Few companies throughout the history of the world have been so shameless in their pursuit of the almighty dollar as the Walt Disney Company. After breaking the mold in 1934, Disney has never shied away from creative marketing and release strategies to wring every last dollar out of its most beloved pieces of intellectual property. Each week, we’ll look at the House of Mouse’s various sequels, prequels, spin-offs, and various misadventures, relegated from the silver screen to the small screen. Is there any artistic merit to be found? Or was each film mostly conceived as an excuse to print more money? Join me as we search for the answers from the wonderful world of Di$ney.
Why does this exist?
George Lopez’s sitcom, The George Lopez Show ran for an incredible five years from 2002 to 2007, earning syndication and running on basic cable essentially in perpetuity. Similarly, Carlos Mencia’s Chappelle’s Show ripoff, Mind of Mencia, somehow ran for four seasons on Comedy Central, ending in 2008. All of this is to say that the appetite for Latinx comedians was front and center when Beverly Hills Chihuahua premiered in 2008. Despite being a mediocre talking-animal film — which scored a 40% rating on Rotten Tomatoes — and being released in the same summer as The Dark Knight and Iron Man, the power of Disney prevailed and the film earned an improbable $140+ million off a $20 million budget. A sequel was all but inevitable.
What’s going on here?
In an appropriate bit of table-setting, the film opens with Papi and Chloe’s noticeably Catholic wedding, populated by all their family and friends. Papi and Chloe are dogs.
There’s a recurring bit throughout the film where Papi tells bedtime stories involving ancient Chihuahua warriors to his five puppies so he can teach them lessons loosely related to the film’s events. (I’m not sure why the requisite number of puppies in a given Disney film needs to be five, but what do I know?) This leads to the puppies destroying whatever room they’re in immediately after Papi leaves. This is supposed to depict Papi’s uncertainty that he can be a good father, but my takeaway was that kids just like to destroy things in the name of their overactive imaginations.
Meanwhile, the dogs’ human owner, Sam, faces a family crisis when his parents’ home faces foreclosure. Confronted with the insurmountable task of raising enough money in three weeks, a gift from the movie gods arrives in the form of a dog show, with a cash prize sufficient enough to pay off the mortgage. Papi and Chloe compete, which leads to an inspired bit of insanity wherein Chloe plays Für Elise on a tiny piano. No, this talent was not foreshadowed in any way whatsoever. But despite displaying an ability that would likely make mainstream news, Papi instead wins this competition, where he’s soon after disqualified for not being a purebred Chihuahua.
From there, the film somehow shifts to a bank robbery in which the five puppies find themselves entangled. OK, there is a subplot involving a German Shepherd and his distant sons, but the film somehow simultaneously manages to spend too much time on this and not enough. The puppies chase the robbers to a bread factory, where they’re foiled by a comically large vat of bread dough on their heads. Thanks to another gift from the movie gods, the reward money for the capture of the bandits helps save the home of Sam’s parents. Oh, and Sam works up the courage to propose to his longtime girlfriend, who rushes home from her medical research in the Amazon because they had a disagreement earlier. (Yes, really.)
How much of the original is preserved?
It may shock you to learn that I’ve never seen the original film but I can guess that, given the title, it’s a live-action riff on Lady and the Tramp. I was surprised that Beverly Hills Chihuahua 2 has so many narrative themes like family togetherness and the fears of commitment. I was not surprised at how shoddily they were put forth.
George Lopez, Odette Yustman, Miguel Ferrer, Ernie Hudson (!), Emily Osment, Bridgit Mendler and Alyssa Milano (!!) are just a few of the voice actors who lend their talents as the various animals. Meanwhile, Phill Lewis, Brian Stepanek and French Stewart stand out as more than just sacks of meat with eyeballs, but that could just be because they’re only fleetingly in the movie. Mendler, whose presence is likely due to her pre-existing condition of being a Disney star, also recorded a song for the soundtrack. Thank god it’s not shoehorned into the film or I’d have organized a protest in the streets.
What struck me most about the film is just how expensive it all looks. You have the multiple sets, and the decently trained animals — often many in the same scene at once — but you have all the flashbacks to ancient Aztec civilization. Outfitting humans, animals and dozens of extras with period-appropriate attire, and filming the scenes in a visually dynamic way, could not have been cheap.
Does this ruin the original film?
As I’ve said before, if your kid is into movies with talking animals, congratulations, you’re in luck. The setpieces don’t provide the same spit-take bonkers logicality as previous entries in this series, but they’re still outlandish by any standards. But I do appreciate, given that Beverly Hills Chihuahua 2 opens with a dog wedding in which nobody asks any questions, that our expectations are set from the beginning. The film has enough of a balance between the weird hijinks and the “grounded” human drama that kids will likely embrace it and parents wouldn’t find any of it offensive. It’s just too bad that it couldn’t pick one of those two lanes and fit into its own distinct space among this series.
- Next Time: My prediction is that Sharpay’s Fabulous Adventure will only be sorta fabulous and more like a brisk outing than an adventure. But I’ve been proven wrong before!