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Beverly Hills Chihuahua

Walt Disney Pictures (October 3 2008), Walt Disney Home Entertainment (March 3 2009), single disc, 91 mins plus supplements, 1080p high definition 2.40:1, Dolby Digital 5.1 Uncompressed, Rated PG, Retail: $34.99

Storyboard:

Pampered pooch Chloe (voice of Drew Barrymore) finds herself lost while on vacation in Mexico, with only her smitten wannabe boyfriend Papi (George Lopez) realising the conundrum she’s in. Persuading his master to assist in a rescue, Papi’s off south of the border to track down Chloe who, in the meantime, has teamed up with German Shepherd Delgado (Andy Garcia) in a bid to outrun some dangerous criminals and return home!

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The Sweatbox Review:

Like many, the moment I heard that the Walt Disney Studios was backing a movie about a pampered, Beverly Hills located Chihuahua, my heart sank…how could this terrifically awful concept for a movie hold any worth whatsoever? Sure, although we need another talking doggie movie like a hole in the head, they continue to appeal to enough audience members that more and more – and more – of these critters keep getting churned out: the Dog Movie is almost its own genre in Hollywood these days!

Dogs have always been good box office business, from the silent days of Rin Tin Tin, through the many escapades of Lassie and Disney’s own historical pedigree, but with CGI now almost a given element in any movie nowadays, even moderately budgeted fare can call on some digital trickery to step in and do what none of those movies could literally do: make a “real” dog talk. Since the breakthrough of Cats And Dogs, to name the biggest flick to pull of the trick convincingly enough that it led to more of the same, we’ve been treated to a slew of muttering mutts and assorted animals.

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In truth, these tricks go back as far as the short subjects of the 1930s, but the plain sight of a canine speaking as fluently as a human being really only became a reality with the onset of computer graphics being able to readily mimic the synchronization to the recorded voice tracks. The likes of the surprisingly entertaining Underdog last year showed that audiences haven’t lost their fondness for such films: the trick allowing for a quicker live-action shoot and the look of elaborate CGI animation, the result a novelty production that provides a new angle on family filmgoing.

The trend is set to continue, not least because of the success of Beverly Hills Chihuahua’s surprise success last fall. And most of the reasons the audience made its opening weekend such a surprise was down to the teaser trailer: a crazy, song and dance with a good couple of hundred Chihuahuas funking their stuff and feeding off last summer’s Indiana Jones vibe by performing in an Aztec styled temple to a track that older ears might recognise as a spin on Louis Oliveira’s Chihuahua, itself very similar to The Champs’ 1958 hit Tequila. I first glimpsed it on the front of WALL-E, and groaned. Then it just kept popping up on Disney DVD after Disney DVD, growing on me each time; when it ultimately became the best thing to be found on the Ariel’s Beginning disc, more than pleasing the eight year old girl in our family, actually seeing Beverly Hills Chihuahua wasn’t an option: it was now a certainty. And oddly enough, the wacky charms of the teaser – completely off the wall, it was inspired lunacy – had been so worked on me that I wasn’t actually against the idea. So imagine all our disappointment to find that this entire scene isn’t anywhere to be found in the movie!

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It all starts out quite well: we meet Chloe the Beverly Hills Chihuahua herself, owned by fashion magazine editor Jamie Lee Curtis, who’s about to jet off on another promotional trip. Curtis is fun as the dotty executive and puts in a frothy performance for what is essentially a cameo, though one that she seems to relish. She leaves Chloe with the adorable Piper Perabo, better known for Coyote Ugly and to animation fans in the underrated The Adventures Of Rocky And Bullwinkle movie, who promptly ignores Chloe’s pleas for expensive food and dumps the pooch for a night on the town and a party weekend in Mexico. Frustrated and not realising the situation she’s in, Chloe attempts to make a break from the hotel but finds herself on the streets.

Where the movie works is in the way it handles its situations: it could, in the wrong hands, come over as crude and crass but the PG-rating is always adhered to and even when Chloe ends up nabbed by street criminals to appear in their illegal dog fights, it’s all done with an element of the Disney charm that suggests danger but never really alludes to it in such a way that it is ever in danger of feeling too real or scary. It’s at these fights that Chloe meets Delgado, an ex-police sniffer who’s lost his sense of smell and self-worth. Helping the little Chihuahua to escape, Delgado takes it upon himself to see her home, with the criminals, who have discovered Chloe’s costly diamond necklace, hot on their heels. Meanwhile, the Beverly Hills gardener who’s infatuated with Perabo – not to mention his own Chloe-smitten Chihuahua Papi – realise the terrible trouble their respective potential girls are in, and head down to find them.

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All of this is handled well by director Raja Gosnell, who has a knack for this sort of thing, and the performers do everything that is expected of them with a knowingness that never suggests that the material is below them. Indeed, they throw themselves into their roles, including Barrymore, Lopez and Garcia, who really comes over as a very good voice actor. It’s not mediocre by any stretch, but Beverly Hills Chihuahua also isn’t a classic, the weight of that teaser anticipating an explosion of singing and dancing Chihuahuas at any moment that never comes.

