“Good Boy” is a not-so-good movie, but it is not so bad, either.
It’s a watered-down canine version of “ET.” It is not particularly imaginative and it goes on too long, dragging through the last half hour. But it has a cute kid and some even cuter dogs. The children at the screening I attended laughed and “awwwed” and applauded, and I found myself smiling a couple of times, too. That makes it a mild little entertainment suitable for a second-grader’s birthday party outing.
Owen (Liam Atkins) is the only child of loving but preoccupied parents (Saturday Night Live’s Molly Shannon and Kevin Nealon). He has been working hard walking dogs all summer long in order to earn the right to get a dog of his own. He picks a dog from the pound and names him Hubble. But Hubble turns out to be an inspector from the Dog Star who has been sent to earth to see how well the dogs are doing in establishing dominion over the planet. If not, all the dogs on the planet will have to go back to the Dog Star for retraining.
The dogs try to persuade Hubble that they do control humans (“You don’t see us picking up their poop!”). When that doesn’t work, they try to figure out a way to fake it so that when the ruler of the Dog Star arrives, she will let them stay. Meanwhile, Owen needs to find a way to deal with some bullies and to make friends with a dog-loving girl named Connie (Brittany Moldowan).
Atkins has a nice screen presence and a terrific smile. Shannon and Nealon are wasted in under-written roles. The script saves its best moments for the dogs, and top-notch stars lend their distinctive voices to the dog characters. Highlights include Matthew Broderick as Hubble, Vanessa Redgrave as the ruler of the Dog Star, along with Cheech Marin, Carl Reiner, Delta Burke, and Donald Faison.
Parents should know that there are some naughty words in the movie (“screwed up”), a couple of mild double entendres, and some potty jokes. The dogs are exposed to laughing gas and get a little tipsy. Characters face a little mild peril and some tense situations, but everything turns out fine. One of the movie’s strengths is its understated, even casual, portrayal of a diverse community, including a nice friendship between an African-American girl and a white boy.
Families who see this movie should talk about why it was hard for Owen to make friends and why Connie kept hanging out with the two bullies. What makes people act like bullies? What does Owen teach Hubble about the importance of encouragement? What do they teach each other about friendship? What does it mean to say that “dignity comes from within?”
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the similarly-themed Cats and Dogs and the classic E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. They should also try the under-appreciated The Iron Giant. And they might want to check out this site to see pictures from the Hubble space telescope, which inspired the name of Owen’s dog or this site for pictures of the real dog star, Sirius.