IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 84 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera
In 17th century France, young Dogtanian, good with a sword but a bit arrogant, arrives in Paris, hoping to join the King’s Muskehounds. After acquiring a mouse squire named Pip, Dogtanian falls in love with the Queen’s faithful handmaiden Juliette, challenges to a duel Muskehounds Porthos, Athos and Aramis, then becomes their friend when some of the King’s guards turn up. Meanwhile the scheming Cardinal Richelieu, assisted by and feline femme fatale Milady de Winter, have formed a plot to take control of the throne. Can Dogtanian and the Three Muskehounds foil these fiends, save France and also restore the good name of Dogtanian’s father who wrongfully lost his possession as Captain of the King’s guards….
The 1981/1982 Spanish animated cartoon series Dogtanian And The Three Muskehounds was a surprisingly straight stretching out of Alexandre Dumas’s much adapted swashbuckler despite most of the characters now being dogs and the remaining few being other animals. It probably isn’t watched by a whole lot of youngsters these days, even though it seems to be surprisingly well known. It is, though, most definitely well remembered by many who watched it on TV and that, I guess, was enough of a reason to produce a new version, the hope no doubt being that it would attract a new generation of fans as well as bring back strong feelings of nostalgia in those of us who devoured the original series as a kid, hoping that they wouldn’t be put off by hand drawn animation being replaced by slick computer imagery. Though “slick” isn’t really the right word here as the CG work is hardly that, to the point that two brief scenes which use hand drawn animation – a flashback and a dream – look more impressive. It raises again something that’s very sad to many of us older cartoon lovers; the fact that traditional animation isn’t really a thing these days except in Japan. In fact it hasn’t really been a thing since Disney blamed the commercial disappointment of The Princess And The Frog on its animation way back in 1994.
Still, one has to give the makers credit for not just keeping the looks of all the characters but retaining some inconsistencies, such as all the characters still having their original names yet D’Artagnan becoming Dogtanian and his amour Constance being renamed Juliet. Indeed there isn’t that much for purists to complain about. The plot is essentially a distillation of the first eighteen episodes of the twenty-six part series, and forms the first half of the Dumas novel. Again, it’s surprisingly faithful; obviously the less kid-friendly elements have been left out as has the Duke of Buckingham, but I don’t think Dumas would be turning in his grave too much. The versions of some scenes as depicted in the series are fairly closely stuck to or just given slight variations, so once again, for example, we have Dogtanian annoying all three of his future companions one by one and the latter being surprised when they’ve all turned up to fight a duel with the same person. The four of them are soon off to prevent a possible war between England and France by stopping the villains from getting hold of a diamond necklace belonging to the Queen which was a truce offering [in the book it was a gift from her secret lover]. The action is constant with plenty of sword fighting, so much so that some parts of the story can’t really breath, but it’s easy to follow except perhaps for the extremely young, whereby the very colourful and simple look ought to still be enough to keep them interested.
Milady gets an upgrade as does Dogtanian’s sword, Aramis now talks in rhyming couplets, and Pip the mouse not just moonwalks whenever he gets excited but is now a extremely untrustworthy piece of work. None of these should offend the hardcore. However, things do fall down in some other areas. The voice work is erratic; some of it’s fine, but Robbie K. Jones as Pip has or puts on the most annoying voice, while Tomás Ayuso’s bright enthusiasm as Dogtanian eventually begins to grate. There’s some resorting to goofy jokes which the original mostly restrained itself from doing despite its target audience. It certainly wouldn’t have stooped to a horse farting. A couple of gags are even adult, which I admit I didn’t mind and even chuckled at, but all this jokery does betray a slight lack of confidence in the material. The writer is Doug Langdale, who felt it necessary to jam-pack the essentially serious The Book Of Life with such stuff and therefore seriously weaken what could have been a really great fantasy, presumably because he [wrongly] felt that kids would get bored otherwise or couldn’t handle the dark elements. However, he doesn’t go nearly so overboard here, and a surprising amount of the original’s charm is allowed to remain. A nice touch is the way that the theme song [once heard, never forgotten, you may know it even if you’ve never watched the series] is incorporated into the score a few times before getting a proper new vocal version as the end credits role. This could have been a hell of a lot worse and this fan will have no hesitation in adding it to his collection.