If there’s one thing Animals Doing Human Stuff needs, it’s the return of the occasionally monthly Lighting Bug/Doll’s House Swapparoo!
That’s right: the one and only T.L. Bugg and I are Netflix Instanting it up like the dogs we love so. Head over to the Lair to learn whether my pick, Hercules Saves Christmas as adorable as its cover art suggests.
…after you learn whether his pick, Lenny the Wonder Dog—starring Andy Richter, Craig Ferguson, Kathy Kinney, Joe Morton, maybe-Brazilian pop star Angie, and the young Sammy Kahn the lead role of, whaddya know? A kid named Zach—could possibly be as wondrous as my expectations.
Spoiler alert: it’s even better.
Quick Plot: Lenny (voiced by Conan sidekick Richter) is a scraggly mutt whose genius scientist owner Dr. Island (Terminator 2’s Joe Morton) is close to completing a potentially huge microchip that will automatically train dogs. Despite already having vast amounts of wealth, Island’s nemesis Dr. Wagner (a gleefully over the top Ferguson) sends a pair of henchmen to steal Island’s research. Before you can ask look who’s talking now? Island injects the chip into Lenny, who then runs away and finds safety with a lonely sixth grader named Zach.
Dr. Island, meanwhile, ends up in a coma. But don’t worry kids! He’ll reappear as a cardboard cutout at the film’s climax.
Island’s microchip is something special. Before long, Lenny is able to scan people’s basic information just by looking at them in a very (and very appropriate) Terminator style. This is particularly useful in determining who his new owner should be, i.e., not a vegetarian.
Oh yeah. And now, he can talk.
Less creepy than Karate Dog (but still weirdly unnerving), Lenny and Zach soon learn that Dr. Island is in the aforementioned coma, Dr. Wagner’s evil but inefficient henchmen are on their tails, and the only people that can help are Zach’s redheaded crush, a random Asian martial artist, and Michael “The Guy Who Makes Funny Noises From Police Academy” Winslow’s frustrated beat cop.
Don’t worry: although he cowrote the script, presumably to show the world that he is more than just The Guy Who Makes Funny Noises From Police Academy, Michael Winslow still makes funny noises.
Now that we’ve established that, Lenny the Wonder Dog is easily one of the more bizarre films I’ve discovered this month, and boy is that a good thing. From the lisping spit-curl wearing henchman to his too-big-to-fill-the-shot twin brother and copious Capri Sun product placement, the movie is overflowing with weird touches. Observe some more:
-A school assembly scene involves a corner shot of someone translating the principal’s speech in sign language, and no: that never comes back and even more no: she doesn’t translate Michael Winslow’s wacky noises
-Kathy Kinney’s recurring cameos as a lazy newscaster falling asleep on the job
-That as Zach and his crush have a heartfelt discussion, the two young actors randomly burst into phonetic Spanish, hamming up their scene complete with telenovela music
-A montage wherein Wagner’s henchmen (named, by the way, Hanky and Panky) chase the kids around their house in speed-motion, pausing occasionally to make wacky faces at the camera, read magazines, and make their nipples dance
-Spurs of meta as Ferguson’s villain shushes a young actor with “Watch the language kid! We want to stay away from PG13.”
-The big action packed finale is done via comic book cartoon, as if to save on budget or the fact that there’s no explanation for how two kids and a dog could best an entire army of well-trained goons
All of these touches are great, but what REALLY elevates Lenny the Wonder Dog to a higher plain of cinema is the utter insanity of Craig Ferguson. Known mostly for his late night talk show, Ferguson delves into the villainous role of a cruel scientist with the same vigor I use when tackling a plate of nachos.
Only unlike Mr. Ferguson, I’m usually not doing so with a pompadour.
And generally, I don’t follow up a meal with an aerobics routine that lets me wear a headband, tank top, shorts, and knee socks.
Only on special occasions.
To sum up: I adored Lenny the Wonder Dog. It’s erratic and inconsistent, but when writer/directors Oren Goldman and Stav Ozdoba casually go for weird, it’s rather wonderful. Even if it makes no sense.
Or perhaps BECAUSE it makes no sense.
The sheer oddness of Lenny the Wonder Dog makes it something truly special, particularly when you factor in a corporate brainwashing plot as hatched by an off-the-leash Ferguson
Much like Ozzie, I have to tip my hat to a kids film that features a scooter chase wherein all four participants (young and old) responsibly wear helmets
It pains me to say this, because I generally really like Andy Richter, but his lazy vocals as Lenny make Chevy Chase’s Karate Dog performance seem Oscar worthy by comparison
The proper punishment for putting an innocent man in a coma is being forced to return to your job at the post office
A flea is the price you pay for being cage free
As I have always suspected, German Shepherds do indeed speak with German accents
Standard Animals Doing Human Stuff Trope Tally
New Kid In Town: X
Recent Dead or Divorced Parent: X, although Zach’s parents’ random “we’re going on vacation and leaving you in the hands of your clown uncle” almost makes you wish the kid could stage some sort of accident and find more safety in foster care
Montage: Check PLUS!
New Friendship: Check
Potentially Inappropriate ‘Friendship’ Between Child & Unrelated Adult (Human): X. Nah, Ferguson is just kidnapping the town’s children so that he can experimentally brainwash them so they’ll grow up to work for his company. It’s evil, sure, but not inappropriate along the lines of SOME of the ADHS movies we’ve watched here
Evil Corporate Enemy: Check and then some!
Original Song: Check, I think. See, a side plot of Lenny the Wonder Dog involves the town’s excitement at attending the “Angie” concert. Angie is some sort of Brittany Spears-esque poptart who does indeed get to perform (which allows us to see Craig Ferguson dance) and while I don’t know that the music was written specifically for this film, the fact that I’ve never again heard of this “Angie” character leads me to just give a check
Bully Comeuppance: Check, if henchmen count. I don’t know about you, but I’d WAY rather chase after annoying middle schoolers than have to deliver mail
Small Town Values: Check. Observe the random appearances by the town mayor proclaiming the utter perfection of her hamlet, all despite the fact that a kidnapper has been abducting children by the handfuls
Back To Nature Moral: X. Nah, let’s let our dogs talk and use computer technology for a better life.
Overall Score: 6/10
But each of those 6 points should really be multiplied by a million
Lenny the Wonder Dog starts off fairly slow for the kind of did-they-mean-to-make-this? potential stoner comedy, but stick with its brief under-90 minute running time and you’ll find a batch of quirks that add up to something weirdly special. I can only hope the Bugg found nearly as much enjoyment in Hercules, but seeing as that movie didn’t star Craig Ferguson doing choreographed dancing to pop music, I already feel guilty.