In Marley & Me Owen Wilson played the owner of a Labrador he referred to as “The world’s worst dog.” Now in Marmaduke Wilson provides the voice of a Great Dane that makes Marley look like Lassie herself. The original “Marmaduke” comic strip was only one panel long and typically merited no more than a smile. It’s hard to imagine that a producer read a “Marmaduke” comic strip and said, “This would be great source material for a motion picture.” I suppose Marmaduke is just further evidence that Hollywood will literally attempt to stretch anything into a feature.
I can’t quite remember the last great live-action movie centered on talking animals. It probably goes as far back as the early ’90s with films like Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey and Babe. Everything since then, from Good Boy! to Beverly Hills Chihuahua, has been down right horrendous. Unfortunately Marmaduke is no exception. The problem with all of these movies is that filmmakers no longer think giving animals the ability to talk is enough. They need to sing, dance, surf, constantly knock things over and make terrible puns to hold children’s attention. Movie studios should take a note that when it comes to talking animals sometimes less is more.
Lee Pace demonstrated terrific appeal as an actor on the show Pushing Daisies. In Marmaduke though, Pace is given the thankless role of Phil Winslow. When Phil gets a job offer at a dog food company in Orange County, he decides to pack up his wife, played by Judy Greer, his three children, and his trouble-making dog Marmaduke. There’s also the families pet cat, Carlos, voiced by George Lopez. Why is it that all of these movies require at least one talking animal with a Hispanic accent?
When Marmaduke arrives in the O.C. he falls into a pack of mutts lead by a dog named Mazie, voiced by Emma Stone. Marmaduke has the hots for a foxy Collie named Jezebel, voiced by Fergie. But she’s going out with Bosco, the toughest dog on the playground, voiced by Kiefer Sutherland. That’s right, Jack Bauer himself as a bullying dog. It’d be funny if the entire experience of Marmaduke weren’t so depressing.
There are virtually no laughs in this movie. Much of the attempted humor is derived from the well-intentioned Marmaduke accidentally making life hell for the long-suffering Phil. There are at least 15 instances in this movie in which the Winslow family whines “Marmaduke” in a disappointed tone. But when Marmaduke runs away and Phil must decide between finding him or giving an important sales pitch, which do you think he’s going to choose? There’s also a subplot about the overworked Phil not being able to find family time because we haven’t seen that in a million other movies before.
Parents, I understand that between this and Shrek Forever After, there’s not much in theaters right now to hold your kids over until Toy Story 3. Perhaps some children will say they like Marmaduke because it’s colorful, loud and has no nutritional value. But given all the quality family movies available at your local video store, such as The Princess and the Frog, Where the Wild Things Are and Fantastic Mr. Fox, Marmaduke is certainly not worth your hard-earned money. Especially after Dug the Dog made his triumphant debut in Up last year, Marmaduke isn’t a very compelling protagonist.
Nick Spake is a college student at Arizona State University. He has been working as a film critic for the past five years, reviewing movies on his website, http://www.freewebs.com/radman_ns. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.