Judge Gordon Sullivan once entered his stuffed dog in the Ultimate Pseudo-Puppy Competition.
The World's Worst Dog Is Back.
Major Hollywood films only have so many lessons to impart, and most of them are variations on carpe diem. All the three-hanky flicks are there to tell us to seize the day and not let opportunities or friendships pass you by. It's hard to argue with a message like that, and so it's easy to give a pass to films that try to win our hearts with a solid message. That's why flicks like Marley and Me can make a quarter of a million dollars. The other lesson that Hollywood has to teach us—though they won't admit it—is that every last dollar should be squeezed from successful films. Thus, we get Marley & Me: The Puppy Years, a generic talking-dog flick that has only the barest hint of a relation to the first film. It'll keep a young audience entertained, but those looking for anything like the heart-touching warmth of Marley and Me will be sorely disappointed.
Facts of the Case
Early in the life of Marley (voiced by Grayson Russell, Diary of a Wimpy Kid), he's left with one of the Grogan cousins, Bodi (Travis Turner), while Marley's family goes on vacation. Bodi himself is dropped off with his grandfather while his mother goes out of town on a business trip. Bodi hopes to prove himself reliable with Marley so he can convince his mom that he can have his own dog. To do that, he decides to enter Marley into the Ultimate Puppy Competition with the help of some of his grandfather's neighbors. Things are going well until the reigning Ultimate Puppy champions (who are, of course, played as scary Germans like it's 1932) get wind of Bodi's plan and try to put a stop to it.
I admit to no prior knowledge of the weepy juggernaut that is Marley and Me, but looking into it, I have to respect the fact that the original novel was adapted into a pair of children's books. Sure, it's a bit of a cash grab, but an honest attempt to take the lessons of the original book and make them easier for children seems like a good idea. Those expecting that The Puppy Years will accomplish something similar—bringing the original film to a younger audience—will be sorely disappointed. The Puppy Years is instead a talking-dog caper. Think Beverly Hills Chihuahua meets Air Bud. There's nothing inherently wrong with such a combo, but it's such a radical shift from the first film that fans will be left scratching their heads, if not feeling downright cheated by this film.
There is, however, something wrong with the overly generic way The Puppy Years was made. That is, there's something wrong if you're older than ten or so. The level of humor is evident in less than 10 minutes when Marley escapes from Bodi into his grandfather's pool, farts, and tells us, "Ah, Jacuzzi." In fact, dog flatulence plays an alarming large role in this film; it's not in every scene or anything, but it does show up at critical moments in the plot. The rest of the film is on that level, offering cheesy jokes, bad sight gags, puppy antics, and a really predictable plot. If this were a film in another franchise it might even be passable, but coming after Marley and Me it feels extra cheap.
The film also can't quite make up its mind in terms of focus. The first film used Marley as a (silent) witness to the life of the family. It was the humans' story, but the dog put things in perspective. With a talking Marley in The Puppy Years, Marley becomes a central character. However, The Puppy Years still wants to tell Bodi's coming-of-age story. So, those looking for Bodi's story will eventually get annoyed with the interruptions of puppy antics, while those looking for cute canines will find the focus on Bodi's plight unsatisfying.
More than the film, this Blu-ray is a serviceable release that gets the job done with a minimum of fuss. The AVC-encoded transfer looks bright and clean throughout, with no serious digital issues to mar the look. The film doesn't sport a strong visual design, so this isn't a reference disc, but detail is impressive and noise kept to a minimum. The DTS-HD soundtrack is pure overkill. There's some generic music (including what sounds like Bodi rapping) and a few atmospheric effects, but most of the action occurs in the center channel. Dialogue, though, is clear and well balanced, which is all we can ask for. Extras include a 10-minute featurette on dog training, four minutes of cast and canine interaction, and two minutes of deleted scenes set to music.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
For the under-ten crowd, Marley & Me: The Puppy Years might fit the bill. It's got cute animals, bodily humor, and a simple plot to follow. Parents can park the little ones in front of this film without too much worry, other than the "Can we get a puppy?" questions that are sure to follow.
According to the sticker on the front of this Blu-ray, Marley & Me: The Puppy Years is a Wal-mart exclusive. I'm glad, since that makes it less likely that unsuspecting Marley and Me fans will stumble on this disc and buy it blindly expecting more of the same tearjerking pleasures of the first film. At the time of this writing, it's unclear if The Puppy Years will be available to standard rental outlets, but renting before purchase seems like the best idea with this generic puppy film.
Marley & Me: The Puppy Years is guilty of going for the viewer's wallet.
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