Synopsis: A suburban family moves to a new neighborhood with their large yet lovable Great Dane, who has a tendency to wreak havoc in his own oblivious way.
Why We're Excited: Owen Wilson gives voice to Marmaduke, so after the great job he’s done playing Coach Skip in Fantastic Mr. Fox and Lightning McQueen in Cars, we’re sure he’ll be able take what he learned from Marley to give life to the mischievous Great Dane.
Based on the long running newspaper comic strip, we catch up with the Winslows -- dad Phil (Lee Pace), mom Debbie (Judy Greer), requisite offspring Brian (Finley Jacobsen), Barbara (Caroline Sunshine), and Sarah (twins Milana and Mandy Haines), and of course, additional "family" members Marmaduke (Wilson), a goofy Great Dane and his "brother", Balinese cat Carlos (George Lopez) -- as they are preparing to leave their Kansas home and make the big move to sunny California. Organic pet food magnet Don Twombly (William H. Macy) has just hired Mr. Winslow to front his big push for Petco recognition, and the rest of the clan is coming along for the locational upgrade.
Immediately upon arriving in the OC, everyone is miserable. Marmaduke, desperate to fit in, falls in with the "mutt" squad, unpopular pups at the local dog park. They include tomboy Mazie (Emma Stone), stuffy intellectual Raisin (Steve Coogan), and hyper-hypochondriac Giuseppe (Christopher Mintz-Plasse). When he makes a move on the haughty collie girlfriend (Fergie) of local alpha male Bosco (Kiefer Sutherland), he must face the wrath of said pure breeds, as well as embarrassing his new buddies with his hopeless behavior. Things reach fever pitch when Phil must come up with a winning campaign for Twombly's latest product pitch while Marmaduke consistently ruins his chances at finding success both at work and at home.
Breezy, playful, and more than a little warm and fuzzy, Marmaduke is not going to win over any cynical converts to the by now established "family films suck" brigade. It knows the demographic it's aiming for (read: anyone 10 and under), gives them just what they want (dog farts and lots of four-footed hi-jinx), and then simply repeats this mostly entertaining formula. Sure, whenever the story shifts to the bipeds bellyaching around the huge SoCal house, our level of enjoyment decreases exponentially. After all, if you've seen one angry teenage girl mouth off about having to leave her friends, parents who don't understand her, and missed opportunities with hunky surfer boys, you've seen...well, just about every adolescent on the planet.
Luckily, director Tom Dey gives us just enough forced domestic drama to remind us how amusing it is to see adorable animals talking like movie stars. Wilson is indeed excellent, selling every stupid one liner and canine pun with grace and goodwill. He is matched equally well by Lopez (who does not overstay -- or overplay -- his Latino hipster swagger), Stone, Coogan, and Mintz-Plasse. On the opposite end of endearing is Sutherland and the rest of the cool clique. They are beyond generic -- especially Ms. Lady Lumps who is completely forgettable. Kudos also go to the F/X team. Unlike other dog and pony shows where the CGI is obvious, the various beasties here appear to speak flawlessly.
As long as it stays away from the people who populate its outer edges, Marmaduke maintains its sense of fun. It's no Babe, but it's no bomb either.