It was inevitable that Riverdance would be made into a movie. The stage show has been going strong for much of the 25 years since the night in 1994 when Michael Flatley and Jean Butler bounded on to the stage at the Point Theatre in Dublin to perform the Eurovision interval show dreamed up by John Colgan and Moya Doherty.
But how would that look on screen? Would it be like a concert film or a Mamma Mia! sort of thing, its cast tap-dancing around an idyllic Irish village? Would it go for Commitments-type urban decay or just say feck it and smother the whole thing in wild mountain thyme?
The producers have sidestepped the problem by going for an animated feature – and the good news is that the Irish accents are genuine. The characters are voiced by Brendan Gleeson, Pierce Brosnan, Aisling Bea, Pauline McLynn and John Kavanagh, among others (and, in a nod to Ireland's new diversity, room is made for non-Irish accents too). The bad news is that anyone from outside the country might be led to believe that we live in a Tidy Towns paradise and break into full-formation Riverdancing at the drop of a caipín.
Riverdance: The Animated Adventure “reinforces the deep connection of Riverdance to Irish culture both at home and across the globe” and introduces it “to a new, young audience, many of whom will be experiencing Riverdance for the first time”, says Doherty.
It certainly does that. The film is steeped in Secret of Kells-style symbology, with dolmens, passage tombs and Celtic swirls appearing (comfortably) alongside iPhones and Nike runners.
The story revolves around a young boy named Keegan, who lives in a perfect seaside village where Riverdance is the big dance craze. Everyone spends so much time Irish-dancing it’s a wonder any work gets done at all, at all.
Keegan’s grandad is the local lighthouse-keeper, and he tells Keegan that the beacon must be lit every night, or the dreaded Huntsman will use the cover of darkness to do his nefarious work. Keegan dismisses all this as oul’ codology, but he’s soon to learn the real power of Irish myths.
When grandad dies suddenly, Keegan is bereft. He doesn’t feel like dancing, and has lost interest in deejaying at the village’s St Patrick’s Day celebrations (which is referred to as Pathy’s Day – sounds like they’re fudging the transatlantic Paddy’s Day/Patty’s Day debate there).
Keegan's best friend, Moya, decides the only way to help him get over his grandad's death is to let the river carry them to a magical land where they meet a herd of Irish elk. (Their leader, Patrick, an impressive-looking fella with enormous antlers, is clearly the cartoon rendition of Flatley.) The elk are pretty nifty dancers themselves, and ace at hurling, too. In fact they charge at each other with such force it's almost as scary as watching Mayo play Galway.
But it's hard to be dazzled by the dancing when you know it's all choreographed on computer. The real star here is the score, by Bill Whelan, still undimmed after 25 years. (A new song, by the Cork singer Lyra, has been added). Sometimes the music doesn't quite gel with what's on screen, some of the "quirky" Irish humour falls flat, and overall you get the sense that you're watching an extended Fáilte Ireland ad.
But it does stand on its own 200 or so feet and reanimates the magic of Riverdance for a young audience. There’s even a message about facing your fears and staying connected with your roots, wherever you’re from. Just don’t tell anyone that we don’t actually spend the whole day dancing in the streets.
Riverdance: The Animated Adventure is available on Sky Cinema and Now TV from Friday, May 28th