By Stacey Richter
LIKE MOST PEOPLE, I am fond of dogs and cats. But I was unsure if this fact alone would be enough to get me through Homeward Bound II: Lost in San Francisco without losing my mind, especially given that I regard Disney as an evil conglomerate of forced cuteness with an end goal of world domination. (I will be only mildly surprised one day to find a Disney-brand anamatronic letter carrier delivering mail with all the interesting stuff blacked out.) To my shock, I enjoyed the movie, but I have a confession to make: Lately, I've noticed, I like nearly everything.
This is probably not a wise thing for a critic to admit. As I understand it, there's a general presumption that reviewers and their ilk are a world-wearied bunch of over-intellectual cynics, and if they like anything at all it's a small miracle. This makes the occasional glowing review more valuable. But the truth is, I see movies for free and it's affected me the way drink affected W.C. Fields--by making things more interesting. No, I do not relish the idea of seeing Big Bully or Black Sheep, but at least I don't feel like a sucker for shelling out seven bucks for the privilege. And there's something inherently pleasurable about even the worst movie. A friend of mine says that no matter how bad the flick, he always likes the part that involves sitting in a dark room and watching a succession of still images being projected onto a screen. Ah! The mere form is entrancing.
So, with that disclaimer in mind, some notes on Homeward Bound II: Lost in San Francisco--the epic story of Chance, Shadow and Sassy, two wayward dogs and a cat who belong to the happily Caucasian Seaver family. In the first Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey, these pets got lost and made a miraculous journey home. In Homeward Bound II, they get loose again and, with Sisyphean sameness, must make the arduous journey home-- this time through an urban environment. (While we're on the subject of confessions, I would like to say that I did not see the first Homeward Bound.)
The pets are cute and many obstacles are thrown in their way. The pets also have the gift of cross-species ESP. They stand still and stare at each other while voices emanate from their heads, a trick that only seems to work at close range. The naked weirdness of these scenes, which cut from one dog staring slightly off camera to another doing the same, would alone be worth the price of admission, if I actually had to pay it.
The voice of Chance the Bulldog is played with frightening aptness by Michael J. Fox. Chance is a reckless, exuberant dude of a dog, with a freewheeling, morning drive-time DJ personality. Fox seems to have grasped this eat-and-play mentality intuitively, and it's hard not to enjoy the vapid dogness of it all. Slightly more forced is the performance of two-time Academy Award winner Sally Field as Sassy, the Himalayan cat. The crackling voice Field uses for Sassy reminded me of one of her evil alters in Sybil, and I expected her nimble little paws to grasp a crayon at any moment and start scribbling repressed memories. Thankfully, Sassy the cat (I'm sad to say I'm unable to provide the name of the animal who played Sassy) does nothing more disturbing than open cage doors with her claws.
The last of the trio is Shadow, a wise old retriever with an old-man's voice. Shadow best exemplified the hidden perversity that can be found in all Disney movies for kids: he seems to have an overly submissive relationship with Peter, his boy. When Peter asks Shadow if he wants to go on a trip, the dog replies, in a voice laced with abasement, "Go? I'd go anywhere with you Peter." While the relationship between boy and dog is eroticized, the bond between dog and dog is not. Like that letter from the anamatronic mailman with the good parts bowdlerized, Chance's love affair with a street-smart city bitch is confined to chaste muzzle licking. Maybe they're fixed?
The most refreshing aspect of Homeward Bound II is its knack for marginalizing humans. They only appear occasionally to spout off expository dialogue ("I still think it's crazy to fly three animals halfway around the continent to go on a camping trip!"). How often can you see a movie comprised almost entirely of cute little critters sending thought waves to one another? The critics I saw this movie with, most of whom were under 10, seemed to agree, and applauded madly when the lights came up.
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