Friday, 5 November 2010


Film: Dougal and the Blue Cat ****
Release Date: 1st November 2010
Certificate: U
Running time: 79 mins
Director: Serge Danot
Starring: Christian Riehl, Paul Bisciglia, Nadine Legrand, Jean-luc Tardieu
Genre: Animation
Studio: Second Sight
Format: DVD
Country: France

Created by stop-motion animator Serge Danot, The Magic Roundabout was initially a French TV series for children. Only after the BBC bought the series in 1965 and enlisted Play School regular Eric Thompson to transform the programme did it cast its spell over the rest of the World. With Thompson throwing away the French scripts and writing new ones, with all-new dialogue and quintessential characters, it was hard to imagine the series without our beloved Dougal, Florence et al. With the release of Dougal and the Blue Cat, including the original French version ‘Pollux and the Blue Cat’, we are finally able to compare these two fascinating feature-lengths.

Pollux and the Blue Cat (1970)

Pollux the dog, troubled by an eerie dream, is further dismayed by the arrival of a blue cat to the Beautiful Wood. While the Wood’s other residents try to welcome him, the ever-suspicious Pollux is watching his every move.

When the blue cat ventures into the forbidden part of the Beautiful Wood, things take a turn for the worse. Unknown to Pollux and the rest of his friends, the cat has begun his quest to take over their beloved home, turning it entirely blue with the aid of the ‘blue voice’ and an abandoned factory housing an army to destroy all that isn’t.

Pollux will need to regain the trust of his friends if he is to rescue them from imprisonment and restore the Beautiful Wood to its former flamboyant glories…

Dougal and the Blue Cat (1972)

Dougal, troubled by a terrifying noise during the night, seeks answers from his friends Zebedee and Florence, whom are unable to help, distracted instead by the new arrival in the Magic Garden – a blue cat called Buxton.

While the Garden’s other residents welcome him, the ever-suspicious Dougal is watching his every move, and when Buxton is spotted talking to a mysterious ‘blue voice’ before entering a derelict factory on the outskirts of their world, things unsurprisingly take a turn for the worse.

Unknown to Dougal and the rest of his friends, Buxton has begun his quest to take over the Magic Garden, turning it entirely blue with the aid of the ‘blue voice’ and an army to destroy all that isn’t.

Dougal will need to regain the trust of his friends if he is to rescue them from imprisonment and restore the Garden to its former flamboyant glories…

If Eric Thompson really did tear up the scripts to the French version of The Magic Roundabout and create his own plots, he shared a spookily similar vision to Danot’s, as both versions are almost identical in ways of storyline. His daughter, actress Emma Thompson, to this day insists that her father would watch reels of soundless footage, conjuring up quirky stories for the television series, and this may be true, but to get a feature-length almost spot on seems all too coincidental.

Having said that, out of the two on show here, Danot’s Pollux and the Blue Cat is the more polished, and understandably so, with fabulously quirky ditties complementing the story rather than hindering it, even if Florence’s heart-breaking final song in Thompson’s adaptation is by far the best of the whole bunch.

Pollux is most definitely aimed primarily at children – its characters are more child-friendly and stereotypical. Pollux is a dog that dislikes cats, Ambroise is a cow that just wants to eat grass (lots of it), while Flappy the bunny is lazy, pure and simple. There are no sneaky drug references or political sideswipes aimed predominantly at the student audience of Thompson’s version, and forgiving the racist tones of a narrow-sighted Chinese impersonation that appears in both, every character is straightforward and perhaps more boring because of it.

What is surprising, then, is just how creepy Danot’s creation actually is. Only twice during Dougal and the Blue Cat do the hairs stand up on the back of the neck: firstly, when Dougal confronts the spectacularly creepy noise disrupting his sleep, and secondly, when Buxton enters the nightmare room during his quest to become king – the sinister soundtrack supporting the odd, angular, almost German-expressionist visuals.

In Pollux and the Blue Cat, the spooky noise is replaced by a dull mechanical one, yet the factory in the forbidden part of the wood is fantastically used to make whips for hitting children. Only on discovering this does the mad army that captures the inhabitants of the wood make any sense – they are whips, something not made clear either by the visuals or by Thompson’s interpretation.

It doesn’t end with the whips though. Danot doesn’t need a creepy score in the nightmare room to create fear, as the blue cat and the blue voice already conjure enough with their threatening powers of articulation. Then there is the sixth room in the factory, the one where they make the whips to hurt the flowers and the children of the beautiful wood, and an assault on its community that will see mostly younger viewers reach for a cushion or two.

Thompson wins brownie points for turning Danot’s 'storeroom of sugar' challenge into a torture chamber unfit for the salivating Dougal to try and negotiate, but for the most part Pollux and the Blue Cat is a far more intriguing and coherent piece of storytelling.

Yet Eric Thompson manages to give each character a unique charm, by now adored by millions, and it’s not hard to see why the series, and this film, is cherished by so many. With wonderful one-liners such as “What a place, worse than Barnsley”, “Do you come here often?” and “Remember you’re British!” Thompson was able to connect with both children and adults alike, helped in no small way by political commentary, references to current affairs and nods to other British institutions (Dougal dyes his fur blue and calls himself Blue Peter in order to infiltrate Buxton’s blue factory unnoticed).

Pollux isn’t without its humorous moments either: “Thank god there’s a dark side - much less to paint” is uttered during a trip to the moon to paint it blue, “We have no gutters in the Beautiful Wood” comments Pollux on meeting the blue cat for the first time, and the clever “She’ll be black and blue” line delivered in the final moments to instigate more dog versus cat violence.

Combined with Danot’s charming animation, both versions are feasts for the eyes, regardless of age or nationality, and although short on running time, with a plodding introduction Thompson struggles to fill, the transition from five-minutes to feature-length is made with considerable ease.

Dougal and the Blue Cat is a wonderful achievement, blessed with delightful characters and light-heartedness that will appeal to all ages. But ignore Pollux at your peril. Darker, more coherent and just as witty, Danot’s version is actually superior, making this DVD an essential purchase and an absolute treat.

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