Do you have a penchant for dull as dishwater comic strips? Are you an educationally sub-normal adult or a particularly stupid child? Do you love nothing more than watching anthropomorphised animals act like characters from a 1980s teen movie? If you answered in the positive for all of the above, Marmaduke is the film for you. Everyone else should steer well clear of Tom Dey’s adaptation of the ‘classic’ Brad Anderson comic as it offers nothing more than yet another CGI-talking-animal-and-slapstick-romp.
The ‘plot’ follows the Winslow family, and their Great Dane, Marmaduke (voiced by Owen Wilson), as they uproot from Kansas after Dad (Lee Pace, When In Rome) gets a job with an organic pet-food company in Orange County, California (cue endless references from The O.C.) His canine-obsessed boss, Dom Twombly (William H Macy, Magnolia) for some reason conducts his business from the ‘dog park’ which rather conveniently allows Marmaduke to interact with other dogs, all of whom exhibit character-traits filched straight from John Hughes films.
Discovering the social-order of the dog-park with its jocks, geeks, and delinquents (think The Breakfast Club meets Battersea Dogs Home) and aligning himself with the outsiders, the Great Dane tries desperately to climb the pecking order and impress Jezebel (Fergie) who he has a crush on. After staging a fake fight with Carlos, the Hispanic cat who lives with the Winslows (George Lopez), he gains the respect of the Pedigree clan and wins the affection of Jezabel from top-dog Bosco (Kiefer Sutherland).
Like in most teen comedies, the protagonist gets too big for his boots (do dogs wear boots?) and forgets his real friends now that he’s the dogs boll*cks. The inevitable fall from grace gives rise to a nice sentimental ending where Marmaduke breaks down the doggy-world social barriers and makes them realise that really, they’re all the same. Some other flimsy sub-plots involving the human cast go on alongside all this but they’re so boring and inconsequential you fail to register even the slightest interest.
Whilst I understand that I’m not really the target audience for this movie, there are so many inconsistencies that even the dumbest of kiddiewinks would be baffled. How, for example, if Marmaduke struggles to use the ‘dog door’ at his owners house, does he manage to put up fairy lights and fill serving bowls with nibbles when he has a party? If he can do that, surely he’d have the requisite skills to just use a normal door? The humans can’t hear Marmaduke even though he addresses them directly and his mouth is moving in in a very human-like manner yet they never seem intrigued by this? The clunkiest and most contrived example is saved for a scene where Dad is asked by his boss to come up with a marketing idea for a dog-food launch. Why would you instantly think of holding a doggy-surfing competition? (unless it was to justify crow-barring in some ‘hilarious’ CGI japery).
Essentially a bunch of set-pieces incoherently hewn together (the obligatory dance number is especially needless) with little relevance to the story, Marmaduke lacks the playful delight of other ‘kids’ films. Without any jokes that work on more than the one level like you find in say, Toy Story or Monsters Inc. the screenwriters seem to be content with scattergunning a load of pop-culture references to make up for the lack of gags. Lumpen and joyless, the decision to make a film version of a 40 year-old, not-particularly-funny-in-the-first-place comic strip was an ill-considered one. This movie certainly proves that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.