In 1954, cartoonist Brad Anderson made comic strip history by sketching out an anarchic, dopey Great Dane, whom he named Marmaduke. In the decades since, people loved Marmaduke for all of the obvious reasons: His slapstick adventures are effortlessly funny, his I-just-want-to-do-good ethos is naturally endearing and his inherent silliness embodies a kind of freedom to which we all aspire. But more than that, people love Marmaduke because his misgivings are reliable—predictable, even.
And that’s exactly why adapting this character into a film will always be a complicated venture. The effort has been made before. In 2010, Tom Dey directed a live-action Marmaduke, with the dog (he does not speak in the comic strip) voiced by the equally dopey and lovable Owen Wilson. Despite our apparent cultural affinity toward Marmaduke, the film was almost unanimously panned by critics, who denounced it as exhaustingly boring. Herein lies the problem with adapting a newspaper cartoon that is beloved, in part, for its sheer routine. How, exactly, do you turn that repetition into something that’s consistently engaging while still staying true to its delightful, humdrum essence?
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