Owen, a 12-year-old who has been working as the neighborhood dog walker to earn the privilege of getting a dog of his own, wakes up one morning to discover he can understand every word his new dog says.
Probably one of the most improbable storylines ever, even by kiddie film standards, Good Boy! is the story of a 12-year-old boy named Owen (Liam Aiken) who wants his own pet desperately and is thrilled to adopt a scraggly little stray dog he names Hubble. Aptly, it seems--what Owen soon discovers is that Hubble, whose actual name is canine 3942, isn't from the pound; he's from the Dog Star Sirius. Turns out he's been sent to Earth to make sure dogs have fulfilled their original thousand-year-old mission: To colonize and dominate the planet. But somewhere along the line, dogs went from being super-intelligent creatures with interplanetary travel capabilities to being an overpopulated breed of household pet devoted to man. The ruler of Sirius, the Greater Dane, is so shocked by what has happened that she has sworn to recall all Earth dogs back to their home world. Hubble accidentally bestows upon Owen the ability to understand and communicate with dogs, which turns out to be a good thing because the boy joins Hubble in the struggle to keep dogs on Earth and live happily ever after with their human masters.
The human star of Good Boy! is Aiken, who has starred in several feature films including Road to Perdition and Sweet November. Aiken has an endearing presence on screen and his character Owen is a pretty good match for the young actor. The script, however, calls for Owen to be more naïve than he should be; he's a bright kid who buys into the notion that dogs talk and come from outer space too easily. But the most refreshing thing is that he's actually a 12-year-old playing a 12-year-old. Saturday Night Live alums Kevin Nealon and Molly Shannon play Owen's doting parents who are too much like comic caricatures to care about. More impressive than them is the roster for the dog voices, which include Matthew Broderick as Hubble and Delta Burke, Donald Faison, Carl Reiner and Brittany Murphy voicing the pack of neighborhood dogs. Following the predictable stereotypes, Burke voices the snooty poodle, Faison voices the boxer, Reiner voices the big Burmese mountain dog and Murphy voices the skinny Italian greyhound.
First-time director John Hoffman's Good Boy! is a cutesy children's movie that has been dumbed down to a five-year-old level, which doesn't make sense considering it has been given a PG rating for some mild crude humor. Hoffman, along with author Zeke Richardson, adapted Richardson's story Dogs From Outer Space, and although there are a few poignant moments in the film, it's mostly a lot of fluff. If you suspend your disbelief for 88 minutes and accept the yarn about dogs being so far superior to man (after all they did travel to distant planets a thousand years ago), it's difficult to understand why Hubble would want to stay on Earth. Hoffman would like moviegoers to believe it's because of the undying affection they get from humans, but at the same time he is reminding us that dogs have subsequently been conscripted into the service of man. Producers Lisa Henson and Kristine Belson, however, did a wonderful job with the dogs and were wise enough to use real animals instead of animatronic puppets. The dogs seem pretty natural in their actions and you never get the sense that a trainer was lurking behind the cameras holding a biscuit and giving orders to roll over or play dead. And fortunately, post-production was used to make the dogs appear to be talking instead of having them eating something to mimic talking lips.
Perhaps Good Boy! is not meant to be analyzed, but a film targeted at children should at least have some insight into the spirit of human nature or some sort of lesson. Instead, it's just a silly little dog tale.