Pet Shop is a very specific type of cheesy family movie, one which no doubt still exists (in the form of dreadful CG-animated knockoffs, lining DVD bargain bins in 7-Elevens across the country), but which really had its heyday in the late '80s through to the mid-'90s. The tone and style of the film suggest invisible air quotes, offering corny wacky hijinks that make the movie seem like a parody of "old-fashioned" entertainment, created to appear in the background of another film or TV show. Yet, it's also clear that the filmmakers are sincere, not winking at the audience. The combination of these two sensations creates a surreal, detached attempt to make children's entertainment by people whose idea of what children will enjoy is so cluelessly wholesome, it unintentionally borders on condescending. Pet Shop feels like it came from another dimension, one where irony does not exist.
Thus, reviewing Pet Shop like a normal movie becomes unexpectedly challenging. When a film has no themes, no subtext, and its minimal story feels it was translated into another language and then back into English, it's hard to latch onto anything with enough dimension to analyze. More than anything, Pet Shop seems to exist to give a special effects team something to work on: the shape-shifting pets, alien villains, and some of the set design all give a VFX team something to work on or with. Admittedly, on their own merits alone, Rappaport's practical work isn't anything to write home about, but within the means and scope afforded to Pet Shop, it's reasonably impressive. The pets transform using old-fashioned opticals, practical versions crawl up walls and get into mischief. The film even has some brief but surprisingly ambitious computer graphic effects.
Beyond setting the stage for effects sequences, the word "sterile" comes to mind when considering the script and direction. There's hardly a single line of dialogue in the movie that isn't expository or a telegraphed punchline. Dialogue manages to do more than state what's on the screen, but stops short of ever aspiring to do more than exactly what the audience might expect or can already infer. Characters do not have personalities so much as costumes combined with a single desire or description. Less than an hour after finishing watching the movie, the idea of quoting a single line or describing 75% of the scenes in the movie feels like an impossible challenge. The only moments from the film that come to mind are the ones that were bad (a joke where Charlie is pursued by another character's "fat" sister), or the ones that were trapped in a family movie version of the uncanny valley (a montage set to a faux "Benny Hill"-like bit of score where the kids try to make food for the alien animals). Even the sheer ridiculousness of wondering how the alien plot and the mobster plot (including two hitmen dispatched to try and take out Joe) are going to come together in the end only intermittently breaks through the film's flavorless fog.
The one thing in the movie that approaches human is the actual performances from the cast. Kiser and Baron are both good at playing cartoon characters, Shashawnee Hall has some good moments as the FBI agent helping them get settled, and the kids all acquit themselves just fine. Plus, while their goofiness wears off quickly, Morris and Michalski achieve the only genuine laugh: Mr. and Mrs. Zimm hissing at each other in some sort of alien language while trying to play it cool. Viewers who saw Pet Shop on videotape years ago might have some nostalgia for this strange pop culture artifact, but the uninitiated are likely going to wonder: aliens created the pet shop in the movie, but did aliens create Pet Shop as well?
The Video and Audio
Under "Trailers" on the main menu, spots for Prehysteria, Alien Arsenal, Mysterious Museum, and Goobers have been included. No theatrical trailer for Pet Shop is included.