Marmaduke

Starring Owen Wilson, Kiefer Sutherland, Lee Pace, Judy Greer, Caroline Sunshine, Finlay Jacobsen, David Williams, William H. Macy. Directed by Tom Dey. 87 mins. 
Rated PG (infrequent coarse language).

The Winslow family move from Kansas to Orange County in search of a better life. Phil and Debbie together with their children Barbara and Brian pack up their possessions and their dog, Marmaduke, and Carlos their cat and head to California. Phil gets a job working for a pet food company, whose boss, William H Macy, likes to have meetings in a dog park.

It is here that Marmaduke is initiated into the pecking order of the local dog heiratchy. There are the “Jocks” – dogs whose main interests are catching Frisbees and dating I.Q.-challenged Cocker Spaniels; the “Drama Geeks” who love to act and put on a show; the “Juvenile Delinquents” – a rough-looking bunch who like to hang out by the park fence; the “Mutts”—mixed breeds from the wrong side of the tracks; and the “Pedigrees” – rich and spoiled with an air of previlige.

Between the family’s difficult transition to their new home and Marmaduke’s adventures in finding out who is the local top dog, everyone learns what really matters to them.

This film is based on the comic strip of the same name. It is one squarely for the youngest audience, but at least at the screening I attended with this target audience they did not seem enthralled. Nor was I.

Marmaduke has a number of things going for it: very good anmatics, likeable characters, good moral lessons and it does not overstay its welcome. The problems, however, are also many: it is not funny, and to pull off a talking animal film, the script needs to be much better than this one is; it is hard to buy Owen Wilson’s voice is a good fit with a 200 pound Great Dane, so that always jars; and some of the other canine characters, especially Bosco (Kiefer Sutherland),  whose girlfriend is the collie, Jezebel (Stacy Ferguson), for whom Marmaduke develops an instant crush, and Mazie (Emma Stone) the jilted love interest, are much more interesting and better actors than the human ones.

A family can approach Marmaduke with confidence, but even the littlies deserve better cinema than this.

20th Century Fox  Out June 24

Fr Richard Leonard SJ is the director of the Australian Catholic Film Office.


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