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Magic Roundabout, The
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by Trevor Gensch

"It's a kids movie for goodness sake. Just enjoy it."
5 stars

I had a great time reading all the UK reviewers frothing at the mouth in their utter loathing for this film, but it ain't that bad...

The Magic Roundabout is the big screen version of the beloved 50s/60s stop motion TV series for children of the same name. It seems that if you were a kid in the UK at the time you have fond memories of this show.

Now I am over the other side of the world in Australia, and my memories of this series are pretty sketchy. It had a roundabout, a big shaggy dog and was quite whimsical. But from then on I get a bit hazy and it all starts to blur with other series like The Wombles.

So I approached this film with an entirely open mind - knowing that of course it would be different to the series it is based on but still a lot of fun.

Not according though to the reviews I have read. It seems that they were all kids back in the 50s and 60s so regard any reimagining of their fondly held childhood experiences to be something akin to heresy. Words like "fiasco", "over-done" and "featureless" and phrases like "spectacularly tiresome" and "bland as cellophane" abound in these peoples dark mutterings.

I think by now you have realised that this is not the impression I got when watching the film for the first time. I was with my two young children, 4 and 6 years old, who hadn't seen the original tv series at all.

The genius that makes the whole film work is the combination of child-like wonder, cartoony menacing villains and celebrity voice casting.

There is a lot to love about this film, it is filled with a colourful array of characters that are brought to life by some inspired voices from some familiar names, and some unfamiliar.

We have Bill Nighy playing a perpetually stoned rabbit, Joanna Lumley as an opera-singing cow, and Jim Broadbent as a love-struck snail. Adding their assistance to this already stellar line-up are some relative newcomers to the film and animation world; Kylie Minogue as young Florence, and Robbie Williams as our intrepid sugar-loving Dougall.

Much of the criticism levelled at this film seems to be its wild deviation from the tv series in terms of plot and feel. Granted, the whole thing is just a chase film with some flimsy excuses for set pieces thrown in, but what matters is that The Magic Roundabout still has its heart in the right place. Layered in behind this modern interpretation is something warm and inviting that even for somebody like myself, relatively unfamiliar with the television version, can still resonate meaning.

Any film adaptation of material like this is always going to be derided for deviating too far from its source; but making a 90 minute film about a dog that loses a hat would not make for the most enthralling cinema experience.

For any perceived shortcomings the film may have it more than makes up for in some exciting new characters. This is nowhere better shown than by the addition of the evil Zeebad (voiced by a gleeful Tom Baker, having more fun with this role than should be allowed), brother of Magic Roundabout inhabit Debadee. He wants to turn the entire world into a cold, desolate wasteland, more suited to his chilly demeanour. Baker plays Zeebad as a totally insane, over the top villain that delights children and keeps the adults amused too (describing the different ways he will serve up our heroes on his dinner plate are a delight to watch).

The asides by the main characters too are designed to keep otherwise fidgety adults happy while their kids enjoy the colourful visuals and other such distractions.

By expanding the limits of the format, The Magic Roundabout can also expand its horizons and deliver a solid, 90 minute film.

When it comes right down to it, The Magic Roundabout is a lot of fun. Dazzling animation, smart direction and choice of shots and vibrant voice acting by an eclectic range of stars. Forget about nostalgia, forget about your often inaccurate childhood fondness. Just enjoy the darn thing.

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originally posted: 08/16/05 14:56:14
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