In fact, despite having a totally different animation style and story, the film Dougal And The Blue Cat most recalls is René Laloux's La planète sauvage (Fantastic Planet, 1973), in its surreal, almost trippy oddness and focus on the colour blue. Both films also share an incredibly relaxed pace and attention to landscape - Ygam, the land of the Draags, is in many ways the primary character of La planète sauvage, and its rituals and culture are the most interesting aspect of the film. The same thing can be said for the sense of community created in Danot's brightly quaint stop motion universe, which almost appears to be on another world itself. The most interesting thing about the film is Thompson's ability to ground this unspecified and fantastical location (pink trees, talking animals and a spring-footed magician named Zebedee) in a Englishness perfectly encapsulated by Dougal's declaration of "writing to The Times" every time a problem should arise. Even when Dougal and Buxton (the evil blue cat of the title) take a 2001 (Stanley Kubrick, 1968) homaging trip to a yellow moon, it retains an Englishness that few films from the period can claim to match. "Hmm, what a place. Worse than Barnsley". Every joke is perfectly written and performed, and Thompson's understanding of his audience is remarkable.
What's really to be celebrated about Dougal And The Blue Cat though, is exactly how odd it is. One scene sees Buxton inducting himself into the blue cause by way of a test... he must correctly identify the shade of blue on a door in order to enter and progress to the next stage. There are seven doors and behind each he finds a different manufacturing process that will turn the whole world blue - but one room holds a greater surprise (3:08 in this clip). The masks hark back to German Expressionism/Weimar Film, in particular the Moloch that appears as a vision in Fritz Lang's Metropolis (1927). Dougal's nightmare has a creepy, Lynchian feel to it... the looming factory projecting light into the dark blue cavern, with an eerie voiceover by Fenella Fielding ("I am blue. I am beautiful"), feels like a deleted scene from Mulholland Drive (2001). Brian, Ermintrude, Dylan and co. are kidnapped by an army of blue men, thin as sticks and with strands of cloth for hair - which they can extend in order to trap their victims. Mustached and with a permanent smile, these little troopers are given a strange menace by their silence, efficiency and sheer number. Even the scene where Dougal is tortured by sugar cubes feels surreal, as he delivers a Shakespearian soliloquy on the moral dilemma of consuming the sweet snacks.
The fact that this beautiful animation has been forgotten for so long is a crime, and the fact that it only now reaches DVD feels strange, considering that the audience for it has all but passed. Had it appeared in 2005 along with the CG reboot it would have at least felt like a tie-in, but most kids now aren't interested - and its questionable how many adults would even remember the film. So it remains a cult curio - dedicated to the archives of cinephiles. It's criminally underrated and honestly one of the best animated films I've ever seen. Check it out while you can.
DVD Extras: The original and distinctly different French version, 'Thompson And The Magic Roundabout' feature, Mark Kermode interview and stills gallery.