11th December 2020 (UK Theatrical)
When a mysterious and dangerous whirlpool phenomenon appears in the tropics of the Atlantic Ocean, Belka and Strelka, the first astronauts on their way back from a mission to Saturn, are sent to investigate.
Mauriett Chayeb, Maria Antonieta Monge, Paula Andrea Barros
Space Dogs is based on a true story.
The canine characters in the film are lifted from the real-life escapades of Belka and Strelka, Soviet-Era dogs who were the first living creatures to be blasted into orbit and return safely. Their ability to talk and undertake important World-saving missions upon re-entry remains unknown. Just for the love of all things four legged, ensure that you’re renting the correct Space Dogs movie – there’s also a 2019 documentary which details the ill-fated travel of Laika, a prior outer-space experiment who wasn’t so lucky.
Marking the third feature film entry in the Space Dogs franchise, Return to Earth sees our hero ‘Dogstronoughts’ (that was as painful to type as it is to say) arrive back on our planet following a dangerous mission to collect samples from an Icy Planet. No sooner have they escaped a hairy encounter, Belka and Strelka are tasked with investigating a mysterious whirlpool which has formed off the coast of Cuba. At the same time, their mischievous pal Lenny the rat is on his way to the country with his cricket apprentice to visit his Uncle, a famed sea Captain. Inevitably, their paths cross and merge into the group’s biggest adventure yet.
Space Dogs is primarily a Russian production and because of its megastar mutts it’s somewhat of a big deal over there. The opening instalment in 2010 was Russia’s first domestic 3D film and the pair have their own spin-off TV series. Its animation is competent, bursting with colour and additional detail in its character designs. The titular dogs look more like their real-world counterparts than ever before, with extra attention seemingly given to their hair and fur compared to others on screen.
While I’m on the subject of the film’s players, it’s loaded with fun figures. From berry-looking pirate jellyfish (‘who can sing and make you itch’) to thuggish shaved and heavily tattooed Parrot/human hybrids as well as a futuristic looking Ninja Turtle who took fashion cues from Pokemon’s Mew Two, there’s an impressive array of animals to ensure it always has the undivided attention of its intended young audience.
It’s only really let down by some sub-par voice work. Particularly – and rather surprisingly – that of Strelka and Belka. Its audio cast is a small pool, with some even pulling double or triple duty over a number of characters, but this excuse does not apply to its daring dog duo voiced by Mauriett Chayeb and Maria Antonieta Monge respectively. It’s not entirely their fault though. The script appears to have been word-for-word translated from its native Russian source material, making for some oddly placed pauses and exchanges that don’t feel at all natural. But this is hardly Tenet level storytelling so it’s not a major issue. Still, the rest of the cast make the most of it, with Lenny and Mew-tant Ninja Turtle Croakagy doing their best to re-stitch the butchered script with energetic attempts. Its ruthless emotionless efficiency in dialogue delivery means there’s very little for adults to enjoy here, with parents only really taking solace in the fact that their little tyke is temporarily distracted by the pretty colours and zippy pacing of Space Dogs.
One thing I found a little jarring was its incessant reminders of the USSR. I’ve not seen the other two Space Dogs films, but it’s safe to assume that the events of this one take place shortly after their initial 1960 blasting-off. I found there to be an unnecessarily high number of hammer & sickle symbols, a mention of Gorky Park and at least three references to ‘The Motherland’. It just felt bizarre in a film aimed at pre-schoolers.
Regardless, with its breezy narrative, vibrant characters and the out-of-this-world speed it all unfurls, Space Dogs will likely succeed in entertaining the youngest of film lovers – or make them inquisitive about Soviet Russia.
Space Dogs: Return To Earth is out now in UK Cinemas.
Deliberate tailoring to a much younger audience means its extremely fast paced and bursting with colour
Musical numbers which can only be described as 'Fever-Dreamlike'.
Poor translation from Russian to English makes for some odd pauses and unnatural exchanges
Occasionally flat voice work