by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)
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Oh, sorry, that was just me repeatedly slamming my head on the keyboard. Ahem…
If Pudsey The Dog: The Movie managed to accomplish anything (besides stringing together a bunch of pictures and sounds in a manner that, when presented to other people, technically constitutes labelling the product a “movie”) it’s that, for a few short minutes, it made me hate Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright. As I saw poor old Jessica Hynes miserably (visibly miserably, I might add) attempt to inject some semblance of life into this thing, all I could do was curse Pegg & Wright. “Why?!” I mentally cried to the heavens. “Why did you both drop her after Spaced and that brief funny in-joke cameo in Shaun Of The Dead? Why couldn’t you both have taken her with you?! Why did you leave her to have to cash paycheques by appearing in crap like this?! You monsters! You heartless b*stards!” I may have fixated on this little detail a bit too much. Besides, despite being second billed, she’s barely in the thing which is both to the film’s benefit (because then I don’t have to get sad watching her failing to make anything here close to decent) and its immense misfortune.
To elect to watch Pudsey The Dog: The Movie is to elect to watch a train wreck. I’d like for you to imagine, if you can, the giant pile-up from The Blues Brothers only in reality so that there are actually good men and women involved in this total ridiculous, absurd and utterly incompetent car crash. Add “of a film” onto the end of that previous sentence and you have Pudsey The Dog: The Movie, because that’s what this is. Folks, I have not seen a film that is this pathetically constructed since… well, arguably since A New York Winter’s Tale. Nothing works. The pacing is non-existent, the staging, of both normal scenes and any time it chooses to indulge in physical comedy (which film seems to be on a mission, this year, to utterly cock up at every opportunity), is hopeless, the acting from the adults is strained and from the kids is like we’ve wandered into the world’s worst panto, the voice acting is atrocious, the script is lazy, the plot is non-existent, the music headache-inducing… If you were to super-impose silhouettes of Joel/Mike and the bots along the bottom of the screen, I’d think I were watching a lost Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode where everyone is too dumbstruck at the film they’re watching to crack jokes.
And yet the whole time I was exposed to it, the enterprise carried an air of familiarity. A throwback feel, if you will, to something that I used to watch a lot when I was child. And I mean “child”, the kind of thing I happily watched from age 5 – 8 until my household got a Sky box and I discovered that there were TV channels devoted to nothing but cartoons. Then it hit me: I was watching a feature-length episode of a CBBC sitcom. You know the ones. Where every actor and actress permanently seems five seconds away from physically walking over to a piece of the set, picking up a knife and fork and going to town on it. Where the plots are nonsensical when they’re not contrived or generic. Where the jokes come from physical humour, funny voices or sound effects on the soundtrack. Where the staging is purposefully limited to take advantage of the lower production values of television (or, back in my day *shakes walking stick*, the multi-cam format).
Here’s the thing, though, not all CBBC sitcoms were that bad. Say what you want about them, they were often good at what they were aiming to do. Plus, sometimes you get something like The Story Of Tracy Beaker which, admittedly, hewed closer to a drama than a sitcom but could still bring the funny along with its relative emotional heft. The best ones, if nothing else, had effort. They had heart. They were clearly trying and they clearly wanted to be good. Pudsey, in the continuing failure conga known as its existence, can’t even get that right. It fails spectacularly at everything, but very little effort seems to have been put in in the first place. You want examples? I’ll give you examples. Pudsey is a dog, dog stereotypes dictate that dogs love sausages, so Pudsey will frequently mention his desire to be fed some sausages and you will laugh because he is a dog that said he likes sausages and that is exactly what you expected! Ha! Ha! HAHAHAHA!! The three kids in Jessica Hynes’ care are a teenage daughter who is desperate to impress cute boys and is otherwise “a weirdo” by virtue of the fact that some bullies say so at the beginning, a younger son who plays PlayStation All Stars: Battle Royale at every opportunity and who just can’t live without videogames, and an even younger son who has chosen to become a mute ever since his dad left but is probably more because GOOD LORD this kid cannot deliver any lines to save his life. These are the entire extent of their characters, by the way.
