Director: Nick Moore
Cast: Pudsey, David Walliams (voice) and Jessica Hynes
Running Time: 87 minutes
Release Date: July 18th
Umberto Eco’s On Ugliness postulates that our perceptions on ugliness change with regard to the culture, geography, and historical era in which we live. Interesting, then, that Pudsey the Dog engages with the classic ugly villain archetype. What appeared to have fallen out of fashion in cinema is stronger than ever here. Thorne, the landowner to whose whims Pudsey the Dog’s family are subject, is overweight, has bad teeth, fails to groom himself and has not the slightest dress sense. The “Good” character, by contrast, is quite handsome. Jack is a farmer who shares the land with Pudsey’s family. The viewer is invited to feel apprehensionn on their first meeting with Jack, because he approaches in a tractor and wears dungarees. Could he be the town weirdo? He greets the family, smiles widely, and the viewer relaxes: “No. This man is attractive. He’s a good guy.”
This kind of reliance on surface physicalities is evident throughout the film; sometimes for good, sometimes for worse. The pig who identifies as a chicken is obviously a stand-in for a trans* character. Rather than treat him with any kind of sensitivity, his identity is played as a joke. Odd for a film in 2014 to be so openly transphobic, and particularly in this film; which, for all its faults, does try to suggest that it’s okay to stray from the crowd and be yourself.
This conservative attitude to identity politics extends itself to Tommy, the youngest brother of Pudsey’s family. Tommy doesn’t speak (Asperger’s?), and for a long time I thought the film might make a case for why it is okay that he doesn’t speak; that he is a valuable human being regardless. Indeed, his siblings say as much at the beginning of the film. But no, later on he speaks. And this is his redemption – his family are delighted. He is “normal”, finally.
Russell Brand’s recent comments about children’s fiction and the values it can instil in children ring true. He said that it is when readers (or film viewers) are young that they are most able to engage with these texts and learn from them; and so it is worthwhile to investigate just what messages we are sending to kids. The skillset required to write books and films for children is imcomprehensible for most adults. What is funny to us might not be funny to children and vice versa, and then there is the obvious tendency toward patronisation. Pudsey the Dog does manage to strike what appears to be a witty and intelligent tone, at least in terms of its dialogue and much of its characterisation, so it is a shame to see lazy identity politics on display.
The film suffers from a weak plot. Little happens until the climax. Despite this, its inventive one liners and bright aesthetic keep things interesting. The shots of London are of particular interest because they consist of shots of unglamorous “Family” London; like scenes you’d see in an Edgar Wright movie rather than in Sherlock. Similarly, many of the characters, while not reaching Thorne levels of ugliness, are far from physically perfect. Utilising these real modes of representation, the film does attempt to send the message that people should feel okay with themselves and feel free to be a little weird; just as long as they’re not genuinely different – then they should feel ashamed and hide away.
A mixed bag. It’s an attempt, at least.