Netflix Showdown: C.H.O.M.P.S. Vs. Paws

23 May

Netflix Showdown checks out the relative merits and flaws of two ostensibly comparable things seen on Netflix streaming. This time we have two SFnal dog films, C.H.O.M.P.S. and Paws.

C.H.O.M.P.S. is a live action Hanna-Barbera film from 1979. Conrad Bain (AKA Mr. Drummond from Different Strokes) plays a security firm owner whose daughter’s boyfriend has made a robot watchdog.

What I expected: Lots of cute dogs and ridiculous “robotics”.

What I got: Lots of cute dogs, ridiculous “robotics”, and tons of random property damage.C.H.O.M.P.S.

Merits:

  • Adorable dogs. C.H.O.M.P.S. is super cute, and so is Rascal, the live dog he’s modeled after. We also get to see two neighborhood dogs, Muffin and Monster, who are also adorable. Monster is Rascal’s antagonist, and is (for some reason) the only talking dog in the movie. I think he’s the cutest dog of all.
  • Great opening credits. This movie starts out with an epic cartoon sequence full of great art. I think that might be better than the rest of the film, honestly.
  • The robot dog prop is pretty great: lots of bleepity-bloop sounds and blinky light circuits inside the furry shell. Also, it uses a mini cassette tape to play sounds out of the dog’s mouth, which is hilariously dated now, but very up to the minute for 1979.
  • Perhaps the two best ways that it shows itself as a Hanna-Barbera production are the over the top silly chases, and the caricatures of people. This movie understands chase sequences for the fun of chase sequences, and it does not skimp on implausibly non-injurious catastrophes. People are caught in explosions only to emerge with no pants and lots of soot on their skin, etc. And caricatures? Everyone in this movie is one. There are no real characters, just ideas like “dowdy old lady” and “really dumb crook”. Some of the time, I wished for more actual characterization, but some of the time, the cartoonish vibe really worked.

Flaws:

  • Utterly ridiculous plot. Brian is an electronics whiz, but his alarms for Norton Security are failing all over the place. This is because secretly, his co-worker (who may or may not want to date Casey, Mr. Norton’s daughter), has been telling the dumbest criminals ever how to disable the alarm. The nefarious co-worker is apparently doing this to help a rival security firm owner, who seems to be evil for the sake of being evil, and appears to have offered the saboteur the exact same job over at his evil firm. You with me? Meanwhile, the evil security dude and the saboteur keep sending the two dumb crooks on criminal errands that they could have much more easily and effectively taken care of themselves, and they keep running afoul of C.H.O.M.P.S. the robot watchdog (who is the WORST home protection system EVER, but more about that in the next item), who is also going on random destructive sprees whenever it hears a dog whistle. In the end, it has to prove itself by disabling a giant box of explosives before one of several military trucks sets it off. How this will prove anything is completely beyond me, but it does set the scene for the pants-destroying explosion. Eventually C.H.O.M.P.S. almost dies saving the day (but wait, it’s a robot, how can it die? Never mind that, as it still has “a spark” left, so it’s all okay), Brian fixes the robot, makes a dozen more, gets Mr. Norton’s blessing to marry Casey, and takes his evil co-worker’s VP job. Everyone else pretty much remains static.
  • C.H.O.M.P.S. is a terrible idea from start to finish. First the name, which allegedly stands for Canine Home (H.O.Me)? Protection System, but is spelled with a dot after each letter. How does that even work as an acronym? Then there’s the question of functionality. Our electronics whiz has created a home protection system which uses X-ray vision to detect criminals outside, and then breaks through windows and walls of the place he’s protecting in order to chase the criminals off. “Good job, C.H.O.M.P.S.! You destroyed my house, but boy did those robbers leave in a hurry!” Yes, that’s right, they left. We didn’t actually catch them. Excellent. Add to this that apparently anyone can control the system by saying the correct number commands, and you have one thoroughly useless system. Not only will it destroy your stuff when it’s acting on your command, but if any burglar knows the right numbers, it will become a weapon against you. AND every time a person says, “100” the robot dog “karate jumps” the speaker. How is that supposed to be a good idea? I mean unless you can cleverly trick a home intruder into saying “100” I guess? No, it makes zero sense.
  • There are three women in this world, and though two briefly talk, it’s about a man, so this doesn’t pass the Bechdel Test. Even weirder, though, I couldn’t tell who this was supposed to be made for. There are no children in this world at all, and the adults have an adult corporate intrigue story line. Also for some reason Brian swears at one point, when he really has no cause to. Yet, I can’t imagine this being targeted towards adults. It’s so whimsically cartoonish that it seems obvious it was supposed to be a family film. But would kids like it? I have no idea.
  • In addition to the WTFery of the plot, the pacing drags in several places, and the musical score is too repetitive. I wanted it to be over quite a while before it was. Wikipedia says that Joseph Barbera blames the lack of box office profits for this movie on the fact that the production company made him use a Benji-style cute dog instead of a Doberman to play C.H.O.M.P.S., but I’m gonna have to disagree. Dog breed was not the issue here.

