Once upon a time, children's films were gentle, freewheeling tales in which animals and people could interact and minor life lessons could be imparted to the youth. Now, in films like "Beverly Hills Chihuahua," they are crass, reductionist affairs, indoctrinating kids to consumer culture. Seen with the wrong pair of eyes, it is nothing short of majorly depressing.
In "Beverly Hills Chihuahua," a pampered little dog (voiced by Drew Barrymore) -- one who wears outfits and gets spa treatments and is carried around in a designer carry-all -- becomes lost in Mexico and must find her way back home. There are some actual people (played by Piper Perabo, Jamie Lee Curtis and others) who are involved in the story, but it's mostly about the dog and other dogs she meets and the quippy one-liners that spill from their lame special-effects-moving mouths.
One could try to overlook the film's view of Mexico as an either-or land of resort poshness and street-level poverty, chiefly populated by criminals and hustlers of all stripes, except that view forms the entire film, driving the narrative impulse by which the spoiled puppy makes her journey.
"Beverly Hills Chihuahua" features a stellar lineup of Latino actors as voice talent, including Andy Garcia, George Lopez, Edward James Olmos, Paul Rodriguez, Cheech Marin and Luis Guzman. Even radio personality Piolin and opera star Placido Domingo are tossed into the mix. That they are brought together only for such a wearying endeavor and aren't even seen on-screen is in itself a huge bummer.
There is a variation on the story as presented that could smartly deconstruct the ideology of glamour and consumption that has of late crept toward younger and younger minds. Think of it as the Paris Hilton Complex, that idea of young people as little princesses and princes who get what they want, and what they want is easy pickings and a life without engagement. Alas, "Beverly Hills Chihuahua" is not that fantasy critique, as it places its hapless heroine in essence right back where she started at the end of the film, and poolside is poolside and emptiness is emptiness.
I must confess that I saw "Beverly Hills Chihuahua" in between a German drama on 1970s revolutionary activism and an indie comedy about a young woman with deep-rooted sexual issues, which doesn't exactly put me in the target demographic. But still, despite its superficial lip-service to self-actualization/realization, there has to be more to life than what "Beverly Hills Chihuahua" is putting out there, which is fit for neither man nor beast.
"Beverly Hills Chihuahua." MPAA rating: PG for some mild thematic elements. Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes. In general release.