When you get the newspaper every morning and look at the comics page, surely one of your first stops is Marmaduke.
Whoops! I beg your pardon. Let me translate that sentence for readers under the age of 60.
Many news websites used to print their articles onto cheap, easily smudged paper and deliver these artifacts each day to people’s homes. Contained in these editions were “comic strips,” which were primitive, motionless versions of cartoons. And one of the regular comic strips was something called Marmaduke.
Marmaduke was launched in 1954, but, like most comics that have been around for more than a half-century, it stopped being funny decades ago. In fact, it’s unclear whether it ever was funny. The strip consists of one joke: Marmaduke is a huge Great Dane who is very large and is also of great size, and his vastness leads to hijinks surrounding the fact that he is much bigger than other dogs. Do you get it? You see, Marmaduke is very BIG. Bigger than his owners, even! And this leads to shenanigans. Because of how big he is. See?
This gag is repeated every day. For 56 years. That’s more than 20,000 variations on “Look at how big Marmaduke is!!”
The reason I bring it up here, on a movie website, is that someone decided it would be a good idea to make a Marmaduke movie. It’s called “Marmaduke.” It’s live-action. Marmaduke and the other animals have celebrity voices. It comes out June 4. Here is the trailer.
The whole idea is baffling for a number of reasons, a few of which I will share below.
1. There are nearly 7 billion people on Earth. If you were to ask each and every one of them which existing fictional character they would most like to see in a movie, I doubt you’d get more than eight or nine who said, “Oh, Marmaduke, for sure!” Even if you listed Marmaduke as one of the options, and all the other options were characters from a Proust novel, I doubt Marmaduke would rank very high in the survey. Yes, the two Garfield movies made money. But there was a time when Garfield was an insanely beloved and popular comic strip character. That time was 20 years ago, yes, but at least it happened. There has never been a Marmaduke craze. Ever. I doubt the artist’s mother even reads it.
2. In the comic strip, Marmaduke does not talk. Nor does he think, nor in any other way have words attributed to him. Yet in the movie, he not only speaks, but does so with the voice of Owen Wilson. So this isn’t just a movie based on a comic strip no one cares about. It’s a movie based on a comic strip no one cares about that isn’t even faithful to its source material. But if no one cares about the strip, then who cares if the movie is faithful to it, right? Ah, yes, but if we’re going to acknowledge that no one cares about Marmaduke, then we must ask WHY, then, we have made a Marmaduke movie. Why not just make a movie about a large dog and call it something else? Because there’s name recognition in Marmaduke? Yes. But not among the target audience, i.e., young children and the mentally infirm. Besides, we cannot simultaneously hope to capitalize on the name recognition while also betraying the things the name stands for. It is intellectually dishonest, and I expect more from my talking-dog movies.
3. This is a PG-rated family movie about talking animals who knock William H. Macy over and get into messes and cause their owners to yell their names in an exasperated fashion. How, then, the hell is it not a Disney film? It’s Twentieth Century Fox. How did they secure permission to make a movie like this? Doesn’t Disney own the copyright on talking animals who break things? (Of course, I’m not sure how Twentieth Century Fox is still making movies at all, of any kind, considering it stopped being the twentieth century, like, a decade ago.)
4. The movie was directed by the guy who made “Shanghai Noon,” “Showtime,” and “Failure to Launch.” The screenplay is by the guys who wrote “License to Wed.” Also, William H. Macy was once nominated for an Oscar. I just want to let all of this sink in.
5. He’s just a giant dog. Seriously, that’s the only joke, and it’s a 56-year-old joke. Do you suppose it will run out of steam in under 90 minutes?