After the half way mark, where we meet a couple of con artist animals (including Cheech Marin, naturally) that provide a bit of amusement for a few scenes, I did start to wonder when the Aztec ruins would begin to feature. A railroad scene – intentionally drab to emphasize the down beat nature of the characters’ moods at that point – got me to thinking that this really didn’t seem to be the kind of movie that would feature such a bright and bonkers moment, though little did I realise that I would be proven correct. Eventually, the big number of Chihuahuas show up, and lead Chloe and Delgado to safety from the harsh desert – at last they reach the Aztec ruins. But anyone paying attention will notice that Papi, who features prominently in the teaser, isn’t around during these moments…clue number one. Chloe, who’s dolled up in her sparkling finest bling for the teaser, is here down on her luck, having lost her diamonds and booties and scuffed in the mud to lose her perfumed scent…clue number two. The more I watched, the less hope I had of seeing that trailer scene integrated into the movie.

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As is per movie law, the villains show up, the heroes win and all works out for the good by the time the end credits run. Perhaps here, even though out of context, we might get the Tequila styled Chihuahua sing off as a last minute celebration of victory? Nope…the screen cuts to black and all we get is the soundtrack to the teaser played out over standard credits. Fair play to Disney’s marketing team: they took an average movie and dressed it up as something it slightly isn’t, and succeeded in pulling us into the movie. It’s all very clever, tricksy and sneaky marketing, but when so much of it revolves around one two minute clip, it’s very much to the film’s detriment and its overall enjoyment factor when such a major slice of why we’re sitting and watching in the first place is revealed to be nothing but a scam to get you in a cinema seat. We were left undoubtedly scratching our heads long after the drive home and basically resorted to our own entertainment by singing the song to ourselves instead, coming up with funnier and funnier inserts for “Chihuahua” as we went along.

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The cross-country animal movie used to be something to look forward to, but really, how many American / Hollywood / Bolt / Dog / Roadside Romeo / Beverly Hills Chihuahua type retellings of the same basic plot – pampered pooch gets lost in the rough and must make it back home – do we need? Certainly a few more, if the rumored Hollywood Chihuahua sequel is anything to go by! Billed as “the greatest Chihuahua movie of all time”, Beverly Hills Chihuahua certainly has its tongue firmly in its cheek, and is decently made, fine family fare. But the overall movie, while it entertained our eight year old audience, isn’t quite as cute or funny as it thinks it is, and the letdown of missing out the teaser scene – which must have been a deciding factor for many apart from us – may leave some with the feeling that some magic is missing.

Is This Thing Loaded?

Coming to both DVD and hi-def Blu-ray, Beverly Hills Chihuahua is the latest in a number of discs that purposely holds back perfectly valid video content from the standard definition edition to entice an upgrade to the new format. Surely the point here is that those springing for the pricier discs are in it for the better picture and sound quality, and while the odd touch of exclusive added content is a fun bonus for BD owners, it’s just not fair to those with regular DVD who miss out on what should be included on all editions. Being a Disney disc, the Blu-ray opens up with the usual magical Disney promo, the benefits of BD (hey, I know…I’m watching it!) and a barrage of Sneak Peeks, some played at the top of the disc, some optional, but here promoting Pinocchio Platinum Edition, Pixar’s Up in theaters, and the disc releases for the charmless Bedtime Stories, Bolt, Monsters Inc, the Roy Disney boat race documentary Morning Light, plus Disney Movie Rewards and DisneyXD online in HD.

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The main menu is perfectly adequate, and I’d wager that it’s fairly similar between formats, but on both BD and DVD, the big promoted extra is the new animated short Legend Of The Chihuahua, what looks to be a Flash animated three minutes of extra fun that looks pretty handsome as it just about manages to overcome the limited animation techniques. An addition to the Disney shorts line-up this certainly is not: without appropriate front or end credits, this is just what it is, a simple disc bonus which reminds for the most part, the Your Friend The Rat cartoon or perhaps The Origins Of Stitch on the Ratatouille and Lilo And Stitch II releases, respectively. Mildly amusing, there are a couple of laughs to be had, but otherwise this feels lightweight and the lacklustre fadeout leaves one wondering why they really bothered.

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The next stop has to be the Deleted Scenes section, to see if that omitted teaser clip was ever intended to be a part of the main feature. Alas, it doesn’t seem so, the 25 minutes of extra moments presented here (not all of these excised moments are featured in the DVD edition) basically being scene extensions or smaller moments. For the most part, these are presented “as shot”, so camera sound is used, the dogs’ CGI mouths haven’t been put in place and the framing hasn’t been re-jigged to accommodate the 2.40:1 ratio that the main feature enjoys. Most of them deserved to go – especially the earlier ones which don’t contain much in the way of any spark or life and would have drawn out the movie with a load of mythology hogwash – though Chihuahua Nation inadvertently shows a bit of the animation process, and Chloe’s Vision Quest and Spirit Chihuahuas are surprisingly epic to have been cut and show off more of the visual effects development.

