd that the Weinsteins felt that American audiences could not accept the British version of the film as it was. The Magic Roundabout was released last year in the UK to great box office with many well-known Brits voicing the same roles. Considering their notoriety in this country it seems almost an effort to dumb down the movie by replacing the likes of Joanna Lumley (Absolutely Fabulous), Jim Broadbent (The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe; Bridget Jones's Diary), Aussie songstress Kylie Minogue (Moulin Rouge; tv's Neighbours) and singer/songwriter Robbie Williams as the shaggy lead with Goldberg, Fallon, et al. No offense to
the American actors, but I'd hope by now that Hollywood would get that kids can embrace British sensibilities and the accents. There has been this other little children's movie series that kind of proved this point in the past several years. Perhaps the Weinsteins need a trip to Hogwarts Academy to remind them that children are a lot more astute than they seem to realize.

That said,
Doogal is an adorable, fluffy little dog and an even more delightful, fluffy little movie, even if it is recycled from France and then again from England. It still looks fresh and fantastic, and it had me laughing out loud several times in its brief 85 minutes. It may be snowing outside, but Doogal (well, okay Zeebad and Zeebedee) have brought a bit of Spring! to the Essex Cinemas this week. Do yourself a favor and hop on down for some good family fun.

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