Is it right to fancy a cartoon dog? That is something I have to ask myself every time I think about Dogtanian And The Three Muskehounds and it’s a disturbing, plainly wrong thought process. And yet, the cartoon threw up two visions of loveliness for me and even as a boy of very young years, I knew that both sweet Juliette and the frankly downright sexy Milady were a cut above your typical cartoon image.
They were also very strong women, Milady in particular using her feline wiles stirring the hearts of men around her to have her wicked way with them, all the while demonstrating a bloody-mindedness and sense of purpose that younger viewers could look up to, in a strange way.
Juliette, on the other hand, was a bit wet, that’s for sure, but was also a powerful presence in her own right. More than just the love interest for Dogtanian, here was the Queen of Austria’s intelligent, thoughtful, and strong maid. In many ways, Juliette resembled my ideal woman while Milady was the forbidden fruit – the Angelina Jolie to Juliette’s Gwyneth Paltrow, if you like. And I haven’t even mentioned my feelings for Queen Anne of France herself…
But enough with all this feline salivating, what of the show itself?
Made with a little help from the same Japanese animation studio that it would also partner with to create the mighty Around The World With Willy Fog – the similarities in art design are obvious – it was created by Spanish animation studio BRB animation.Dogtanian was one of several geek cartoons that replaced gung-ho fanaticism with a healthy dose of realism, drawing its inspiration from France’s historical past, and structured around the period of Louis XIII and his fighting company of Musketeers.
Of course, the Musketeers were dramatised in fictional form by Alexandre Dumas in his novel, The Three Musketeers and it’s that novel that the cartoon is adapted from.
Here, dogs take the place of humans, so d’Artagnan becomes Dogtanian, although all the other key characters retain their original names – Porthos, Athos, Aramis, Milady de Winter, and, or course, bad guy Cardinal Richelieu.
The animation reflected the personalities of each character perfectly. So, Juliette had long, floppy hair, big eyes and a long nose to demonstrate she’s a sweet, homespun girl. Portly Athos was the big drinker of the Musketeers, and the strongest by far (not a great advert for sobriety here), while Porthos was the leader of the three and therefore represented as an intelligent, calm dog (forgive me, but I don’t know what breed he was). Poetic Aramis, on the other hand, was a tall, shaggy haired dandy and the one you thought was most likely to get a good kicking in a fight, although he was pretty handy as it turned out.
As for Richelieu and Count Rochefort, his right-hand man, these were beady-eyed, pointy-nosed canines with wispy moustaches – yup, we’re talking the Spanish Inquisition guys from Monty Python, and brilliant they were too.
Dogtanian himself was a little like an elongated Snoopy, and a bit whiny with it too. I distinctly remember watching the cartoon in the early 80s and wanting to switch over at times when he was on screen, only to be brought back to the fold when the Muskehounds came back on screen.
Running for just one series – although a 90s sequel, The Return of Dogtanian would try to continue the spirit of our noble pup – the plot followed Dogtanian’s training with a blade, his initial encounters and subsequent acceptance by the Muskehounds, the ongoing affair between Queen Anne and the Duke of Buckingham, plus the Muskehounds’ constant efforts to thwart Richelieu’s hordes.
There was a lot of ground to cover here, but each episode managed to move the series on at quite a pace and, like Around The World should be praised for its ability to keep younger audiences interested over the course of an entire series. Unlike M.A.S.K or Pole Position, this didn’t shy away from continuing plots and stories over the course of its run.
It had low points. The Jungle Adventure, which saw Dogtanian and his faithful, and forgettable, sidekick Pip stranded on an island, was too much of a departure from the show’s core, and it proved an unwise decision to take the characters out of their home environment.
When it was at its best, though, Dogtanian was a truly brilliant show, with a finale worthy of any children’s series. Dogtanian gets the girl, wins the respect of Rochefort, and becomes a Muskehound, at last. And when he and Juliette receive an escort from the entire Muskehound corp, it really does raise the hairs on the back of your neck.
Dogtanian And The Three Muskehounds always had a shot of being a success with such rich source material. With animation standing up to the strong plot, it’s one of the 80s’ very best. What a theme tune, too.