ANIMATION WORLD MAGAZINE - ISSUE 4.1 - April 1999
Doug's 1st Movie: Wholesome Fare Finds the Big Screen
film review by Bill Mikulak
All images © Jumbo Pictures, Inc.
All Rights Reserved.
Fans of the television show Disney's Doug need not fear that the big screen has corrupted Doug Funnie or his friends. The entire town of Bluffington has made the transition unscathed, as have many familiar themes from the series.
A Successful Transition
The reason is straightforward enough: directed by Maurice Joyce, Doug's 1st Movie was originally slated to be released directly to video, only getting the nod for theatrical distribution early this year. Its Jumbo Pictures production team is made up of veterans from the television show, all of whom know their characters intimately.
Thus, the movie provides the same successful blend of prosocial lessons and genial entertainment that the show has offered since its debut in 1991 on Nickelodeon. There with Ren & Stimpy and The Rugrats, it formed Nickelodeon's first block of original animation programming. While Ren & Stimpy grabbed headlines for controversy and Rugrats built ratings that eventually beat the network's kidvid shows, Doug labored quietly to develop its following.
It is only fitting that the success of The Rugrats Movie should have encouraged Disney to send Doug's 1st Movie up to the big leagues, since it was Disney's coup to buy Doug after Nickelodeon decided not to order new episodes of the show in 1994. Disney quickly turned Doug into the cornerstone of its successful "One Saturday Morning" kids block, which took a page from Nickelodeon's playbook by creating a destination for kids to seek out.
That destination owes a good part of its drawing power to the comfortable presence of Doug Funnie (Thomas McHugh), his pal Skeeter Valentine (Fred Newman), Doug's love interest Patti Mayonnaise (Connie Shulman), and the rest of Bluffington's denizens. Series creator Jim Jinkins may have fashioned Doug from his own childhood memories, but it is not hard to detect the influence of a certain bald-headed kid who sprang from the pen of Charles Schultz. Doug's dog Porkchop (Fred Newman) parallels the semi-anthropomorphic Snoopy as well.
Adding to Doug's lovelorn frustration is slick upperclassman Guy Graham, who wants Patti all to himself.
Whereas Charlie Brown is locked into his status as the lovable loser, Doug's role as the typical adolescent allows him much more flexibility to fail without being a failure. Instead, he is marked by a measure of introspection that draws insight from his awkward adolescent blunders. Given the longevity of the series, it's no wonder that sometimes Doug seems to relearn the same lesson over and over again.
Enter the Big Time
That is where Doug's 1st Movie comes in. After the series introduced the legend of a monster in Lucky Duck Lake, the film promises to solve the mystery and identify the monster once and for all. In addition, ads for the film hold out the tantalizing possibility that Doug will finally confess his feelings to Patti, after a string of comical mishaps have kept him from doing so in the past. Indeed, the marketing campaign seems uncannily similar to that of the X-Files movie!
Doug's 1st Movie may also face the same hurdle: how to broaden its base while satisfying existing fans. Have no fear, the movie recaps all the key character relations economically in its opening minutes (and does so more clearly than Chris Carter could ever spell out his mythology). For the kids, Doug's 1st Movie provides a bigger adventure and a tougher moral dilemma than Doug usually faces in the show. Just as The Rugrats Movie found inspiration in the "Indiana Jones" series, Doug's 1st Movie takes E.T. as its cultural touchstone. As a toddler sitting near me happily exclaimed when the monster of Lucky Duck Lake was revealed, "He's a nice monster!"
Doug Funnie (left) and his pal Skeeter discover that the monster of Lucky Duck Lake actually exists.
In fact, the real monster of the piece is the well-known villain of the series, Bill Bluff. He's the richest man in town, and his Bluffco factory has turned Lucky Duck Lake into a Superfund site that spawned the creature. For Doug to protect the monster, he must let Patti think him a liar, and just when she's being wooed by an unscrupulous upperclassman!
Bits and Bobs
To fill out its feature length, the movie is somewhat overstuffed with bit parts from all of the town's regulars, and several of the television show's conceits appear, such as characters' daydreams and Doug's alter ego, Quail Man.
Bones thrown to grown-ups include references to Marv Newland's Bambi Meets Godzilla, Guy Flatley's Lord of the Dance and others. Those seeking class consciousness will find in Bill Bluff a rapacious capitalist who does Montgomery Burns proud. And comments on journalistic ethics are tossed in for good measure.
On the whole, Doug's 1st Movie puts Doug through some serious ethical wringers in the guise of an entertaining, romantic, suspenseful yarn for the preteen set. Can he do the right thing and still get the girl? Get in line to find out.
Bill Mikulak got a Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania for his dissertation, "How Cartoons Became Art," then left academia for L.A.
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