Dog movies aren't usually film critic favorites. And after enduring a few snarky "You got the short-straw movie" comments from my colleagues, I was thinking, "Yo quiero an escape hatch." But Beverly Hills Chihuahua turns out to be, in part, about seeing beyond stereotypes. So let's give this Disney doggie movie a fair wag, shall we?
Likeable-but-coddled Chloe is a pink-bootied, diamond-clad, Evian-drinking, English-speaking Beverly Hills Chihuahua who laments the fact that it's "hard to find a mate with papers." Canine Casanova Papi is a "hunk o' Chihuahua" whose to-do list includes doting on Chloe and helping Sam, his landscaper owner, dig holes in the backyard. Papi woos Chloe valiantly—even offering her dead grasshoppers—but uppity Chloe feels she's out of his league. After all, he's just a "gardener."
When Chloe's owner, Aunt Viv, is called away on a business trip, she discovers that her dog nanny is on early maternity leave. Whatever shall become of entitled Chloe? Quasi-solution: Rachel, Viv's somewhat irresponsible and dog-disliking niece.
While dog-sitting, Rachel is invited on a road trip to Mexico and doesn't hesitate to drag poor Chloe along, feeding the pampered pooch canned dog food (gasp!) and basically treating her like a ... dog. In an attempt to avenge this shocking level of neglect, Chloe flies the hotel room coop and promptly gets kidnapped by a dog-fighting ring.
Back in Beverly Hills, Papi discovers his corazón is in trouble. He and Sam rush to help Rachel find Chloe in Mexico. Chloe, meanwhile, has made new friends (a German shepherd named Delgado chief among them) who protect her south of the border, and she's learning valuable lessons about what it means to embrace her roots, be courageous, love friends for who they are and be a "tiny but mighty" Chihuahua.
As Chloe faces danger and experiences the loyalty of her new companions, she grows from being "just a lapdog" to realizing her true worth and abilities. She puts away her pampered persona and begins to accept people and dogs for their positive qualities rather than their pedigrees.
Though small, earthy and earnest, Papi packs a powerful punch as he unflinchingly faces danger in order to rescue Chloe. Likewise, Delgado risks life and paw to save her, not leaving her side because he promised her protection. In turn, Chloe tries to return the favor, refusing to abandon Delgado even when he "orders" her to do so.
For all her mistakes, Rachel doesn't shirk responsibility when Chloe gets lost. She refuses to give up the search even when friends tell her there's nothing more she can do. Instead, she travels all over Mexico to ensure Chloe is found.
Assumptions (oftentimes humorous ones) are made of various humans and dogs based on ethnic and work-related stereotypes. But characters learn to look beyond these hasty, inaccurate and unfair judgments.
The Mexican Chihuahuas encourage Chloe to "find her bark" and embrace her true roots rather than accept her self-imposed identity as a pampered fashion accessory.
Sam and Rachel find good homes for two stray dogs. And there's even a brief note encouraging (responsible) pet adoption at the end of the film.
The Mexican holiday "Día de los Muertos" (Day of the Dead) is briefly explained to moviegoers as we see revelers in the street dressed in skeleton costumes and other somewhat spooky attire.
A dog held in the dog-fighters' pen prays fervently in Spanish before a fight. Karma is mentioned as being stolen and stolen back. Delgado says he needs a miracle when he and Chloe are threatened by mountain lions. We glimpse a shaman at a shrine.
Rachel and her friends wear bikinis during a couple of poolside scenes. And other sun worshipers are also seen in skimpy swimsuits. (While the camera largely resists the temptation to ogle, Rachel and other girls drool over a bunch of surfer boys.) A young man follows Rachel back to her hotel room, possibly suggesting he wants more than a dance at the club she's been at, but she says goodnight and shuts the door on him.
A pooch pal calls Papi "one hot dog" and other innuendo-like names. Papi tells Rachel and her friends that they have "nice legs." (They don't understand him, of course.) Chloe is whistled at. Papi offers to "lick inside" Chloe's ears and "chew on the hard-to-reach places" for her. Chloe licks Papi's cheek, suggesting kissing.
The songs "Hot Hot Hot," "I'm Too Sexy" and "Whomp, There It Is" play in the background in several scenes.
Bad guys shout menacingly, and a dog-fighting ring member is trampled by stampeding dogs. Chloe is "ruffed" up by the men who chase her. She also falls through a crumbling floor into an underground cave-like structure. Mountain lions stalk and try to attack Chloe and Delgado.
El Diablo, a fierce and forbidding Doberman pinscher, viciously attacks several dogs, including Chloe. There is no blood, and all dogs are ultimately unharmed, but images of snarling lips and bared teeth may haunt some young viewers. In one instance, Diablo rips Chloe's Rodeo Drive sweater off her shivering body. In another he throws her into a stone formation, knocking her out.
Papi bites down hard and hangs onto a man's nose. A storekeeper comically beats an animated rat and iguana with a broom. A fruit cart is tipped over when a pack of stray dogs rushes down the street.
Crude or Profane Language
"Dios mio" is uttered once or twice—God's name in vain Spanish style. "Gosh" is used once or twice. Name-calling includes "fool."
Drug and Alcohol Content
There are several champagne glasses shown during a restaurant scene and, elsewhere, brief references to having a drink. A Saint Bernard's name is Whiskey.
Other Negative Elements
A pug's birthday cake is shaped like a dog lifting its leg. Other hydrant humor is used, too, but it's about as soft as a cockapoo's curls.
Manuel, a shady rat bent on stealing Chloe's diamond collar, repeatedly lies and cheats. But true to the film's themes, he eventually breaks free of his sneaky rat stereotype and helps Chloe.
Human characters tell several lies, too.
Delgado pronounces his bitter revenge against another dog, growling, "Now we're even." He's bringing justice to the situation, but his attitude is a quarter-turn off.
How viewers react to the humor that often surfaces in talking-animal movies depends largely on how they think about the animals. In the case of Beverly Hills Chihuahua, do we deeply anthropomorphize Chloe, Papi, Chico and Manuel, or do we see them as dogs, an iguana and a rat? As animals, much of their talk about "tinkling" in unusual places, going out for "a drink" (at a nearby mud puddle), licking inside ears and finding a companion who "hasn't been fixed" seem perfectly normal. But if you take those same words and scenarios and apply them to humans, the meanings change quite a bit.
More of a concern is how this film ends. Rachel, Sam, Chloe and Papi arrive home breathlessly, rushing to cover up their misadventure before Aunt Viv's imminent return. They hide suitcases. They try to look calm and collected. And Viv buys it hook, line and dog biscuit. In fact, Rachel keeps Chloe's entire ordeal a secret, even resorting to barking into the phone when Viv wants to "talk" to her best pooch.
That may not be enough to dissuade families from succumbing to the flick's chipper Chihuahua charm, though. And I don't know that I'd blame them all that much. Because these are the kinds of themes that can easily be talked through with parents using a few of the (comparatively lightweight) negative examples to teach the importance of honesty and responsibility.
And I should say here that most of the film's "examples" are actually quite positive in and of themselves. When Chloe is forced to make new friends south of the border, she learns valuable lessons about embracing her roots and humbly accepting friends for who they are, for instance.
So I guess I really don't consider Beverly Hills Chihuahua a "short-straw" movie. It's too cute and cuddly for that. And it packs powerful, kid-friendly messages of loyalty, friendship, acceptance and courage.