AS A CHILD I HAD A MENAGERIE of literary animals for pets. There was Old Yeller, Stuart Little, Peter Rabbit and Black Beauty to name a few. Among all these friends I had Doctor Dolittle on call just in case there was an emergency. There was always room for another animal to join my group, which explains why I made frequent trips to the library. Looking across the bookshelves, I would read every title on the shelves. With any title that sounded intriguing to me, I had to pull the book out to investigate and see if the story involved an animal. It did not matter what species; if there was mention of an animal, whether it was a pet or in the wild, I would check out the book. A fond memory of mine was seeing a movie that was based on a book I had read. Seeing Black Beauty or Lassie on the big or small screen was like a dream come true for me. And speaking of Lassie, when I was real small any collie I saw I immediately thought was Lassie. When they would not come up to me after calling her name, I would be sad. MY LOVE OF ANIMALS STAYED WITH me as I grew up. The pets my friends and relatives had were my surrogate pets. I could spend hours playing with a dog or cat. The other thing I would do was to simply follow and watch them. There are so many memories I have involving animals; each one as vivid today as when they were first formed. One of my oldest memories was going to a small zoo in a neighborhood park. There were only 8 or 9 different animals in it. I remember holding on to a railing in front of the cage and holding a marshmallow up in the air to get a bear to stand on its hind legs. The first time the bear stood up I went wild with excitement. I immediately deemed the bear my pet and would always go to its cage first before going to any of the other animals. I am certain many of us have fond memories revolving around animals. With so many stories having been done I cannot imagine non-animal lovers not knowing a few of them, at least. And now adding to our list of animal favorites comes Bella out of this adventure family film. HOME WAS A SPECIAL PLACE THAT Bella, voiced by Bryce Dallas Howard (Pete’s Dragon, Jurassic World franchise), knew all too well. That is why she could not give up on her 400-mile journey to get back home. With Jonah Hauer-King (Postcards from London, Little Women-TV) as Lucas, Alexandra Shipp (Straight Outta Compton; Love, Simon) as Olivia, Ashley Judd (Double Jeopardy, Heat) as Terri and Edward James Olmos (Blade Runner, Stand and Deliver) as Axel; this movie had a built-in cute factor due to Bella. It would be hard not to enjoy watching Bella and the animals she encountered in her life; however, cuteness can only go for so long. The entire production here came off a bit amateurish. The script was predictable as it periodically set up scenes to pull at the viewers’ heartstrings. The acting seemed stilted to me, to the point I preferred watching Bella when there were no humans around. The main issue about this picture was how generic it was in telling a story that has been done so many times before and better. This is not something you have to run out and go see; especially since there were a couple of scenes that I felt would be scary for younger children. I fell in love with Bella, but she deserved a better movie to star in than this one.
MADE especially for you by those knotted skinny fingers, you could only imagine it must have taken months to create the gift. She is one of your favorite relatives who always remembers you on holidays and your birthday. This year she knitted you a multi-colored, bulky sweater. You could tell immediately the sweater was going to be way too big even before you unfolded it. Holding it by the shoulders you lifted it up so the body of the sweater cascaded down like a flood. The array of colored yarns clashed in such a sharp way that your eyes squinted as a few dominant colors seemed to vibrate in their confined patch of the sweater’s landscape. Gratefully you were not asked to try on the massive sweater; you did not want her to feel any anxiety seeing you lost in the yards of yarn spinning around you. It is always the thought that counts and the fact that it must have taken her months to knit only affirmed the affection and love the two of you share for each other. SINCE I believe there are no bad pets only bad owners, I keep the same attitude when I encounter someone’s dog or cat. I do not want the owner to know I am not fond of their pet; I simply remain quiet unless their pet is constantly jumping on me or is trying to bite me. Even the friends of mine who have dogs that greet you by sticking their snouts into your crotch are a bit annoying but still loveable. Having started out in veterinary science during my college years, I have always had a soft spot for animals. With that being said, I was looking forward to this comedic drama; however similar to what I said previously, I loved the dogs in this adventure film but was not fond of the script. THE relationship between dogs and their owners is explored in this heartwarming film. Directed by Lasse Hallstrom (Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, Hachi: A Dog’s Tail) and starring Dennis Quaid (Frequency, Vantage Point) as Adult Ethan, Juliet Rylance (Frances Ha, Sinister franchise) as Ethan’s Mom and Luke Kirby (The Samaritan, Shattered Glass) as Ethan’s Dad; this movie based on the novel could have been a much better picture. I was aware of the controversy surrounding a video that recently popped up of one of the dogs, but I did not feel I had all the facts to make a proper decision yet. In the meantime the script was so heavy handed that it was dripping with cloying sweetness to purposefully pull at the viewer’s heartstrings. The story was predictable and kept everything in a narrow band of emotional depth; it could have been decent if the writers had backed off from focusing on manipulating the audience’s hearts and concentrate on telling a straightforward tale. I found myself getting bored though I mostly enjoyed Josh Gad’s (The Wedding Ringer, Love & Other Drugs) voicing of Bailey. Part of me wants to give a better rating for the dogs’ performances but I know I need to be impartial. The movie studio may have had good intentions but the end result did not fit together very well.
