DVD Review: “Beverly Hills Chihuahua”

Beverly Hills Chihuahua (2009, Disney)
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You’ve heard the annoyingly catchy song and seen enough commercials to make you throw a water bowl at the television, but the real question is: How good is Beverly Hills Chihuahua? If you’re a kid, it’s “awesome!” I mean, how can a movie with talking dogs not be? The film is directed by Raja Gosnell, a man who has a knack for producing family films. Mind you, his films are not necessarily art (he previously directed both Scooby Doo live action films, plus the remake of Yours, Mine and Ours and Big Momma’s House), but anyone who can make even illegal dog fighting fun (as he does in this film) must have a talent for safe, commercial filmmaking.

I must first tell you that this film is not about the cute brown Chihuahua you see in the ads and posters. In fact, the film is really about a spoiled, white Chihuahua (voiced by Drew Barrymore) who gets lost in Mexico and tries to find her way home with the help of a German Shepherd who is an ex-police dog (voiced by Andy Garcia).

The lost Chihuahua’s name is Chloe, and she is owned by a millionaire, Vivien, played by Jamie Lee Curtis (always fun). She leaves the dog in the care of her irresponsible niece, Rachel (Piper Pierbo of the Cheaper by the Dozen remakes). When Rachel takes a trip to Tijuana with her friends, Chloe is dog napped. She escapes from the aforementioned dog fights with the help of Delgado, a German Sheppard/former police dog who has exiled himself to the underworld out of shame. With the help of Delgado, Chloe begins a journey through Mexico while being pursued by a nefarious gangster and his vicious Doberman Pincher (menacingly Edward Lames Olmos). With the help of a couple of stray dogs (including Luis Guzman), a mouse (Cheech Marin) and an iguana (Paul Rodriguez), Chloe learns to become independent and rely on herself. At the same time, Rachel sets off to find Chloe before Vivien returns from Europe. She enlists Vivien’s hunky gardener (Manolo Cardona) and his spirited little Chihuahua, Papi (voiced by George Lopez). Papi is the dog featured in Disney’s marketing campaign.

Technically, the film is pretty flawless. Besides a couple of shots in which animals are clearly digital and look just plain awful, most of the cuts between the cg and real creatures are seamless. The overall look of the movie has the same polished clean look of any family film. Everything feels safe. The entire cast seems to be having a good time. It’s a pity that with such a large minority cast in Beverly Hills Chihuahua, none of their famous faces are onscreen, and they’re all playing animals.

This being a Disney film, you know everything is going to turn out fine in the end. In fact, even at its scariest, Beverly Hills Chihuahua is about as intimidating as the Scooby Doo movies. The film never lags; Gosnell (a former film editor) knows exactly when to ratchet up the action and tweak your emotions when you’re supposed to feel sad or happy. If you’re thinking of sitting down with your kids and expecting a laugh riot I have to warn you that the jokes will probably only give you a smile or a chuckle, not a full bellied laugh. If you’re an adult your reaction will likely be ‘eh.” But as far as Disney is concerned, the only reaction they care about is that “awesome!” coming from the kids.

The DVD includes bloopers and deleted scenes with introductions by Gosnell. The director also provides commentary and there is a brand new animated short, Legend of the Chihuahua, which is cute.

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