Teacher’s Pet

Though it comes to us from Disney, “Teacher’s Pet” bears more resemblance to the frenetic, loose-limbed anarchy of the old Warner Bros. cartoons than to the slick, genteel productions usually associated with the Mouse House. The protagonist is a brash Bugs Bunny figure, while his sidekick is a good-natured Porky Pig type. The villain has the bombastic ravings of Yosemite Sam, mixed with the far-out ideas of Marvin the Martian. The plot is absolute screwball — and when I say that, I’m holding up a drawing of a screw and a ball.

This is a thoroughly delightful, giggle-inducing movie that will amuse kids with its quirky drawing style and outlandish action, while entertaining their parents with fast-paced dialogue and clever songs. It lacks the weight and overall polish to become a “Disney classic,” but it certainly deserves a spot on the list of family cult classics.

Based on an ABC cartoon series and featuring much of the same talent, “Teacher’s Pet” is about a dog and his boy. The dog, Spot (voice of Nathan Lane), wants to be a real live boy so bad that he dresses up in human clothes and passes himself off as a student, attending class with his owner, fourth-grader Leonard Helperman (Shaun Fleming).

Leonard’s mom (Debra Jo Rupp) is the teacher, as it happens, and in the movie, she is nominated for a Teacher of the Year award and sent to sunny southern Florida to compete. Principal Strickler (Wallace Shawn) lends her his RV for the trip, but on one condition: No dogs allowed in the vehicle.

But Spot MUST tag along, because he wants to find a certain South Florida scientist he saw a TV show about, a Dr. Ivan Krank (Kelsey Grammer), who claims he can turn animals into people. So a ruse is devised, and Spot accompanies, and there is much mayhem and many shenanigans.

Nathan Lane is an inspired choice to play Spot, a resourceful, wise-cracking character whose streetwise optimism makes him a true descendant of the aforementioned wabbit. He dons costumes as often as necessary to fool the gullible, does pratfalls to make a point, and occasionally bursts into song. He’s a funny, dynamic character, and great fun to watch.

The supporting cast is full of odd little delights, like Megan Mullally and Paul Reubens as a misshapen mosquito and alligator, respectively, failed animal-to-human subjects in Dr. Krank’s laboratory. Jerry Stiller and David Ogden Stiers are a gutbusting addition as Leonard’s other pets, a bird and a cat, and Estelle Harris — Jerry Stiller’s “Seinfeld” wife, you’ll recall — plays an oblivious petsitter.

The theme of conflicting dreams (Spot wants to be a boy, Leonard wants a faithful dog) is dealt with just seriously enough to warrant making a feature-length film. The main priority is jokes, and lots of ’em, flying at you visually and aurally, in the landscapes, the one-liners and the whacked-out drawings. Maybe the best compliment I can pay the movie is that it makes me want to seek out the TV show it’s based on.

B+ (1 hr., 8 min.; PG, some very mild, um, stuff. I don't know..)