Beverly Hills Chihuahua (US - BD RA)
Gabe reviewed two talking dog movies in two weeks. Where's his Pulitzer..?
Chloe (Drew Barrymore) is a particularly spoiled Chihuahua from Beverly Hills. When her owner, Vivian (Jamie Lee Curtis), takes a trip, she’s left in the care of Vivian’s niece Rachel (Piper Perabo). Rachel isn’t very responsible, or very fond of Chloe, so when an invitation to Mexico comes over the phone there’s very little hesitation. Unfortunately, the prissy Chloe is dognapped in Mexico, and sent on an epic journey home, while Rachel looks to Vivian’s landscaper Sam (Manolo Cardona), and his Chihuahua Papí (George Lopez) for assistance.
I’m a romantic at heart, so I’ll start this review off on a positive note— Beverly Hills Chihuahua isn’t half as painful to watch as the original teaser trailer implied. The first time I saw Wall-E I had to endure the thing, set to the sound of a couple dozen kids singing along. It was like my eyes and ears were being raped. The second time I saw Wall-E, I made sure I had a good seat, then excused myself for the credits. I came back and sat down as the theatre’s trailer was playing, which usually signifies the end of theatrical trailers, but not when those sneaky bastards at Disney stick a trailer directly onto the film print. So now I was watching the damn trailer again, in an even more packed audience, with even more kids singing along. I felt like Camille Keaton in I Spit on Your Grave.
I would be embarrassed to say that I’d already seen Beverly Hills Chihuahua before it was sent to me for review, but it was on an airplane, and I couldn’t escape it without decompressing the cabin and killing a couple hundred people. I didn’t actually listen to the audio (my headphones were plugged into my iPod, which was playing the audio book version of ‘How to Make Love the Bruce Campbell Way’), but I was able to discern almost the entire plot by staring aimlessly at the tiny screens, which I suppose is a testament to director Raja Gosnell’s direction. Actually, some readers may remember me complimenting the film’s general look in my Space Buddies review. Gosnell obviously has more in him than talking dog movies based on these 2.35:1 compositions, rhythmic and flashy editing, and some really impressive steady-cam movements (though his filmography vehemently suggests otherwise). It’s an excruciating film from script, musical, and humour aspects, but it’s put together with a rather keen eye.
There is something to be said about the formulas that Beverly Hills Chihuahua embraces. Why does every live action film featuring animals as their major protagonists (talking or not) revolve around the heroes getting lost and taking long treks home? Why do so many of these movies feature stop offs in animal fight clubs? Do Jack London and Sheila Burnford really still hold such a dramatic sway over the sub-genre? Yes, but only because it’s more convenient to rip off a successful formula than to create a new one. It’s hard to genuinely complain about the tropes of the talking animal film, but I can’t find a lot more to say about this particularly dopey little movie.
The difference between the full-frame version I caught on the airplane and this 1080p widescreen presentation is expectedly huge. Most of Beverly Hills Chihuahua is bold and colourful. Between Beverly Hills and Mexico there isn’t a lack of sunshine or flamboyant décor for the production. The bright hues are vibrant without any bleeding or blooming, with nice, soft transitions. Contrast is even, and sharp enough to produce some really solid blacks and whites. Details are about average for hi-def, and as has become the norm, unintentionally clarify many of the digital backdrops. The night shots were entirely indiscernible on the airplane, but on Blu-ray the clarity is consistent even when lighting is not.
After several major releases with DTS-HD Master Audio tracks, Disney has for some reason opted to return to PCM audio for this disc. On paper the two formats should be equal, and on my aging system the PCM should be less compressed, but usually the DTS-HD tracks are always louder and a bit crisper. We’re talking a small difference here, but I personally hope for a return to the DTS-HD tracks before Disney releases another movie I actually care about.
Anyway, this track is about as effective as expected from a largely computer animated film with a sizable budget. There are some decent surround effects like the evil Doberman’s LFE shattering growl, some effective crowd noise during the dog fight sequence, a reasonably loud train, and a sort of shocking mountain lion growl that made my cat jump. When necessary the track has a wide breadth of scope, and there are plenty of small touches that imply a natural setting. The film’s music falls into either score or acquired soundtrack. The pop music choices are really bad, and really obvious, but likely sold quite a few soundtrack albums. These songs often feature punchy bass, and have been cut up to produce some effective surround. The score is the usual Disney stuff, but potent enough to make the kiddies cry, and quite warmly represented on the track.
The special features begin with a commentary with director Raja Gosnell. Gosnell’s a decent commentator, and fills the time well, but spends a lot of time with dry technical factoids, though I’m not sure what else he would’ve had to talk about. I suppose I learned a lot about the areas of Mexico in which the film was shot, and have a slightly greater respect for the special effects. I do have to wonder who this track was recorded for. Who’s going to buy Beverly Hills Chihuahua and sit through ninety minutes of what the director thinks about the project? Besides Gosnell’s mother, I mean.
‘Legend of the Chihuahua’, a cute and brief (three minutes) little animated history of the breed, comes next. I believe I saw it on cable when the film was first being released in theatres. ‘Pet Pals’ is a nine and a half minute EPK aimed at the kids that covers the cast and a bit of behind the scenes process. This bit is set to interviews with most of the major cast, set against film footage, and footage of the actors recording their lines. Actors barking is always good for a laugh. The latter part of the featurette is devoted to the importance of adopting dogs. It’s followed by ‘Hitting Their Bark’, another fluff piece, running thirteen minutes, about the difficulty of filming a couple dozen different dogs. This process is surprisingly intriguing, and I am genuinely impressed with some of what the trainers were able to get out of the dogs.
Things come to a finish with ten deleted scenes and a blooper reel, not to mention a whole lotta the usual Disney trailers. The deleted scenes are presented in hi-def and semi-finished audio, but the dog’s mouths are only sometimes animated. They’re also preceded by director introductions, which mostly tell us that the human subplots were deemed unnecessary, as was a strange series of scenes involving the brave history of Chihuahuas in ancient Mexico. Ironically these scenes were the theme of that terrible teaser trailer, and would’ve given the film its only original flavour, no matter how ridiculous, or hallucinogenic (seriously, Chloe drinks peyote water and goes on a vision quest). The scenes run about twenty-five minutes.
This one comes down to how much worse it could’ve been. Beverly Hills Chihuahua is obnoxious, but not so obnoxious that parents will gouge their eyes out while watching the film with their children, who the film is obviously aimed at. If I were a more serious reviewer I’d complain about the unbelievable love story between the two Chihuahuas, as it’s obvious Chloe and Delgado the German Shepard have more chemistry. But that would be stupid.
* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Some material may not be suitable for children
Release Date: 3rd March 2009
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: PCM 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish, Dolby Digital 5.1 French
Subtitles: English HoH and Spanish
Extras: Director Commentary, ‘Legend of the Chihuahua’, ‘Pet Pals’, ‘Hitting Their Bark’, Deleted Scenes, Bloopers, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Raja Gosnell
Cast: Jaime Lee Curtis, Drew Barrymore, George Lopez, Piper Perabo, Andy Garcia
Genre: Comedy and Family
Length: 91 minutes
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