Once upon a time, in the magical land of England, there was a children's television series called "The Magic Roundabout," which followed the adventures of some kids and some animals and their magical friend Zebedee. Oh, and there was a magic roundabout, which people on this side of the Atlantic would call a merry-go-round.
There are a lot of problems with "Doogal," a newish computer-generated adventure movie from the Weinstein Company, the new distribution label for the brothers formerly known as Miramax. The biggest one, I guess, is that it isn't "The Magic Roundabout."
The story -- in which we learn that an evil wizard named Zeebad has been trapped in the roundabout for thousands of years, plotting to freeze the world, forcing the cast of the show to travel the world to stop him once he escapes -- is kind of lame.
The animation, while sumptuous in detail, is rather limited in imagination: Most of it is just variations on ice, clouds and snow, while the characters are surprisingly inexpressive. (Maybe they're supposed to remind us of the immobile faces of the show's puppets, but it doesn't quite work.)
And then -- ah, then -- there's the new and entirely unnecessary American soundtrack, which replaces most of the original British voice cast with a grab bag of the hip (Jon Stewart! Jimmy Fallon!) and available (Whoopi Goldberg! William H. Macy!), and gives them jokey new dialogue courtesy of the writers of Hoodwinked, who also add new speaking roles for Judi Dench, as a bucolic narrator, and Kevin Smith, as a farting moose.
Yes, the original "Magic Roundabout" series started out as a French property that was rewritten for English transmission by Eric Thompson. Dubbing isn't in itself sacrilegious. But this is about content: Does it even need to be argued that a rabbit delivering a recovering-addict joke is funnier when it's Bill Nighy's deadpan instead of Fallon's slack? Or are we so far gone that we need to surgically alter children's entertainments for an imagined audience of hip parents?
Here's another argument: The "Wallace and Gromit" movie was released here last fall with all of its specific Northern Englandisms merrily intact, with one exception: The word "marrow" was redubbed to "melon," so as not to confuse audiences unfamiliar with the British term for a squash. Done in a blip. And no narrator required.
Genius Products' flippable DVD offers a choice of full-frame and enhanced-widescreen transfers; in one of the year's great missed marketing opportunities, the British soundtrack is nowhere to be found. Instead, there's a 16-minute production featurette that focuses exclusively on the recording of the American dub track, a shorter version of which plays over the end credits. At least the transfers look great.
STUDIO: Genius Products
TIME: 77 minutes
DVD EXTRAS: English and Spanish subtitles; production featurette.
INTERNET SITE: doogalmovie.com