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The Blooper Scooper offers up a three minute selection of flubs from the movie (the take slate revealing the original South Of The Border title), mostly from where the canine stars didn’t perform on cue and which shows just how patient the filmmakers need to be and just what a task the trainers are faced with on a daily basis. Very welcome, even on fare like this, is a feature Audio Commentary with director Raja Gosnell, who covers all the basic requirements, though some may find his rather languid voice a struggle to overcome in the face of a lot of production information, none of it revealing anything particularly out of the ordinary. But he does address some of the story directions and warms up as the track progresses, offering a point of interest here and there that just about retains the curiosity factor.

That’s it for the DVD, but Gosnell turns up again on the Blu-ray to introduce a further selection of deleted scenes. Two additional featurettes look at the cast of Beverly Hills Chihuahua both in front and behind the camera. Pet Pals: The Voices Behind The Dogs (9:27) speaks briefly to the main vocalists, including lead trio Barrymore, Lopez and Garcia, with most fun being them in the recording booths, though the 13 minute long Hitting Their Bark: On Set With The Dogs Of BHC is much more fascinating, showing the dogs and their trainers on set. With films of this type I’m always impressed with the amount of time and energy the trainers use in persuading the animals to “act”, often with the result that they give more convincing performances than their human counterparts, so it’s nice to see them getting their due for a film that largely supplements their work with the superimposed graphics.

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Finally the BD-Live features continue to perplex me in their intentional audience aim: with Blu-ray a predominantly adult collector market – even where those discs will be viewed in a family environment – the largely kid orientated features, which include online Movie Chat, Movie Mail, Movie Challenge and Disney Movie Rewards Live (where players can win trinkets during the movie) would seem redundant to most users. Even without my player hooked up to the internet, I just can’t see myself wanting to disrupt the movie any more than it is already what with floating menus and picture in picture elements, though I guess they’re appreciated by some attention deficit folks.

Case Study:

Housed in a standard Blu-ray keepcase, I’m still struck at how small the artwork has to be shrunk down to fit in such a case, given the redundant strip of blue plastic that runs along the top. On DVD initial pressings get a glossy slipcase but the BD isn’t a slouch in this area either, with a sparkly sheen that emphasizes the characters’ accessories nicely. As with Ratatouille, a spoof pronunciation key spells out the correct way of describing the title’s canine breed – chee’ WOW wa – though the title treatments gets the short thrift on the narrower spine. The BD-Live logo still looks like “BD-isney-Live” to me and the love-affair with the new format is still in big effect with the back page blurb announcing that the film is a real treat “especially in Blu-ray”, and a bigger note makes a big point of suggesting this is “the ultimate high definition experience”, though I wouldn’t quite call it that. The colored disc art uses more of the poster art (which oddly shades out the dogs’ private parts as if we would be offended by them), and inside are Blu-ray and upcoming title promos, as well as the Movie Rewards code.

Ink And Paint:

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Not only have DVD transfers come on a long way in the ten-plus years the format has existed, but the very point of Blu-ray is its unsurpassed home video viewing clarity so the quality of image here is naturally going to be hard to beat, especially coming from a three month old theatrical release that was probably mastered to disc before the first print was struck. As such, Beverly Hills Chihuahua looks sharp, with a very fine grain transfer that even looks vibrant in the darker night scenes, invariably a weak point when converting film to digital, but that offers terrifically strong blacks here.

Scratch Tracks:

As with the image, there’s really not anything to complain about on the soundtrack: as a part-animated picture, the Foley artists have been careful to make sure every paw print and tiny spot effect is perfectly in place. Even the camera sound as heard in the extras is extremely well recorded: it would be easy to suggest using this as a family friendly demo disc if that teaser scene was an actual moment in the movie. Without it here, it’s tough to come up with another signature sequence, but fans of the film will probably have one they can refer back to. Uncompressed and Dolby 5.1 tracks are here in English, with French and Spanish 5.1 dubs (and Spanish subs) also optional.

Final Cut:

Once one gets over the fact that the movie’s best scene isn’t in the movie, Beverly Hills Chihuahua provides an entertaining enough 90 minutes of fun with an old-school charm in the story and performances. On disc, all in all there isn’t a diamond encrusted collection of supplements for either DVD or BD formats, with absolutely no reason why the additional featurettes couldn’t have been bundled in both editions. But it doesn’t quite belong in the dog house either, with the commentary an easy feature to have been left out but welcome for having been included. The added value package is about what one would expect these days, though with the new cartoon short it makes up a decent enough collection. But this is probably more a solid family rental that might put a soppy smile on your face than an essential addition to animation fans’ shelves.

Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?

MAIN FEATURE
SUPPLEMENTS
VIDEO IMAGE
SOUND TRACK
OVERALL DVD

 

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