There's a trusty, rusty old subgenre of children's fare involving idiots who kidnap animals and the annoying people who want them back. And with "Beverly Hills Chihuahua," Disney has pasted atop that formula the doings of the talking dog picture. Children love these movies because they feature cute animals who have simple adventures while oafish villains fall down; adults loathe these movies because they feature cute animals who have simple adventures while oafish villains fall down. The most optimistic thing to do is realize that when they grow up, your children will realize that "Beverly Hills Chihuahua" is indeed a bad movie, banishing it from memory, except, perhaps, to grant it a tinge of nostalgia.
Although I can't imagine a groaner like "Beverly Hills Chihuahua" inspiring much nostalgia, even of the kitchy variety. It's a mess of bad taste and worse jokes, a kiddie flick with dog fighting and drunken getaways to Tijuana as central plot points and "Whoomp! There It Is" and "I'm Too Sexy" on the soundtrack. (At least there's no "Who Let the Dogs Out?")
We open in Beverly Hills, where the wealthy and the spoiled pamper their purse-sized dogs in luxurious spas. Cosmetics magnate Viv (Jamie Lee Curtis) may think the world of her Chihuahua Chloe, showering her with affection, but even then, most of the opening scenes, in which small dogs get dolled up in gaudy clothes and jewelry, seem to celebrate the idea of pet as fashion accessory. Why bother with one of those regular-sized mutts that want to jump around and play when you can shove a cute miniature version to cram in your handbag? Even at home, the poor dogs never run through the yard, never play fetch, never curl up on the couch; when Chloe has a "play date" with other pups at Viv's mansion, all they do is sit around on poolside lounge chairs and gossip, just like their catty, worthless owners.
Yes, gossip they do. Chloe is granted the voice of Drew Barrymore, while Loretta Devine voices (sigh) the sassy black poodle. And just as fellow Chihuahua Papi (George Lopez), the mangy, "streetwise" pet/assistant to the gardener (Manolo Cardona), has eyes for the spoiled Chloe, the mangy, "streetwise" gardener has eyes for Viv's niece, Rachel (Piper Perabo, she of the gorgeous smile and terrible career choices).
Long story short, Viv asks Rachel to dogsit; Rachel thoughtlessly skips down to Mexico for a weekend party with the gals, bringing Chloe with her; Chloe escapes, gets kidnapped by bandits looking for fresh blood for their dog fighting ring; and... wait a sec. Dog fighting ring? Let's ignore the fact that even Michael Vick wouldn't consider pitting a Chihuahua against a Doberman. What kind of screenwriter thinks the best way to kickstart a talking dog adventure aimed at grade school audiences would be to a dog fight? Mercifully, veteran sitcom writer Jeff Bushell and first-time scribe Analisa Bianco keep things kid-friendly, so audiences don't become scarred for life. Then again, do we really want to congratulate two writers for showing us the lighter side of dog fighting?
Anyway. Chloe meets up with former police dog Delgado (Andy Garcia), who helps her escape, only to discover he's stuck helping her find her way home. Along the way, they meet a con artist iguana, try to escape the Doberman (whose owners realize Chloe could fetch a nice ransom), and stumble upon an Aztec temple full of singing, dancing Chihuahuas. (The upside: the "native" Chihuahuas are rebelling against being fashion toys for rich twits.) Meanwhile, Rachel and the gardener do their best to find Chloe before Viv comes home. Both Chloe and Rachel learn to not be spoiled jerks, or at least to try not to be.
It's all so very dreadful, a sort of "Homeward Bound" lazily reworked for the "Keeping Up with the Kardashians" generation. Previews grew fears that the whole thing would be a mess of ethnic stereotypes and "talk to the paw" jokes. The jokes are there (and that "paw" sample is one of the least annoying ones), as director Raja Gosnell ("Big Momma's House," "Scooby-Doo") slathers the movie in own special brand of cheap slapstick and hammy melodramatics, mistakenly thinking that the only way to construct a children's movie is to go broad and dumb. But the stereotyping is more of a gray area: yes, the screenplay reduces Mexico to a string of limp ethnic-related one-liners ("hold your tacos!"), and presents the nation as either a party resort for debutante gringos, a run-down crime haven, or a land of ancient wonder (translation: since them classy Aztecs left, it's nothing but Spring Break and kidnappings!), but it also works very hard to appeal to America's growing minority, filling its voice cast with noted Latino actors (Edward James Olmos, bless his heart, plays the evil Doberman), showing the joys of interracial romance, and attempting to treat most Latino characters with some sort of respect.
But it's tough to debate the possible racial undertones of a movie as lazy as one that dumps Buster Poindexter onto the soundtrack to let us know "hey, we're having a south of the border party!" Gosnell gracelessly walks us through cheap, generic talking dog material, while parents everywhere groan silently to themselves.
Interestingly, the whole thing ends with a brief public service announcement about pet adoption. Perhaps aware that kids, after seeing the film, will be begging mom and dad for a cute Chihuahua of their own, the film rolls some text about making sure you're up for the lifetime commitment of a pet. It's a thoughtful touch, actually, although perhaps a better step would've been not to make a movie glamorizing the shaky little rat-dogs and the way they fit into purses.
Video & Audio
Disney offers two choices here, 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen and, for those who still find such things necessary, 1.33:1 pan & scan. (Note that pan & scan is the disc's default setting; to access the original widescreen, you need to navigate through the main menu before playing the movie.) Both transfers are nearly flawless, as one would expect from a recent high-profile movie. Colors are vibrant and detail is crisp, allowing the distinct looks of the various locations to come through nicely.
The Dolby 5.1 soundtrack is also as impressive as expected, with nice surround work and full, rich tones. All those terrible song choices come through splendidly. Spanish and French 5.1 dubs are also included, as are optional Spanish and French subtitles.
"Beverly Hills Chihuahua" is coded with Disney's optional "Fast Play" feature.
The commentary with director Raja Gosnell is a fairly dry chat, with the helmer going over the basics of production. It's all rather dull.
"Legend of the Chihuahua" (3:08) is a cute cartoon short, more entertaining than the feature itself. It's a playful, joke-filled rundown of the breed's history, with plenty of obviously wrong facts that'll make kids giggle.
Three deleted scenes (10:10 total), each introduced by Gosnell, offer two extended bits of business at the Mayan temple and an alternate take on the ending, mainly extra jokes meant to play over the closing credits.
"Blooper Scooper" (3:09) is the usual gag reel, revealing plenty of problems dealing with animal actors.
The disc wrap up with the usual batch of Disney previews, some of which play as the disc loads.
For the record, my daughter, age eight, thought the dogs were adorable, and that "talk to the paw" is a funny thing for a dog to say. But I'm plenty embarrassed that I let her sit through all of "Beverly Hills Chihuahua" when she could've spent her time watching something a little less awful. Skip It.