What a curious movie.
Teacher’s Pet is different, edgy and subversive — but ultimately pointless and boring. It’s a kids’ movie that kids won’t get, a comedy parents won’t find funny, and a musical with clever Broadway show tunes that no one will ever sing. Plus, it’s got a dog you want to muzzle, and a mom you want to tether. And when this short (75 minutes) movie is over and the credits seem to run endlessly, all you want to know is what lamebrain at Disney Studios gave the go-ahead on this mishmash.
Teacher’s Pet, an expanded version of the recently canceled Emmy-winning TV series based on characters created by illustrator Greg Baseman, is also the big-screen debut of one of the show’s directors, Timothy Bjorklund. With a script written by Cheers veterans Bill and Cherie Steinkellner, you might think the film would be witty, or at least charming. Wrong on both counts. The humor is so Borscht Belt that even fans of that old-fashioned style will groan “oy vey.”
Spot (voiced by Nathan Lane, Nicholas Nickleby) is a talking blue dog who laments being born “on the wrong end of the leash.” Like Pinocchio, he longs to be a real boy. This obsession is not shared by the pooch’s hapless owner, Leonard (Shaun Flemming, who voiced the same character on the TV series), who just wants what every other boy wants — a real dog who fetches and scratches and knows how to properly decorate water hydrants. Tucking in his tail and sporting sunglasses, Spot has been going to school with Leonard for a long time. He’s so smart he’s wears a chest full of academic medals, making him the teacher’s pet in all his subjects.
When he learns that mad scientist Dr. Evil Krank (voiced by Kelsey Grammer, TV’s Frasier) is claiming to turn animals into humans, Spot finagles his way to Florida in an RV with Leonard and his single mom, Mrs. Helperman (voiced by Debra Jo Rupp, as in the TV series). Meanwhile, Spot’s homeboys are racing to save him — Pretty Boy, the parrot (voiced by Jerry Stiller, Zoolander), and Mr. Jolly, the cat (David Ogden Stiers, TV’s M*A*S*H*).
In a horror-movie spoof that even schlockmeister Ken Hanke would appreciate, Dr. Krank’s DNA-switching experiments result in some pretty amusing monstrosities, such as Mosquito Girl and Crocodile Boy. But no fear of genetic miswiring will deter the boy wannabe, and Spot allows Dr. Krank to do his thing. Uh oh: Doggie-year calculation error — instead of being turned into a cute little human fourth-grader, Spot ends up as a full-grown man, complete with 5 o’clock bristle and a lecherous libido. Look out, Mom!
If you’re an animation addict, see Teacher’s Pet, because it’s probably the only chance you’ll get to enjoy Baseman’s quirky characters on the big screen. Otherwise, leave this flick for bargain day at the video store.
– reviewed by Marci Miller