Review: "Pound Puppies" Charms; "Dinosaur Train" Strives; "Scooter the Penguin" Belly Flops
The Hub’s My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic has gotten a lot of attention for Lauren Faust’s initial push to make sure the show was watchable beyond its target demographic of little girls. While I don’t want to take away from any of that show’s well-earned success, the shame is that more of the Hub’s current slate of offerings aren’t recognized for doing the same thing. Chuck and Friends is a consistently charming, enjoyable show, and now I can happily add Pound Puppies as another series that is sure to charm the pants off everyone who watches regardless of age or gender. The Super Secret Pup Club collects five episodes of the series to document the formation of the title team.
The pitch for Pound Puppies is that dogs have a secret network under animal shelters to link lost dogs with their perfect human owners. The show normally focuses on the quintet of Lucky, Niblet, Cookie, Squirt, and Strudel (who are, respectively, the Leader, the Strong-But-Dumb Guy, the Leading Lady, the Rebel, and the Smart One, respectively), but this disc is really about the Super Secret Pup Club: who they are and how they came to be. Maybe it’s because it’s a show about dogs–a species not known for an ability to be subtle or restrained–but Pound Puppies tends to wear its heart on its sleeve. It can sometimes border on the schmaltzy, but it works a lot more often than not, and sometimes I think it works because it’s willing to dance right on the edge of schmaltz. The demonstration of canine loyalty in “Bone Voyage” from the hyperactive pup Rebound (owned by Agatha, the mother of the pound owner where the Pound Puppies base their operations) may be over-the-top, but it’s also in line with stories of real dogs who crossed continents to reunite with their people. In “Mutternal Instincts,” the normally tough Cookie gets her heart melted by a new puppy (Cupcake), to the point where she undermines potential adoptions. The punch line may be visible from a mile off, but there’s still a genuinely powerful impact when Cookie finally works up the resolve to let Cupcake go, even as it’s breaking her heart. If talking animals allow us to project feelings and humanity better than human characters can, then the Pound Puppies can happily join the menagerie started by Aesop and Walt Disney because they succeed marvelously at it.
There’s plenty of slapstick for the kids to enjoy, but there are lots of little winks and nods for the parents and other supervising adults, like guest stints by Tim Conway, The Love Boat‘s Gavin MacLeod, and Betty White in the recurring role of Agatha. There was also a surprisingly off-color joke delivered by MacLeod in “Bone Voyage” (where he plays, of course, a ship captain) that’s both hilarious and brilliantly executed to ensure it sails well over the heads of the kids. The DVD packs a substantial running time (other than the two episodes named above, the disc includes “The Fraud Princess,” the title episode, and “Ruff Ruff Bunch”); as with many of the Hub’s “soccer mom” releases via Shout! Factory, there’s excellent picture, sound, and chapter breaks, but no extras. Dogs are not complicated creatures, compensating for a lack of sophistication with ample charm, personality, and unalloyed, genuine affection. Much the same can be said for Pound Puppies: The Super Secret Pup Club.
Hot on the heels of the last Dinosaur Train DVD release comes Dinosaurs A to Z, collecting the three-part title episode plus five more. I have little else to add to my prior assessments of the show: it is sure to appeal to kids in the dinosaurs and/or trains phase and pleasant enough for any companion grown-ups, and I can’t complain much about the scientific thrust and content of the show. I just wish I found it more memorable than it is. The title episode centers on a mass run through the different Mesozoic eras to get every letter of the alphabet represented by one passenger on the Dinosaur Train, though there doesn’t seem to be anything at stake other than bragging rights. The rest of the episodes are pretty standard faire for the show: kids raise a question, a trip on the Dinosaur Train solves it.
Still, the show is more than competent and is eminently watchable by all audiences. This new DVD has the same faults as the earlier ones, with no chapter stops in episodes and the bulk of special features coming off the DVD-ROM portion. Still, the episodes look great and all the Dr. Scott segments are included in the bonuses.
I wish I could find something positive to say about The Adventures of Scooter the Penguin, but the sad truth is that I’ve finally found something bad enough to seriously challenge Ratatoing as the worst animated movie I’ve ever had to endure. This CGI movie about the self-actualization of an unusual blue penguin is an unmitigated bore, with paper-thin and painfully exaggerated characters and listless, humor-free writing and dialogue. The CGI is strictly bottom-of-the-barrel, with dull character designs and such limited animation that none of the cast members are able to register any emotion at all. One unintentionally hilarious scene involves a professor detailing the unusual differences in anatomy between Scooter the blue penguin and an ordinary penguin, where the professor’s dialogue is entirely undermined because Scooter uses the exact same model as every other penguin except for being colored blue. It also seems like each character’s face has two rigging points (one to blink and one to flap beaks for dialogue), so even the most spirited voice performances are effectively wasted because everyone looks exactly the same whether they’re happy, sad, angry, or confused. There’s infinitely more emotional nuance in the interactive sequences of the first Dragon Age video game.
Every single scene also plays out at the same pace, whether it’s meant to be madcap slapstick comedy, fast-paced sports scenes, life-threatening emergency where seconds count, or plain talking-heads conversation. Unfortunately, the pacing used across the board is the one for the talking heads conversation, proceeding at a languid pace that ensures that the movie’s 81-minutes feels twice as long. The movie also has a really nasty habit of cutting away when something exciting is about to happen on-screen so someone else can gasp and declare what’s happening instead. I’m sure this saved tons of money in animation costs, but it’s also a flagrant foul against the “show, don’t tell” rule of storytelling and guarantees that any moment that might have been exciting or interesting isn’t.
There are no bonus features on the DVD.