Monday, December 6, 2010

A Decade of Dreck #37: Doogal

Charge Shot!!! is celebrating the end of the decade in the most masochistic way we know how - by watching and writing about the 100 worst movies of the last ten years as defined by film review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. Click here to see RT's complete list, click here for more about the Decade of Dreck project, and click here to see all of the movies we've done so far.

A few short months ago, I waded through the francophone terror that was Kaena: the Prophecy and discovered that as a rule of thumb, the French and their various international offshoots should be kept away from the field of animation. Apparently, the cheese-eating surrender monkeys didn't learn their lesson and neither did I as I sat through Doogal.

A Franco-British co-production and based on the supposedly beloved 1970's British children's show The Magic Roundabout, Doogal tells the story of "a land where everybody is the best of friends". In this magical land, the titular terrier loves his friend Florence more than anyone else (but I thought everybody was the best of friends, stop ranking!). For some reason, an evil jack-in-the-box looking wizard escapes from his icy prison and vows to encase the entire world in ice, starting with Florence. Thusly, Doogal and his band of anthropomorphic animal friends (because, hey, why not?) go on a magical quest to get some diamonds or something.

On paper, Doogal seems like a run-of-the-mill, perfectly serviceable if unforgivably European exercise in children's programming. While it apparently received good reviews in its co-native United Kingdom, the American version ended up as a post on a middlebrow pop culture blog.

What happened on that journey across the Atlantic? Well, perhaps its just that since its based on a British property that most Americans have never heard of, the nostalgia and familiarity necessary to make such a movie work for anyone over the age of four are entirely lacking.

More importantly, the movie underwent a massive localization process upon coming to America, complete with a new voice cast and a punched-up script loaded with awful pop culture references clumsily strung between pertinent lines, Shrek-style. How inappropriate is the American voice casting? Take a look...

British Version                U.S. Version
Bill Nighy                        Jimmy Fallon (as a rabbit more than once inferred to be junkie)
Joanna Lumley                Whoopi Goldberg (as a sassy opera singing cow)
Jim Broadbent                 William H. Macy (as a snail trying to fuck the previous cow)
Ray Winstone                  Bill Hader (lord of the cockney tough guys or goofy SNL player: you decide)

Worst of all is the casting of the evil wizard. Ian McKellen's voicework as the good wizard Zebedee is preserved for the across-the-Pond trip, probably because he's Gandalf. Who should play his antagonist, an equally powerful but evil counterpart to him? If you'll remember, archvillain Christopher Lee played Saruman in The Lord of the Rings. So who do we have playing the evil wizard Zeebad? The one who sets all the calamitous events of the film? Someone so evil they would freeze a kind-hearted Kylie Minogue-voiced girl in ice for all eternity?

 Jon Stewart, of course.

Doogal has many, many faults but casting Jon Stewart as an evil wizard hellbent on destroying life on this planet as we know it among the greatest. The man just doesn't do evil, or even remotely menacing. Stew-Beef himself will be the first to tell you that his forays into acting are mostly misguided if not downright offensively bad. Jon Stewart does one thing better than anyone else on the planet, and that is host a satirical news program (and occasionally hold political rallies). If you're going to use him in your crappy kid's CGI movie, why not at least make him a funny character, possibly a newsman, and not a Snidely Whiplash type making terrible references to movies and events the target audience won't be able to see for ten years?

Then again, the part was originally played by the Fourth Doctor, so who knows what that would have been like...

Doogal is ranked #83 on the Rotten Tomatoes Worst 100 List with 6% freshness. Its RT page can be found here.