The latest boy-and-his-dog fable, “Good Boy!” is passable kiddy fare that, although it strenuously underscores its message of friendship and loyalty, doesn’t revitalize the genre. Tale of an extraterrestrial talking canine and a lonely boy features seamless visual effects and a few jokes that might amuse grown-ups, but this item is strictly for younger folk. Hardly an “Old Yeller” or even a “My Dog Skip,” “Good Boy!” will have an OK, if unspectacular, theatrical run but fetch its real rewards in the home vid market.
Twelve-year-old Owen Baker (Liam Aiken) longs for a dog. The child of parents (Molly Shannon, Kevin Nealon) who regularly buy, refurbish and sell homes, Owen has moved so often that he has no friends. Having walked his neighbors’ dogs all summer, Owen has finally earned the right to have his own pup. A trip to the animal shelter yields an encounter with a cagey border terrier, whom Owen adopts and promptly names Hubble.
Hubble turns out to have been a prescient moniker, because the mutt (voiced by Matthew Broderick) has been sent from the pooch planet Sirius to research Earth canines. When an intergalactic accident renders Owen able to understand dog talk, he learns dogs are superior beings sent to Earth thousands of years ago to dominate the planet. Once Hubble realizes that Earth dogs are, in fact, pets, he warns that his leader, the Greater Dane, will be furious when she comes to Earth for a personal inspection. Worse yet, if the hounds cannot reverse the balance of power, the Greater Dane may insist on a “global recall,” forcing all canines to go home.
Once Owen and Hubble tell the neighborhood dogs of the imminent crisis, pic hits its stride and unleashes its funniest material. Whereas Hubble insists that Earth dogs have to endure multiple indignities, the pooches claim otherwise. Hubble, for instance, is appalled that humans regularly contaminate dogs’ water dishes (toilet bowls). But the hounds point out that humans serve a multitude of uses: They are canines’ personal shoppers, chefs and chauffeurs, and even provide trips to the beauty salon (that’s groomer to us). Moreover, notes one pup, dogs can defecate anywhere and certainly never have to clean up after humans.
Meanwhile, Owen has begun to confide in his neighbor Connie (Brittany Moldowan). Together with Hubble, who’s coming around, they decide to outwit the Greater Dane by feigning canine dominance. But they’re dogged by a pair of bullies (Hunter Elliot, Mikhael Speidel), whose attempt to abduct Hubble erupts in a chaotic chase involving the local dogs, a can of laughing gas, and a disastrous open house at the Bakers. The sequence culminates in an ill-timed visit from the Greater Dane herself (voiced by Vanessa Redgrave), who is, to say the least, not amused.
Tyro helmer/scribe John Hoffman keeps the pacing brisk and the tone spirited, always returning to the central relationship between Owen and Hubble. Well-executed CG work makes talking dogs easy to take for granted. In fact, the elaborate pyrotechnics of “Good Boy!” almost overwhelm the story, making one yearn for the simpler days of, say, “Lassie.”Human thesps, with the exception of Aiken, have the thankless job of making the dogs look good. But the four-legged crew, for its part, is well cast and expertly vocalized. As Hubble, who looks as if he might have descended from the ’70s movie mutt Benji, Broderick evokes his trademark puppyish charm. Redgrave is suitably imposing and regal as the Greater Dane, joining other vocalists including Delta Burke (as a primping poodle), Brittany Murphy (as a wiry greyhound), and Carl Reiner (as a drooling Bernese Mountain dog).
Various tech elements, including James Glennon’s lensing and Antonia Bardon’s costumes, are beyond reproach. Production designer Jerry Wanek’s surrealistically beautiful houses and lawns, actually in Vancouver, double for an unnamed American locale.