Heads Up!: I was able to view this early with a screener. Thank you, Netflix!
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I have talked about plenty of studios and over my time of seeing the work from multiple studios, you always wonder what exactly happened behind the scenes. Something I always think about is what is going on with Vanguard Animation. For a few reviews now, I have been encountering their work more and more with Charming and Fe@rless. They are a studio known for some pretty infamous films like Valiant, Happily N’Ever After, Space Chimps, Gnome Alone, and something called Get Squirrely. Their main goal seems to be a studio that can churn out animated films on the lower side of budgets and make something. They don’t go into straight-up mockbuster territory with their films, but I wouldn’t call them high-quality films either. Whether it’s making an obvious Shrek ripoff or something that’s kind of like The Secret Life of Pets, I haven’t found anything of theirs that I would say I like. I don’t know if it’s a rushed production or the fact they don’t have the best writers, directors, or time to polish out more engaging stories, but their lineup of films is completely and consistently lackluster. I’m always rooting for studios to put out good films, but with Vanguard, it seems like it hasn’t happened yet, or cynically speaking, won’t happen. I say this because at least in the US, their last four or so films have been sent directly to Netflix while being in release limbo. That’s no different here with their film Trouble aka, Dog Gone Trouble.
Directed by Kevin Johnson, this film was released elsewhere around the world in 2019 but only got a US release recently with the help of Netflix. As you can tell, Netflix had faith (not) in this being a major release because they had it come out after The Mitchells vs The Machines, and have given it no real marketing or support. It comes off like they release these animated features from the studio because they are easy to pick up for cheap. Either way, I chose this film not just because I got a screener for it, but because it was a real turning point as a studio. It’s like an encapsulation of what I find frustrating about the studio. Let’s dive in!
So, we follow a small dog named Trouble, voiced by Sean “Big Sean” Andersen. He is the small puppy that is owned by a wealthy older woman voiced by Betty White. He lives a life of luxury. Sadly, one day, he finds out that his owner passed away. On that same day, the old woman’s niece and nephew, Claire and Norbert, voiced by Marissa Winokur and Joel McHale, arrive to claim their inheritance. Obviously, with a film like this, you know the two are greedy and unlikable to the max, which makes them non-threatening villains and annoying to follow. As they go around and start selling everything inside the mansion (so they are just going to sell all the furniture and live in an empty mansion? okay), they accidentally get rid of Trouble in the back of a moving truck and he is taken away by accident. Trouble falls out of the truck and finds himself lost and alone. He is now a stray and tries to find his way home. What happens next is hard to explain because so much happens. Trouble encounters a young girl who wants to be a singer voiced by Lucy Hale, the two terrible nephews of the old lady realize they can’t have the money if they don’t bond with the dog, and so they hire a hunter to find him named Thurman Sanchez, voiced by Wilmer Valderrama. Trouble encounters a few other dogs named Norm, a bulldog voiced by Seth Rollins, Gizmo, a conspiracy nut Whippet voiced by Damon Wayans Jr., Bella, a nervous Corgi voiced by Olivia Holt, and Tippy, a poodle voiced by Carlos PenaVega. Trouble also befriends a pitbull named Rousey, voiced by Pamela Aldon, and yeah, there is a lot in this story.
