Dougal the dog awakes one morning after a fitful sleep, and goes in search of his friend Zebedee. Once he finds him, Dougal tells a tale of his slumber being disturbed by mysterious goings on at the abandoned treacle factory on the hill, but he was too scared to investigate further. That same day, Florence and her friends are delighted to meet a blue cat called Buxton who has arrived in the Magic Garden, but jealous Dougal has his suspicions that Buxton may be connected to the events in the factory - and he's right.
Scripted by the director Serge Danot and Jacques Josselin, Dougal and the Blue Cat was the big screen version of the hit children's TV cartoon The Magic Roundabout. In Britain, this translated adaptation was written and narrated by Eric Thompson, and on TV had become something of a sensation there in the 1960s and 70s, because of Thompson's witty and eccentric way with the dialogue. To illustrate the cult following it had, there had been a public outcry when the BBC had changed the time of the broadcast to an earlier slot, and people arriving home from work were missing it. The programme was duly returned to its former place.
This feature length story was different however. The television series had been five minute episodes of warm-hearted, inconsequential, and often surreal fun, but the film has a darker, more serious tone. It begins in a familiar fashion, with Dougal taking the train to see Zebedee ("It would be quicker to walk," he observes dryly) and meeting various characters on the journey. However, from the eerie flashback to Dougal's excursion to the factory, the tone is more creepy. It's still recognisably The Magic Roundabout, with Dougal's Tony Hancock persona intact, but the disaster that befalls the Magic Garden is unsettling.
Buxton is being directed by the Blue Voice (Fenella Fielding) to take over the garden in return for limitless power; after running a gauntlet inside the factory he is crowned king and directs his troops to invade and turn the garden blue, with spiny cacti erupting from the ground, and Dougal's friends taken captive and chained up in a dungeon. Not what you'd expect from the TV series, and, believe it or not, there is an allegory about fascism in there, with Buxton and Madame Blue (who we never see, only hear) attacking everything that isn't blue.
Obviously stretching out a typical five minute episode wasn't going to work, but the storyline Danot went with is unusual. That's not to say it isn't overlong, Thompson sounds like he's padding a little during the more self-conscious cuteness, and the song "We're Blue" comes across as laboured ("We're Blue! We're Blue! We're Blue!"). While the animation is as charming as ever and all the characters - cheery Brian, prim Ermintrude, sleepy Dylan - are present, I'm not sure if we really want to see Florence in tears and Zebedee with his moustache stolen. Perhaps a little too slow for today's children, Dougal and the Blue Cat nevertheless still has appeal in its combination of sweetness and weirdness for the grown-ups who are feeling indulgent.
French animator, from advertising, best known for creating Le Manege Enchanté, which was translated into English in a unique fashion by Eric Thompson to become The Magic Roundabout. The series ran for ten years, and Danot directed a film based on it called Dougal and the Blue Cat.