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Teacher's Pet (2004)
"Disneys Teachers 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 dont 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 by||Bill Steinkellner
|Directed by||Timothy Björklund|
Debra Jo Rupp
David Ogden Stiers
Its Spots dream to become a real boy, but as summer begins hes 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 teachers award, and her borrowed Wentawaygo (read: Winnebago) doesnt 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 Spots 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," ("Hes off the leash now/Hes 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 Whos Who of voice talents. Theres 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. Kranks failed experiments. (Reubens alligator-boy often has one eyeball dangling from its socket, which may help account for the films PG rating.)
Above all, theres Lane, whose reading of lines like "Youre hurting me, dear Blue Fairy," were enough to make me bust a gut.
Its obvious that smart, talented people were involved in every step of creating "Teachers Pet." Lets 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