If you can get past the freakishly CGI’d mouths on Marmaduke‘s otherwise real cats and dogs, you’ll find some snappy dialogue and a sweet story about accepting others for who they are. But it’s really hard to get past those scary CGI’d mouths.
It’s been stated many times on this site that both Locke and I consider ourselves to be huge dog-lovers. So I’m probably going to be one of the few critics out there to not totally slam Marmaduke, simply because any movie featuring a ton of cuddly canines is going to be hard for me to hate. The star of this one, of course, is a gigantic Great Dane ripped from the funny pages — specifically Brad Anderson’s long-running comic strip of the same name. Which, regrettably, I never found to be humorous in the slightest. Week after week since 1954, the comic was always about the clumsy Marmaduke knocking stuff over or “taking his owner for a walk,” and, well, there’s only so many times you can laugh at those same high jinks.
That’s probably why the film adaptation took a slightly different route. Oh, to be sure, there’s an endless number of scenes where the Duke destroys everything in his path, but the main thrust of the plot is that the Winslow family (Lee Pace and Judy Greer play the Mr. and Mrs.) moves from Kansas to Orange County, California, and Marmaduke (Owen Wilson) decides to seize this opportunity to be on his best behavior, make new friends, and finally try to fit in for once.
Mr. Winslow’s new job in The O.C. involves creating marketing campaigns for an organic pet food line, and his boss is the hard-driving Don Twombly, played by William H. Macy. Twombly insists on having meetings at the dog park, which is where Marmaduke comes to learn how Cali dogs roll. He’s immediately shut out from the various cliques, and finds himself hanging with the mutts and their unofficial leader, Mazie (Emma Stone). Yet Marmaduke isn’t satisfied with his new friends and desperately longs to be accepted among The Pedigrees, headed by the evil Bosco (Kiefer Sutherland) and his girlfriend Jezebel (Fergie). So he goes out of his way to try and impress them — even wrangling the Winslow family cat into a fake fight in order to come off like a hero. And for a time, the Great Dane’s plan works… but at what cost?
Marmaduke‘s overall story is fine — this is a kid’s film, after all, and I’ve got no problem with the “can’t we all just get along?” moral. I was also happy with the fact that a lot of the doggy dialogue was pretty biting (pun intended) — even sarcastic at times. What I wish director Tom Dey (Failure to Launch) had decided against, however, is the aforementioned CGI. Everything else in the movie is live-action, but then he just had to slap fake jaws on all of animals so that we could see them talking. This route actually worked surprisingly well in Beverly Hills Chihuahua, but it failed miserably in Marmaduke. The mouths were just too distracting because they didn’t fit the words the characters were saying — it would’ve been significantly better had Dey left his furry stars alone and just let the audience hear what was on their minds without all of the not-so-special effects.
Speaking of special effects… the end of the film contains one of the most horrifying computer-animated sequences in recent memory. All I’ll give you is these two words: dancing dogs. The audience had to cringe through that monstrosity, and then the movie literally comes to a close with a huge dog fart. Unfortunately, I’m not joking.
So, while there are some things that made Marmaduke intermittently enjoyable, overall it was a pretty weak addition to canine-centric cinema. I’d only go see it if you’ve got young kids who are in dire need of some harmless, forgettable entertainment.
- Marmaduke is now available at redbox! Reserve a copy on DVD or Blu-ray.
- Need more Lee Pace? He’s also in When in Rome!
- What about more Judy Greer? She can be found in Love Happens with Jennifer Aniston and Aaron Eckhart.
- Wait, there’s more! Don’t miss George Lopez in the star-studded Valentine’s Day.