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Doug's 1st Movie

Review by Elias Savada
Posted 26 March 1999

  Directed by Maurice Joyce.

Starring the Voices of Thomas McHugh,
Fred Newman, Chris Phillips, Constance Shulman,
Frank Welker, Doug Preis, Guy Hadley, and Alice Playten.

Screenplay by Ken Scarborough,
based on characters created by Jim Jinkins.

Good grief. Is another Rugrats movie upon us? Just as that earlier film has recently passed the $100,000,000 domestic box office total, Disney hopes that some of the young crowd that supported Paramount’s release will mosey on over to this new animated creation. Regretfully, this reviewer still hasn’t caught up with The Rugrats Movie, and only a last minute "why not" prodded me along to Doug’s 1st Movie, a barebones expansion of the Nickelodeon then ABC Saturday morning television series developed by the creative team of Jim Jinkins and David Campbell. The genteel near-teenage world of Bluffington is innocuous enough, populated with colored and colorful characters but hardly the stuff from which Disney thinks a big screen franchise will sprout. When you’re aiming for the tyke market, this 73-minute feature is more than able to keep the kids from squirming in their seats. The few adults along with them will find some oddly refreshing self-referential moments at hand -- good for a slight chuckle -- along with shameless references to Creature From the Black Lagoon, Robocop, and numerous other films. If your kid-less, or your little monsters are now out of grade school, I’d suggest you pass on this padded hour before you cry yuck.

For the parents among us, at least those in the Disney demographic model marketed here, Doug Funnie (Thomas McHugh), seemingly modeled after Dick Tracy -- with nine hairs standing from his flat top -- and his pal Skeeter (Fred Newman) are budding adolescents battling the green-skinned, red-haired bully Roger Klotz (Chris Phillips) on one hand and a sweet-natured legendary creature, later christened Herman Melville (Frank Welker) from a nearby polluted lake. At school, Doug has his eye on Patti Mayonnaise (Connie Shulman), but she’s being diverted by Guy Graham (Guy Hadley), a blue-haired, purple-faced egotistical upper-classman. The stories all converge satisfactorily at the annual Valentine Day’s dance. It ain’t much, and screenwriter Ken Scarborough keeps the pre-pimple tension believable within the confines of Doug’s world.

Amusing cinematic devices, mostly intended for adults, include daydreams in faded color (with dirt-speckled scratches, army motif and ‘40s music) and black-and-white (strongly evoking the same punch line used in the hilarious short subject Bambi Meets Godzilla); mini-previews a la Saturday serials of yesteryear; and an extended testimonial to a wigged-out, dressed-up E.T. There’s also an occasional visual gag, including one dealing with a naval vessel’s steering wheel prop in a land-locked house that tilts the room when someone accidentally turns the wheel. And, yes, there is some baby toilet humor. But no one gets killed or pummeled, a major moral plus in any movie these days.

Director Maurice Joyce tackles his feature debut after a ten year apprenticeship on such projects as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Beavis and Butthead Do America., and King of the Hill. It has been reported that when Joyce grows up he wants to become a fireman. And if that doesn’t work out, he can always come back to Hollywood.

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