Dir: Vincent Kesteloot, Ben Stassen. Starring: Jack Whitehall, Julie Walters, Tom Courtenay, Jon Culshaw, Jamal Fahim, and Kulvinder Ghir. PG, 85 mins
Here’s a way to make all the adults watching your cutesy animation about a talking dog feel instantly uncomfortable: roll out the pun “grab them by the puppy”. The line is uttered by a cartoon Donald Trump, in what’s certainly the most bizarre segment of The Queen’s Corgi, the latest animation from Belgian studio nWave Pictures. And, no, it doesn’t make any more sense in context.
What should have been an easy cash-in – cute pups with a splash of Anglophilia thrown in – has somehow morphed into something deeply unpleasant, and in no way suitable for children. Not even the plot can keep things clean and simple, since these corgis turn out to be as ruthless as the mad emperors of Rome. They’re all fighting for the prestigious role of Top Dog in the court of Queen Elizabeth II, with its privileges of unfettered access to pets and tummy rubs (the Queen is known for her fondness for corgis, having owned more than 30 over the course of her reign, though none of them have seemed this competitive).
Rex (Jack Whitehall, though the voice cast differs for the US release) has been the Top Dog since he was a puppy, largely due to the fact the Queen (Julie Walters) is rather amused by his penchant for stealing Prince Philip’s slippers. But Charlie (Matt Lucas), his longtime frenemy, has other plans – and he isn’t afraid to commit attempted murder to secure the title of Top Dog for himself. Rex soon ends up lost on the streets of London with no way home.
That’s after his involvement in a minor international incident, in which he bites the crotch of the US president (Jon Culshaw, whose admittedly excellent Trump impression can already regularly be heard on BBC Radio 4’s Dead Ringers). Rex was only trying to escape the clutches of Melania Trump’s own dog Mitzi, who has no understanding of the concept of consent. Yes, the kid’s film about corgis has multiple nods to the president’s long history of alleged sexual assaults (the most recent accusation emerged last month, from writer E Jean Carroll). He’s otherwise depicted as totally harmless – merely uncultured – as he wanders the halls of Buckingham Palace taking selfies and insisting the tea is swapped for Coca-Cola. No part of his role feels necessary, amusing, or appropriate.
And that’s far from the only thing that feels totally misplaced here. Rex ends up in a shelter that has its own underground canine fight club (cue lots of jokes about not talking about it) and resident canine exotic dancer, Wanda (Sheridan Smith). Although she’s initially portrayed as a gold-digger type destined to betray our hero, the film changes its mind several scenes later and makes her the sincere romantic interest. There’s also a dog who’s addicted to cocaine. Are we having fun yet, kids?
The problems aren’t limited to a few misguided asides for the adults – worrying messaging bleeds right to the very heart of the film, which sees Rex’s “good breeding” triumph against the working dog – specifically, a pit bull and ex-fighter named Tyson (Ray Winstone). It’s an odd film to have come from screenwriters Rob Sprackling and Johnny Smith, who were behind the perfectly pleasant Gnomeo & Juliet.
Not that there’s much else that could entertain here. Many of The Queen’s Corgi’s ideas feel cobbled together from other, better films such as Toy Story, The Lion King, and The Great Mouse Detective. It’s a shame, since even though the animators were clearly working with a limited budget compared to the major studios, an incredible amount of care has been put into creating a recognisable, realistic interpretation of Buckingham Palace. The most promising part of the film is, in fact, its wordless opening, which establishes how Rex first came to be the Queen’s favourite corgi, as framed photographs of Prince Philip are slowly replaced by doggy portraiture. For those few minutes, The Queen’s Corgi is a decent film. And then the dialogue kicks in.
The Queen’s Corgi is released in UK cinemas on 5 July
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