"Can you imagine a faraway land where everybody is the best of friends?" the narrator asks as the story begins. Indeed, in Doogal, as on the TV show from which it spun (more on that later), friendship takes center stage. "Here, they're all together," the narrator continues, "and together is what this story is all about." Throughout the film, this takes the shape of friends helping, encouraging, supporting, saving and loving each other. In the process, audiences get several bite-sized sermonettes.
Brian the snail admonishes those in the group to stop bickering and being self-centered, and instead work together for the common good. "Wrong words can be crushing," he adds. Various characters risk their lives (or at least their well-being) when others are in danger. As hope fades, Doogal inspires the troops with calls to bravery and perseverance. When they later begin to engage in some finger-pointing, he reminds them that "blaming each other won't solve anything." He also admits to being "selfish and stupid."
Doogal and his best friend, Florence, are like two peas in a pod. When Doogal's mishap accidentally causes Florence to get stuck in icy confines, he promises to do whatever it takes to get her out. That oath compels him to keep going during several bleak situations. She, in turn, tells her apologetic shaggy pal not to blame himself for her condition. She also assures the others trapped with her that Doogal will come through, and later encourages them by fanning the flames of hope.
Zebedee, the "good wizard" who comes to the rescue whenever the gang calls on him, thinks the best of one character regardless of others' opinions. "It's what's inside that counts," he assures him. Gandalf-like, Zebedee virtually reenacts a scene from The Lord of the Rings by risking his own life for the sake of the fellowship—and ultimately, for the good of the world.
Doogal takes place in a fantastical realm in which animals and objects talk, carousels are magical and wizards dwell as guardians. Zebedee, the good wizard, is gracious and kind, while Zeebad is cruel, ruthless and power-hungry—your typical animated villain. The two use their magic for opposite purposes, with the "positive" side coming out the winner. "As we all know, good magic never really dies," the narrator informs us. "And a good wizard will always bounce back."
A few specifics: Hippy-ish rabbit Dylan strikes a meditative yoga pose during a crisis. After someone makes a poor choice of words, he comments on it inducing "bad karma." A handful of jokes are made about "seeing the light," including one regarding a near-death experience. Instead of venturing through booby-trapped quarters, a character tells Doogal to go ahead while she stays behind and prays.
One of the enchanted diamonds allows Doogal to see and hear Florence, despite the numerous miles between them. Skeletons come to life and crawl out of the ground (to the tune of Michael Jackson's "Thriller") and, when seemingly defeated, form a larger skeleton warrior.
While these otherworldly elements are kept on a kids' storybook level, the idea of magic is given a great deal of importance. For example, when Dylan explains to the group that it's time for them to use their "secret weapon," Brian eagerly asks, "What? You mean our faith in each other and our friendship?" Dylan responds with a half-hearted, "Um, yeah, that ... and Zebedee's magic box!" Doogal never misses a beat in touting target age-appropriate lessons about friendship, perseverance, etc. But I have a hunch kids will more likely to be enamored by its glittery magic show.
In what could be the movie's most troubling moment for children, Zebedee falls from a cliff (again, à la Lord of the Rings), and it's assumed that he dies. Before he goes, he and Zeebad engage in a wizard's duel, complete with fire- and ice-filled "zaps" (that emanate from their mustaches—go figure). Dylan fights off a band of skeletons and dashes one to pieces against a rock. A skeleton knocks his head on an overhead beam while riding a moving vehicle.
Doogal and the crew take repeated tumbles after being catapulted in the air. While crossing a narrow bridge, they almost fall into the boiling lava below. Brian bites Zeebad, and Dylan hits him in the face with a thrown box. The heroic group engages in a snowball vs. lightning bolt spat with Zeebad. An overheated train explodes.
Zeebad's apprentice is shown making various weapons out of ice, including a sword. He also serves as the human puppet throughout the movie, frequently getting hit on the head, run over or tossed around. Several booby traps in an ancient site barely miss their marks. Though it sounds worse recounting it than it looks onscreen, Zeebad rips one of the diamonds out of his helper's wooden chest in Indiana Jones fashion. (The hole is later mended.)
In Gopher Broke, a short that precedes Doogal, an enraged gopher crashes into a sign, smashes it and then is almost run over by a passing truck. A cow falls on him.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Dylan describes something as a "buzzkill" and a "trip."
Frenchman Serge Danot first created the characters found in Doogal in 1965. His stop-frame animation originally aired on French television, then found its way across the English Channel to the BBC, where it met wide success as The Magic Roundabout. In a genius move, the British network slotted the five-minute show to run at the end of children's programming and preceding the evening news. The result was more than 8 million people—children and adults—tuning in every weekday.
I remember watching The Magic Roundabout as a kid in the early 1980s, growing up on BBC reruns. At the time, I thought it was slow, antiquated and downright boring. Obviously, the new blood involved in reviving the project (namely director Butch Hartman, the brain behind Nickelodeon's Fairly OddParents) made sure a child today wouldn't think the same by falling in line with the unspoken rules of modern animated features: 1) You must have at least half-a-dozen frantic action scenes ... and three times as many potty jokes. 2) You must pack as many pop culture references into 89 minutes as possible. 3) You must have at least 10 big-name stars lending their voices, no matter how well they fit the project.
With the Weinstein Company's version of Doogal (the movie came out in France and England a year earlier under the original TV title and with local stars), it's check, check and check. At times this visually enticing project nails its 10-and-under target audience with silly humor and simple lessons. For the rest of the hour-and-a-half it offers groan-inducing plays on words, nonstop asides (including highly out-of-place CSI, Matrix and Dr. Phil references), a case study in derivation, some really tepid voiceover work and a mega-dose of magic.