The Guardian. ‘I bought two dog encyclopedias’: how we made Dogtanian and the Three Muskehounds

‘When I give my name to make a restaurant reservation, everyone starts singing the Dogtanian theme song at me. The same happens in Portugal, in France, in Italy. It’s unbelievable’

Claudio Biern Boyd, creator and producer

I grew up in Spain, with no TV in my house. For Christmas and birthdays, my family would give me action adventure books by classic authors such as Emilio Salgari, Jules Verne and Alexandre Dumas. When I was 16, I fell in love with the film Around the World in 80 Days with David Niven and Shirley MacLaine. I was fascinated how they had brought the book to life within the constraints of the film.

In 1972 I co-founded my own company – BRB International – initially to distribute cartoons such as Pink Panther, Maya the Bee, Pippi Longstocking and Vicky the Viking in Spain, but soon we decided to make our own cartoons and teamed up with an established Japanese animation studio – Nippon Animation. I went back to the books I had loved as a child, and thought about how to turn them into cartoons.

Years later, the BBC did a live-action series called The Musketeers, which is supposed to be based on the original books but includes a lot of the plot from Dogtanian

Toni Garcia

Our first project was Ruy, the Little Cid – based on the 11th-century Spanish hero. It was very successful, so I turned to Dumas’ Three Musketeers for my next inspiration. There was a lot of sword-fighting in the original story that we needed to soften for children, so we decided it would be more fun to use animals as the characters. I was living at the time with an American cocker spaniel called Sam, who was always wagging his tail. I thought: what could be better than a dog? So D’Artagnan, the fourth musteketeer, became Dogtanian. I bought two dog encyclopedias, placed them next to the Dumas book, and wrote the script. The main characters all became dogs, such as Dogtanian’s girlfriend Juliette, and the “Muskehounds” Arthos, Aramis and Porthos, and King Louis XIII, who was based on my dog Sam. The prime minister Cardinal Richelieu became an old fox, and we added some characters such as D’Artagnan’s sidekick Pip – a mouse. Milady, the devious spy, was a cat. I’ve never been fond of cats.

Although the animation studio was based in Japan, Dogtanian was animated in English – as cartoons usually are, because the English language has the shortest movement of the lips. The first voices to be added were in Japanese in 1981, then Spanish in 1982, and finally into American English in 1985. There is a huge colony of Americans in Madrid because of Torrejón airbase, so we were able to cast American actors without having to look abroad.

The series was a huge success around the world and especially on the BBC, who immediately bought the rights to our next cartoon, Around the World With Willy Fog.

One of the things everyone remembers is the theme song: One for All and All for One. It was written by Guido and Maurizio De Angelis, two well-known Italian musicians who had written many TV and film scores. I flew to Rome to persuade them to work with me and it was the start of a great relationship – I am godfather to one of their children – and they went on to write for me for other projects.

As a producer of cartoons, nobody knows my face, unlike if I was a big Hollywood producer. But when I give my name to make a restaurant reservation, or buy an airline ticket, or even when I was talking to the distributors in England for the new animated Dogtanian film – everyone starts singing the Dogtanian theme song at me. The same happens in Portugal, in France, in Italy. It’s unbelievable.

The Guardian. Dogtanian and the Three Muskehounds review – delightfully retro canine capers

Alexandre Dumas’ bitingly good novel enjoys yet another walk around the block in this marvellously muttish animation

This animated feature, executed mainly with 3D CGI rendering, offers a new, feature-length version of the novel The Three Musketeers but, as the title suggests, with dogs playing the leads. Yet the film is only partly based on the narrative DNA of Alexandre Dumas’ original book. The rest derives from the vintage 80s cartoon series Dogtanian, created by a Spanish production company, which told pretty much the same story but with shonkier, though immensely charming, traditional cel animation.

That series was so endearing partly because the characters were pleasingly expressive in design terms, and largely faithful to the book’s iconic original characters. The Snoopy-like Dogtanian (voiced here by Tomás Ayuso), for example, a character design that persists from the series through to this film, is the talking beagle character at the story’s heart, and is recognisably similar in personality to the ingenuous, chivalrous hero in Dumas’ book. And the dog-breed characteristics of the three other Muskehounds map satisfyingly on to the original characters: effete, couplet-rapping Aramis is depicted as a foppish spaniel. Dogtanian’s love interest, Juliette (Karina Piper) is a lithe, golden coloured Afghan, the king a King Charles spaniel, and so on.

This breed/species stereotyping extends throughout the Dogtanian universe with supporting villain Milady being incarnated as a slinky Siamese cat, transformed here into an ace sword fighter in a slinky cat’s catsuit, as it were, just to make her a little more empowered than the simpering, begowned schemer of the 1980s version. And here, Dogtanian’s duplicitous rodent sidekick, Pip, however, is somehow more grating and repellent, maybe because of the voice casting or the fact that he anachronistically moonwalks when excited. As with so much anthropomorphic animation, nothing explains why some species can walk upright, talk and rule the world while others, particularly horses, are still roughly the same as our real-world horses. The designs for the backgrounds in the current film perhaps lack some of the finesse of the character work, but are serviceable. All in all, there’s something delightfully retro about the whole package, particularly as it sticks doggedly, in every sense, to the raw fundamentals of Dumas’ story.