Story

Marmaduke is based on the comic strip created by Brad Anderson, which featured in Australian newspapers and magazines in the 1970s and 1980s. This partially animated comedy, directed by Tom Dey, is about the adventures of Marmaduke, the talking Great Dane (voiced by Owen Wilson).

The story opens with Marmaduke’s owner, Phil Winslow (Lee Pace), feeling dissatisfied with an apparently dead-end life in Kansas. When an attractive job opportunity arises, he and his wife Debbie (Judy Greer) pack up the family and move to California. Once there, Marmaduke meets a host of new canine friends. They include Maisie (Emma Stone), Guiseppe (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) and Raisin (Steve Coogan). He also comes across some enemies, such as Bosco the alpha dog (Kiefer Sutherland). Bosco is constantly surrounded by a gang of canine henchmen.

Meanwhile, Phil becomes very focused on achieving success in his new position with Bark Organics dog food company. He doesn’t realise how unhappy his children are. After a series of disastrous events, Marmaduke eventually helps Phil to see that he has been neglecting his family.

Themes

Alienation; failure; bullying; gang violence

Violence

This movie contains some physical and verbal violence. For example:

  • Phil grabs Marmaduke’s tail and holds it while Marmaduke runs through the house.
  • Marmaduke tips Carlos the cat off the couch and onto the floor.
  • Marmaduke hits Carlos on the head repeatedly. Then he grabs Carlos’s tail in his mouth and spins the frightened cat in circles. This leaves Carlos with very little fur on his tail.
  • Marmaduke knocks Phil off the bed and onto the floor.
  • Marmaduke drags Phil across the ground behind him.
  • Alpha dog Bosco and his gang snarl at, bark and threaten Marmaduke several times.
  • Carlos the cat is surrounded by threatening, barking dogs.
  • Phil yells at and runs after Marmaduke.

Content that may disturb children

Under 8

In addition to the violent scenes mentioned above, this movie contains some scenes that could scare or disturb children under eight. While watching this movie, the reviewer heard young children in the audience crying during some of the violent and frightening scenes. For example:

  • A few scenes show a very large and ghost-like dog called Chupadogra. He emerges in an eerie haze, then snarls and barks ferociously at Marmaduke.
  • Phil drags the reluctant and scared Marmaduke into the sea for a surf competition. Shortly after this, Marmaduke is caught off guard by a giant ‘rogue’ wave. As the water swirls around him, it looks like he might drown.
  • Marmaduke runs away from home and is caught in a wild thunder storm.
  • Maisie the dog falls into a raging stormwater system after a burst water pipe causes a section of the street to collapse. Marmaduke jumps in to save her, but almost drowns himself. Later, a rescue worker successfully carries Maisie to safety, but is unable to help Marmaduke, who is washed away into a large, cascading aquaduct. Phil dives into the aquaduct to save Marmaduke. They both appear in grave danger of drowning.

From 8-13

Younger children in this age group – especially children under 10 – might also be disturbed by the violent and scary scenes described above.

Over 13

Children in this age group are unlikely to be disturbed by anything in this movie.

Sexual references

This movie contains some sexual references. For example:

  • Debbie Winslow says to Phil, ‘In California, they cheat with superstars’.
  • Bosco’s dog girlfriend is named Jezebel. The message about her being unfaithful is reinforced when she quickly dumps boyfriend Bosco for a relationship with Marmaduke.
  • Bosco accuses Marmaduke of ‘salivating on my girlfriend’.

Alcohol, drugs and other substances

This movie contains no explicit use of substances. But it does contain some implied references to substance use. For example:

  • Carlos the cat begins hallucinating after being given a sleeping pill.
  • Some dogs sit hallucinating or lie collapsed in the park, apparently stoned after eating mushrooms.
  • Jezebel explains Bosco’s aggressive behaviour by saying that ‘he always gets this way after drinking too much drain water’.

Nudity and sexual activity

This movie contains no explicit depictions of nudity or sexual activity. But there are two very mild scenes where Phil and his wife Debbie share a brief kiss.

Product placement

Some products are displayed or mentioned in this movie. They include Wii gaming systems, Apple laptops and Youtube.

Coarse language

This movie contains some coarse language, as well as frequent threatening language and put-downs. In particular, characters verbally discriminate against other characters who are different.

In addition, there are several jokes about wind and wee. For example, as a practical joke, a dog sneaks up behind a man relaxing in the park. The dog wees in the man’s plastic cup, which the man then drinks from.

Ideas to discuss with your children

Marmaduke is a family comedy that uses some specialised animation effects to enable the animals to talk to each other, dance and act like humans. Although its humour is not very sophisticated, it does have several scenes that are really quite funny. The simple story involving animals is pitched at preteens, but the realistic animated violence and danger could frighten young children. The movie’s key message – that all animals are valuable and should not be discriminated against – might well be lost on children under 10.

Values in this movie that you could reinforce with your children include contentment, acceptance of difference, self-acceptance and courage.

This movie could also give you the chance to talk with your children about real-life issues such as the:

  • outcomes of bullying for both the victims and the perpetrators. For example, in this movie, characters are bullied on the basis of size, status and gender
  • results of discrimination. Marmaduke is discriminated against because of his size and also because he is not a pure breed.