Talking animals lost their appeal a decade ago; and while the computer technology improves to mimic human speech, the desire to see such things diminishes proportionately. Marmaduke isn’t exactly the cutest dog to begin with – when his face and mouth are stretched into bizarre expressions to accommodate his incessant narration, it becomes downright disturbing. Canine attractiveness aside, the film’s plot doesn’t raise any bars and comes across as a cheap marriage between Mean Girls and every family movie involving a father who doesn’t pay enough attention to his kids. Throw in a little Scooby-Doo, Daylight, dog park politics, and dog surfing and you’ve got a painfully mediocre talking animal movie on your hands.
Awkwardly large yet lovable Great Dane Marmaduke (Owen Wilson) lives with the Winslow family, consisting of Phil (Lee Pace), his wife Debbie (Judy Greer) and their children Barbara, Brian, and Sarah. When Phil receives the job offer of a lifetime, the Winslows must relocate from Kansas to California, and while Marmaduke is initially reluctant, he determines that this is his opportunity to start anew. Once in Orange County, the Great Dane is introduced to the Dog Park, where cliques separate the purebreds from the mutts and a bullying Beauceron named Bosco (Kiefer Sutherland) rules with fear and terror. Desperate to fit in while trying to avoid being a “gargantuan spaz” or a “phony baloney sellout”, and catching the eye of the alpha dog’s Collie girlfriend Jezebel (Stacy Ferguson), Marmaduke inadvertently causes trouble for both his family and his newfound band of outcast canine friends including Mazie (Emma Stone), Raisin (Steve Coogan), and Giuseppe (Christopher Mintz-Plasse).
Marmaduke missed the mark on a creative story, which was to be expected. But it also missed the mark on the talking animals gimmick, which is ultimately the only thing it had to stand out from the pack. Unfortunately, animals with computer generated mouth and eye movements isn’t unique anymore, and considering how large and complex the jowls are on a Great Dane, most of the time it doesn’t even match up realistically. Add to that the stereotypes and semi-racist voice casting for each breed and you’ve got a generally disagreeable family film that should appeal to no one in the family. It’s a bit like Garfield, Cats and Dogs and Beverly Hills Chihuahua in its derivativeness, with a seemingly stolen comic strip name for the lead canine, as it’s just as unrelated to the source material as most recent theatrical adaptations that borrow a popular creative entity name in the hope of presold audiences. The dialogue tries painfully in vain to be hip and contemporary, further distancing the film from the hand-drawn Marmaduke fans fell in love with.
The humor is based almost entirely on dialogue with a few slapstick moments thrown in, but dog farts seem to be the meat and potatoes of the writers’ funny bones. The park serves as a high school for dogs, complete with gangs, packs and methods of separating the cool from the uncool. The plot mixes countless familiar themes, including a personality makeover, trying to fit in, contending with a rising ego, and even training for wooing the ladies. The father is trying to assimilate into his new job, the daughter is trying to be popular enough for the hunky surf boy, the son is trying to stay true to himself with his secret skater life, and the dog is trying to rise through the ranks of the doggy social pecking order. The climax isn’t all that horrendous, but getting there is a stretch even for the most patient viewers. You’ve got to really love dogs to spend your time watching this movie.
– The Massie Twins (GoneWithTheTwins.com)