Sunday, May 29, 2016

Movies with Talking Animals and Bark Ranger (2015)

A large part of human nature is socialization.  Deep inside each person is a need for companionship.  Many people find this camaraderie in talking with other people.  That’s what parties and hanging out are about.  Being around other people is the main reason you do that stuff.  Another way to find companionship is through having a pet.  Having an animal around (whether it be dog, cat, horse, or anything else) can help a person feel less lonely than they otherwise would.

Filmmakers know about our love of having animals and have produced many movies that play into it.  That’s where the “boy and his dog” concept stems from.  There’s a certain amount of relation that a viewer has to a child loving their pet.  It connects the viewer with the movie through an emotional investment.  All of this is because of our inherent need for companionship.  We want a friend as close as the boy is to his dog.  We want that kind of platonic relationship.  We want to connect with someone or something in that way.

But what do the animals feel about their relationship to the people?  Many movies delve into this aspect of the companionship by giving voices to animals.  They give spoken personalities to allow a better ability to directly address what animals are feeling.  This can, of course, lead to problems.  The personalities could be grating.  Many times, they are.  Movies like this week’s Bark Ranger make the animal into a smart, badass, yet irritating figure.  The voice work can make or break the character.  Then there is how they integrate the talking into the movie.  How does the animal look when talking?  That can be a deal breaker.

There are three ways that movies and television shows make it look like animals are talking.  The first is to get the animal to open and close its mouth.  I believe that this method involves feeding the animal.  When it chews, it visually looks like talking.  You can add a voice and make it feel similar to a foreign film being dubbed with English voices.  It’s one of the top two ways of making animals talk, though I’m unsure if it’s the best.

The other of the two top ways is to simply have voiceover.  Using this method, there is no need to manipulate the mouth of the animal, practically or digitally.  It works the same as telepathy in terms of depicting it.  All that is necessary is for the animal to have some sort of expression, and a voice is placed over it.  This style helps to keep the movie from looking goofy.  It grounds everything in a realistic setting and doesn’t cause a negative feeling in most viewers.

Finally, we come to digital manipulation.  This is when the mouth of the animal is altered to make it look like it is talking.  There are two different aesthetics when a mouth is digitally manipulated.  One is to place another mouth over the animal’s mouth and have that one shaping out the words spoken.  Then there is the method that involves digitally enhancing the already present mouth and making it look like the oral cavity of the animal is talking.  Of course the second of those methods is better, though both are of lesser quality than the practical ways.

Bark Ranger went with this final way of making the dog talk.  Ranger (Jon Lovitz) had his mouth changed through computer graphics to look like his snout opened and closed with the words.  At least it was his own mouth.  I’ve seen movies for the Sunday “Bad” Movies that didn’t even have that quality of animal mouth work.  (I’m looking at you, A Talking Cat!?!)  It always feels unnatural to see an animal’s mouth moving with words, especially when done through the use of computer effects.  It looks goofy.  The worst part of these effects in Bark Ranger was that they look bad.  The movie didn’t have a big budget.  That was noticeable through the visuals.  It got worse with the talking dog effects.  The whole snout of Ranger looked poorly rendered when he talked.  It looked like a fake snout, laid over the real one.  Which it was.  It was a digital recreation placed over the already existing part of the dog.  Not enough time was spent making it look realistic.

The quality of the mouth work for Ranger wasn’t the only problem.  Like many other talking animal movies, the animal character was meant to be heroic and funny.  Also like many other talking animal movies, the jokes were terrible beyond belief.  Ranger was the best friend of Jack Keller (Lucius Hoyos).  Dogs are man’s best friend, after all.  The problem is that Ranger was condescending to almost every person he met.  He made fun of all of the humans, and treated them as if they were below him.  He laughed at his best friend’s girlfriend Chloe (Zoe Fraser) because she couldn’t ride a bike.  He made Jack’s father Blake (Ari Cohen) come to him when they saw each other on the road, instead of compromising to meet halfway.  He treated other dogs like crap too.  He practically walked all over Spike (David Berni) when seeking information, and later again after telling the story we watched unfold.  Ranger was not a likeable character.  This is a common trait in talking animal movies.

