Toon Talk: Teacher's Pet
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Disney Film & Video Reviews by Kirby C. Holt
But wait ... this isn't the beginning of Pinocchio as I remember it ... the backgrounds look like they were colored with unsharpened Crayolas, and the characters appear to be kindergarten finger paintings brought to life in all their tacky tempera glory.
Welcome to the world of Teacher's Pet, as created by world-renowned illustrator Gary Baseman.
The tale of a boy and his dog (who wants to be a boy) began as the critically acclaimed, Emmy Award-winning series of the same name that debuted in 2000 and ran for two seasons. Never a huge success in the vein of a Rugrats or a Spongebob Squarepants, the series has nevertheless been transferred to the movies as a dog-eared, yet surprisingly endearing, musical comedy.
The basic premise of this outing is the same as the series: blue-furred Spot (expertly voiced with a mixture of puppyish angst and Broadway bombast by The Lion King's Nathan Lane) yearns to be more then just the pet of his best friend Leonard Helperman (Kim Possible's Shaun Fleming): he wants to be a boy himself, so he disguises himself as "Scott Leadready IIâ€?, the overachieving student of the title. While Spot/Scott is happy with the results, Leonard just wants to have a normal dog; you know, one to play fetch and roll over on command. Watching on the sidelines are Spot's fellow pets, the agoraphobic feline Mr. Jolly (Beauty and the Beast's David Ogden Stiers) and the street smart parrot Pretty Boy (The King of Queen's Jerry Stiller).
Like another recent TV toon-to-movie Recess: School's Out, this Pet begins with the end of the school year; but when the prickly Principal Strickler (Toy Story's Wallace Shawn) announces that Leonard's mom (who also happens to be the boys' teacher, voiced by That 70's Show's Debra Jo Rupp) is a finalist in a Teacher of the Year competition to be held in Florida (nice inside joke there), it looks like the two pals will have to spend the summer apart. That is, until Spot ... spots ... what may be his one and only chance to fulfill his lifelong dream: on a Jerry Springer-like talk show, he sees the maniacal mad scientist Dr. Ivan Krank (Toy Story 2's Kelsey Grammer), who claims he can turn animals into people, and who just so happens to live in Florida.
Quickly, Spot joins the Helperman's on their cross-country journey and arrives in the sunshine state to find Dr. Krank. But when he and Leonard locate the wacky quack, it appears his previous experiments have not been entirely successful, as evidenced in a pair of mutated swamp creatures voiced by Paul "Pee-Wee Hermanâ€? Reubens and Megan "Karen Walkerâ€? Mullally. Leonard tries to convince his pup to give up his wish, but Spot undergoes the procedure anyway, emerging not as a boy as he had hoped, but as a full-grown man (dog years, you know ... his adult form is a hairy-backed amalgamation of Fred Flintstone and Eugene Levy). Will Spot stay human forever? Will Leonard ever get his dog back? All is resolved neatly with a not-too-sentimental yet worthwhile moral about not only accepting the wishes of others, but of accepting one's self as they are.