Blu-ray Review: Beverly Hills Chihuahua (2008)

Finding Its Bark on
DVD & Blu-ray

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In Once Upon a Time in Mexico, Johnny Depp asks if another character is a "Mexi-can" or a "Mexi-can't." In this south of the border Disney comedy that elevates itself following a clunky start-- Beverly Hills Chihuahua surprisingly turns into quite the entertaining family film and proof that it's a "Mexi-can."

Although, since I must confess that after witnessing Space Buddies, the idea of live action animals with animated mouths to match their vocals has made its way onto my list of irrational fears including escalators and Die Hard era Alan Rickman-- I was completely unprepared by how enjoyable this movie would turn out to be.

Beverly Hills Chihuahua begins as though it's a canine version of Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion, Clueless, Legally Blonde, or The House Bunny by introducing us to our spoiled chihuahua heiress Chloe (voiced by Drew Barrymore) as essentially the Paris Hilton of dogs whose owner Jamie Lee Curtis (Freaky Friday) is a cosmetics industry tycoon.

When she isn't pampered at the salon or engaging in super expensive play-dates with her fellow wealthy dogs, Chloe spends her time trying to ignore the adoration of George Lopez's Papi-- the landscaper's chihuahua who obviously has spent too much time watching telenovelas longing to break canine class clashes and romance the beautiful diva. However-- always reminding Papi that although they are the same breed-- they're of fiercely different stock-- the stuck-up Chloe gets a much needed reality check after Curtis must venture to Europe for a business trip and leaves her irresponsible niece played by Piper Perabo (The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, The Prestige) in charge.

Quickly venturing with her friends on a Mexican vacation, Perabo's Rachel ignores the list of her aunt's demands about expensive cuisine and three outfit changes per day and tries to feed Chloe food from a can. Gasp! When she leaves Chloe behind to go partying-- the fed up chihuahua decides to venture out on her own and is promptly abducted by ruthless members of a dog-fighting ring where she meets up with other pet-napped dogs.

Fortunately, Andy Garcia's German Shepard with the heart of gold takes pity on the pint sized Chloe and thereafter busts her out of the ring (not to mention an incredibly intense and frightening sequence that may scare Disney's youngest viewers) as the two team up to try and make their way home.

Meanwhile, having gotten word that his beloved Chloe is missing down south, Papi and his handsome owner Nick Zano decide to help-- for Chloe and their devotion to Curtis in lieu of the bratty Rachel who shares some predictable banter with the man she dismisses as the simple "gardener," only to realize that-- just like Chloe-- she must move past her spoiled ways.

With the terrifying El Diablo (Edward James Olmos)-- a GPS equipped villainous dog hot on Chloe and Delgado's tails, all the characters keep moving-- predictably missing each other at times by seconds-- as they encounter some unique and quirky Disney supporting characters like Cheech Marin's con-rat Manuel.

Although initially when Chloe landed quickly into the hands of dog-fighters, I worried it was going to stereotype-- the film quickly proved me wrong as it boasted countless roles for a wonderful ensemble of mostly Latin American actors including everyone from Paul Rodriguez and Luis Guzman to one of the three tenors himself-- Mr. Placido Domingo who arrives in the most-over-the-top set piece that's fitting for the opera man.

Living in essentially a haven for Chihuahuas to school Chloe in on her royal heritage as a descendant of the Aztec line, he implores her to look beyond the fact that she's tiny to instead think of herself as mighty in order to find her bark and say "no mas" to silly outfits or life relegated to being a purse accessory.

While it's cute and obviously contemporary in poking fun at those who treat Chihuahuas as though they were purse dogs-- Beverly Hills Chihuahua also manages to sneak in some interesting plot-lines involving an undercover police case, a subtle message about immigration as at one point Chloe and Delgado contemplate sneaking her across the border with the help of a coyote, and needless to say-- the true Disney tenants of unlikely friendships.

While every time a Disney film featuring dogs has been released, spontaneous pet ownership skyrockets-- Disney conquers this head on by ending the film with an important public service announcement that adding a pet to your home is a commitment for life.

Additionally and exclusive to the Blu-ray format, it's filled with more dog-oriented extras that go behind-the-scenes of working with hundreds of dogs (some who understood Spanish and others who only knew English) as well as learning more about the training process, Drew Barrymore's work to help save dogs from being euthanized, and intriguing facts including that the scene-stealing Papi was found at a local shelter, scheduled to be put down before the filmmakers stepped in and adopted him for the movie.

Also featuring a terrific animated short focusing on the Legend of the Chihuahua along with the run-of-the-mill disc inclusions of bloopers and deleted scenes-- most of the truly worthwhile featurettes are only available exclusively on the Blu-ray including a fun look at the cast as they record their voice work, such as Cheech Marin who likens the process of acting for animation as "carving with a chainsaw" since they have to be very big.

Giving Blu-ray fans the opportunity to access the Disney BD-Live Network and featuring the film in a crystal clear transfer that fills widescreen televisions and sounds excellent in English, Spanish, and French language 5.1 or 2.0 Dolby Digital as well as 5.1 English Uncompressed audio tracks-- it's a marvelously high quality disc that again in boasting exclusive content for Blu-ray helps encourage Disney devotees to make the switch yet again with each successive superlative transfer to Blu-ray.

Although it was unfairly ridiculed as silly fluff and in some bizarre cases charged with celebrating a posh lifestyle during this horrific economic climate (as if reviewers felt that children weren't allowed the opportunity to escape from bleak times or that perhaps adults wanted a chance to laugh at the heiresses that treat their dogs better than human beings), I must say that Beverly Hills Chihuahua is much better than one would think, if like Chloe and Rachel you leave your cynicism and judgments at the doggy door.

And-- aside from a few cheesy jokes that seem to have been packed in as though they'd get an extra million every time they added the term "Chihuahua" to any given punch-line and a few overly CGI characters-- it's a nice treat of a family film that manages to simultaneously amuse adults and children alike which is a rare feat indeed but luckily again, we realize we're in the hands of a true "Mexi-can"-- the always royal Chihuahua.