Alex is a School of Visual Arts graduate with a passion for media, writing and animation. He writes reviews for film, television and games.
The 1980s was a decade where a toylines were frequently adapted into any form of media. It was a common fad during that time when children would buy transforming robots, colorful horses, beefcake warriors, greeting card bears, army men, etc. Their creativity and entertainment value defined childhoods. But, sometimes, even the most desperate of products would try hard to become a franchise. Case and point: The Pound Puppies.
Created by Mike Bowling in 1984, these dog plush toys were designed and marketed to bring awareness in adopting dogs. They came with their own variety of colors and cardboard houses with an authentic certificate. The toys were, of course, a success and immediately became a media franchise, starting the following year with a TV special produced by none other than Hanna-Barbera (because why not). After the special was a hit, Hanna-Barbera later adapted it into a television series, which ran for two seasons. Shortly after, like any toyline of the decade, these dogs would take a leap into the big screen. However, like those toys, the movie came and went with an ultimate price both critically and financially.
Cooler (voiced by Brennan Howard) and the Pound Puppies gang must save a magical artifact from the evil McNasty (voiced by George Rose).
Reading that synopsis above, one probably be wondering: "Wait, what?" or "I don't remember that from the cartoon." Well, that's because the story leads to the first problem: the lack of continuity. Originally, the main human character Holly and the main villain Katrina Stonehart, her daughter Brattina, and cat Catgut, were originally going to be appear. It almost felt like this movie would be more closer to the Hanna-Barbera series. However, the writers felt like a kid owning a pound is less believable and wanting a villain with complete control over a mystical power was more suitable, so they had to be written out. Okay, with the dog characters remaining intact, how would you make a Pound Puppies movie? The answer: trying way too hard.
The set-up and setting choices are so random that it makes the plot feel ridiculous as it sounds. So, try to comprehend this: During the Dark Ages, a young boy named Arthur and his dog Digalot both find the sword Excalibur and a magical bone known as The Bone of Scone. For the latter, it grants the magical ability to make dogs communicate with humans. After Arthur is crowned King, a knight named Sir McNasty vows revenge and plans to steal the bone. So centuries later, a descendant of McNasty steals the bone and Digalot's successor Cooler must find the bone...and what am I watching?
To its defense, I give the writers a little credit for giving the set-up some ambition. Then again, the execution makes it hard for audiences, outside the targeted demographic, to believe, especially mixing with the Arthurian legend. Heck, even some movies about the Arthurian legends are difficult to make. In fact, it focuses more on the Bone of Scone, where the whole movie tries to make a big deal that losing the bone's magical power would make it feel like the Dark Ages.
For the main setting taking place during the 1950s, the tone has this cheesy and positive feeling that makes audiences believe that are watching a lighter, anthropomorphic adaptation of Grease. As for the subtitle The Legend of Big Paw, the titular character doesn't appear till between the second and third act and should've been as significant as it was marketed, which will be talked about later. The humor is stale with one questionable recurring gag and an anti-climatic resolution. To be very honest, if the movie was more self-aware with this tone, then this story would've been more acceptable. It could've been a toy based movie ahead of its time. If you are going to make a story for a movie based on a toy line, DON'T try to be serious.
When a TV show jumps into the big screen, one would expect some type of cinematic enhancement for the animation quality. Even with a five-and-a-half month production, the results make the animation look like was made for television. To get compliments out of the way, the characters designs on the Pound Puppies characters and the exclusive characters are appealing enough. Sure, they got their likeness from the television series to give a sense of familiarity for fans, but they mostly received changes with their clothing to make them more, no pun intended, suitable for the 1950s decade. Though, there are one or two designs, like McNasty, that over-emphasize their appearance and make audiences easily guess what type of character they are. It is not everyday you see a man with devil horn-like hair and razor sharp teeth. As for the background animation, the animators did a fair amount of research for each setting and give a decent job with color and detail on simple locations like the museum, the swamp and McNasty's lair. On a side note, we occasionally get some nice visuals in one or two musical numbers. But, that's where the positives end. While the characters look presentable in stills, their set in motion quickly establishes that this movie belongs to television than in theaters. The character movements are limited and recycled. Sometimes, we get those typical animation errors, such as noses randomly disappearing within frames and characters inconsistently appearing, that are excusable on the small screen, but highly embarrassing on the big screen. Not to mention, the character models look flat and no drop shadows to give them depth. We rarely see shading on the characters and it's only used during one scene during the Dark Ages, one or two musical numbers and one scene during the third act where the supporting characters act more vicious by McNasty's machine. If you are going to make animation this cheap, stick to television.
