The camera pans slowly down, a stained glass window glutted with bright colors forms the back wall of a voluminous church hall. It’s a wedding. A Beverly Hills wedding. The camera continues panning down, revealing a man and woman who stand gazing at each other adoringly. But wait! The camera continues to pan down until the true bride and groom are unveiled – a pair of fancily dressed and immaculately groomed Chihuahuas. The canines exchange I dos, and it’s oh-so-touching. And then, prompted by the priest’s instruction to the groom to “lick” the bride, we’re treated to the highly visceral, highly unpleasant sight of two dogs French kissing. I know, it was supposed to be cute – but no, it’s just too much, too too much. Which is not unlike this movie in general: though well-intentioned and doing it’s best to cram as much adorable puppy cutesy cutes into a film as credibly possible, it goes too far, indulging in too much puppy exhibition and providing too little narrative and cinematic justification for it.

Where to begin? How about with the premise? It’s a film about dogs – not that unusual of course, we’ve definitely seen that sort of thing before. But it usually takes one of two forms. Either it’s live action and the heroic animals can’t talk, which is successful precisely because the animals can’t talk; instead, they make cute thoughtful, frightened, shameful, pleased faces – it’s adorable! Or, a film is animated and the animals can talk, which is fun because if the animators do a good job, the animal speech and expression capture a human quality, and the fantasy of that is fun and interesting.

However, in this film the dogs are not animated, they are live-action, and they can talk, which is something else entirely. And worse yet, the illusion of their ability to speak is accomplished by no fancy trick: voice-actors dub over the little flapping open and close of canine snouts. And though it may work on paper, the problem is, no matter how talented the voice actors are, they cannot sound natural, in fact they have to exaggerate their acting in order to convey all those human intonations and emotions the dog face cannot. The brazen fakeness of it becomes distracting.

But that’s okay, it’s a good gag. The human actors though, if you’re going to put your animal voice-actors at a disadvantage you had better make up for it with a talented human cast to provide support. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. The hero of the tale, the human one, that is, his name is Sam, and his claim to fame in the movie is meeting a rich girl, which affords him the opportunity to move out of his lower-middle class neighborhood into a Beverly Hills mansion. He’s played by Marcus Coloma, and when he’s happy he smiles, when he’s sad he frowns – and that’s about how much depth you can expect to get from his character. But he’s not the only one. The entire cast under-performs in the same skimming-the-surface way.


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That also about sums up the plot, which unfolds as follows. Supposedly, Sam’s family home is in danger of being foreclosed on (which in its reference to the current housing crisis, is actually somewhat interesting), and in order to ‘save the farm,’ Sam and the dogs must pull out all the stops – they try sweet-talking the banker and, when that fails, intimidating the banker (with their cuteness of course), they try winning a dog show, and then, the finale, they get mixed up in with some bank robbers. It’s doesn’t hold together however, because each plot point is as fleeting and trivial as the next, even the bank robbers. When it’s all said and done, the plot serves as a useful vehicle for delivering cute dog moments, but fails to muster enough substance to be worthwhile on its own.

And check this out: even though it’s a Blue-Ray/DVD combo, which provides ample disc space, not enough is offered in the way of extra features. There’s a music video (which, unlike the film, does a great job of balancing the teen pop substance of the music against cutesy canine montages), a blooper real called Faux Paws (sorry, I get my silly canine laughs from America’s Funniest Home Videos, thank you very much), and an interactive game called The Beverly Hills Chihuahua Challenge (which is cool if you’re nine, I suppose – but then again, even then you’d probably rather be playing Wii).

All in all, this movie was sub-par, even for kids. You may think my criticism was harsh, and I know that some critics gave it a thumbs up, which is fine. I’m sure they’d argue, hey, it’s a kid’s movie, cut it some slack. And yes, it does have some positive messages mixed in with a lot of fluff. But listen, kids need culture too, like they need the rich nutrients in fruit, not cardboard filler stuffed into slickly packaged and blindingly colorful cereal boxes. Because, yes, proof of quality is out there; amazing kids movies abound, films that have captured the imagination of young and old alike. They come out every year in fact. And while they don’t have to be sophisticated or tackling difficult subjects, they can still be great if they have some imagination, some substance, or at least some real thought put into them. Disney has produced some brilliant kid’s films – films we love and adore today despite their being as old or older than our grandparents. But this Chihuahua movie is not one of them. Twenty years from now, if anyone does still remember this film, it will be for its novelty and nothing else.

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