Marmaduke Review

The miracle of CGI has created a monster, an unwelcome tidal wave of talking-animal comedies. Now, with the novelty of watching lips move on animals wearing dangerously thin, Owen Wilson lends his likeable voice to a Great Dane called Marmaduke. In a film based on the inexplicably long running and rarely amusing newspaper cartoon.

It’s a real challenge to stretch a one joke comic strip into a feature length story. So the film predictably relies on all the familiar elements of a standard family comedy. A success-hungry father drags his reluctant family and troublesome pet dog to a new life in California, where his demanding boss keeps him too busy to notice his unhappy children. Meanwhile, our canine hero has to deal with doggy social cliques, love interests and a pedigree bully in a new park.

The most magical films are those which have the power to enchant children and adults in equal measure. Unfortunately, Marmaduke panders aimlessly to both audiences and rarely satisfies either. A few misplaced pop culture references won’t keep mum and dad interested and young kids will likely grow grouchy at the surprising lack of silliness. It’s impossible to avoid unflattering comparisons with the wealth of wonders that Disney and Pixar have gifted to the world.

The most confusing thing about Marmaduke is that the film seems frequently targeted at teenagers, the one demographic guaranteed to avoid watching it at all costs. Marmaduke’s journey of self-discovery, as he loses sight of his real friends in an effort to fit in with the popular dogs, is borrowed heavily from classic teen movie Mean Girls. Different doggy breeds are an easy analogy for high school social clichés but it’s not that relevant to an audience of toddlers and grownups.

It’s surprising how much vocal talent has been lured into this film. Kiefer Sutherland, Emma Stone, Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Sam Elliot all do their very best with mostly recycled material. But even Owen Wilson’s resilient charms can’t disguise a lack of genuine wit in Marmaduke’s constant narration. The film’s real problem is that the essence of almost every joke is the same. It’s all supposed to be funny because the characters act like people but really they’re dogs.

Twenty years ago a genuine talking dog would have been a must see attraction, but sadly they don’t impress anyone in a world where meerkats sell us insurance on TV. Pigs, Gerbils, Chipmunks and Chihuahuas… they’ve all talked and shamefully we’ve listened. But it’s not enough anymore, unless they have something new to say and Marmaduke doesn’t.

If you’re looking for a film that allows you to combine your mutual love of dogs and Owen Wilson you’re better off sticking with your Marley and Me DVD.


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