Whether you are familiar with the show or not, fans or newcomers wouldn't have time to get to know these characters for how watered down and one-note they are, including the new characters as well. Starting with the recognizable characters, Cooler is the commanding leader of the Pound Puppies. Despite being a descendant of King Arthur's dog and quick-thinker, he is more serious than his witty nature in the show, which sometimes makes his self-confidence and doubtfulness would make him, to put it nicely as possible, mildly rude. Nose Marie is Cooler's girlfriend with a good sense of smell, Howler is the stuttering coward, Bright Eyes is the cheerful cheerleader, and Whopper is the youngest puppy with an active imagination. He is also the film's narrator for his disinterested niece and nephew, both literally and figuratively. For the exclusive characters, Colette is the loving mother dog, Beamer is the happy-go-lucky dog, Hairball is the cat who coughs up hairballs, Charlemange is the tomboyish cat and Reflex is the lovesick dog who randomly kisses anyone and says "I love you!" every time he hears a bell ring...okay. In Holly's place, we have Tammy and Jeff who are just the generic kind teenage owners of the pound. The most interesting and potential character among the cast is Big Paw. He is an enormous but gentle and lonely dog who eventually becomes guardian of the Bone of Scone. The issue with him that he felt like a missed opportunity and/or an afterthought at times, since the title of the movie was to be focused on him more than the bone.
On the villain side, we have Marvin McNasty. He is a short-tempered man with a long history and determination to steal the Bone of Scone for world domination. He also has a Mean Machine that would turn any dog into vicious guard dogs. If you going to take a name like "McNasty" seriously, at least try to spell it differently and make pronounce it as "McNasty". Accompanying him are his henchmen Lumpy and Bones who are basically a rip-off of Horace and Jasper from 101 Dalmatians. One important factor to mention that this was actor George Rose's final film performance before he was murdered. Yes, his character isn't written well but to George's credit, he did the best on what material was given to him. Surprisingly enough, some of the voice acting is not bad either. It is shocking that some recognizable names like Frank Welker, Nancy Cartwright, Joey Dedio, and B.J. Ward gave their all, while newcomers like Cathy Cavadini and Janice Kawaye would later go places in their voice acting careers. The late Tony Longo also gives a genuine performance as Big Paw. Even with some serviceable acting, the characters themselves won't leave much an impression afterwards.
What animated kids movie cannot be complete without songs? Since the main setting takes place in the 1950s, the songwriters decided to take an advantage with musical numbers. However, the song themselves aren't conceptually original. These songs are simply renditions of popular songs from the 1950s decade. For example, the first song "At the Pound" is basically "At the Hop" by The Danny Boys. Similar music and rhythm but altered lyrics. "King of Everything" is "Riot in Cell Block Number 9" by The Robins, "All in Your Mind" is "Who Do You Love?" by Bo Diddley, "I'm a Puppy Too" is "Duke of Earl" by Gene Chandler (a 1960s song by the way) and "Puppy Power's Back" is "Jailhouse Rock" by Elvis. The only original song made for the movie is "Now That You're Here" which is just a short song about Colette's newborn puppies. It may be cute but it's nothing but filler. On a fair note, the songs themselves felt like they were intended for a film parody, which would've been fine. Still, intentional or not, these songs are instantly forgettable and listen to the actual songs instead.
Overall, Pound Puppies and the Legend of Big Paw is a random product chosen as nothing but a shameless commercial for the toy line instead of an actual movie. It may have tried with passable designs and tolerable voice acting, but the movie as a whole suffers with an absurd story, crude animation, shallow characters and unremarkable musical numbers. It is not the worst movie based on a toyline, but it is definitely one of the weakest when comparing to other toy-based movies of that decade. The only recommendation to give is a harmless distraction for little kids for the colors and cuteness factor. There is a belief that there are some fans who grew up with this film as a guilty pleasure and there's nothing wrong with that. Other fans would stick to playing the toys, watching the Hanna-Barbera series and even the 2010 series for consistency. For everyone else, you are not missing much. You are better off adopting an actual puppy from the pound. At least, there will be some substance, fun and companionship. There is not enough Puppy Power to make this worth watching afterwards.