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Dogtanian And The Three Muskehounds (2021)

There's a long list of American kids cartoons of the 80s that have been revived and rebooted for a new generation. DuckTales, She Ra, Masters Of The Universe, Thundercats... the list goes on. But it's not just the US that can play that game. Dogtanian And The Three Muskehounds is a feature-length adaptation of the beloved 1981 Japanese/Spanish co-production of the same name. The original series- and therefore this movie- was itself based on the classic novel The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas. The series was popular around the world, but particularly so in the UK, where it screened multiple times on both the BBC and ITV.

The film is the feature debut of Toni Garcia and was adapted for the big screen by veteran animation writer Doug Langdale. The film was produced by Spain's Apolo Films and Indian/Singapore-based Cosmos-Maya. Unlike the original series, there is no Japanese involvement in the film. The film was released in cinemas in the UK via Altitude Films in the June of 2021, with the Spanish release following on August 18.

The story is set in pre-revolutionary France and follows Dogtanian, whose father was thrown out of the King's Muskehounds years previously. He sets off to Paris with a dream of following in his father's footsteps and joining the Muskehounds- and clearing his Dad's name along the way. Joining the elite band proves to be much tougher than he expected. Soon enough he finds himself entangled in a plot by the dastardly Cardinal Richelieu and Milady De Winter to start all-out War between France and England.

Unlike many of the previously mentioned reboots, Dogtanian and The Three Muskehounds isn't interested in changing too much. Despite the shift from hand-drawn animation to 3D CG, and swapping a TV series for a movie, this is instantly recognisable to any fan of the original. The character designs are faithful to the original- with Dogtanian himself, The Cardinal and love-interest Juliette particularly effective. 

However, despite these strong character designs, the quality of the animation is not exactly about to win any prizes. Transposing the original style into 3D gives the CG a flat, cartoonish feel. The textures just look flat and rubbery, so it never feels like they ever have a sense of reality. Rendering extremely cartoony 2D into CG definitely has been proven possible- look at the recent Asterix movies or Lupin III The First  for examples of it working beautifully.

In contrast, the visuals here look decidedly cheap. This obviously isn't a massively budgeted production, so it may seem harsh to criticise it on a technical level. It's reportedly budgeted at around $10 million, so it would be unfair to expect it to compete with a Disney or Pixar level production. However, that's not exactly a micro-budget either, and we have also seen other works of animation achieve a lot more with a lot less- so such allowances only go so far.

Outside of the characters though, the sets and backgrounds are decent, complete with instantly recognisable landmarks such as Nore Dame Cathedral. 17th Century Paris is recreated in convincing detail, bringing the world of the stories to life.

Much was made of the fact that the production had enlisted the help of the Association of Musketeers of Navarre to ensure that the sword fights were accurately represented. Despite some ambitious swashbuckling set pieces with some elaborate camera work, unfortunately, the limits of the animation mean that the action sequences fail to impress.

A couple of times in the film it switches style to a 2D-effect for flashbacks and dream sequences. They utilise the cel-shaded technique to present something much truer to the original version. The problem is, it looks much better than the rest of the film, and it had the undesirable effect of making me wish the whole film had been made in that style. It would have been a lot more interesting than we got, anyway.

The movie, just as with the original series has a strong narrative backbone to work with, in the form of the original Dumas story. Although starring cartoon dogs, the first series was known for actually being surprisingly faithful to the novel. The plot of the film is similarly based on the original story, albeit with some of the more mature elements taken out such as deaths, adultery and a not exactly fairy tale ending.

By nature of being a film rather than a 26 episode series, Langdale's adaptation features a compressed version of the story. It also takes some liberties with the direction of the plot, and the ending (which seems to feature several climactic sequences in quick succession) is particularly changed.

It makes a token effort to improve the agency of its female characters, but Julliete remains a particularly thankless role. It does however make Milady more central, and she essentially takes the role of the main antagonist, with the Cardinal more of a scheming figure in the background.

The film sensibly keeps the original's iconic theme song, although (aside from instrumental versions) you'll have to wait until the end credits to hear it. The makers are obviously aware of its importance to those who grew up on it, as the song is presented in sing-a-long form, complete with lyrics on screen. It's also then immediately followed up by a surprise fourth-wall-breaking moment ("See, I told you they remember my song"). 

The strange thing about this is it suggests the filmmakers were hoping to reach fans of the 80s version (who may be accompanying kids of their own). However, that's the only real attempt at cross-generational appeal, as the script otherwise plays extremely young-skewing. There are no hidden gags for the adults or crossover humour. Langdale's background in kid's TV is all too obvious in the dialogue- elements like one of the Musketeers speaking in rhyme make it feel even more so. 

The English dub doesn't help matters much either, with extremely workman-like performances across the board. It certainly doesn't compete with the memorable original, which featured legendary voice talent such as Cam Clarke, Mike Reynolds and Richard Epcar. We should probably just be relieved nobody attempted a French accent,

Dogtanian And The Three Muskehounds is not exactly a full-on disaster and is impressively faithful to the original in a lot of ways. While it will prove a diverting enough ninety-odd minutes for young audiences, it doesn't really have much that will appeal to adult audiences- especially those who have no connection to the original series.



IN A NUTSHELL:   Nostalgia might just about carry this for 80s kids, but the modern Dogtanian lacks the je ne sais quoi that made the original so fondly remembered.




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