Much like its 1993 predecessor, “Homeward Bound II: Lost in San Francisco” should enjoy a respectable theatrical run before really hitting pay dirt as a sell-through video release. Scarcity of other G-rated fare in current movie marketplace will only enhance pic’s appeal to ticket-buying parents and their offspring.
Pic sticks close to formula that worked so well in “Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey,” a reworking of the Sheila Burnford novel previously filmed by Disney in 1963. The original film, like Burnford’s novel, followed the adventures of three amazingly resilient animals — a golden retriever, an
American bulldog and a Himalayan cat — during their long trek through the Pacific Northwest wilderness. The 1993 remake added a clever gimmick to the mix: The animals could speak to one another, and the humans in the story couldn’t understand what they were saying.
This gimmick is preserved and expanded in the equally entertaining sequel, as the three four-legged stars encounter several other canines who have their own ways with words.
Michael J. Fox and Sally Field are on board again to provide voices for, respectively, Chance, an exuberant bulldog, and Sassy, a finicky cat. Ralph Waite fills in for the late Don Ameche as the voice of Shadow, the retriever who comes off as equal parts elder statesman and sage mentor. Fox and Field get all the funny lines, and they make the most of them. But Waite provides just the right note of grizzled, avuncular wisdom.
Screenwriters Chris Hauty and Julie Hickson do a reasonably persuasive job of contriving another forced separation between the animals and their human owners. This time, the claustrophobic Chance breaks free of a carrying case just before he’s loaded onto the airliner carrying the family to a Canadian holiday. Sassy and Shadow follow him off the runway and onto the highway, for another incredible journey home.
Once again, Chance and Sassy spend most of their time swapping insults while Shadow serves as their referee. And, once again, the three house pets prove to be hardy adventurers on the road.
Last time, the animals had to cope with grizzly bears, mountain lions and other undomesticated beasts. Here, Chance, Sassy and Shadow must avoid two tough mutts (voiced by Jon Polito and Adam Goldberg) and a pair of bumbling dognappers (Michael Rispoli, Max Perlich) while making their way through the meaner streets of San Francisco.
Fortunately, our heroes are aided by some plucky strays who befriend them. Riley, the street-smart leader of the pack, is voiced by actor-comedian Sinbad. Carla Gugino provides the brassily self-assured voice for Delilah, a flirt who falls for Chance.
Even though it’s made clear that the dognappers intend to sell any dogs they nap to research scientists for use in experiments, the sense of menace is never so strong that young moviegoers are likely to be frightened. First-time feature helmer David R. Ellis, a veteran stunt coordinator and second-unit director, keeps things moving briskly enough to engross even tykes with extremely short attention spans. Better still, pic is funny enough to amuse adults who are willing to play along with it.
Animal coordinator Gary Gero does an impressive job of running his four-legged thespians through their anthropomorphic paces. And the matching of animals with human voices is inspired, even in what might be considered walk-on roles. One of the funniest segments has Al Michaels, Tommy Lasorda and Bob Uecker providing play-by-play commentary as dogs watching their human masters in a Little League game.
It’s not surprising that the three pets’ human family — Robert Hays and Kim Greist as the parents, Veronica Lauren, Kevin Chevalia and Benj Thall as their children — are constantly upstaged by their animal co-stars. But, then again, the animals get the most flattering camera angles and all of the best dialogue.
Tech values, including cinematography by Jack Conroy, are adequate to the task at hand.