Released: 11th May
Seen: 13th May
In June of 1954, the first Marmaduke comic strip was printed in the newspaper. The entire idea of the series revolved around the Winslow family and their Great Dane who was certainly larger than a normal Great Dane but he wasn’t stupidly big. While the comics were popular, having remained in print now for well over 60 years, they’re noted as being kind of dry and simplistic and like a lot of single-strip Sunday comic books, they’re designed to work for one quick joke and not much longer.
Due to this limitation of how the character was intended to be used, Marmaduke probably wouldn’t work for a 90-minute long film and indeed he didn’t, they tried it back in 2010 and it failed spectacularly. Well, the director of this 2022 animated adaptation of Marmaduke clearly wanted to make a worse film and by god, they succeeded.
Marmaduke begins with a party at the Winslow family house, a simple little party with a jumping castle, above ground pool and a clown. What it doesn’t have is Marmaduke (Pete Davidson) as the family dog has been locked in an upstairs bedroom to prevent him from somehow accidentally destroying the party. Of course, due to shenanigans, Marmaduke ends up leaping out of the closed window and into the pool which causes a giant wave that washes away the party and floods the house. Upset, the Winslows decide that they need to get Marmaduke some obedience training.
Enter Guy Hilton (Brian Hull), a world-famous dog trainer who has won 6 dog shows in a row. When Guy sees a video of Marmaduke jumping into a pool, Guy decides this means Marmaduke is one of the most out of control dogs that he has ever seen in his life and must train this dog to enter into a dog show where the prize is a million dollars. Of course, the training is difficult and fraught with slapstick possibilities but Marmaduke must win so he can enter and beat the very snarky Afghan hound named Zeus (J. K. Simmons) and take home the trophy.
It was around the moment where an entire scene was dedicated to Marmaduke taking a giant shit in a trophy that causes a gas cloud to engulf an entire field that it became clear just how putrid this movie was going to be. OK, that’s not true, the realisation of just how bad this movie would be happened at about the 15-second mark when it sinks in what the animation was going to look like and what the audience would be subjected to as a visual style for the next 90 minutes of their lives.
Visually Marmaduke’s characters have the kind of weird lanky design that never looks good with the rendering quality one might expect from an early 2000’s weekly animated cartoon that has a budget of 50 bucks and needs to produce 26 episodes a year… except it’s 2022 and this is a feature film that should look slightly better than the garbage that was barely acceptable back in the early 2000’s.
Every character looks awful, there’s no cohesion between the designs, the background elements look like they were bought in bulk from some online 3D store, it’s all just a visual mess. There’s also just no real consistency in terms of size, characters grow and shrink between scenes and things just kind of slide through the ground because no one really seemed to care.
But hey, maybe Marmaduke doesn’t need to be that great to look at if the jokes are good, right? Did you miss the part about an entire scene revolving around Marmaduke shitting into a trophy? Cos that’s a highlight, most of the jokes are just ‘Dog does dog things but with the voice of Kim Kardashian’s current boyfriend” and that’s just not funny. It’s not well animated enough to be visually amusing, there’s no actual setup or punchline to make any of these jokes work and it’s not even over the top enough to be just plain old silly… well, OK, it does go over the top but that’s when the film takes a sharp left turn into stereotype-ville.
So the entire film culminates in the big dog show and if you have started whispering “Oh no, please don’t tell me they did strange racist stereotypes for the secondary characters in the dog show” then good on you for guessing where we were heading. Yes, this film has at least 2 characters we can objectively call “stupid racist stereotypes”.
There’s Juan, a chihuahua who has a weakness for tacos which would be bad enough but he’s just there for one joke… then there’s Zhi, a dog who is almost always accompanied by Asian music, speaks in phrases one might find in any book of Asian mysticism and does literal magic which is all just so uncomfortable.
It’s a wild feeling when the last act of the film is just filled with moments that are either so close to being racist that it’s hard to not wince or so stupid that you can actively feel brain cells dying. Also, there’s one moment that’s just flat out transphobia that serves literally no purpose in the story. It’s all just horrific.
What’s also wild is how many big things are just thrown away, ideas that could’ve been used to push the story are just quick side jokes. Sure the Asian mysticism stuff is offensive, but we have a magical dog and no one’s gonna use that? There’s an entire sequence where Marmaduke runs around the earth to prove that he’s worth training, it’s a single montage that’s basically just a throwaway joke even though “Dog goes around the world” is an entire movie plot in itself. Every potentially fun or interesting side plot is either dealt with in 30 seconds or just thrown aside without any conclusion and it makes for a painful viewing experience.
That’s Marmaduke, a painfully unfunny, ugly and occasionally offensive mess with nothing of value to offer on any level. It isn’t even bright enough to amuse even the stupidest of children, it’s just a waste of some talented voice artists and another piece of garbage that’s quietly shat out onto the Netflix catalogue to take up space that could be used for absolutely anything else. The only thing that is worth hearing is the god awful Marmaduke Rap that plays over the end credits, and even then it’s only worth it because it’s so bad that it’s impossible to avoid laughing that they somehow forced Pete Davidson to do it.
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