Whether reactions veer towards the negative of if you've seen one, you've seen them all or the positive of enjoying the comfort food cinema of predictability, the success of talking animal movies – just like underdog sports pictures and romantic comedies – relies on how well the filmmakers take the tried and true ingredients of the genre formulas and run with it.
And in an ambitious move, the direct-to-disc sequel to Disney's 2008 box office hit Beverly Hills Chihuahua avoids the same tried-and-true “Heroes Journey for Dogs” motif often employed by Disney in everything from Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey up through Bolt and the original Chihuahua by going for an episodic approach.
Unfortunately, it’s a storytelling gamble that never really pays off throughout the second movie, which additionally suffers from the decision to turn the dogs into secondary comic-relief characters, neglecting their intended audience right from the start.
Though the newly married Chloe realizes she has to play “bad cop” er, “parent” to the five rambunctious puppies she and her pup-at-heart hubby Papi had at the start of the film, eventually without a bigger goal or role, the dogs in this movie are accidentally heroic at best and at worst, merely decorative.
Although the main plotline is timely but subtle in the way that it touches on our economy, health care, and financial institutions, it’s safe to say that children are sure to lose interest once it dawns on them that it’s the onscreen grown-ups rather than the talking dogs that are faced with the most overwhelming obstacles.
Whereas the first film incorporated an amusing spin on the literal journey concept when a dog-napping snapped the spoiled-little-rich-Chihuahua Chloe out of her self-absorption as she crossed the border to new territory, the plight of the privileged pups in the sequel relies far too much on cuteness as opposed to content, which makes it harder for us to feel invested in the movie. From start to finish, the dogs react to every obstacle as though it’s a day at the dog park, ultimately giving off the impression that they’re all dressed up with no particular place to go.
When Sam discovers that his parents are in danger of losing their home, after an injury side-lined his father and threatened the security of their family business and bill payments, the pups eventually put one paw in front of the other to try and dig up some green by -- wait for it -- winning a dog show.
While obviously, Chihuahua has the best of intentions by taking a dog’s eye view of a much more serious issue, even the screenwriters must’ve realized that it just wasn’t involving enough so they tack on an action packed ending as if to offer the girls a beauty pageant and the boys a bank robbery.
Likewise, in a tug-of-war between wanting to embrace the camp of the ridiculously rich yet at the same time, wanting to run away from it as well, the writers go overboard in their presentation of both extremes.
And this is particularly evident given the inexplicable reconfiguration of the two main female characters in the first movie from fashionistas to crusading volunteers as Aunt Viv and Rachel travel to the Rainforest for a six month expedition to locate plants with the potential to cure disease... because that’s a believable transition.
Par for the course in straight-to-disc sequels, the change in vocal talent from the name stars in the original film does take some getting used to as Drew Barrymore’s adorably clueless approach to Chloe as a rebellious Chihuahua chick in training is truly missed.
Nevertheless, it’s easy to just focus on some of the new and pleasantly likable casting decisions as the actors portraying Sam’s parents and the uptight and subtly prejudiced uptight owner of a dog park/beauty pageant rival really bring their thinly-drawn roles to life.
In an attempt to pick up the slack, the always affable George Lopez tries to get as much mileage as he can with his “Ay Chihuahua!” tagline as if it were the kiddie version of “Lucy, you got some ‘splaining to do” from I Love Lucy, but he’s routinely upstaged by the introduction of his physically gigantic yet surprisingly poetic adopted brother Pedro.
Despite the cuteness factor, I’d advise parents to invest in a rental before committing to a full purchase since -- unlike the far-too-juvenile (and at times annoying) kid-friendly excitement of the Buddies franchise -- Beverly Hills Chihuahua 2 may not keep your children interested for its admittedly succinct 84 minute running time.
While it’s elevated by top notch production values, because the difference in budget from the original theatrical release is easily visible since we’re indoors quite often or on sets that make the need for high-definition minimal, unless you’re specifically hoping to future proof your collection with the DVD/Blu-ray combo pack, you could surely get by with the DVD edition.
Easily usurped by Sony Animation's recently released straight-to-disc sequel Open Season 3 as well as last year's shockingly good big-screen WB sequel Cats and Dogs 2: The Revenge of Kitty Galore, Chihuahua 2 is disappointing fare for those like this reviewer who found themselves easily albeit surprisingly charmed by the original movie.
Likewise, Chihuahua 2 is an even bigger letdown when you contrast the story and quality to the House of Mouse's holiday themed release of superlative Search for Santa Paws, which was impressive enough to make me want to reevaluate Disney’s Buddies.
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FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.