Pitched somewhere between cringe-worthy Disney treacle and the sublime discomfort of “Ren & Stimpy,” the ABC animated series “Teacher’s Pet” makes its big-screen debut with what, this neophyte assumes, is a semi-resolution of the television show’s central conflict. Spot Helperman (Nathan Lane) is a blue-colored canine of indeterminate breed who longs to become human. Thus far, Spot has supplemented his desire by dressing up in children’s clothing, assuming the nom-de-plume Scott Leadready II, and attending school with his young master Leonard (Shaun Flemming). This is much to Leonard’s chagrin; he longs for the traditionalist “boy and his dog” role that Spot abhors, and it is to the creators’ credit that they mine this situational chestnut to its full humorous potential. There’s something near-profound about this anthropomorphized creature longing to be someone other than himself, and Teacher’s Pet is best when sticking to Spot’s human drag-show act. The vocal performance and presence of Nathan Lane only adds to the intertextual interest—the psychic pain of being “different” is behind the actor’s every impeccably delivered syllable. Yet when Spot’s desire is granted by an eeeeeevil scientist (Kelsey Grammer), Teacher’s Pet suddenly morphs into a dissatisfying and uncomfortable concoction. For in dog years, Spot is actually a full-grown man, complete with beard and back pain. From “boy and his dog” to “man and his boy” makes for a great initial sight gag and presents some provocative avenues of exploration (familial, sexual, etc). Yet, perhaps under the delusion of good taste, the new dynamics of the Spot/Leonard relationship are left to languish in a maelstrom of one-sided sentiment until the zany status quo is inevitably restored, ensuring more episodes for your corporate dollar. This kind of dishonesty around inherently loaded imagery is Disney-particular of recent, and it unfortunately renders much of Teacher’s Pet’s artistry and honesty moot. Yet credit the creators with at least halfway subverting the almighty mouse, capping off their efforts with a grand final visual referencing Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel: a transcendent vision appreciably aimed for if not melodiously struck.
The look and groove of Teacher’s Pet is a welcome improvement over recent Disney duds like Brother Bear and Home on the Range, so if you like the look of Gary Baseman’s toon, you won’t have a problem with this transfer: blacks are deep and colors are gorgeous if not a tad over-saturated. More problematic is the occasional edge enhancement, as is the noticeable edge tizzing during scenes that feature lots of movement. You have two audio options to choose from: a regular Dolby Digital 5.1 track and a surprise DTS track. If your system can handle it you’ll want to go with the latter, but considering that the sound mix is so front-heavy, it probably doesn’t matter in the end.
No commentary track but fans of the show get to have the series premiere episode "Muttamorphosis" on DVD for the first time. That’s followed by two deleted scenes (very much in their embryonic stages), the cast and crew drooling over Gary Baseman for six minutes on "The Art of Gary Baseman," Christy Carlson Roman’s "Teacher’s Pet" music video, a feature that allows you to jump to your favorite song selections from the film, and trailers for Lion King II: Simba’s Pride, The Incredibles, Dave the Barbarian, and the upcoming DVD editions of Aladdin and Mulan.
You saw Brother Bear and Home on the Range in theaters but skipped the truly subversive Teacher’s Pet? Here’s your chance to fix that.