You’ve probably seen a panel or two of Brad Anderson’s “Marmaduke” comic strip at some point in your life. And, chances are, if you ever put a voice to the comic’s Great Dane, it sounded something like Scooby Doo (“Ruh-roh, Raggy!”) because these dogs must all sound alike, right?
So when the movie version of “Marmaduke” begins and the overgrown title character opens his mouth and we hear Owen Wilson’s Texas drawl, there’s an odd disconnect. It doesn’t sound right. And it’s kind of fun. For about five minutes. Then the movie settles into a predictable family-film groove about being yourself and fitting in and passing gas and finding the answer to the age-old question: Who let the dogs out?
Marmaduke first lives in Kansas, but soon moves to “The O.C.” with his human family. The movie teaches us that: 1) taking a job with an organic dog food company gives you the means to buy an ocean-front home in Orange County; 2) you wear fuchsia ties to work because “that’s how they roll in Cali"; and 3) it’s best not to remove your shoes when walking around in a dog park.
Marmaduke spends most of his time at that Laguna Beach dog park, which is portrayed as a pressurized high-school environment ruled by pure-bred snobs who look down their long noses at gawky mutts like our hero. Marmaduke makes friends with fellow outcasts, but forgets them in a flash when sudden popularity allows him the opportunity to hang with the top dogs.
Wilson’s amiable vocal work keeps the predictability from becoming too grating. The movie takes a sharp, strange turn in its last half-hour, injecting some serious “Homeward Bound"-style peril into the proceedings. But don’t worry: Marmaduke isn’t going to meet Marley up in doggie heaven. With this dog, sobbing takes a backseat to slobbering.