Dirs: Dave Borthwick, Jean Duval, Frank Passingham. 2005. UK-Fr. 81mins
Remaking 1960sfive-minute children's TV show The Magic Roundabout as a full-lengthcomputer-animated feature always seemed a somewhat unlikely project. Sadly, theresulting $24m Anglo-French co-production explains why.
The original series beganlife as La Manege Enchante on French TV in 1964. In the UK the BBCoriginally rejected it as too difficult to dub before presenter Eric Thompson(father of actress Emma) ignored the original scripts and dubbed new voiceoverstories onto the same footage.
The TV shorts' knowinghumour - then novel for a children's series - proved a hit with adults as wellin the UK, propelling it to an early evening viewership of 8 million (a featurespin-off, Dougal And The Blue Cat, was released in 1970).
But theatrically thisbig-screen adaptation is unlikely to enjoy as much success. While it isostensibly aimed at under-12s, its appeal seems to lie mainly with under-5s, anotoriously unpredictable market.
Beyond France (where itopens Feb 2 on 350-400 screens) and the UK (where it opens on 425-450 screenson Feb 11) it will prove hard to break out - due to lack of familiarity withthe brand name and weakness of plot and execution in comparison to more polishedcompetition.
Nor will it emulate thesuccess of Pathe's last great animation hit Chicken Run, the AardmanAnimation blockbuster to which the company had rights in the UK ($42.5m) andFrance (3 million admissions).
But The Magic Roundabout'spotential in the home market is huge, with video business likely to bestrongest, as parents test the film in the relative comfort and cheapness oftheir own homes.
For the US, Pathe has soldrights to Miramax, which plans to rename the film as Sprung! to avoidconfusion: the roundabout referenced in the title usually translates ascarousel in the US.
In the Enchanted Village,sweet-toothed shaggy dog Dougal (voiced by Williams) unwittingly unleashesZebedee's (McKellan) nemesis Zeebad (Baker), freezing his friend Florence(Minogue) in the roundabout and plunging the world into an icy age.
Brian the bashful snail(Broadbent), Dylan the laid-back rabbit (Nighy), Ermintrude the operatic cow(Lumley) and Dougal unite to save the world from Zeebad's evil clutches. Indoing so they encounter a little-train-that-can (Evans), some kung fuderring-do with skeletons and a tribute to the Crouching Tiger genre.
If studios like Aardman andPixar have proved anything with their critical and box-office successes overthe last decade, it's that the basics of plot and character can never beignored, however much time and money is invested in the latest animationtechniques.
This fundamental elementseems to have been forgotten with The Magic Roundabout, leavingaudiences to watch a weak story dressed up with voice talent such as popsingers Kylie Minogue and Robbie Williams and actors Jim Broadbent and IanMcKellen (in the UK version reviewed) and animated pyrotechnics that cannotdisguise fundamental flaws.
The decision to do away withany narration (if anything, it was Thompson's laconic voiceover in the UKversion that made the TV series a hit) also means the film fails to introducecharacters to audiences unfamiliar with the original, while older audienceswill most likely need re-acquainting with the cast.
Possibly the film would haveworked more successfully had its makers retained some form of originalstop-motion format, which served the bigger budget Chicken Run so well.
Its absence may welldisappoint those older fans of the original series, whose love was built on itsquirkiness, while the very young are unlikely to be bothered, whatever style isemployed. The success of hit UK TV exports like Bob The Builder and ThomasThe Tank Engine only emphasise the need for clear story-telling andcharacterisation in clean looking, basic formats.
Technically, the animationstands up to international comparison although, as is often the case, thehumans look somewhat off-putting.
A strong soundtrack, withrock-along originals such as the ELO's Mr Blue Sky and a remake of Kinksclassic You Really Got Me (from Nighy) offers some compensation foradults.
Prod cos: Pathe Pictures, Films Action, SPZ Ent, bolexbrothers,UK Film Council, Pathe Renn, Pricel, France 2 Cinema, Canal +, Films Action
Int'l sales: Pathe Pictures Int'l
UK/Fr dist: Pathe
Exec prods: Francois Ivernel,Cameron McCracken, Jill Sinclair, Jake Eberts
Prods: Laurent Rodon, PascalRodon
Scr: Raoff Sanoussi, StephaneSanoussi. Paul Bassett Davies, Tad Safran from the characters created by Sergeand Martine Danot
Music: Mark Thomas
Main voice cast (UK version reviewed): Tom Baker, Jim Broadbent, Lee Evans, Joanna Lumley, Ian McKellen, KylieMinogue, Bill Nighy, Robbie Williams, Ray Winstone
Main voice cast (Fr): HenriSalvador, Vanessa Paradis, Dany Boon, Michel Galabru, Gerard Jugnot, ValerieLemercier, Eddy Mitchell, Elie Semoun