Monday 7 December 2020

Me no Laika: "Space Dogs: Return to Earth"

Space Dogs: Return to Earth forms the third in a series of Russian digimations riffing on the legend of Laika, the pooch blasted into orbit by the Soviets in 1957 as part of the space race. (I know: the series was news to this viewer, too, although the record shows the first movie touched down in UK cinemas back in April 2010. It becomes an even stranger year when you realise an afterthought such as this will be getting more of a theatrical push this month than Soul, the best reviewed Disney/Pixar in years.) The pitch is a homecoming for dogmonauts Belka and Strelka - after a watery crashlanding in the Atlantic Ocean - but the haphazard way they get there suggests screenwriting inspiration was very much at a premium this time round. Much more effort has apparently been expended on a dead-end B-plot involving minor characters from the previous instalments - Lenny the rat, and a cockroach he refers to as his apprentice - as they set off travelling through Cuba. (One novelty: this must be the first kids' animation to directly namecheck Marx and Engels.) An American rival probably wouldn't go there, and it might also have thought twice before characterising some jellyfish as Rastafari pirates and introducing them via a rubber-lipped swing number. That eyebrow-raiser sticks out twiceover, because the other 98.6% of it proceeds with the brain-bypassing blandness of Saturday morning TV animation, dependent on a fair bit of visual cribbing. (Lenny is a dead ringer for Remy from Ratatouille, and there's a pink elephant amid the underwater-UFO nonsense the A-plot gives into who so closely resembles Inside Out's Bing Bong as to be actionable.) I liked the doggy shuttle, which has a snout and shakes off ice and meteors the same way actual canines shake off water, but really - at risk of sounding more like a Western imperialist lackey than I already am - the pocket money in play here is probably best saved towards a Disney+ subscription. Soul premieres there December 25th.

Space Dogs: Return to Earth opens in cinemas nationwide from Friday.

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