Of all the reasons to be thankful for CGI, the talking animal movie isn’t one of them. But hey– as long as the kids are entertained, right?

Based on the age-old comic strip, Marmaduke is just such a talking animal movie (though it’s heaps better than Alvin and the Chipmunks and not quite as ‘scary’ as Beverly Hills Chihuahua.)

Voiced by Owen Wilson, the big dog moves with his family from Kansas to California (Dad got a new job with a pet food company). Once there, Marmaduke befriends a group of outcast mutts at the dog park, including Mazie (Emma Stone), Giuseppe (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), and Raisin (Steve Coogan). Of course, there’s also a “bad guy”, a grouchy rottweiler named Bosco (Kiefer Sutherland),

Stereotypes abound, from the chihuahuas with Latino accents to Bosco’s gorgeous “main squeeze” (yes, she’s a freshly-groomed collie). And it doesn’t end with the dogs. The human leads are as clich├ęd as they come, with the video-game-playing young son, the grumpy teenage daughter, and the Cleaver-ific mom and dad, played by Lee Pace and Judy Greer. (They also have a toddler daughter who inexplicably keeps popping in and out of the movie whenever it’s convenient.)

Marmaduke, who also serves as narrator, is funny enough, and, as great big talking dogs go, he’s certainly likable, but there’s nothing here you haven’t seen before.

Speaking of which– apparently screenwriters Vince Di Meglio and Tim Rasmussen were big fans of 1987 teen cinema. They borrow several pages from John Hughes’ Some Kind of Wonderful (Marmaduke falls for the beautiful ‘girl’ with the slimy boyfriend, completely overlooking the ‘tomboy’ who’s been right in front of him the whole time), and you’ll also be reminded of Can’t Buy Me Love (Marmaduke pretends to be something he isn’t and ends up getting everyone upset at him, before he points out how silly the whole dog hierarchy is).

Of course, none of this matters to the five-year-old in the seat next to you. The bottom line is that children will have a ball at Marmaduke. There’s plenty of slapstick, more adorable dogs than at the Westminster Kennel Club show, and even a little bit of tension and drama just to keep things interesting.

Plus (bonus!) Marmaduke comes off as more of an Afterschool Special about the importance of family than a rip-roaring comedy about a dog too big for his own world– so not only will the kiddos enjoy themselves, they may actually learn something (and hopefully it’s more than just the fact that animals can talk to each other.)

3/5 stars