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?
Movie Law states that, with few exceptions, if a second film is made in a mildly successful franchise, a third must be made. Beverly Hills Chihuahua 2 only sort of qualified as a success, making around $29 million in DVD sales, so the trilogy was all but inevitable. It probably didn’t hurt that, by 2012, Disney had a little spare change left in its war chest after audiences really began to buy into what the MCU was doing.
It’s wild that each entry in this franchise has been made by a different director and different screenwriters. Whereas the Buddies films were all born from the mind of Robert Vince, each Chihuahua film has felt like its own thing. The first film introduced Papi and Chloe as star-crossed lovers. Chihuahua 2 was heavy on flashbacks and mostly focused on Papi and his fears of fatherhood. Chihuahua 3 feels like director Lev L. Spiro playing with house money, aiming to make the weirdest film imaginable about talking dogs … for a family audience, anyway. This was Spiro’s first feature to direct, after cutting his teeth on TV sitcoms like Arrested Development, Weeds and Everybody Hates Chris. Though he did a few stints on shows on Disney and Nickelodeon, his comedic instincts manage to come through in this film.
What’s going on here?
Between Beverly Hills Chihuahua 2 and 3, Sam (Marcus Coloma) and Rachel (Erin Cahill) got married. In need of jobs, Rachel sees a commercial for a sous chef – her dream job, allegedly – opening at the newest luxury resort in town. For the intrepid readers of this series, you probably remember the subplot in Chihuahua 2 where Rachel has a very different job and treks to the Amazon for medical research. Nevertheless, Rachel drags Sam, Chloe, and Papi to her job interview – a very normal human thing to do. She doesn’t get the job, but the hotel’s manager (Cedric Yarbrough) notices Chloe and hires her on the spot to be the face of the hotel’s new marketing campaign, a job that apparently necessitates their entire family to move into the hotel full-time.
The hotel also features a doggy daycare, and Papi laments the fact that he won’t get to teach his children himself anymore. Rosa, the youngest pup, expresses trepidation over attending a new school and to comfort her, Papi convinces her that he’ll throw her a quinceañera.
This is where the film really dives into Airplane! territory, including a capital-B Bonkers sequence where Papi auditions different bands to play at the party. All of the bands are composed of dogs. Playing musical instruments. One is HoundGarden, a bunch of Basset Hounds in an enclosed garden tableau. One is Black Labbeth, a group of Labradors playing heavy metal. And a band of fleas called the Black Eyed Fleas.
Papi continues planning Rosa’s party and he enlists the help of Delgado, and an assortment of other adorable canines that are staying at the hotel. This includes one dog sculpting an ice sculpture with its teeth, and more elaborate decorations, all set up by … dogs. There’s also a recurring bit where a foursome of dogs drinks milkshakes, which Spiro deliberately holds on for entirely too long. I’m sure some more human stuff happens, but the only memorable development sees Sam – a Latinx person – offered his dream job. What is that job, you ask? He’ll be a landscaper at the hotel for rich white people.
How much of the original is preserved?
Most of the major players return for voice roles here, including George Lopez, Odette Annable and Ernie Hudson, with replacements for some of the puppies. For a bit of off-screen irony, this was Kay Panabaker’s (who voices Rosa) last role before quitting acting altogether to become a zoologist.
In one of the weirdest recurring bits in cinema, Chloe again plays Für Elise on the piano. At this point, I’m convinced that either the dog can really play the piano or the dog’s owner has it in their contract that each movie she appears in must contain this bit. This was the point in the film where I knew, without a doubt, that I was in for a wild ride. Beverly Hills Chihuahua 3 features so much insanity that it makes the original film feel like Schindler’s List. It’s no coincidence that we’ve rarely discussed the filmmakers behind the scenes throughout this series; most Disney films are born out of the Mouse House’s hive mind and don’t necessarily reflect the filmmakers’ sensibilities. Chihuahua 3 is far from a masterpiece, much less a good film, but it at least feels like a real person made it. That feeling has been sorely missing throughout this series.
Does this ruin the original film?
The most impressive aspect of the Chihuahua series has been the performances of the real dogs. Whereas the Buddies films generally play it safe – most likely because, again, FIVE PUPPIES DIED DURING THE MAKING OF ONE OF THE FILMS – with its pet protagonists, these films feature some relatively complex stunts. One scene sees Papi picking up a tiara, walking over to Rosa and placing it on her head, not to mention all of the needlessly elaborate scenes featuring dogs “playing” instruments.Take these bizarre moments out, and Chihuahua 3 is just another average talking-animal film. I remember fondly and repeatedly watching the Homeward Bound series as a kid, and I’m sure many of my similarly aged peers do too. I’m sure that, if I were to revisit those films now as an adult, my perspective would change and I would realize the flaws in them, but at the time, I was fully enraptured in the perilous adventures of a couple of dogs and a cat. Perhaps Gen Z kids hold the Chihuahua films in the same regard, so who am I to diminish that experience for them?
- Next Time: My Christmas wish is that Santa Paws 2: The Santa Pups features more puppy mannequins being thrown into incinerators.