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.
- Tim Björklund
- Bill Steinkellner, Cherie Steinkellner
- Nathan Lane, Kelsey Grammer, Shaun Fleming, Debra Jo Rupp, Megan Mullally, Estelle Harris, Jay Thomas, Jerry Stiller, David Ogden Stiers
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