Today’s feature is a 2010 comic strip movie adaptation that literally no one wanted or asked for: Marmaduke.
Marmaduke is loosely based on the comic strip created by Brad Anderson and Phil Leeming. The screenplay for the movie was written by Tim Rasmussen (License to Wed) and Vince Di Meglio, the latter of which worked as a visual effects artist on films like Miss Congeniality and Daredevil.
The director for Marmaduke was Tom Dey, who has also been behind such Hollywood comedy films as Shanghai Noon and Failure to Launch. The cinematographer was Greg Gardiner, who previously shot Son of the Mask and Elf, among many others. Don Zimmerman, who has had a long career as an editor in Hollywood with such movies as Rush Hour 3, Over The Top, Rocky IV, Patch Adams, Galaxy Quest, Being There, and Coming Home, did the cutting for Marmaduke.
The musical score for the film was provided by Christopher Lennertz, who has worked extensively on the television show Supernatural, as well as films like Soul Plane, Disaster Movie, and Horrible Bosses.
The special makeup effects on Marmaduke were provided by a team including Bill Terezakis (Taken 2, House of the Dead, Snow Dogs, Friday the 13th Part VIII), Frida Norrman (TRON: Legacy, Rise of the Planet of the Apes), Todd McIntosh (Masters of the Universe, Torchwood), and Celine Godeau (American Mary, Slither, Dreamcatcher).
The Marmaduke special effects team was made up of Gary Heidrick (Scary Movie 3, Catwoman), Hike Hyrman (Van Helsing, Brothers Grimm, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, The Black Cat), Wayne Syzbunka (Lake Placid, The Black Cat, Pick Me Up, Dreams in the Witch House, Blade: Trinity), James Lorimer (Cellular, Van Helsing, Tank Girl, Drive, Flubber, Garfield), Steve Davis (Scary Movie, Snow Buddies, Friday the 13th Part VIII), Richard Darwin (Lost in Space, Dungeons & Dragons, The Flintstones, Babe), and Cara E. Anderson (Trucks, The Mangler 2, The Core, Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2).
The massive visual effects team for Marmaduke included work by a number of effects companies, including Cinesite, Rhythm and Hues, and Image Engine, and in total included elements that worked on such diverse movies as Iron Man, Frozen, Big Hero 6, Life of Pi, The Golden Compass, Skyfall, Live Free or Die Hard, The Ugly Truth, Piranha 3D, Cloud Atlas, Pacific Rim, The Frighteners, The Brothers Grimm, Guardians of the Galaxy, Alvin and the Chipmunks, 47 Ronin and Yogi Bear.
The team of producers for Marmaduke included Derek Dauchy (xXx, Master of Disguise, Mr Popper’s Penguins), Arnon Milchan (Epic Movie, Daredevil, Fight Club, Heat, LA Confidential, King of Comedy, 12 Years A Slave, Gone Girl, Birdman), Jeffrey Stott (Drive, Nightcrawler, Whiplash, The Adventures of Pluto Nash, North), and John Davis (Waterworld, Eragon, Fortress, Predator 2).
The deep cast for Marmaduke includes Lee Pace (Guardians of the Galaxy), William H. Macy (Evolver, Cellular, Edmond, Fargo) Owen Wilson (Anaconda, Inherent Vice, The Life Aquatic, Wedding Crashers), Emma Stone (Birdman, Paper Man, Gangster Squad, The Amazing Spider Man), Keifer Sutherland (The Lost Boys, Phone Booth, Stand By Me, Pompeii) George Lopez, Steve Coogan (Tropic Thunder, Hamlet 2), Fergie, Sam Elliott (The Big Lebowski, Frogs, Road House), Marlon Wayans (The Ladykillers), Damon Wayans (Major Payne), and Judy Greer (Archer, Arrested Development).
Ron Perlman was apparently at one point attached to the movie in the role that ultimately went to Sam Elliott, but left the production for unknown reasons.
According to the IMDb trivia section for the movie, Marmaduke contains:
two dog farts, three urine gags, two hits to the groin, one animal belch, two record scratch moments and two uses of the phrase “Who let the dogs out?”
The reception to Marmaduke was very negative, and it currently holds an IMDb rating of 4.1 alongside Rotten Tomatoes scores of 9% (critics) and 42% (audience). Regardless of the negative reception, Marmaduke wound up being profitable in overseas markets, in total grossing almost $84 million on a $50 million budget. Despite being in the black at the end of its run, the film certainly didn’t meet expectations, particularly in the domestic sphere.
The first and most distracting aspect of the movie I have to mention is the dog mouths, which are computer manipulated to move with speech patterns. While the result looks better than similar children’s movies that have tried the same thing, it actually winds up stuck in the uncanny valley, creating a sort of hypnotic and unsettling effect.
Speaking of the effects, the movie goes beyond overboard in a number of sequences. The scenes that feature Marmaduke dancing or surfing, both of which happen more than you might expect in the film, look absolutely awful, particularly the Bollywood-style dance scene at the end of the film. If the film had kept the effects a little more subtle, they might have gotten away with a watchable product. However, it definitely goes the way of Son of the Mask and Cats & Dogs in the excessive effects use.
The story of Marmaduke is a lot deeper than it has any right to be, considering how much of the humor is related to farting or peeing. At the same time, however, it is all painfully cliche and predictable. Most of the plot centers around an oppressive racist/classist system that operates at a local dog park, which grants pure breed dogs privileges not afforded to mutts. Marmaduke, a newcomer to the area, spends most of the movie trying to ingratiate himself with the ruling class, before learning a valuable lesson about friendship, turning his back on it, and throwing a wrench into the system. Keep in mind, this is theoretically based on a comic strip that not only does not address classism or systemic oppression in any form, but rarely even features actual humor.
Speaking of which, why bother with trying to make a movie out of this source material? I have a hunch that this was at some point a speculative script for a generic talking dog movie, and that the Marmaduke brand was pretty much tossed onto it as a promotional plan. Because, really, there is just no content in the source material to create a plot out of, so why not just use whatever is laying around? It is true that Marmaduke doesn’t have a whole lot of die hard fans, but it is at least a recognizable name that could be marketed based on that recognition, giving it some value.
I’m not going to bother digging into the laziness of the humor in this movie, because there is just no point to it. However, there are a number of things about the story that bother me. Theoretically, the plot is your typical fish out of water setup, but the audience has no frame of reference of what Marmaduke’s usual surroundings are like, which undermines the whole premise. What was Kansas like for this giant dog, anyway? How is this new situation in California different for him? Aside from the audience being told that things are different, nothing is ever shown to drive home the contrast between the two locations.
Overall, Marmaduke is your typical children’s movie trash, bowing to base humor, bad effects, and tired plots. While the cast is really impressive, it is totally wasted on this movie. There isn’t really anything to recommend about the movie, outside of the fact that it is a near-perfect example of what is wrong with children’s and family films today. Unless you are just deathly curious, you should avoid this wreck. Or, better yet, check out The Flop House Podcast for another perspective on the film (with the same conclusion).