Director Tom Dey (“Shanghai Noon”) and producer John Davis (80+ features, including all of the recent “Garfield” movies and “Dr. Doolittle” titles), have kept to a PG-rated comedy formula in “Marmaduke.” No re-imagining a new goth or punk version of the beloved cartoon strip Great Dane and his human family. Keep it straight, keep it simple, keep it somewhat funny. Okay, screenwriters Tim Rasmussen and Vince Di Meglio changed some of the components of the Winslow family (wife Dottie is now Debbie, son Billy became Brian, and there’s a daughter, Sarah, added to the mix), but all but the youngest remain at the mercy of their adopted behemoth of a pet. There is no reason to believe the movie won’t be moderately successful in generating enjoyment for those audience members below 13. Their parents, should they decide to just sit back and munch on that bucket of popcorn with their 2 or 3 kids who dragged them to the multiplex, might enjoy some of the foolish pratfalls, non-reality based situations (dogs surfing, dogs line-dancing) and the occasionally harmless flatulence that emanate from its titular star.
Owen Wilson has put on a few pounds in growing from owner (of another mischievous pooch) in 2008’s holiday hit “Marley & Me” into a 200-lb. blend of live-action/animated four-legged friend. His laid-back narration, amusing asides to the camera (i.e., us, the audience), and cockamamie scenes work fine without inducing too many heavy-handed groans. As the film begins, Marmaduke, cool and collected family cat and best friend Carlos (voiced by George “Beverly Hills Chihuahua” Lopez), and the Winslows are uprooting from Kansas to Orange County, California, so dad Phil (Lee “Pushing Daisies” Pace) can find success as a marketing executive with an organic pet food company. A bigger house, pool, and ocean-view help ease the moving pains for numerous members of the family. As for the family car, it’s a mini-sized roving product placement for Phil’s new company and offers a chuckle for passersby who spot a sun-glasses-bedecked Marmaduke soaring through its sun roof.
As the Winslow family deals with its own adjustments at school (cliques) and home (dad not listening), Marmaduke’s transition to his new O.C. surroundings are brightening and frightening at his new hangout, the dog park, a microcosm of high school angst that has various factions vying for their own attention. Jocks, drama geeks, juvenile delinquents, and pedigrees are the groups that are voiced by a fairly well-known who’s who of Hollywood: Kiefer “24” Sutherland is Bosco, an alpha male, pure bred Beauceron who likes nothing more than taunting the new freakish-sized outsider for ogling his girl friend Jezebel (Fergie), a regal-looking collie. [Thank goodness for Jez’s long fur as kids might be confused (or perhaps enlightened) to learn this female lead is played by Blake.] Other pooches include Mazie (“Zombieland”‘s Emma Stone), a Blue Merle Australian Shepherd, who plays a Cyrano de Bergerac variation trying to get her clueless student, Marmaduke, to notice teacher with more than a passing glance. Giuseppe (Christopher “Kick-A*s” Mintz-Plasse), offers a few lines of dialogue as a Hairless Chinese Crested; British comedian Steve Coogan is heard, also briefly, as Raisin, a Dachshund Cairn Terrier; Marlon and Damon Wayans, Jr. do their shtick as Lighting and Thunder, a pair of miniature Pinschers. But, finally (and in a perfect fit), is Sam Elliott as the grizzled, old, over-the-hill, scare-inducing English Mastiff Chupadogra. He plays this type of role so well, whether as himself or a dog.
Judy Greer pops in and out of the action as the concerned, understanding mom. William H. “Fargo” Macy plays Phil’s eccentric, animal-loving and people-hating boss. No one is looking for Oscar® accolades. None are deserved.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with this filmic adaptation of the 1954 creation drawn by Brad Anderson (with an assist from Phil Leeming). The still-living comic book Great Dane that leaps from the printed page to the big screen may be jumbo-sized, clumsy, and socially adrift (as any geeky teenager—human or dog—may be), but in this easily digestible film, the beasties (many talking dogs and a cat or two) ham it up enough to entertain the kiddies for a thankfully brief 87 minutes.