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SYFY WIRE Owen Wilson

Remembering Marmaduke, Owen Wilson’s Dog Day Comedy

Owen Wilson escapes the leash in Marmaduke, a pup parade lined with Hollywood A-listers.

By Benjamin Bullard
Marmaduke (Owen Wilson) in Marmaduke (2012)

Owen Wilson is funny. William H. Macy is dramatic. Sam Elliott is downright cowboy cool — so wouldn’t it be great if there were a movie where they teamed up alongside more big Hollywood names, and then showed off all their silly sides with an entire menagerie of talking, live-action animals... or, more specifically, talking dogs?

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That’s the setup for 2010’s Marmaduke (streaming here on Peacock!), a mild, totally family-friendly comedy based on the iconic Marmaduke comic strip created and penned by the late Brad Anderson — a strip that for more than six decades, until Anderson’s passing in 2015, appeared with regularity as a syndicated feature on newspaper comics pages everywhere. Thanks to the wonders of CGI, the dogs don’t just make disembodied voices in Marmaduke the movie. In rhythm with their goofy, doggish speech (and there’s a whole bunch of that), their jowls and snouts move in a believable facsimile of what dogs who bark out actual English words might look like… we think.

Why now is a great time to revisit the live action Marmaduke movie

Marmaduke didn’t light up the 2010 box office, and it didn’t exactly light up critics’ praise pens either, but it’s not nearly as bad as all that. Like the comic strip itself, it’s supposed to be breezy, a little funny, and mostly inoffensive — and with Wilson supplying the main Marmaduke speaking role (alongside more fun doggie voices from Emma Stone, George Lopez, Fergie, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Steve Coogan, Kiefer Sutherland, and Elliott himself), that’s exactly what it is.

Carlos (George Lopez) in Marmaduke (2012)

Casting Wilson to bring buoyant vocal life to an affable, accident-prone Great Dane is a total no-brainer. One of the movie’s most fun takeaways — aside from watching Macy play his semi-villainous human role with hilariously committed earnestness — is appreciating how each big-name actor does treat-worthy justice to the distinctively-drawn pup character they portray. Lopez gets one of the film’s best parts as street-savvy family cat Carlos, while Coogan brings an endearing dignity to his vocal turn as Raisin, a stoically studious Dachshund who carries a hint of a British accent. Sutherland chews the scenery as smart-aleck Beauceron Bosco — the movie’s main canine bad guy — while Elliott absolutely nails the grizzled, seen-it-all outlook of the fearsomely fabled “Chupadogra” — a lone-wolf English Mastiff whose mere, shadowy existence seems to be the stuff of mythical, pup-scaring legend.

Bosco (Kiefer Sutherland) in Marmaduke (2012)

There’s a Kansas-to-California family story that propels Marmaduke, of course, but it’s a typically serviceable, sorta-sentimental dog-out-of-water yarn that allows the movie’s humans to stand aside in their strange new Orange County digs while the dog pound runs away with the real show. Yep, this is one movie where you can expect every conceivable permutation of “Who let the dogs out?!” jokes, piles of poop humor, set-destroying physical slapstick that must’ve been a hoot (or else a nightmare) to actually film, and even a smidge of Lady and the Tramp-style emotional leash-pulling, thanks to a doggie romance subplot that makes effective vocal use of both Stone (as a sensible mutt named Mazie) and Fergie (as a kind, but appropriately-aloof purebred Collie named Jezebel).

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A chihuahua from Marmaduke (2012)

The CGI is convincing, the comedy is pitched mostly at kids (save for a couple of extra-clever Lopez lines that’ll definitely have adults laughing too), and at a brisk 86 minutes, Marmaduke knows not to overstay its welcome. Best of all, perhaps, is that it’s true to the tame, accessible spirit of the comic on which it’s based, while giving dog lovers everywhere a live-action film that decisively places its human characters squarely in the background — all to let the dog stars have their day.

Marmaduke is streaming now on Peacock. Watch it here!