Film Review: Space Dogs: Adventure to the Moon

This unnecessary sequel to the Russian animated film loses all sense of coherence long before any of its annoyingly talky animals ever get to the moon.
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In 2010, a couple of Russian filmmakers—realizing the success of animated films globally—decided to turn the story of Belka and Strelka, two Russian dogs sent into space in 1960, into an animated family movie. No one at Pixar or DreamWorks Animation was shaking in their shoes about losing much money to what amounted to a translated, mostly video-only release when it appeared in the United States a few years later.

Just in time for “National Dog Day” on August 26 comes this sequel that few expected and fewer cared about. The original voice of Belka, Chloë Grace Moretz, has moved onto bigger and better things, as has the original Strelka (voice actress Dorothy Elias-Fahn). Replacing them are Alicia Silverstone and Ashlee Simpson under the guidance of new director Mike Disa of the similarly ill-conceived sequel Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil.  (Though I never saw the original movie, it didn’t seem necessary to catch that movie in order to watch this sequel, due to the convenient opening recap.)

Apparently, Belka married another dog after the last movie and they had a kid named Pushok (Kira Buckland), who wants to be a space dog like his folks.  Belka and Strelka have left the space program to get into show business, but Belka’s German Shepard husband Kazbek (Samuel Witwer) has been sent on his own mission to the moon where he gets stranded, so the USA and Russian canine cosmonauts need to team up to save him.

Realizing that the primary audience for this movie is two- to three-year-olds plopped in front of a screen to keep them entertained for a couple of hours, not a lot is invested into the writing or storytelling. Most of the supporting talking animal characters aren’t developed beyond the most basic stereotypes, which is embarrassing considering the numerous quality talking-animal films already released this year, including The Secret Life of Pets.

The pets belonging to the President’s daughter—she’s named Caroline, for the astute to figure out in which era this takes place—are particularly annoying to listen to with their rapid-fire jokes, but even they aren’t as grating as the talking rat Lenny (Phil Lamarr), who acts as Belka and Strelka’s agent. (Hey, if dogs can get married, surely they can have an agent, too.)

Most of the movie follows Pushok on his own adventure in America, visiting the First Family at the White House and how that turns into a rescue mission. The original film’s stars are more involved in their own baffling storyline in which they try to find success in the entertainment business, but eventually they too join the search for Belka’s husband on the moon.

At times, it’s blatantly obvious that when this Russian movie was redubbed into English, the American screenwriter merely had all the characters stating what was happening on the screen, rather than simply translating the original dialogue.

Over much of the movie, one terrible joke after another is hurled at the poor, unassuming viewer with the idea they might be too confused to stop watching. Even at a short 75 minutes, these awful jokes slowly grind away at one’s very soul, and when all else fails, the movie falls back on the surefire laugh of having a dog urinating on something.

The film’s main saving grace may be the fast-paced action sequences that strive for the insanity of “Looney Tunes” or possibly even Tex Avery with an appropriately madcap soundtrack. The fact that most of the talking animals stop spouting nonsense during these sequences, allowing the generally decent animation to take over, is telling of how much this movie needs to cut out some of its blabbing.

There were probably some good intentions behind making this Space Dogs sequel such as the hope of getting kids interested in space travel and science, but the more intriguing aspects of the ’60s Space Race are consistently dumbed down into a plot from the animals’ point of view. It harks back to the equally baffling 2008 animated film Fly Me to the Moon, which told the story of houseflies... on their own journey to the moon.

Younger kids will likely be entertained merely by watching “doggies” in space suits, but there isn’t anything particularly clever or captivating to keep adults from wanting to sneak off.

Click here for cast and crew information.