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Movie Review: A Rat Done Bit My Sister Nell, and Space Buddies On the Moon!

Slave dogs take on the traits of their owners. A cosmonaut is doomed to Cossack-dance alone in orbit with his Budweiser mascot. The security of American space stations is in terrible disarray. Haunted by the deaths of five puppies during the making of the previous Buds installment, Space Buddies, the latest entry in Disney’s storied talking-dog franchise, offers a cruel vision of contemporary dystopia.

The history of canine space travel begins with the tragedy of Laika, who survived a mere hours into launch. Standing on her long lamed shoulders is Spudnick (the voice of Jason Earles), who begins our tale with a melancollie monologue: "I used to dream of being the first dogmonaut to walk on the moon; and now I dream of going home to my boy Sacha." Russian anomie is quickly dispersed by the gathering of American buds, who leave their owners to unite in a quest to go where no pup has gone before.

A note on methodology. The viewer may observe, well, dogs can't talk – not in America! The evolution of cinema has fostered increasingly efficient means of anthropomorphism. In this instance, to render the mouths and eyes of children agape in awe and wonder, mouth-shapes were superimposed with a computer on previously non-verbal snouts, and  actors were hired to voice words written by a dues-paying member of the Screenwriters Guild of America. It is a collaborative effort not unlike that which the pups undertake in their adventure — or folly, as one would have it.
 
The nearly indistinguishable voice talent (remember, the puppies are not really talking — otherwise they would be scientific wunderpups and even more exploitable) requires visual and verbal clues to bolster canine individuality. Thus, Buddah (Pushing Daisies' Field Cate) spouts quasi-wisdom along the lines of "You never know how deep a puddle is until you jump in it." Rosebud (Liliana Mumy) is one of them "bitches" you hear about in song and is decked in pink ribbon. She doesn't want to go out in the rain and who could blame her? Budderball (Josh Flitter)'s master is a rich kid who has passed his insatiable appetite down to his furry familiar, whose urges lead him to an accident with a space-food vending machine. B-Dawg (Skyler Gisondo), whose homey is a hip-hop moon-walking white kid, cold lamps the space ride and he goes, yo, "I would have blinged it out a little." Cultural appropriation gives way to painful introspection as B-Dawg muses during liftoff: "Dad always said I should be a little more down to earth. Why didn't I listen?" Mudbud's (Henry Hodges) owner naturally owns a lily-white couch upon which to splatter his namesake, which may be taken as a metaphor for the onset of menstruation despite the fact that Mudbud's owner is a boy.

These are ingredients for a recipe of delight – or are they? Serve your six-year-old niece a single serving of this jimmied cupcake and she will be transfixed and entertained for the duration. But unlike recent examples of class-conscious canine cinema like Wendy and Lucy and Hotel for Dogs, this picture fails to address the current economic crisis. Sure, laugh at how the dog's personalities mirror our own human frailties! Go ahead, sigh a little when the kids come home to find their puppies all gone to the moon! By all means cry when B-Dawg greets Spudnick with a culture-crossing, "fo' shizzle!" Remember that blood bought you those tears, you chief executive bastards.

About Pat Padua

Pat Padua is a writer, photographer, native Washingtonian, and Oxford comma defender. The Washington Post called him "a talented, if quirky, photographer." Pat has also contributed to the All Music Guide, Cinescene, and DCist, where he is currently senior film critic.