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"Doogal": At Least It's Not Hoodwinked

It’s becoming increasingly difficult for casual moviegoers to discern which company actually made the animated film they’re watching, and in which country. The marketing campaigns for Valiant and The Wild were both emblazoned with “Walt Disney, ” though the former is from a small British studio and the latter a Canadian one. The Weinstein Company continues this practice with the similarly modest Doogal, a CGI Franco-British production based on the popular French 60s stop motion children’s program Le Manege Enchante, or The Magic Roundabout.

Hair Club for DogsNot that nationality really matters, but like most of these smaller productions Doogal is light years behind the Pixar standards in storytelling and animation. At least Doogal sets itself apart from the recent deluge of “animals on a quest” movies by clearly targeting preschoolers, rather than the usual 10-year-old/parent dichotomy. The art design sets a childish tone, bolstered by a surely embarrassed Judi Dench’s diabetes-inducing narration, in which she asks the audience about their tummies. At the very end a character even advises the kiddies it’s “Time for bed.” That’s assuming they’re not out already, though they’d be lucky to catch more than 4 winks during Doogal‘s paltry 69 minutes.

Although as lame as the whole enterprise is, thanks to a touch of snappy dialogue from the villains it’s funnier than Hoodwinked. Which is ironic as the American adaptation was penned by Hoodwinked writer/director Cory Edwards, along with Fairly Oddparents creator Butch Hartman. I suppose he had nowhere to go but up.

Our “hero” Doogal the dog (Daniel Tay) lives in a peaceful little village with his friends: the kind young girl Florence, no nonsense singing cow Ermintrude (Whoopi Goldberg), unassuming snail Brian (William H. Macy), stoner rabbit guitarist Dylan (Jimmy Fallon), and benevolent wizard Zebedee (Ian McKellan). One day the candy crazy Doogal causes an accident in pursuit of his daily sugar fix and damages the town’s magical carousel. This releases the evil wizard Zeebad (Jon Stewart) imprisoned within, and traps Florence and friends inside a wall of ice (!).

Just why public enemy number one is interned in a children’s ride is not explained. Perhaps as we speak Space Mountain is being optimistically prepared for Bin Laden’s arrival. Anyway, Doogal and company hurry off on a Super Mario-ish expedition to find three magical diamonds before Zeebad can use them to freeze the entire world. Initially more of a liability than an asset to the team, the unmotivated and self-absorbed Doogal finds he must show his mettle if he is to save his best friend.

The characters are handicapped by very amateurish and unappealing design, making them look more like toys than living beings. For example Doogal appears to have borrowed one of Gene Simmons’ less convincing wigs, and the inexplicably legless wizards stand upon giant coiled springs. I imagine the TV series’ creator got the idea for them when opening his third bottle of wine. It would explain a lot.

Who says the French are fashionable?The young Tay’s particularly lifeless delivery kills all of his feeble attempts at humor. It doesn’t help that Doogal is one of the least likable children’s heroes in film. Eternally obsessed with satisfying his candy jones, he spends much of the film lazing about and nearly getting his friends killed. It’s a wonder he has friends.

Goldberg’s dialogue is composed almost entirely of tiresome “sassy” wisecracks, while Fallon’s main shtick is to reel off as many recent film references as possible (even Pulp Fiction), usually forgetting to add a joke. A very bored Macy quietly pines for Ermintrude, which raises mind-boggling biological implications.

McKellan is reliable as ever in a very Gandalf-like role, but it is Stewart and his ever chipper toy soldier henchman Sam (Bill Hader, in his best Monty Python accent) that rescue the film from complete tedium. Their zany repartee brings to mind similar relationships in recent Disney films, if not the best of them. Sam is somewhat dismayed when Zeebad describes his job, “Pain, misery, and torment will be on your daily to-do list. And your only break will be death,” but he instantly perks up when he hears about the three week holiday. Left to wander an underground tunnel alone, Doogal and company’s train (Chevy Chase) gets in a quick zinger, “Why do I always get the shaft?” This turns out to be a prescient remark, for later his “friends” leave him for dead in the wilderness.

To my immense surprise there are two relatively impressive action scenes. In the first Zeebad and Zebedee have a Matrix Revolutions/Lord of the Rings style showdown in which they fly about and exchange energy blasts. Later the heroes and villains get into a breakneck train race (oddly reminiscent of a scene in Hoodwinked), in which Zeebad’s drill equipped model follows below our heroes on a two level bridge, threatening to undermine the track.

Hasta la vista Gandalf, er, ZebedeeDoogal‘s animation is slightly better than the eyesore Hoodwinked, but remains well below Pixar quality with simple, plastic-like textures. There’s a fun moment when a crew of skeleton warriors, smashed by our heroes to pieces, combines to form a massive skeleton Voltron, but that’s one of few memorable flourishes.

The respectable mix of oldies and modern tracks makes for a syrupy soundtrack for a syrupy film, fittingly ending with The Archies’ “Sugar, Sugar.” Less respectable is Fallon and Goldberg’s toneless assault on the Kinks’ “All Day and All of the Night.”

I think the Weinsteins’ marketing for the film was severely flawed, pitching it as the next Shrek when it’s more like the next Sesame Street. Their reward was an anemic $7 million box office take and venomous consumer reaction. They may have done better to focus on the lucrative and far less demanding toddler segment, perhaps bypassing theaters altogether.

The one and only special feature is the relatively thorough but unexciting The Making of Doogal, containing cast interviews and a brief discussion of the animation process. Inexplicably and very annoyingly the British and French cast audio tracks are not included. It would have been really interesting to see where they differ. I presume they contain fewer fart jokes, but perhaps I underestimate their universal appeal.

American viewers are unlikely to derive any nostalgia value from Doogal, nor adults much entertainment value, but very young children will likely enjoy it all the same. I can’t see them clamoring for action figures though.

Correction: An earlier version of this article cited the distributor as DreamWorks. In fact DreamWorks has nothing to do with the film. The distributor was The Weinstein Company.

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