Dir Raja Gosnell. US. 2008. 86mins.
Disney's Beverly Hills Chihuahua is amediocre family comedy, mixing cute banter between CGI-enhanced talking pooches with message-laden adventure and a dollop of travelogue. But while it doesn't work particularly well on any of those levels, it is a colourful addition to the always popular talking dog genre. So, with a pack of adorable mutts to drive the marketing, a studio as expert in this area as Disney (think 101 Dalmatians, Eight Below, Snow Dogs, etc) could still produce strong theatrical returns and a big video take.
The studio's snappy ad campaign - wisely emphasizing canine comedy over the other elements - should result in a sizeable opening weekend when the film debuts in North America on October 3, as one of the autumn season's first PG family offerings. Within the kids-and-families demographic interest may be especially strong from the domestic Latino audience, which will be drawn by the story's Mexican setting and the lineup of Latino talent. Latin American markets should certainly produce some of the biggest international takes. Performances in other territories may depend on timing - school holidays will provide the prime slots - and the use of local talent to re-voice the story's four-legged characters.
The Chihuahua protagonists are Chloe (Barrymore), the pampered pet of Beverly Hills businesswoman Aunt Viv (Curtis), and Papi (Lopez), hard working canine companion to Viv's handsome landscaper Sam (Colombian star Cardona). During a jaunt to Mexico with Viv's flaky niece Rachel (Perabo), Chloe is kidnaped by a dog fighting ring. Lovesick Papi joins Rachel and Sam on a South-of-the-border rescue mission while Chloe teams up with Delgado (Garcia), a streetwise German Shepherd that promises to help her find her way home to the swanky safety of Los Angeles.
The script by first-timer Analisa LaBianco and Jeff Bushell touches - albeit pretty fuzzily - on themes of self-discovery and tolerance and parallels the misfit romance between Chloe and Papi with a developing relationship between Rachel and Sam. The action moves through attractively-shot locations in Mexico City, Puerto Vallarta and the Sonoran Desert and at times the film even resembles an Incredible Journey-style Disney nature adventure.
Director Raja Gosnell, who previously made the two Scooby-Doo live action films, orchestrates the action fairly efficiently, though he sometimes lets all-dog sequences become surprisingly long and talky.
On a technical level, the CGI work is integrated seamlessly with the live action footage. The dogs are all real but their lips and expressions are subtly manipulated to give the impression of speech (though only to each other, never to the human characters).
The dialogue put into the dogs' mouths, however, is mostly lame, rarely rising above the level of cute animal greetings cards and posters.
Two fully CG characters - an acquisitive pack rat (Marin) and his iguana sidekick (Rodriguez) - pop up briefly, apparently to give the film a dose of broader, more cartoonish comedy.
The human actors are less prominent than the animal performers, but Perabo and Cardona are both inoffensively appealing. Also appearing are Mexican stars Jose Maria Yazpik, Jesus Ochoa and Eugenio Derbez.
Among the voice performers, Barrymore gives the sometimes snooty Chloe a likeable side and Lopez is good as the indefatigable Papi. The voice cast also includes an unrecognizable Placido Domingo (as a Chihuahua power leader who reminds Chloe of her Mexican roots) and Edward James Olmos (as the canine villain of the piece).
Walt Disney Pictures
Visual effects supervisor
Michael J McAlister
Jamie Lee Curtis
Main voice cast
Edward James Olmos