Teacher's Pet Movie Review

I have a hard time deciding whether or not I like Nathan Lane. Since he starred in The Birdcage almost a decade ago, he seems to have adopted an overblown, theatrical presence to whatever role he's playing. Call it Al Pacino Syndrome: when a talented actor finds success with a certain type of performance and then refuses to evolve regardless of the script.

That unwavering acting style can prove beneficial from time to time. Pacino's bellicose antics served him well in Michael Mann's overrated journalism epic The Insider and Lane's motivational speaker/Broadway crooner delivery proves to be a perfect fit in Disney's Teacher's Pet, an animated TV series that comes to the big screen with humor, heart and songs aplenty.

Lane provides the voice of Spot, a blue dog, who talks and acts like a person. He even goes to school with his master, Leonard, and passes himself off as successful elementary school student Scott. However, Spot longs to be a boy. As Leonard and his mom travel to Florida, a depressed Spot learns of a Florida quack (Kelsey Grammer) who claims to have a way of changing animals into humans.

Without regard for the doctor's sanity, Spot hightails it to Florida, finds Leonard and his mom, and looks into living his dream. Spot eventually finds the doctor and with a little prodding, gets his wish, though dog years complicate matters. This old (ex) dog then has to learn some new tricks, including fitting into a different society and dealing with Leonard's conflicted feelings.

I'm making a kids' movie sound like an episode of The Twilight Zone, but it's more Raffi than Rod Serling. Teacher's Pet highlights a lot of life lessons -- being brave, being a friend, being yourself -- in songs that are catchy and not too moralizing. The animation is bright, creative, and brisk. Most importantly, adults won't be looking at their watches. Credit must be given to screenwriters Bill and Carrie Steinkellner for cramming lots of quick jokes for adults to appreciate, without isolating the kids. One example: Spot, tired of being stuck with the song- happy Leonard and his mom, refers to himself as "Van Trapped."

The voice work is also terrific, with Lane and Grammer singing songs and delivering lines with gusto. Grammer is very good in the villain role, which his baritone voice has spent years perfecting on The Simpsons. As a result, he straddles the line between evil and self-mockery perfectly. Lane's exuberant line readings are ideal for the movie, but he also shows tremendous flexibility. Check out the scene where he imitates in quick succession a little girl, an Irish uncle, a Southern belle, and a bitter old woman. Kids and adults will both appreciate the goofiness.

With 11 months to go and two major movie seasons awaiting us, it's doubtful that Teacher's Pet will be the best animated feature of the year. But during the dark days of winter when the multiplex's offerings look as appetizing as a foot of snow, Teacher's Pet is a most welcome option for families.

DVD extras include storyboard versions of deleted scenes, the premiere episode of the Pet TV series, and a handful of other making-of items.

She's gotta be she.


Comments

Teacher's Pet Rating

" Excellent "

Rating: PG, 2004

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