Let’s look at these qualities in another talking animal movie I’ve covered, which I’ve already brought up in this post.  Duffy in A Talking Cat!?! was another animal that had their mouth altered through digital trickery.  The difference was the quality.  Though Ranger’s mouth still resembled a dog’s mouth, Duffy had a moving black circle placed over his mouth to signify talking.  It was a lack of effort from the people behind the movie.  This is the worst way to go about making an animal look like they’re talking.  It is lazy and doesn’t resemble a real mouth.

The personality of Duffy is where A Talking Cat!?! went right.  Instead of having the cat make snarky, snide remarks about everything that happened, he seemed like a wise sage.  This was further exhibited through Duffy’s interactions with people.  He took time to give advice and help the people in their lives.  He cared about his friends.  He didn’t think himself better.  If anything, Duffy was helping everyone become better than he was.  The problem with this was Eric Roberts’s performance, which sounded like it was literally phoned in.  I don’t mean that in the modern figurative sense of literal.  I mean the true sense, which is the opposite of figurative.  It sounded like Eric Roberts called the director and they recorded his performance over the phone.

There are good examples of movies with talking animals.  I can’t say I’ve watched any for the Sunday “Bad” Movies since this blog is based around the idea of bad movies.  One example that comes to mind for me is the remake of The Incredible Journey, titled Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey.  The movie focused on two dogs and a cat as they journeyed through the wilderness attempting to return from a farm to their home in San Francisco.  The personalities of the animals varied, allowing for a mixture that kept any single voice from grating on the viewers.  There was the younger, more excited character.  There was the older, wiser character.  And there was a sassy female cat conveniently named Sassy.  Together, the three played off each other instead of being one overwhelming personality.  It worked the best out of any of the talking animal movies that I’ve mentioned.

In Homeward Bound, the animals’ voices were simple voiceover.  There were no attempts to make their mouths move with the words.  The voices were placed over whatever the animals were doing to keep the action realistic.  The performances relied more upon the voice work than actually making the animals look like they were talking.  It worked better than the other movies I’ve discussed.  The performances of the animals were unaltered and allowed more emotion to shine.  There were no distractions.  It was all about the emotional connection through the voices and the actions.  They didn’t need to visually be tied together through the mouths to work.

The two biggest flaws in talking animal movies come in the form of the animal personalities and how the voices are portrayed.  Having only the irritating smart ass animal that interacts with nobody can be detrimental to entertainment.  Making animals’ mouths move in unnatural looking ways can distract from the words they speak.  Those aren’t the only things that can make a talking animal movie good or bad.  Of course bad filmmaking can bring a movie down harder than an anvil on Wile E. Coyote.  But these two details are big factors in creating the talking animal character, and that character can be the thing that keeps a movie from being tolerable.  It is the most important character to nail in these movies.

I am not against talking animal movies.  I know that it takes hard work to elevate one to a level higher than a cheap attempt at cashing in on parents who want to distract their kids.  Some good movies have come out of this style.  I love Homeward Bound.  But there are lesser movies being released with talking animals all the time.  A Talking Cat!?! was one.  Bark Ranger was another.  Though the movies had other problems, the talking animal was a big part of why they were bad.  That’s why this post exists.
Now for some notes:

  • Here is the post for A Talking Cat!?!
  • Jason Blicker was in Bark Ranger.  He was also in Iron Eagle II and Iron Eagle IV.
  • Marcia Bennett was in Bark Ranger.  She was previously seen in Glitter.
  • Finally, Marty Adams made an appearance in Bark Ranger.  He was also in Dead Before Dawn 3D.
  • Have you seen Bark Ranger?  How about A Talking Cat!?! or Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey?  What do you think of movies with talking animals?  Any other good ones you can think of?  There is a comments section below where you can discuss this post or anything mentioned in it.
  • If you know of any movies that should be covered in the Sunday “Bad” Movies, feel free to let me know in the comments or on Twitter.  I’ll be making more of the schedule soon and I like to toss suggestions in there.
  • Sometimes when I’m watching bad movies, I like to share clips in my Snapchat story.  If you want to see this stuff in the future, among a few other things, you can find me with the username jurassicgriffin.
  • Next week’s movie is going to be Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III since the new Ninja Turtles movie is going to be coming out.  That’s right.  Synergy.  This is the movie where the brothers go back in time to feudal Japan.  It’s going to be fun.  I’ll see you next week with a post.

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