What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Marmaduke is mostly inoffensive, unless your family detests potty humor, in which case this isn't the movie for you. The main issue with any talking-animal flick is the degree to which the animals are stand-ins for humans, and in this case, the animals are made to seem like high-schoolers with all their accompanying social and romantic drama. There's a lot of romantic pining and even doggie dating and flirting, which may go over the heads of kids too young to understand the nuances of romance. Some subtle drug references pop up that will also bypass the kids' radar. The language is limited to insults like "freak," "stupid," and "loser," and mimics the bullying and teasing you'd find in a movie about unpopular students. For such a short movie, there are several positive messages about the importance of honest, unconditional friendship and family versus work time -- not that they'll necessarily get noticed with all the dog-fart jokes in the way.
What's the story?
Marmaduke (Owen Wilson) lives happily in Kansas with the Winslows: marketing director Phil (Lee Pace), stay-at-home mom Debbie (Judy Greer), their teen, tween, and tot, plus their affable cat Carlos (George Lopez). When Phil accepts a lucrative job working for an organic dog-food company, the Winslows and their pets move to Orange County, California, where the center of canine activity (and the informal office of Phil's new boss, played by William H. Macy), is the Laguna Beach Dog Park. Marmaduke immediately falls in with a clique of sweet mixed-breed outcasts -- tomboy Mazie (Emma Stone), brainy Raisin (Steve Coogan), and neurotic Giuseppe (Christopher Mintz-Plasse). But like high school, the "rulers" of the park are the alpha male Bosco (Kiefer Sutherland), his beautiful girlfriend Jezebel (Stacy Ferguson), and their "pedigree crew." To win over Jezebel, Marmaduke makes a play for top dog, but alienates his true friends.
Is it any good?
Even though the Marmaduke movie trailer was criticized as one of the year's worst, there is definitely an audience for this movie -- pet-loving elementary schoolers who dig talking-animal flicks. If you are out of that narrow moviegoing niche, chances are high that you'll be unamused. No judgments here if it's too hot to stay home and this is the only PG-rated movie your family hasn't seen yet, but be prepared not so much to laugh but to marvel at Marmaduke's sheer size and the way the screenwriters turned dogs into teenagers with romantic and social drama to rival the very show that appears in the movie, The O.C..
Sure, there are a few moments when Marmaduke helps the family forge stronger relationships, especially the workaholic dad and his two kids, but the set-ups are thin (little Brian doesn't really like to play soccer! teen Barbara misses her friends in Kansas!), it's hard to care too much. Didn't Lassie and other cinematic canines literally save lives? The voice cast does its best with the hammy dialogue, and Wilson is clearly suited to playing dogs (or the people who love them), but comedians Coogan, Lopez, and Mintz-Plasse aren't given enough lines, because Marmaduke is so consumed with romancing Jezebel, throwing a party, and being top dog that the script gets too bogged down with the doggie soap opera to be all that funny or memorable.
Families can talk about...
Families can talk about the movie's message about growing up "different" than the "cool" crowd (in this case, the top dog and his pedigree crew). How is the dog park like school?
Marmaduke is often made fun of for his size. Kids: Does this happen to you or your friends? What's the movie's take on discrimination and bullying?
Why are talking-animal movies so compelling to kids? Is it funny when animals have the same issues and thoughts as their human counterparts, like dating drama? Do you think this movie would still be for young kids if the characters were human instead of canine?