A veritable Everykid, you imagine he's what an adolescent Henry Fonda might look like if he were a cartoon character. The spirit of American youth, he picks up where Andy Hardy and Archie left off. A thoughtful moralist and hopeless romantic, Doug entertainingly proves that responsible behaviour and the joys of childhood aren't mutually exclusive entities. And just how the good-hearted pre-teen traverses that temptation-ridden tightrope holds the key to his charm. Hence, it makes you feel like an ogre not to give his first movie a real good review.
Problem is, screenwriter Ken Scarborough spreads creator Jim Jinkins' humorous young lad too thin in his first feature-length foray. Director Maurice Joyce, while creating a good-natured atmosphere for his kiddie hi-jinks, doesn't manage to duplicate the slight edge that distinguishes the tighter, half-hour show. And while it's nice to see the whole gang, not taking advantage of the extra fifty-seven minutes to expand on their quirky personalities is a mistake. Certainly the filmmakers must know that the charm of Doug, the series, is in its characterisations and not its story lines. Nonetheless, that's where the emphasis is placed.
The muckraking plot is sure to at least gain the approval, if not the laughter, of adult liberals and ecologists alike. Whether their children will laugh with any regularity at this primer for the social reformers of tomorrow is another matter. And while not exactly a junior rendition of The Usual Suspects, the various nuances of the heroic story expect a lot of their young viewers. When a lake that's been polluted by the villainous Bluffco Industries spits out a cute sea monster, Doug and his best friend, Skeeter, hatch plans to aggrandise themselves. With the Valentine's dance approaching, the title character figures his cachet as a monster discoverer will certainly win him a date with the apple of his pre-adolescent eye, the comely Patti Mayonnaise. Meanwhile, Doug and Skeeter become enamoured of the buck-toothed creature and name him Herman Melville after he starts chomping on a volume of Moby Dick.
About to announce his find, Doug learns that major league impediments stand in his way. Bluffington's richest citizen and the president of Bluffco, Bill Bluff, has received word of his and Skeeter's discovery. The industrial giant is determined to quash any news about pollution and kidnap the monster. Little children may find it funny when, to protect the friendly mutant's identity, the boys dress up Herman Melville like a girl (hey, it worked for Milton Berle) and successfully pass him off at school as an exchange student. Meanwhile, the corporate demagogue gears up like the perfunctory megalomaniac in a James Bond movie, private army and all. He'll stop at nothing, though he does have an Achilles heel in the form of his ever-demanding daughter, Beebe (the middle school is named after her).
Doug's 1st Movie sports more sub-text than many adult adventure yarns produced today. In one sidebar, Roger Klotz, the rich bully also racing to spoil Doug's plans, hires a brain trust of nerds, a la the Manhattan Project, to build a mechanical monster catcher. In another sub-plot, suave upperclassman and school newspaper bigwig, Guy Graham (secretly a toady for Boss Bluff), defames Doug while challenging him for Patti's affections. And of course, everything's heading for the big showdown -- the night of the much-vaunted Valentine's Dance.
While all this convolution may prove visually engaging on some level or another, the kind of bona fide witticisms necessary for solid amusement value are too few and far between. And without the laughs, all that's left is Doug the moralist. Thus it befalls the critic to give Doug's 1st Movie a less than sparkling evaluation. But then, straight-shooter Doug wouldn't have it any other way.