Sometimes, there will be some physical comedy wherein a character will be punted large distances by a bucking horse, or Pudsey will cause a large comical series of pratfalls as one person falls into two people who knock over a piece of the set which sends someone flying etc. Once again, I love physical comedy. Pulled off right, with good staging and timing and effects-work, little else slays me quicker. Pudsey’s pratfalls are staged weirdly, awkwardly timed and cut between shots and stunts in such a way that you can clearly see how disjointed each of the segments of them are (there’s a bit where a well that one of the characters is leaning on collapses and they fall in, and the lean, the well collapsing, the actor getting ready to fall and the fall itself are given individual shots that clearly show that each little section has been filmed separately; they all start about half a second too early). Nothing’s convincing. The plot, meanwhile, is practically non-existent but its beats are lifted wholesale from “Every Light Family-Focussed Family-Targeted Film Plot Ever” (including an ineffectual villain, played by John Sessions of all sodding people, who irrationally hates dogs and wants to destroy the family farm to build a supermarket and OH GOD this script really was just stolen from the 90s, wasn’t it?) and the film does nothing to improve or vary them in any way shape or form. The only way you could make a more generic script would be to cobble one together after years of scientific research and analysis.
But the laziness continues! David Walliams voices Pudsey (who, incidentally, I have talked very little about so far in this review and, yes, that is to get across just how relevant he is in his own damn movie) and he is atrocious. You could come up with a whole load of possible voices to give a dog, professional VAs do in various cartoons every week in America. What does David Walliams go for? Ever have your mother pretend to voice a dog’s thoughts and forever talk to the dog in that same “Oh, who’s a good boy? You’s a good boy! Yes, you are! You love sausages, don’t you?” tone? It’s that. It’s not even a good one, either, Walliams often slips back into his normal voice for a few seconds by accident (I realise that this is hard to convey in text form, you’re just going to have to go with it, I’m afraid). The kids, meanwhile, are all equally atrocious, mugging for every camera in sight when “comedy” is supposed to be happening and offering up line deliveries flatter than a dead skunk that’s been sat on a motorway for two weeks when “drama” is supposed to be happening.
Also lazy? Animal lip movements are performed by horrifying CGI instead of the practical effects that abound in, say, Babe. Not even slightly convincing CG, by the way. It’s of a noticeably lower quality than the rest of the animals it ends up attached to, which creates a terrifying uncanny valley effect, and they just flap about, barely in-sync with the words the animals are supposed to be saying. Fortunately, it’s an effect that’s rarely used, because most of the animal dialogue consists of Pudsey’s thoughts (or maybe he is actually talking aloud, the film is really unclear on this point) or more distant shots of the animals that are in conversation, presumably to save money in animation. Speaking of Pudsey… he’s a dog. Sometimes he stands up on his hind legs and spins a bit. If the film were to actually back these moments with music, one could conceivably claim that he was dancing. That’s about it, really. He gains points for being a cute dog, and, as a dog owner and a human being, I am a sucker for cute dogs, but that’s about it. This should be where the film jumps in to give him a personality but, aside from his fondness for sausages and the continual weird insinuation that he didn’t have a family at all prior to the events of this film (despite starting off as a fully-grown dog who works in movies), that’s a lost cause.
There are times where the film almost managed to make me laugh, albeit for entirely the wrong reasons. There’s a bit where the family are bonding after the youngest son started speaking again and everyone’s utterly pathetic “emotional” reactions are almost bad enough to consider it being a parody. The aforementioned well-collapse is meant to be played for drama but the sheer incompetence of the scene almost caused me to burst out laughing. Several scenes loop footage in order to extend it for long enough to let the animals finish speaking. With a group of friends, that are either really drunk or just plain really funny, this film would be prime “So Bad, It’s Good” riffing material. You know, those bad movie nights where everyone just insults the film they’re watching? One of those. Under the right circumstances, it’s recommendable in a “No, you have to see this! It’s so bad!” way. Under circumstances that dictate that you have to pay money and/or sit in a cinema for several hours? God, no! This is rotten, stay away.
On its own terms as a movie, divorced from the possible riff sessions that it’s pretty much destined to become a part of in the future, the film actually offers up an image that best sums up its quality. It’s of a pig, that thinks it’s a chicken, taking a dump on-screen, believing it to be an egg, and then sitting on said dump. Pudsey The Dog: The Movie is that pig. Except that it doesn’t think it’s a chicken, or that it thinks it’s laying eggs because that would insinuate that anybody involved tried here, and, in fact, this metaphor has kind of fallen apart. I guess I just wanted to highlight the fact that there is a scene in this film in which a pig takes a crap on-camera and then sits in that crap on-camera, in close-up. I think that says all you need to know, really.