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IN SHORT: Jaw dropping funny. [Rated PG for some Mildly Crude Humor. 88 minutes]
No, seriously. Once we got through the opening, and slavish, acknowledgement of Pinocchio as the be-all and end-all of the universe, the gags in Teacher's Pet really did have our jaw all slack for at least forty, forty-five minutes. Writers Bill & Cheri Steinkellner and Director Timothy Björklund then give us a minute or so of breathing room before bringing the baby home. First things first. The policy of the Site is not to compare to Source Material which, in this case, is easy since our cable company doesn't carry Toon Disney. We don't plant for the regular Disney Channel since we've got everything on old laserdiscs and far too many animation cells hanging from our apartment walls. . .
To be honest, we weren't looking forward to screening Teacher's Pet 'cuz we hated the look of the thing from the still images we'd seen. It didn't take more than thirty seconds or so of screen time to change our minds, and that is no exaggeration. For those that don't have cable zombie kidlets in the house, Teacher's Pet is the story of Spot Helperman (Nathan Lane), beloved pooch of Leonard Helperman (Shaun Fleming) and his fourth grade teacher mom (Debra Jo Rupp). Spot, needing to fully experience the family way, stands on his hindquarters, slips on a pair of shorts, tucks his ears into a beanie and trudges off to fourth grade for the next sixty-three months, where he excels in all subjects and wins end of term awards for Math, History, Science and Attendance. Still, accolades mean little when all you want is to be a real boy and the mutt is left behind when mom packs Leonard into the car and motors down to Florida to receive a teaching award nicknamed N.E.A.T.O. Left behind under the protection of a nearsighted elderly teevee zombie Mrs. Boogin (Estelle Harris), are Spot, birdie Pretty Boy (Jerry Stiller) and the 'fraidy cat Jolly (David Ogden Stiers)
As dry as that set up may read, the writers Steinkellner are vets of classic comedy, specifically a long run on an obscure and pretty much forgotten sitcom called Cheers. [and that last sentence is why we don't write comedy] Even better, each verbal quip is matched by a visual gag. Once it gets started, there is no way to take your eyes off the screen. The laffs fly so fast and furious throughout this flick that any attempt on our part to write one down meant that we missed at least two or three more.
So, what's a mutt to do when he wants to be a real boy. He could invoke the Blue Fairy, as seen in his favorite video Pinocchio -- but that's movies and we all know movies aren't real. Better than that is a wonderful thing known as sheer dumb luck! Thanks to a television show hosted by Barry Anger (Jay Thomas), Spot learns of the work of scientist Dr. Ivan Krank (Kelsey Grammer), whose DNA manipulation machine, also dubbed N.E.A.T.O., can turn lesser animals into human beings! Krank's lab is also in Florida, so Spot high tails it out to hitch a ride, a day late and many dollars short of any kind of his masters RV.
What Spot has missed, though, is a follow up teevee report saying that all of Dr. Krank's experiments -- an AlligatorBoy (Paul Reubens) and a mosquito/girl (Megan Mullally) have gone horribly wrong. The Bird and the Cat set off like the calvary to try to stop the transformation . . . but they are too late.
Here, according to my 11-years old nephew, is where the film comes in line with the teevee show. Let's keep it simple and spoiler free: Spot gets what he wants, but not in the way he wants it. What could have been a moralistic "you don't know what you've got til it's gone" or "grass is greener" story goes way off kilter from anything you'd expect. It becomes one of those brilliant comedic concepts that works on different levels both for adults and children -- tasteful execution; you'll understand when you see it -- and then all hell breaks loose.
Teacher's Pet is a 50s B-movie mutated with underground comics and an absolute sheer joy of clowning around. The recurring references to Pinocchio are intentional. Even better, Disney has let this film's creators blast full barrel at the corporate image, which includes an astoundingly out of continuity guest appearance by the Blue Fairy herself.
Even in 2D, Nathan Lane does shtick better than anyone. Kelsey Grammer, as the mad scientist, comes up a close second and Teacher's Pet stuffs itself with more than enough outrageousness than is humanly possible. Good thing toons aren't human. It is a brilliant piece of work.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Teacher's Pet, he would have paid . . .
We should point out that the only television channel to reach Our Heroes features the work of Stan Freberg -- whose 1951 routine, using only the words "John" and "Marsha" (here Genie Francis and Tony Geary, heh heh), is the best soap opera parody ever written. That routine predates us by years but will ring bells for any grandparent taking the kids.
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