Gabriel Bateman as Oliver
Written by Gil Junger
Think Like a Dog Review:
Think Like a Dog arrives at the right moment during a time in which everything feels negative and complicated. The story is simple: a young boy whose parents are contemplating divorce invents a device that allows him to hear and reciprocate his dog’s thoughts. There are bad guys who exist to move the plot along, but otherwise, the film offers harmless family entertainment in the vein of, say, Beethoven, and Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey, to name a few — silly animal adventures that deliver plenty of laughs and are overstuffed with heartwarming messages about hope, love and the importance of family.
Indeed, I grew up with such films and lament their absence, because, trite or not, they made me happy. Oh sure, as I’ve gotten older, the lure to more dramatic or “important” films has been much greater, but every so often it’s nice to kick back and, ahem, think like a dog.
Dogs, you see, are simple. They live, they love, and they die. “I wake up happy and go to bed happy,” explains Henry, the dog that serves as the basis for the plot. Of course, they also sniff each other’s behinds and lick their own balls — aspects the film happily acknowledges on more than one occasion — but you get the gist.
Henry (voiced hilariously by Todd Stashwick) wants his family, consisting of Ellen (Megan Fox), Lukas (Josh Duhamel), and Oliver (Gabriel Bateman) to share his carefree mood and figures they need to stop overcomplicating their lives with trivial problems.
“He’s about to drink liquid death because he thinks it’ll make him stronger, or smarter,” Henry says while watching Lukas down one of those grotesque looking healthy vegetable shakes. “I love human insecurity.”
Later, Henry chastises Oliver for throwing away one of his, ah, “masterpieces” deposited on the front lawn. He reckons people should get a chance to see what he accomplished before it gets tossed into a plastic bag.
Like I said, kid stuff. And yet, writer/director Gil Junger, who made his big-screen directorial debut with 1999’s terrific nostalgia-fest 10 Things I Hate About You, sprinkles on just enough human drama to keep the film from tipping too far into wacky territory, even while basking in some truly ridiculous plot contrivances: at one point two young kids hack into a super-secret government satellite in order to use the technology to improve their inventions. Sure. Except, that would be nearly impossi — see, there I go overthinking a film about a talking dog.
The funny bits aren’t just assigned to the canines. Comedian Bryan Callen and Julia Jones pop up for a humorous side adventure that sees them tracking down the kids for breaking into said satellite. And Kunal Nayyar makes an extended cameo as a brilliant inventor, ala Steve Jobs, and starts his speeches with troubling anecdotes: “As I look out at the bright, beautiful faces filled with hopes and dreams, it reminds me of myself as a young man. Except the faces were a little darker and hope was nonexistent.”
Think Like a Dog won’t win any awards for its dramatic weight. It exists purely as a warm family adventure that basks in the simplicities of youth during which the biggest struggles in life involved “growing a pair” and asking a girl to the school dance or understanding Shakespeare as presented by an embittered old theater teacher. Yet, that simple innocence is precisely why I enjoyed the flick, even if my sneering grown-up brain tossed and turned on more than one occasion.
In short, don’t overthink it. Think like a dog, relax, and have fun with the kids.