The trailer for this one shows its live action Hanna-Barbera sensibilities, and C.H.O.M.P.S.’s penchant for destruction:

Recommended for: People who like cute dogs. People who like cartoon chase scenes. People who like family films where the end message is pretty much that a home security system should be as likely to demolish your house as to protect it.

***

Paws

Paws  is an Australian production from 1997. Billy Connolly is the voice of PC, the dog, and the lead boy is played by Nathan Cavaleri, who was apparently a big deal in Australia at the time.

What I expected: Cute dogs and ridiculous computer tech.

What I got: Cute dogs, ridiculous computer tech, some disturbing sexism, and super young Heath Ledger.

Merits:

  • The people in this movie are unabashedly weird. There’s one point when the lead teen girl asks her mother if the new neighbors don’t seem a bit weird, and the mom says, “Weird according to who?” while painting her toenails with bright yellow paint from the can they’re using to touch up their wrought iron fence. And that pretty much lets you know what kind of movie this is: one full of weirdies. I can appreciate that.
  • Billy Connolly has an amazing voice, and the movie is super excited about that. The dog gets to choose his voice from a bunch of different computer options, and when he hits to the Scottish voice, he literally says, “Oh, yes, I’ve always wanted to be Billy Connolly!”
  • PC has to wear a bow tie in order to be able to talk. Nathan Cavaleri pronounces it “cool” back in 1997, so I think we all know where the Doctor Who writers got that from, amirite?
  • There are multiple women who talk to each other about many things, and actual families who make it totally understandable that this is a family film.

Flaws:

  • So, the weird sexism thing is not so hot. At one point Nathan Calaveri makes a birthday wish, which is to have his neighbor, Emilie François, be his slave. He imagines her in a skimpy (but not too skimpy because this is for kids) top, saying random computer stuff in a sexy voice. It’s perplexing and just a tad disturbing. Then there’s PC, who is the only talking dog in the movie, who has a crush on the dog next door, Cordelia. He basically watches her being bathed while bow-chicka-bow-bow music plays, and then steals Nathan Cavaleri’s birthday money to pay for a high end doggie salon to make a “discreet” house call to groom Cordelia while he watches. This is just… I cannot explain the all over squickiness I felt at this. I just shuddered while typing the description. It’s not even like the movie needed these things. At all.  It would have worked fine without them.
  • Remember how I said Nathan Cavaleri was a big deal in Australia at the time? Well, basically the story is that he was a guitar prodigy as a child, and the movie was meant to capitalize on that fame. Given this, I have no idea why his character Zac doesn’t have anything to do with guitars in the movie. Apparently Nathan Cavaleri wrote and performed some of the soundtrack, but I only know that because I did research. This makes no sense.
  • The opening credits are also a cartoon sequence like C.H.O.M.P.S. has, but wow is it clear why Hanna-Barbera is a  powerhouse animation company. These opening credits are just okay. Actually, kind of boring. It’s sad.
  • The plot, while certainly better than C.H.OM.P.S., is still not quit there. There are multiple points when I wonder why no one has gone to the police, for instance. Like, there’s a scary loan shark lady who has killed one guy and threatens to kill Emilie François, but instead of going to the police, Emilie’s mother tells her to run away if she sees that lady, and doesn’t even tell her why. Then once everyone knows that she’s killed a dude and is after some money she thinks they have, instead of going to the police, all the adults and kids decide that the best plan will be to pull a complicated pseudo heist con prank thing on her. And for some reason a lot of action happens at a greyhound racetrack, which is just odd.

This trailer makes the plot seem slightly more coherent than it is, but also shows one of the weirdest bits in the movie, when PC inexplicably turns monstrous and bug-eyed like Large Marge in Peewee Herman’s Big Adventure:

Recommended for: Families who like family-oriented action movies. Billy Connolly fans.  People who want to teach their children what that save icon is supposed to be. Nathan Cavaleri fans. Heath Ledger completists who really want to see him play Oberon in a high school production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream for a total of about two minutes. People who like family films where the end message is pretty much that people should never involve the police in crime-solving, weird sexism is “funny”, and Iceland is a land of tricky and villainous rogues.

***

Final Verdict: C.H.O.M.P.S. has better opening credits, and some amazing action sequences, but Paws has better plot, characters, accents, and music.

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One Response to “Netflix Showdown: C.H.O.M.P.S. Vs. Paws”

  1. Joseph Nebus May 23, 2014 at 2:56 pm #

    There’s something fundamentally weird and kind of soothing in how live-action Hanna-Barbera plots seem kind of reminiscent of the stuff they might do in cartoons, but, ripped directly to live-action simply … don’t … quite make sense anymore. I mean, they don’t make sense in any terms, really, but at least when animated they’re on the right level of unreality to kind of play. When it’s real live members of KISS fighting robot duplicates suddenly a story that would seem in place for cartoons just goes all weird.

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