Running Time: 91 mins
Rated: Rated G
Parents and grandparents looking for school-holiday entertainment for the youngsters that isn't mind-numbingly witless for anyone over 13 should bend the knee in gratitude to the Disney Organisation. Beverly Hills Chihuahua is a treat - a brilliant blend of live action and computer graphics that engrosses the young audience and happily entertains their elders.
Leaving the cinema after a preview screening, one youngster was heard to ask, "Dad, can we get that on DVD?,' which rather sets the seal on the film's appeal to children. Adults will find much to admire in its general quality of film-making, particularly the seamless blend of reality and animation that almost defies analysis.
For example, just as you getting used to the movie's little heroine, Chloe, and her four-footed friends being real canines whose mouths move as they talk (vastly better than the clumsy cartooning that gave voice to television's Mr Ed or the cinema's talking mule, Francis, but essentially the same technique), along come two wonderful characters, a sly rat confidence trickster and his iguana sidekick, that you realise must have been created entirely in the computer. Yet they seem just as real as any of the dogs or humans.
Enjoyment of the technical wizardry is a big part of the film's appeal, but there is also much to like in the entertaining script by Analisa Labianco and Jeff Bushell, which pokes fun at wealthy LA dames who take their pet dogs to hair stylists and dress them in hats, coats and even Italian leather booties. Chloe (voiced by Drew Barrymore) is one such pampered pooch, whose owner Viv (Jamie Lee Curtis) also drapes her in a necklace with diamonds by Harry Winston and drenches her with Chanel No. 5.
Viv leaves for Europe but doesn't take Chloe along ('you hate Berlin'), leaving her instead in the care of her niece Rachel (Piper Perabo). When Rachel takes Chloe across the Mexican border, the chihuahua gets loose and is captured by an underworld type who stages illegal dog fights. Rescued by Delgado, a former police German Shepherd (voice of Andy Garcia), Chloe then embarks on a series of lively adventures in a chase across Mexico that includes an encounter with the aforesaid rat and iguana, who are intent on separating Chloe from her valuable diamonds.
The chase also takes her to the ruins of the Aztec civilisation, where an avuncular elder of her breed, Montezuma (operatic star Placido Domingo), opens her eyes to her origins and tells her that chihuahuas are much more than toys and fashion accessories. "We are a proud breed. We may be tiny but we are mighty,' he says, and he encourages Chloe to "find your bark'.
Diversity, tolerance and loyalty are other qualities encouraged by this delightful movie that is directed by Raja Gosnell (Yours, Mine and Ours and Scooby Doo) with great professional skill and which ends with a plea for responsible pet ownership. It ticks every box for children's fare.
Disney Out September 25
Mr Jim Murphy is an associate of the Australian Catholic Film Office.