Netflix Showdown checks out the relative merits and flaws of two ostensibly comparable things seen on Netflix streaming. First up, two talking animal family films, Vampire Dog and A Talking Cat!?!
Vampire Dog is a Canadian production from 2012. Norm MacDonald voices Fang, the talking(!?!) vampire dog, and the rest of the cast are people I’d never heard of.
What I expected: Something ridiculous and a bit cute.
What I got: Something ridiculous and a bit cute.
- Adorable dog. Fang is super cute, and Norm MacDonald is a pretty good voice choice.
- Endearing female supporting lead. Skylar, the popular girl who is secretly nerdy, is the most level-headed and awesome character in the movie.
- Clever science for the dog. He’s a fiend for red jelly — Jello for Americans — because it turns out that he needs gelatin to survive. Why red, though? This is never explained.
- Convoluted and largely nonsensical plot. A boy moves to a new town where his mom is a music teacher. His grandfather in Romania dies and sends him a vampire dog, who conveniently speaks English and doesn’t bite or drink blood. The school where the boy goes and the mom works is in danger of closing unless they can win a battle of the bands (what? I have no idea how this is supposed to work), but the principal is secretly hoping to sabotage it, and prompting his nephew into playing bad music. The boy is a great drummer, but too shy to play in front of people. There is an evil cosmetics company scientist who wants to capture the dog in order to make cosmetics. Everything somehow comes to a head at the battle of the bands, and the boy, the dog, the school, the nerdy girl, and the mom all live happily ever after. I’m still not quite sure I understand what all happened in this movie, but it’s basically like someone thought they should mash together Diary of a Wimpy Kid, School of Rock, 101 Dalmations, and Bunnicula.
- The pacing is not as tight as it could be, so the movie drags in some places.
- The Vampire Dog part of the plot is not as central as I would have liked.
The trailer for this one shows its obsession with kid-level gross out humor, and the nice talking dog CGI:
Recommended for: Families with kids who like things that are sort of Halloween themed, but not too scary. People who like cute dogs. People who like family films where the end message is pretty much that people should work together and be kind to each other. Norm MacDonald super fans.
A Talking Cat!?! is an American production from 2013. Eric Roberts (who turns out to be Julia Roberts’s brother) voices the talking(!?!) cat, and the rest of the cast are also people I’d never heard of.
What I expected: Something ridiculous and a bit cute.
What I got: Something far more bizarre and terrible and compulsively watchable than I ever imagined.
- The location is pretty, which is good, because we get A LOT of establishing shots. While we were watching, we checked IMDb’s trivia section and found out that the movie was filmed in 2 locations, but uses 59 establishing shots. Many are of the outside of the mansion that two of the characters live in, some are of the woods by the mansion, and some are literally of the sun.
- The dad wears a shirt that says, “Un Pinche Dia A La Vez” (One Stupid day At A Time), which is a bizarre choice, and made me laugh every time I saw it.
- The acting is a tiny step up from Birdemic, but the movie as a whole is amazing and compulsively watchable in the same way that Birdemic was. There’s also a fanfiction-ready homoerotic adolescent tension in a swimming pool scene, and wonderfully nonsensical tech talk.
- It is incredibly fun to say, “A Talking Cat!?!”
- While the plot is not nearly so convoluted as the plot for Vampire Dog, it IS still largely nonsensical. Duffy, a talking(!?!) cat, is our narrator, and we start from his point of view in the woods, where for some reason he decides to meddle in the lives of two families. One family consists of a rich single dad who’s just sold his company (“The web pages, the code I’ve spent half my life working on, everything…”) and his teenage son, who is apparently a good student, but afraid of the pool in their back yard. The other family includes a single mom who is scraping by as a caterer, her teenage daughter, who is brilliant and has an idea for a website that will make them all millions if only she can go to business college (what? why can’t she launch this site without going to college?), and her teenage son, who is super nice and willing to work hard, but maybe not the brightest bulb in the sconce. For some reason, the daughter is SUPER mean to the son all the time for basically no reason. Also, the mom is dead set against the daughter going to college, and obviously loves the son more. Ooookaaaay. Enter the talking cat, who hates that humans are so absorbed with their beeping machines, but still wants to help the daughter meet Mr. Fancypants Tech CEO and launch a super money making website. He also wants the tech CEO to get together with the caterer, and for the rich boy to learn to swim and get together with the girl he’s tutoring. The rules are that he can only talk to each person once. For some reason every conversation he has is mostly focused on explaining that, too.
- The mom is apparently a great caterer, and all we ever hear about are her cheese puffs, which she keeps demanding her web-prodigy daughter help her make. When we finally see them, they appear to be Caramelized Onion and Feta Pastry Bites from Trader Joe’s. Those are legit tasty, but it’s hilarious that this is what they chose to fixate on and talk about as rare and difficult to replace.
- The talking(!?!) cat. First, he doesn’t talk for quite a while, and then when he does, it’s only in short, infrequent bursts. He does have a running expository monologue, though, which is largely unbearable. Second, I had no idea that there could really be a wrong voice for a talking cat, but Eric Roberts just really didn’t sound like a cat to me at all. Third, OMG the special effects are terrifying. They basically put a moving black spot over the cat’s mouth to indicate “talking” and it’s super creepy looking.
- The music is a rotating selection of weird midi versions of songs like “On Top of Old Smokey” and “La Cucaracha”. It’s sort of blandly horrible until you recognize a tune, and then it’s mesmerizingly horrible. “La Cucaracha” seems to be the love theme for the tech CEO and the caterer for some reason.
Watch the trailer, which includes many of the merits and flaws listed above, including the super creepy black spot, and some incredible dialogue:
Also of note, The IMDb Parental guidance page.
Recommended for: Families with kids who will literally watch anything. People who liked Birdemic and/or The Room. People who like family films where the end message is pretty much that people should work together to find an old cat collar. People who really like slow midi versions of “La Cucaracha”.
Final Verdict: Vampire Dog has better production values, and is probably overall a better movie, but A Talking Cat!?! is the one I am most likely to make all my friends watch.