Fueled by knowing in-jokes, sitcom-familiar voice talent, and illustrator Gary Baseman’s endearingly retro, cutesy-gross milieu, Teacher’s Pet continues Disney’s trend of crafting animated movies as much for adult viewers as for their pre-adolescent progeny. Its ostensible target audience may be won over by the frenetic pace and splashy visuals, but the barrage of pop-culture references and off-color allusions—many at the expense of Disney sacred cows—is strictly for grown-ups.
A feature-length extension of the studio’s hit Saturday-morning TV show, Teacher’s Pet centers on the trans-species antics of Spot (Nathan Lane at his scenery-chewing best), a talking pooch with a serious jones to be human. Veteran comedy writers Bill and Cheri Steinkellner take this premise to its logical conclusion by putting Spot in the hands of a demented scientist (an overwrought Kelsey Grammer), who grants the mutt’s wish with unanticipated results. Spot’s ensuing dilemma—should he reverse the process or make the most of his human condition?—is peppered with double entendres milked for maximum ick-factor and hilarity, not the least of which hint at man-boy love and inadvertent zoophilia.
This being Disney, there are also uplifting songs and a moral lesson to contend with. The latter, a mix of Pinocchio’s “be happy with who you are” (or is it “know your place”?) conformism and The Island of Dr. Moreau‘s “don’t fuck with nature” admonition, is imparted with minimum fuss. And the tunes—all mounted with whimsy and economy—are prefaced by smart-alecky ribbing from Spot that make for some of the film’s best gags, to wit: “What is it with this family and singing? I’m starting to feel Von Trapped!” This isn’t your father’s Disney cartoon.