The Magic Roundabout (2005)
Directed by Dave Borthwick, Jean Duval and Frank Passingham. Written by Paul Bassett, Serge Danot (the creator), Tad Safran (who did the dialogue), Raoulf Sanoussi and Stephane Sanoussi.
Voice talents (for the English version):
– Brian the Snail
– the Train
– Soldier Sam
The Magic Roundabout? A new film by Wim Wenders starring Juliette Binoche and Gerard Depardieu about the circuitous nature of relationships and the ultimate ‘magic’ to be found therein?
Surely not a feature length adaptation of that children’s programme they used to have on BBC1 just before the news?
Yep, that very thing.
Oh. Ahem. Ah.
What’s all this about an ‘English Version’? Is there another one?
There’s a French version, with French actors, and different names for the characters.
Why on earth…?
Okay. This is complicated. In 1965, Serge Danot created ‘The Magic Roundabout’ or ‘Le Manège Enchanté’. It came to Britain to be adapted, but Eric Thompson (Emma’s dad) didn’t think much to the scripts (allegedly) and binned them. Instead, he decided to watch the films in French and work out for himself what the characters could be saying. The version the UK audience saw, then, had two writers, neither really aware of what the other was trying to do. The film version has a credit to Serge Danot, but none to Eric Thompson (he’s dead, in any case). I assume, then, that this is ‘The Magic Roundabout’ as Danot conceived it.
Is it any good?
Well, it’s certainly not what it was in those five minute programmes before the news. The show was always slightly bizarre (almost as if the dialogue had been invented after the show had been put together)… The roundabout of the title played little or no part in the actual story. Dougal, the dog, was obsessed with sugar. Zebedee (red head, white freckles, big moustache, spring for a body) was the stuff of really bad dreams (his catchphrase was ‘Time for bed’). Dylan (the narcoleptic rabbit) always seemed to be drugged up.
Well, this was the sixties. Actually, Eric Thompson’s wife said in an interview (for ‘The Nation’s Favourite 100 Children’s Television Programmes’) that she had no idea that people thought that her husband’s commentary had anything to do with drugs, and that ‘Thomson’, as she called him, had nothing whatsoever to do with drugs.
So – nothing hallucinogenic, then?
Dylan… Bob Dylan… constantly asleep… sugar cubes… dog who’s obsessed with sugar… magic roundabout…? Who knows. I think it’s probably fair to say that even if Thompson didn’t intend to refer to drugs in his dialogue, the ambience of the sixties got to it in any case. The audience was in no doubt that it referred to drugs.
I’m assuming that there’re certainly no drugs in the film version?
Well, you assume wrong. The sugar is still there, and Dougal is equally obsessed with it. Dylan talks about grass and how much he loves it.
Isn’t he a rabbit, though? Rabbits do eat grass…
Sure. If you were really trying to stay away from the whole drugs issue, then you wouldn’t mention grass, though, would you, unless the storyline called for it specifically – which it doesn’t?
Nor would you have Brian the Snail look at Dylan, fumbling in his pockets, and say ‘Now, Dylan, this is no time for any of your recreational activities…’ (or words to that effect). You wouldn’t have a dream sequence where Dougal was standing on a road made up of sugar cubes, suspended in the sky, with sweets zooming around his head, whilst the first few bars of ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ played, either (Mario Kart’s Rainbow Road, anyone?).
Sounds as if there’s a problem there.
Yes. And that’s not the only one. The film is undeniably a French/English collaboration. The five-minute shows that the UK knows, though, are not collaborations at all. In trying to appeal to both markets, the film doesn’t really appeal at all, at least not to this particular audience member.
Any thing else that’s a bit sticky?
Oh yes. Not only is it trying to appeal to French and British audiences, but it’s also trying to appeal to kids and adults, or rather kids, adults who used to be kids who watched the original, adults who never watched the original, and a new generation of insomniac students caught by the sixties’ appeal of the whole thing (Channel 4 used to repeat them at 4am. No kids up at that time, certainly). Look at the cast, and then consider the storyline – Zebad, the evil twin of Zebedee (I assume – the film doesn’t really explain), is released from his prison (the eponymous Magic Roundabout itself). He then attempts to turn the whole world to ice by reclaiming the three diamonds.
Which three diamonds?
Dunno. Not a clue. I doubt kids will care. If Zebad gets the diamonds, then he’ll be able to turn the sun to ice (Jadis - the evil queen in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, anyone?). If, however, the three diamonds are put back in their rightful places on the roundabout, then Zebad will be imprisoned once again.
And Ian McKellen is in this?
Sir Ian McKellen. Yes, he is. And Joanna Lumley, and Jim Broadbent, and Bill Nighy.
And Robbie Williams?
Well, yes, but so what?
So – drug references, a (largely) respected cast of internationally respected actors, and a plot you could drive a train through?
A train with a big eyes, an ejector seat, and a voice like Lee Evans. That’s not the worst of it. Worst is the fact that the whole thing seems designed to provide credible situations for a computer game. There’s a map, a quest, things to find, a bad guy who fires ice from his finger tips – and a good guy who fires – erm – fire, a train chase, a fight or two… One fight, actually, seems to come straight from a computer game: Ermintrude, Brian, Dougal and Dylan have to fight four skeletons. When they are hit, they come to pieces, and lie inanimate on the floor. After a while, they reassemble and spring back to life. (Stalfos Knights from Zelda, anyone?) When they’re all defeated, they come back to life as one big Boss type knight (sigh). There’s a world of fire, and a world of ice, too… (Banjo-Kazooie, anyone?)
Any redeeming features at all?
Well, Bill Nighy is a delight, but then, he always is. (‘They just don’t make rickety stone bridges over chasms like they used to, do they?’ he bumbles, as the rickety stone bridge over the chasm collapses. ‘Do you think it might just, you know, grow back?’ Ermintrude becomes ‘Ermindude’, and so on. At one point, Ermintrude looks at the blue moose (don’t ask) in front of her and asks, ‘Whoever heard of a talking moose?’ Dylan replies, ‘Says the opera singing cow.’) Tom Baker sounds like Doctor Who, but then, he always does. Ray Winstone sounds like Ray Winstone (but then, I’m a particular fan). And, whilst I’m dishing out the praise, Robbie Williams actually pitches his part perfectly: he’s a dog in a kid’s cartoon. He does it very well.
And Kylie Minogue?
I didn’t even realise she was in it. Her part was almost non-existent, and her voice was unrecognisable.
I shouldn’t go and see it, then?
Well, you could just wait for the game to come out (guffaw). Actually, there are reasons for seeing it: the animation is stunning. There’s a real look to the thing that is just sublime: it’s not the original look, but it is in keeping with it. All the characters have a beautiful childish innocence about them, and there’s nothing harsh or sharp about the ‘illustrations’ at all, unlike – for example – Ice Age, or The Incredibles. Everything is fuzzy and dreamlike: quite lovely to look at. The music’s cool, too:The Kinks (‘You Really Got Me’) and ELO (‘Mr Blue Sky’) really stand out, although there’s no particular reason for them to be in the film (other than for their inclusion in the forthcoming album, of course). A much better idea, however, is to go and get hold of the DVD of The Magic Roundabout, conceived by Serge Danot, and rewritten by Eric Thomson. Watch them all, back to back, with the alcohol of your choice.
And the film?
CloudStrife adds that, 'according to Howard Maks's book Mister Nice, it was common practice in the 60's to put a drop of liquid LSD in a sugar cube for consumption': drugs? What drugs? No drugs here...
Apologies for the misquotes: the gist is certainly correct.
Factual details from www.imdb.com