Good Boy! Review
Mark Kermode made a point at the time of the release of Cats & Dogs that it was a mistake to cast one species as the villains - the cats in that case - and another as heroes. Surmising that there were as many cat-lovers in the audience as those fond of dogs, Mark Kermode reckoned that the film would, therefore, polarise audiences. Much the same risk is run by Good Boy!, which will surely present little of interest to cat-lovers, otherwise accepted as the more intelligent, perceptive and good-looking members of the public.
So to Good Boy!, which stars a bunch of flea-bitten hounds who take a break from humping their owners' legs long enough to take a walk around the neighbourhood with Owen Baker (Aiken), doubtless spent urinating on each other, the pavement and passing pedestrians. Owen is walking these dogs to save up enough cash to get one of his own and come the day that his parents had promised to take him to the pound, he meets a scruffy terrier with a strange effect on the other dogs. On taking this dog home, Owen watches as it leaves the house at night and following it outside, finds that his dog, who he has named Hubble, owns a flying saucer. As the communication circuits onboard Hubble's spaceship malfunction, Owen finds that he and his dog can now understand each other. As Hubble takes charge of the other dogs in the neighbourhood, he explains that dogs actually originate from a planet near Sirius, the Dog Star, and were brought to Earth to rule humans. Realising that this mission has failed somewhat, Hubble breaks the bad news that the The Greater Dane, the ruler of the dogs' home planet, will be visiting Earth in the coming days and will take dogs back home if she too uncovers the truth. It is, therefore, up to Owen, Hubble and all the other dogs to make it look as though The Greater Dane's original mission was a success...
For his debut, John Robert Hoffman used the story Dogs From Outer Space by Zeke Robinson as a basis for his own script about dogs having been sent to Earth to take charge of the planet. If the plot sounds familiar, don't assume that you have ever chanced upon Robinson's little-known story as both he and Hoffman have simply turned an age-old situation around, much as Cats & Dogs took a rivalry that we had always assumed to exist and made it real, so Hoffman and Robinson pose a, "What it...?" question and go looking for an answer. The problem with asking that question is that to have a widespread appeal, more than one person ought to have asked themselves that same question. Has anyone ever wondered either aloud or to themselves about whether dogs are here to serve humans or vice versa. As for finding the connection between Sirius, The Dog Star and actual dogs funny, even geeks in astronomy class move on from that by the age of twelve, which does explain some of Hoffman's ill-advised humour.
The certificate rated this as a PG but warns that there is 'Some Mild Crude Humour', which is scattered throughout the film in the form of jokes about the bowel movements of both dogs and humans, mostly in the inability of Nelly, voiced by Brittany Murphy, to control herself against a terminal case of jittery nerves. As such, Good Boy!, with its mix of science fiction and a cast of talking dogs and teenagers, uncomfortably adds jokes into what is no more than a kids movie. Whilst young teenagers will appreciate the jokes, they'll tire of the cute story and characters, whereas parents of very young children will not appreciate the humour, much as it may well pass over their children's heads.
Good Boy! has been transferred in 1.33:1 with the warning that the film has been 'formatted to fit this screen'. Unfortunately, the screen in question is a 43" plasma so the personal nature of the message falls flat but doubtless the millions who own regular televisions will appreciate the sentiment. The transfer is fine and the source print looks clean but neither offer anything better than what is now commonplace and the pan-and-scanning is unnecessary.
The English soundtrack is 5.1 Surround with French and Spanish Pro-Logic Surround secondary tracks and, as with the picture quality, the audio tracks are fine but nothing out of the ordinary. English, Spanish, French and Chinese subtitles are available.
With MGM calling this a Special Edition - as though anyone had actually requested such a thing - there's a fair number of extras included on the DVD but little of interest:
Commentary: Liam Aiken and Molly Shannon, who play Owen and his mother, respectively, join the director John Hoffman to record a commentary that starts in a sprightly fashion but is soon punctuated by long periods of silence.
A Dog-umentary (23m58s): If you can excuse the pun, this is a longer-than-necessary making-of that looks at the origin of the story, the casting of the voice actors and the making of the film as well as including short interviews with the director and stars of the film.
Pooch Profiles: Alright, so we get the point - it's a special edition and we are, therefore, treated to profiles of the four-legged members of the cast. Want to know a fun fact about Boxer dogs? This may well be the extra you've been clamouring for.
Dog Walking Duty: Opening with an interactive map, this allows the viewer to click on a house and see roughly thirty seconds of clips and interviews explaining the character of the dog that lives there. And I was concerned that maybe there weren't going to be great extras on this DVD...
Crafty Canines (6m33s): Liam Aiken introduces this extra that shows how Bonnie Judd, the animal coordinator on Good Boy!, trains dogs for the movies.
The Dog Pound: This collects the deleted scenes into one feature, which can be viewed with or without a commentary by director John Hoffman:
- Why Hubble (1m12s)
- Owen: Dog Psychic (1m05s)
- Ask Your Parents (23s)
- Shep The Big Mouth (47s)
- Director On The Cutting Room Floor (42s)
- Greater Consequences (1m06s)
- Alternate Punchlines (42s)
Q&A With Hubble: A still shot of Hubble with interactive selections cuts to 10s clips of Matthew Broderick voicing in-character answers from the dog. It's all been downhill since Ferris Bueller...
Good Boy! Scrapbook: As you would expect, this extra is a series of still shots of the cast - human and dog - as well as behind-the-scenes photographs of the film being made.
Theatrical Trailer: As if all of the rest wasn't enough, MGM have included the trailer. We should be thankful it's only 1m59s.
Other Great MGM Releases: Actually, I'd given up at this point.
All of the extras are presented in 1.33:1 and 2.0 Stereo.
Good Boy! is a clumsily told story and whilst there is space for many types of kids' films, this compares badly to the warmer storytelling of the Pixar films and Disney's better animation. Of course, what Hoffman lacks is any skill in his writing and whilst he clearly believes that a few fart gags is enough to have his film appeal to older kids and adults, the noticeable disinterest in Good Boy! bears out his lack of success.