March 16, 2009

Idea: Not Your Usual Talking Dog Movie

The movie begins in the middle of a chase. Our hero, Buttons, a scrappy little dog, is running as fast as he can through dark and scary woods. A pack of slobbering wolves are hot on his heels. We hear Button’s cute voice saying lines like, “Oh, no! I’ve got to outrun these guys!” His lips don’t move when he talks. We just hear his voice, like in the Talking Dog Movies of the 1980s.

The thick woods reach an end, and Buttons is in a clearing. It’s bright, sunny, and he can see his home out in the distance at the edge of the field. His owner, a young boy, is standing outside calling out his name. “Buttons! Buttons! Where are you?” Buttons is running his little heart out, saying things like, “Tommy! I’ve got to reach Tommy! Almost there! I’m coming, Tommy!” The wolves are close behind. Buttons reaches Tommy and jumps up into the safety of his arms. The camera swirls around them, joyous music swells, Buttons licks Tommy’s face, and the wolves cautiously retreat back into the woods.

Suddenly, in voice over, we hear a gruff voice saying, “Wait a minute, wait a minute. What the hell is this crap? How many times have I said I’m not going to be in any more cheesy kids’ movies?” The chase scene ends abruptly, and we find ourselves in a Hollywood movie producer’s office. This is the Real World. Seated around a table are several people, and a dog. It’s the same dog we just saw. Or, rather, it’s the Dog Actor named Buddy Duke, one of the most famous actors in the world. With him are several humans: his manager, his agent, his assistant, his bodyguard, a producer, a director, and a writer. They’re pitching a new movie to Buddy, and we’ve been watching the corny scene they’re describing to him. Buddy hates it.

Here in the Real World, when Buddy speaks, we do see his lips move. In fact, all dogs can talk in this world, and their lips move like in any modern Talking Dog Movie. They have normal jobs, just like people. They work in every industry, alongside humans. But when humans speak, on the other hand, we don’t see their lips move. We just hear their words as voice overs. Preferably, the voices will be done by different actors than the ones we see on-screen. So the human actors on screen will have to act with body language and facial expressions alone, and then their voices will be supplied by other actors in voice over.

Buddy is pissed at this waste of time, and he leaves, followed by the studio people begging him to make the Buttons movie. He makes a sexist comment to the receptionist, a hot young poodle, on his way out.

Outside, Buddy’s assistant takes a phone call on his Blackberry. It’s Buddy’s Mom, and she needs to talk to Buddy right away. The assistant puts a little Bluetooth headset on Buddy (who relies on his assistant for these sorts of things, since he has no opposable thumbs). His mom is in a panic. “Buddy, your father has disappeared. He said something about digging up old bones, and left to go back to the old house in Montana. This was a week ago, and I haven’t heard from him since! I’m worried that something’s happened to him!”

Well, Buddy remembers the old Montana house, and the hiking trips he used to take with his dad in the woods nearby. He remembers that they’d go fishing, and sometimes his Dad used to leave Buddy by himself while he’d wander off alone, and he always came back with his paws dirty. Maybe he was burying something secret? Something that, after all these years, he had to go dig up again? What could it be? Treasure? A body? Bones?

Only Buddy knows where that old camping spot is, so he has to fly back to Montana to visit his Mom, and then venture out into the woods to find his Dad. But, being a big movie star now, he brings along his assistant, his bodyguard, his manager, and his agent, because he’s too big a celebrity to go do something like this by himself. And he has no opposable thumbs, so the extra human hands are helpful.

They all spend the first full day in Montana hiking in the woods. Every twist and turn looks identical, but Buddy knows exactly where he’s going. It’s a two day hike, so eventually they stop and set up camp for the first night. They build a campfire, and Buddy tells a heartfelt story about growing up in Montana with his father as his best friend. After dinner, everybody retreats to their tents, and they fall fast asleep.

In the middle of the night, a bear enters the camp looking for food. Buddy wakes up. The bear is spooked by the noise. It tears open Buddy’s tent, grabs him in his teeth, and throws him against a tree, killing him instantly. Everyone else wakes up, scared to death. They manage to get away from the bear safely and regroup to assess their situation.

Buddy is dead. It’s the middle of the night. There’s an angry bear nearby. And the assistant, the agent, the manager, and the bodyguard are all in the middle of the forest with no idea how to get home.

And thus begins the real adventure in the movie. It’s not your usual talking dog movie because as of this point the humans take over as the main characters. They are four scared people in the middle of the woods who now have to find their way home. Do they try heading straight back? Do they continue trying to find Buddy’s Dad? Do they unravel the mystery of whatever it was he buried? Do they get along? Do they fight? Do any of them have any wilderness survival training at all?

Other plot points I’ve considered: At some point the humans find themselves running as fast as they can through the woods, trying to outrun a pack of wolves who are chasing them. Also, maybe Buddy had a rival (who the receptionist poodle was in cahoots with?) who had a hand in Buddy’s misfortune. Perhaps he sends the wolves to go after the humans, to tie up loose ends. Also, at some point maybe the humans meet an old Dog Hermit who lives in the woods. I’m not sure what purpose he plays to the plot yet, but he might know something about why Buddy’s dad disappeared.

While you’re pondering those plot points, just try to remember that the actors’ lips never move in this world, and their voices are supplied by other actors. But the dogs all talk like normal people. It’s a 1980s talking dog movie flipped upside down. I guess it’s a big high concept, and it probably couldn’t sustain more than 90 minutes without getting old, but I’d sure get a kick out of it.


That blew my mind a bit. I would gladly watch this over Beverly Hills Chihuahua, that’s for sure.

I love this idea so much.

We need to cast Keanu Reeves in there somewhere - his face moves so little in most movies that I’m sure he could be used to comedic effect - either by keeping up the act, or grotesque overexaggeration.

And it should be directed by Robert Altman

Holy crap, I wish I were a producer so I could get you to bring people this movie. It’s got so much in it. It could go so many different ways. My little manic mind is whirring. Thanks for sharing these thoughts.

Wow, I’d really like to see this one as a real movie! Maybe if we start digging it …?

I like the idea that we start with a cartoon dog talking (with lips moving), then it freeze frames when he starts complaining about ‘always being cast as the damn dog’… and then we cut to a real dog doing the voiceover.

Hmm… sounds like a very small variation on Who Framed Roger Rabbit/Looney Tunes: Back in Action.

The opening scenes in these two movies and your opening scene are almost identical.