1 ¾ stars
On the way back from vacation I was able to stop and have dinner with a long time friend; we go back many years. For all this time I never heard a word from them about wishing or wanting a pet. I cannot even remember them ever stopping to pet a friend’s dog or cat. So here we are sitting at a restaurant catching up on what was new in each of our lives when he tells me I have to see this video. Taking their phone out they click on a couple of buttons then hand the phone to me. I am watching a video of two dogs playing in a back yard. Without seeing the video, only listening for audio cues, they narrated the different scenes in the video. Not only were they telling me what I was watching, they were sharing the dogs’ thoughts with me. The dogs’ thoughts? I heard how one of the dogs runs outside and lets everyone know they are there, racing up and down while barking. The other dog was a thinker; he would observe everything around him before acting on it. I sat there in disbelief as my friend went on about these 2 dogs, placing human emotions and thoughts on them. Not that I am judging, being an animal lover I absolutely got it; but I was amazed I never saw or heard a clue my friend would be so in love with these dogs that they babysat 2-3 times a week. This is the power pets have over some of us. MAX, voiced by Louis C.K. (Turbo, Blue Jasmine), was living an idyllic life with his owner Katie, voiced by Ellie Kemper (Bridesmaids, Sex Tape), until one day she came home with Duke, voiced by Eric Stonestreet (Identity Thief, Modern Family-TV); who was to become his new brother. Max did not want this dog as his brother. This animated comedy had a well chosen cast of actors such as Jenny Slate (Obvious Child, Girls-TV) as Gidget and Kevin Hart (Central Intelligence, The Wedding Ringer) as Snowball to voice the memorable characters. I enjoyed the beginning of this family movie and thought the story was fun; the idea of pets having a secret life was brilliant. However when the story line changed and focused on Kevin Hart’s character I felt the story lost some energy besides the fun factor. Despite some fun lines and excellent animation I found myself getting bored during several places. Maybe my reaction to this picture was due to the high caliber of recent animated films, but this film was missing a sweetness to it. The humor was never at a laugh out loud type of level and not that I expect all animated films to have a learning moment in them, but I was left with just an okay feeling towards this movie. I will say the next time I am around someone’s pet I will be watching them closely to see if I can figure out what they are thinking. There was an extra scene in the middle of the ending credits.
2 3/4 stars
A pet is a part of the family. The unconditional love, their eyes filled with devotion looking up at you; there is nothing better. When I would come through the front door and see that dog tail whipping side to side I would say, “Who wants a doggie massage?” Immediately Baldwin would plop down at my feet, waiting for his rubdown. That is a fond memory I keep close to my heart. Presently the far western suburbs where I teach are being warned not to let their small pets outside alone due to coyote attacks. The idea sends chills through me. Now imagine my confusion when I heard what the story was in this comedy. Struggling screenwriter Marty, played by Colin Farrell (Alexander, Total Recall), had two crazy friends Hans and Billy, played by Christopher Walken (The Deer Hunter, Hairspray) and Sam Rockwell (Moon, Everybody’s Fine), who were dog kidnappers. They would do it for the reward money. Like me, you have to wonder how this could be a funny movie. This was one twisted film filled with great one liners. Christopher Walken was at his crazy best and may get a nomination for his role. When Billy and Hans unknowingly took the Shih Tzau of LA criminal Charlie, played by Woody Harrelson (The Messenger, Zombieland), their lives would not only be put into jeopardy, but they would become fodder for Marty’s new script. As you can imagine this was no ordinary comedy. Think of this wild film more like a fine rich broth, spiced up with a touch of Tarantino and a smidgen of the Coen Brothers; the offbeat dialog was precisely delivered by the incredible actors for maximum affect. Seeing what someone will do to get their beloved pet back will surprise you and amuse you. Scenes with graphic violence and blood.
3 1/4 stars