So, when I watched this film, I was kind of enjoying elements of it, because it does capture a dog’s confusion of not understanding what happened, and Sean Andersen does put in a few decent moments in the beginning. With that said, this film comes off like so many movies made by Vanguard Animation, they made it because they needed to do something. The story itself doesn’t do a good job capturing elements of the dog and human relationships, or the mannerisms with dogs and other animals. It’s a boring film to watch because the characters are all flat and not that interesting. It’s also really distracting to hear non-voice actors perform alongside professional voice actors. The performances by the celebrities become lackluster compared to the voice actors who, you know, voice characters for a living. The story seems to not know where it wants to go as it meanders a lot after the first act, and it keeps adding in either more characters or keeps breaking the rule of three with other characters like these squirrels in the film voiced by Dee Bradley Baker with one of his more annoying performances. Not because of him, because Dee Bradley Baker is a voice-acting god, but because the squirrels are obnoxious to keep running into. The human subplots also get barely any attention or any development throughout the film. I kept forgetting Lucy Hale’s character wanted to be a singer due to how little it all plays into the overall story. I was either frustrated at the inconsistent acting, bored because of the predictable story, or finding myself wanting to watch other talking animal movies. There are so many that I could recommend over this one. Ya got Lady and the Tramp, Oliver & Company, Isle of Dogs, The Secret Life of Pets 1 & 2, Marona’s Fantastic Tale, and Bolt to name a few. Dog Gone Trouble only offered one thing and that was that Netflix for some reason changed the title from Trouble to Dog Gone Trouble. What does this film offer me that I couldn’t get somewhere else? That’s the problem when you get into animation. I want to see something that I can’t get from anyone else, and if you are offering me something familiar, I want it to be executed enough to not remind me of other films I’m watching or have seen. I’m coming down harsh, but I am getting so tired of watching these films by this studio, and feeling like they made something just because they needed to make something. I feel like that’s a fair argument to make.
Animation-wise, this film looks fine, but the fact that this is from Vanguard Animation, 3QU Media, and Cinesite Studios makes me think Vanguard didn’t have as much to do with the film’s animation production. It looks like a higher-budgeted direct-to-video feature, but it does have a lot of what Fe@rless was lacking. For example, it has decent designs, the animation is fairly smooth and expressive, and there are actual textures, shadows, and lighting. It’s jarring to try and understand what exactly happened between this film and their more recent feature. It is competently made. For whatever small budget this film had, the animation is solid. I think the one character who gets the best animation is the hunter Thurman Sanchez. He is the character who, while not perfect, had the best attention given to how he moves and is animated. He almost teeters into the realm of being out of an entirely different animated film compared to the other humans. However, even if I am not intensely critical about the overall animation, there are still a few wonky areas like the fact they rehash one dog model three times in the entire film, but with a different fur texture. I had to double-check to make sure that wasn’t a thing, but it was! The human designs are also okay. They look simple, but that’s the only criticism I have about them. Now, as for the voice work, I am wondering how they got these people. This might be one of the most extreme cases of having celebrities who could have easily been replaced by traditional voice actors. I mean, it’s not like they spent all the money on the celebrities, but they didn’t need about 95% of them. Joel McHale, Sean Andersen, Conrad Vernon, Wilmer Valderrama, Damon Wayans Jr., Seth Rollins, Olivia Holt, Snoop Dog, Betty White, Jason Mraz, Cesar Millan, Ludo Lefebvre, and you get the idea. Most of the actors are character or TV actors with only a handful of major voice actors like Lucy Hale, Pamela Adlon, Dee Bradley Baker, Michelle Ruff, Keith Silverstein, to name a few. They didn’t need some of these celebrities, especially because they only have one or two lines in the entire film. I think Wilmer Valderrama is one of the few having fun alongside the voice actors. Sean Andersen aka Big Sean is fine as the lead, but he’s very wooden. He captures some of the puppy nature at the beginning of the film, but he has a mostly flat performance. The music is also fairly bog-standard and none of the songs add anything to the experience. It makes me wonder if Snoop Dogg, who was a music supervisor for the film and Jason Mraz have any thoughts about the film’s music.
I’m coming down hard on this film, and if the team that made this had fun making it, then so be it. I’m not going to rain on that parade. At the end of the day, Dog Gone Trouble is harmless. It’s not great, but I’ve seen so much worse this year. It’s competently made and it’s nothing more harmful than a bargain bin direct-to-video animated film that you would find at Walmart or the checkout line at a grocery store. It’s on Netflix, so it’s not like I paid anything that wasn’t already the prepaid Netflix subscription fee. If you just need something to watch on Netflix since you watched The Mitchells vs. The Machines 100 times already, I guess there is no harm in checking it out. I hope one day, Vanguard gets to make a film that I can sit down and say “hey, I liked it.” For now, it’s just another Vanguard film that is not all that interesting or fun to watch. How about next time, I look at an animated film that’s got quite a fun history and production behind it? Well, it’s hidden behind a screener so you will have to wait and see what happens! I promise I will talk about stuff like Magic Boy and Twice Upon a Time in the future I swear.
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