Firehouse Dog [DVD]
Director : Todd Holland
Screenplay : Claire-Dee Lim & Mike Werb & Michael Colleary
MPAA Rating : PG
Year of Release : 2007
Stars : Josh Hutcherson (Shane Fahey), Bruce Greenwood (Connor Fahey), Bill Nunn (Joe Musto), Scotch Ellis Loring (Lionel Bradford), Mayte Garcia (Pep Clemente), Steven Culp (Zachary Hayden), Dash Mihok (Trey Falcon), Bree Turner (Liz Knowles), Hannah Lochner (J.J. Presley), Claudette Mink (Captain Jessie Presley), Shane Daly (Burr Baldwin)
You wouldn't guess it at first, but Firehouse Dog is a great example of how CGI can work terribly against an otherwise good film. Ever since computer-generated imagery began replacing conventional special effects by bringing new, previously impossible images to the big screen, filmmakers have begun to rely more and more heavily on the technology, often at the expense of their films as a whole. The idea seems to be, if you can do it, you should do it, which results in CGI that either gluts the film into visual incoherence (e.g., Van Helsing) or looks ridiculously cartoonish (e.g., Jabba the Hutt in the 1997 special edition of Star Wars).
On the face of it, Firehouse Dog, a kid's movie about a pampered movie-star pooch who ends up saving a small firehouse from being shut down, wouldn't seem like a major contender in the ongoing CGI dilemma. However, the filmmakers' decision to use CGI to amend the otherwise enjoyable canine performance is an object lesson in unnecessary effects used simply because they're available. Moviedom's most famous dogs, from Lassie, to Rin Tin Tin, to Old Yeller, to Benji, all managed to work their way into audience's hearts and stay there for decades without the use of manipulated pixels to augment their facial expressions and make them do impossible back flips. Apparently, the filmmakers behind Firehouse Dog felt that the four Irish terriers used to portray the film's titular canine weren't quite special enough to enter our hearts. So, we are treated to terribly rendered shots of cartoonishly exaggerated reactions and impossible stunts that have no real comedic or spectacle value; they're just bad special effects.
This is unfortunate because otherwise Firehouse Dog is an engaging kid flick with some real humor and emotion. The protagonist is Shane Fahey (Josh Hutcherson), a good-hearted middle school kid who has been raised by his firefighter dad, Connor (Bruce Greenwood). Connor is a good dad who means well, but he has recently been shaken up by the death of his brother, who was the captain at Dog Patch, the fire station where he works (which is set in a nondescript old neighborhood in an unnamed city). Also, the life of the firefighter, with its odd hours and numerous emergencies, does not mix well with the life of a single dad; so, as one character points out, Shane is essentially an orphan.
Shane's life gets a jolt when Rexxx, a star Hollywood pooch, literally drops into his life. The movie's strained conceit is that Rexxx is a major movie star who headlines groan-worthy-titled movies like The Fast and the Furriest and Jurassic Bark; as a result, Rexxx has a ridiculously pampered lifestyle, which involves wearing an outlandish Donald Trump-esque hairpiece. Not knowing the dog's origins, Shane is at first annoyed by him, then intrigued by his amazing abilities, and finally grows to love him as part of the family. Rechristened Dewey, the dog also makes a great new addition to the fire station, especially when he helps Connor find another firefighter who has been buried in a tunnel collapse. This is all well and good, but of course we know that Dewey's original owner and trainer (Dash Mihok) will be looking for him and will eventually find him, especially given the media coverage of the dog's heroic deeds.
Firehouse Dog hits all the important points in a kids movie: it features a little action, a cute animal, important life lessons about responsibility and family, and, most of all, a juvenile hero who saves the day. Director Todd Holland (primarily a veteran of television, including The Larry Sanders Show and Malcolm in the Middle) treats it all with a light touch, although the constant use of pop songs on the soundtrack sounds much more like a marketing tie-in than an organic element of the narrative. Otherwise, it largely avoids any strained efforts at being “cool” by force-fitting pop culture references, although it does include some deeply unfortunate and unfunny scatological jokes.
Josh Hutcherson, who also played one of the leads in Bridge to Terabithia (2007), makes for an appealing protagonist, the kind of kid who's slightly troubled, but ultimately endearing, and he's well supported by a cast of uniformly strong adult actors, including Bill Nunn as a firefighter whose cooking skills lack finesse and Steven Culp as a firefighter-turned-city bureaucrat. But, unfortunately, every time you start thinking this is a pretty good little movie, Dewey has some ridiculous CGI-enhanced moment, and you find yourself wishing for the good ol' days when animals were allowed to be amazing all on their own.
|Firehouse Dog DVD|
|Distributor||20th Century Fox Home Entertainment|
|Release Date||July 31, 2007|
|VIDEO & AUDIO|
|The review disc supplied by 20th Century Fox was a low-resolution test copy that does not reflect the final version, so I cannot comment on the video and audio quality of the disc.|
|The first supplement on the disc has nothing really to do with the film itself, but is rather the result of the “Get Your Dog in the Movie Firehouse Dog” sweepstakes: The 200 first-prize winners got their dog's picture in the final credits, while the 200 second-prize winners get their dogs into the three-and-a-half-minute “Dogster Montage” included here. I think this has to be the first DVD supplement I've ever viewed that was the result of a sweepstakes. The five short featurettes that follow--“Tricks of the Trade, ” “Stunt Dogs: Who Protects Them?,” “Firehouse Tour,” “Family Values,” and “A Friend for Life: Dog 'Shopping' Tips”--feature interviews with members of the cast and crew and, with the exception of the last one, explore various aspects of making the film, especially working with the dogs. The “Loft Fire: Storyboard to Screen Comparison” (4 min.) is a nice example of how a complicated scene goes from the drawing board to the big screen (it includes optional commentary by director Todd Holland). As the title of next featurette, “Firehouse Dog: A True Hollywoof Story” (2:45), implies, it is a parody of E! True Hollywood Stories about Rexxx. Also included is the Fox Movie Channel special “Casting Session” (8:30), which focuses on the film's genesis (interestingly, coscreenwriter Claire-Dee Lim admits openly that the movie's idea came from an executive at Regency Entertainment) and how they went about casting the canine actors. There are also three deleted scenes (one of which is an animatic of an alternate opening, a James Bond homage in which Rexxx snowboards off a cliff, that was never shot for obvious budget reasons), all of which have alternate commentary by Holland and the three screenwriters. The disc is rounded out with a 30-second Human Society PSA with Josh Hutcherson; a gallery of faux posters for other Rexxx-starring movies, including Ocean's K-9 and Spider-Mutt, as well as magazine covers, advertisements, and publicity shots; and the film's original theatrical trailer.|
Copyright ©2007 James Kendrick
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