A recent New Yorker cartoon showed two doubtlessly Manhattan kids leaving a movie theatre after seeing a children's film. One says to the other that the picture was alright, but he could have done without all the jokey stuff for adults. In the best way possible, he might well have been talking about this Americanized version of The Magic Roundabout, a British-French computer-animated feature released in the U.K. in February 2005 and based on a long-running series of stop-motion animated shorts-each five-minute episode running right before the national "6 O'clock News," giving it such an avid audience of both adults and kids that when it was moved back an hour in 1967, stiff-upper-lip Brit grownups complained to the BBC.
That bi-level Bullwinkle-ism remains intact in the stateside version, renamed for the lead character, a mischievous mutt in a modern-day enchanted village (and whose U.K. name is actually "Dougal," though pronounced "Doogal"). At a Saturday-morning public showing-The Weinstein Company having oddly or perhaps cheaply declined to screen this kid-flick for critics-stroller-age children weren't laughing but were absolutely held rapt by the story onscreen, with not a crier in the bunch. What laughter there was came from adults hearing Jon Stewart, Whoopi Goldberg and others spout mile-a-minute references to the likes of The Matrix, The Lord of the Rings and rap group Bone Thugs-n-Harmony (in a scene with skeleton warriors, which also produces a Pirates of the Caribbean remark followed by a character cackling, "Hey! A Disney joke!" Extra points to parents following the nasty breakup of the Weinsteins and their former parent company).
The story hinges on sweet-toothed Doogal (voice of Daniel Tay, who played the dyspeptic young Harvey Pekar in American Splendor) causing a motorized candy cart to get a flat tire, all the better to swipe from. Chemically induced crime does not pay, however, and a motor mishap sets on fire the Magic Roundabout-merry-go-round in American-and frees the evil wizard Zeebad (Stewart), the evil mirror of good wizard Zebedee (Ian McKellen, who with Kylie Minogue as Doogal's human, Florence, are the sole holdovers from the British voice cast). The wizards are Jack-in-the-box spring-puppets, giving their actions a kinetic fluidity that's a joy to watch and particularly well-suited to CGI movement.
With Florence and two other children encased in a carousel ice-prison, Zebedee must send Doogal and his friends-recovering-stoner rabbit Dylan (Jimmy Fallon), diva cow Ermintrude (Goldberg) and sensible snail Brian (William H. Macy)-to the mountains, where they must find three magic diamonds before Zeebad, who'll use them to freeze the sun. In one of the many priceless exchanges between self-aware villain Zeebad ("the evil laugh-it's gotta come from the back of the throat") and his duty-bound but goodhearted henchman, the wooden solider Sam (Bill Hader) asks about job benefits; Zeebad immediately replies that there's three weeks' summer vacation. Of course, there'll be no summer, so it's a bit of a loophole, he notes.
Hip, humorous and very baby-boomer-with bits involving Ray Davies' Kinks classic "You Really Got Me." plus strains of "The Star-Spangled Banner" a la Jimi Hendrix/Woodstock-Doogal is a delight for very young children and any parent who'll get the Attorney General joke of "Geneva Convention? I don't care if it's a Star Trek convention!" One caveat: The filmmakers really shouldn't show pet-caring kiddies that Doogal eats chocolate. That can kill a real dog.
The movie comes bundled with an uninspired cartoon short, the momentarily morbid Gopher Broke.