Bambi taught a string of generations about death, and now a whole new generation, pulled into what was advertised as a family-friendly kiddie movie, will be traumatized by Marley & Me. When the movie was in the theaters, I heard the movie could make grown men cry, and I fully admit (because I’m never afraid to admit this) that I cried through the last half hour of the movie. But luckily I was at home, and one of my cats jumped on my lap to comfort me. That is one of the traits that Marley has that animals lovers will recognize immediately: No matter how naughty of a pet they are, they are always there to make you feel better when you are feeling down.
John and Jennifer Grogan (Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston) are newlyweds, with the spark of youth and spontaneity. Both have careers as journalists (her job, they both know, is better) and are not quite ready to start a family. So instead, John surprises Jennifer with a yellow Lab puppy, who is dubbed Marley. Before you can say, “Is that a thunderstorm I hear approaching?” Marley has ripped the house to shreds, and quickly establishes himself as The Worst Dog Ever.
But before you think that Marley & Me is simply a fun-loving animal movie, you slowly start to realize it is a relationship movie, and actually a movie more for adults than for kids. The dog is part of the Grogan’s family, of course, in fact he is really their first child. As the Grogans reevaluate their lives and decide to have human children, dynamics change, and change again. John sees his bachelor friend Sebastian (Eric Dane) live the unattached lifestyle as a successful globe-trotting journalist, while John comes home to diapers and an angry and exhausted wife. He becomes the breadwinner as their brood grows to three kids, and he finds that his calling is surprisingly not as a journalist, but as a columnist, writing about the humor in his everyday life, which includes, yes, Marley.
But Marley & Me is not really a dog movie. It is a movie that happens to have a dog in it, that is really aimed and, and will appeal to older viewers. You know who you are: You are no longer in your 20s, and you may not even be in your 30s. You question how you got to this point in your life, and wonder “What if?” Marley & Me is surprisingly effective portraying the transition of carefree youth to full-fledged adulthood, and it is careful to remind you that the transition isn’t a bad thing. Hopefully, the only thing you end up crying about is the dog, but the rest of the movie is both sobering and gently comforting, too.
After sobbing your eyes out at the end of Marley & Me, luckily the DVD extras offer you some more lighthearted fare. My favorite extras were the video winners of the Purina Dog Chow Marley & Me Video Contest, and Video Hall of Fame winners. Regular folks sent in their videos of their “unique” dogs, and the results are truly hilarious… instant YouTube classics. In the various behind-the-scenes extras, you find that 22 dogs (!) played Marley, aging him from a puppy to 14 years old, and the scene where Marley pees on the coffee table happened spontaneously in a scene, but wasn’t expected, and the filmmakers had to spend hours training a dog to recreate it. Among the other extras are also deleted scenes, a gag reel, and a nice plug for adopting from animal shelters.