Dir. Dave Borthwick, Jean Duval, Fran Passingham, 2005, 85 mins
Cast: Tom Baker, Kylie Minogue, Robbie Williams, Lee Evans, Joanna Lumley, Bill Nighy
Proving that it's not just American TV shows that are fit for film adaptation, the update of the classic children's animation Magic Roundabout bounds enthusiastically onto cinema screens; hip, trendy, self aware and everything else that the much loved original wasn't. But can the film possibly appeal to its toddler target audience (who will be unfamiliar with the characters) and win itself a whole new generation of fans?
When a naughty sugar addicted dog named Dougal (Robbie Williams) accidentally breaks The Magic Roundabout, he unleashes the evil ZeeBad (Tom Baker) whose desire to enslave the world in ice sends bouncy local wizard ZeeBaDee (Ian Mckellen), Brian, a plucky snail (Jim Broadbent), Ermintrude, an opera singing cow (Joanna Lumley) and Dylan, a laid back guitar playing rabbit (Bill Nighy) on a quest to find three gems that will rescue the world, not to mention Florence (Kylie Minogue) from ZeeBad's evil machinations.
Although the sight of characters from the original Magic Roundabout generates a sense of goodwill, it is unfortunate that they seem so out of place on the big screen. What was a charming five minute television show seems unnaturally stretched to feature length. The storyline seems forced and contrived with homage randomly paid to Lord Of The Rings, Kill Bill and Indiana Jones.
The performances vary with Williams and Minogue easily spotted as pop stars who shouldn't have given up the day job and Broadbent and Lumley as actors who should know better. Bill Nighy's Dylan gets the majority of laughs, with drug related innuendo aimed clearly at the adult audience. Nighy is superb (arguably simply playing a floppy eared reprise of his Love Actually and Still Crazy personas) as is Ray Winstone, who plays ZeeBad's misguided sidekick, Soldier Sam. Tom Baker shows who makes the best baddie however, delivering a performance of menacing camp somewhat akin to Captain Hook from Peter Pan.
Unfortunately, Mckellen's ZeeBadee and Lee Evan's Train fail both to make enough of an impact. Mckellen's role is an obvious pastiche of his recent success as Gandalf but barely appears in the film, presumably due to availability rather than the demands of the script. Evans, a gifted physical comedian is neutered by the fact that he is forced to rely on his voice in order to convey the performance. As a result he barely registers.
The 3D animation contained in the film is unfortunately not up to the high standards set by Pixar with parts of the film resembling a cut scene from a computer game. There is no doubt that although it attempts to be highly stylised and modern, The Magic Roundabout's animation already feels out of date when compared to the latest spate of animated offerings such as The Incredibles and The Polar Express.
There are certain moments of charm in the film. The relationship between love struck Brian and snooty cow Ermintrude is deliciously subtle and strangely moving. It also provides one of the cheekiest one-liners of the film. There is also a sense of innocence, particularly in Florence 's relationship with Dougal that is just the right side of saccharine sweet.
Notable by its absence is the classic theme music that featured in the TV show, replaced instead by pop classics and music by Mark Thomas which is reminiscent of Danny Elfman's Batman score. While the score is not too bad, the pop songs seem to hint that the film makers have a soundtrack album that they would like you to buy, which given the fact that shops are pushing Magic Roundabout goodies a good month before it opens seems like the hard sell, particularly on a film so squarely aimed at the under fives.
It was a tall order to expect the big screen incarnation of Magic Roundabout to successfully capture the feel of the classic series. While there are occasional moments that contain a hint of what made the original so well loved, the overall feel of the film is one of characters and ideas thrown into a forced storyline. The original series did not support the conflict/resolution formula that the all action narrative demands and this inevitably results in a contrived film that fails to address its presumably bemused and indifferent audience.