erik lundegaard

Teacher's Pet

Twitter: @ErikLundegaard


Teacher's Pet (2004)

"Disney’s Teacher’s Pet," the movie, is a continuation of a Saturday-morning cartoon that ran from 2000 to 2002, but at a preview screening — held, appropriately, on a Saturday morning — I actually heard more laughter coming from the adults. Joy! An animated feature that parents don’t have to silently groan through.

The jokes, puns and songs come fast and furious, while the anarchic, broad-stroked animation and smart, literary sensibilities are reminiscent of early Looney Tunes cartoons.

Pity poor Leonard Helperman (voice of Shaun Fleming). Not only is his mother his fourth-grade teacher, but his dog, Spot (the wonderful Nathan Lane) — disguised as a human in beanie and glasses, and using the assumed name "Scott Leadready II" — is his smarter, cooler classmate.

Written byBill Steinkellner
Cheri Steinkellner
Directed byTimothy Björklund
StarringNathan Lane
Kelsey Grammer
Debra Jo Rupp
Jerry Stiller
David Ogden Stiers

It’s Spot’s dream to become a real boy, but as summer begins he’s further than ever from his goal. Worse, Mrs. Helperman (Debra Jo Rupp of "That ’70s Show") is off with Leonard to Florida to compete for a national teacher’s award, and her borrowed Wentawaygo (read: Winnebago) doesn’t allow dogs.

Then Spot learns of Dr. Ivan Krank (voice of Kelsey Grammer), a mad scientist who claims he can turn dumb animals into dumb human beings, and who just happens to live in Florida. Exit Spot, enter Scott, who hitches a ride with the sweetly dim Mrs. Helperman.

Complications arise, of course, and the plot takes unexpected and frequently funny turns, not the least of which is the miscalculation of Spot’s human age.

The animation is based on the work of Gary Baseman, whose inventive illustrations appear in everything from The New Yorker to the board game "Cranium." Baseman created these characters a dozen years ago when he glanced down at his cocker spaniel, Hubcaps, and wondered, "What do you do when I leave the house?" (The movie is dedicated to the memory of Hubcaps.)

Some of the 11 songs that appear throughout the film are forgettable, but a few are rousing, including "I Wanna Be a Boy," ("He’s off the leash now/He’s eating quiche now"), and "A Whole Bunch of World," in which all 50 states are named alphabetically and creatively. (I think we get some mention of rain and latte.)

The cast reads like a Who’s Who of voice talents. There’s Jerry Stiller as the tough Catskill canary Pretty Boy, David Ogden Stiers as the prissy, scaredy-cat Mr. Jolly, and Paul Reubens and Megan Mullally as two of Dr. Krank’s failed experiments. (Reubens’ alligator-boy often has one eyeball dangling from its socket, which may help account for the film’s PG rating.)

Above all, there’s Lane, whose reading of lines like "You’re hurting me, dear Blue Fairy," were enough to make me bust a gut.

It’s obvious that smart, talented people were involved in every step of creating "Teacher’s Pet." Let’s hope smart people will show up to watch.

Originally appeared in the January 16, 2004 edition of The Seattle Times.

—January 7, 2015

© 2015 Erik Lundegaard