Beverly Hills Chihuahua (Blu-ray)
Directed by Raja Gosnell
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:11080pAVC codec
Running Time: 91 minutes
Audio: PCM 5.1 English; Dolby Digital 5.1 English, French, Spanish
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
MSRP: $ 34.99
Release Date: March 3, 2009
Review Date: February 24, 2009
If you’re going to do a talking animal movie nowadays, you’d better have a witty script and an interesting story to offer because talking animals alone are by now passé. Disney itself has offered two recent rather mediocre additions to the genre: the resistible Underdog and the thoroughly mediocre Space Buddies. While the script for Beverly Hills Chihuahua isn’t bursting with cleverness, the adventure for the various canines is very involving, and the undeniably ingratiating personalities of the dogs goes a long way toward erasing memories of so many previous precious pooch pictures.
Spoiled Beverly Hills lapdog Chloe (Drew Barrymore) gets abducted on vacation in Baja, Mexico, and finds herself in the midst of Mexico City’s infamous underground dog fights. She manages to elude the crushing jaws of the destroyer Doberman El Diablo (Edward James Olmos), but Diablo’s owner (Jose Maria Yazpik) recognizes from the Harry Winston diamond dog collar Chloe sports that he could get some serious ransom money for the pup and begins a manhunt (doghunt?) for her. Meanwhile, former police dog Delgado (Andy Garcia) becomes Chloe’s protector as he leads her on a torturous journey back to California. Also on the lookout for Chloe is her careless dog watcher Rachel (Piper Perabo), landscaper Sam Cortez (Manolo Cardona), and Sam’s dog Papi (George Lopez), smitten with Chloe who won’t give him even a tail wag due to his inferior station in her world.
The script by Analisa LaBianco and Jeff Bushell finds all kinds of adventures for the various dogs to undergo on their (what amounts to) cat and mouse adventure. Sure, there’s always the expected Disney slapstick (overturned street vendor carts, a mess in a bodega), but some of the scenes have real tension and some thrilling executions and outcomes, all courtesy of Raja Gosnell’s patient direction, obviously used to working with mixes of live action and CGI with the Scooby-Doo franchise. There’s an especially cool sequence in the Aztec ruins at Chihuahua as hundreds of the dogs spring to life to instruct their visitors on their legendary history, spoiled only by some inadequate CGI work to increase the dogs’ numbers that doesn‘t blend well with the live action shooting.
The cast, both live action actors and the voices of the animals, provide much of the enjoyment the film has to offer with several voices especially paired memorably with their canine counterparts. George Lopez makes Papi, the plucky chihuahua who’ll move heaven and earth to find his beloved, a genuine wonder, and the dog actor (plucked from the pound days from his scheduled demise we learn in the bonus features) is by far the most adorable of the film’s many four-legged players. Drew Barrymore also generates some real empathy with her sincere interpretation of the poor little rich pup who grows immeasurably from her frightening adventure. Andy Garcia seems less invested in Delgado and doesn’t seem to be quite as good a fit for his character as many of the other voices. Among the live actors, Piper Perabo and Manolo Cardona fit their stereotypical roles adequately. Jamie Lee Curtis has a couple of scenes as Chloe’s owner, a cosmetics executive who rushes off on business leaving her in the hands of her less-than-responsible niece.
The film’s 2.40:1 theatrical aspect ratio is delivered here in 1080p using the AVC codec. It’s a very pleasing picture with bright colors, sharp textures, and pleasing black levels. Contrast might have been tweaked a smidgen, but otherwise, the picture is immaculate and very alluring. It’s certainly sharp enough to ascertain the differences between live action animals and some CGI creations (a rat, an iguana, some mountain lions) placed into the same frame. The film has been divided into 12 chapters.
The PCM 5.1 (6.9 Mbps) audio track is a very good effort with music threaded throughout the front and rear soundstage and with quite a few well placed ambient sounds directed toward the rears. Not much use is made of the LFE channel except for the music’s occasional use of bass and one notable bark late in the movie.
Director Raja Gosnell contributes a conversational audio commentary which offers many production notes and gives away some behind-the-scenes secrets explaining how much of the magic with the dogs was accomplished. It’s a very pleasant and interesting talk.
All of the bonus featurettes are presented in 1080p.
“Pet Pals: The Voices Behind the Dogs” is a 9 ½-minute featurette on the voice actors chosen for portraying the animals in the movies. Behind-the-scenes footage of their recording sessions is shown along with some interviews with various cast members talking about their characters.
“Hitting the Bark: On Set with the Dogs of Beverly Hills Chihuahua” spends 13 minutes showing us the many trainers working with the dogs used in the movie and a special interview with head trainer/coordinator Mike Alexander describing what was involved with the complicated shoot, done mostly in Mexico.
The Blu-ray offers ten deleted scenes which can be watched individually or in one 24-minute chunk. Each has an introduction by director Raja Gosnell explaining why the footage was cut from the film. Some of it features only partially finished CGI animation on the dogs’ expressions.
There is a 3-minute blooper reel showing both human and canine gaffes.
Legend of the Chihuahua is a new 3-minute animated (2-D animation) short on the history of this celebrated breed, the tenth most popular one in America.
The film’s theatrical trailer is available as an easy-to-find Easter Egg. It runs 1 ½ minutes.
The disc is BD-Live active, but the site had not been activated during the review period.
The disc offered 1080p previews for Pinocchio, Up, Bedtime Stories, Bolt, Monsters Inc., and Morning Light.
Much better than I was expecting and a generally entertaining family adventure, Beverly Hills Chihuahua offers a few good laughs and some bracing action in a fine Blu-ray package with some entertaining extras.