Beverly Hills Chihuahua



Opens: Friday, Oct. 3 (Disney)

Historically, Disney's done well by going to the dogs, from "Lady and the Tramp" and "101 Dalmatians" to "The Shaggy D.A." and "Eight Below."

Although not quite the same pedigree as the above, "Beverly Hills Chihuahua" is nevertheless a can't-miss proposition.

A cross-cultural, bilingual romp about a pampered pooch who must suddenly fend for herself -- doggy booties and all -- in the mean streets of Mexico with remarkably not a single Taco Bell placement in sight, the picture might not be as fresh and clever as it could have been, but its spirited voice cast delivers the whole enchilada.

Considering that long-lead awareness campaign, this little Chihuahua is poised to make mucho dinero for Disney, with unlimited merchandising potential nipping at its heels.

In a role tailor-made for its provider, Drew Barrymore supplies the pitch-perfect voice of Chloe, the overly indulged pet entrusted in the care of Piper Perabo's flaky Rachel by her eccentric Aunt Viv (Jamie Lee Curtis).

But during a south-of-the-border jaunt taken by Rachel and her friends (the film is shot almost entirely in Mexico), Chloe is kidnapped by a dog-fighting ring.

As Rachel, her aunt's landscaper, Sam (Manolo Cardona), and his Chloe-smitten dog, Papi (voiced by George Lopez), head up a search party, Chloe is taken under the wing of Delgado, a soulful German Shepherd (a terrific Andy Garcia) with a secret past, and along the way forms a connection to her ancestral home.

Having helmed the live-action/CGI "Scooby-Doo" movies and a "Home Alone" installment, director Raja Gosnell could probably do this stuff in his sleep, and he hits all the requisite posts with an unforced ease.

Still, you wish the script, credited to Analisa LaBianco and Jeff Bushell, had been given another punch or two to make it just a little sharper and more surprising.

It would have given that inspired voice cast more to chew on, though Barrymore , Garcia (more animated than he has been in years), Lopez, Placido Domingo, Luis Guzman, Cheech Marin, Paul Rodriguez and a menacing Edward James Olmos in Doberman form (as Delgado's arch-nemesis, El Diablo) do nicely with what they're fed.

Behind the scenes, visual effects supervisor Michael J. McAlister ensures that the film's 200-odd assortment of real-life canines "speak" convincingly in both languages.

And in an effort to avoid a repeat of the frenzied run on puppy purchases triggered by the 1996 release of the live-action "101 Dalmatians," the film includes a warning concerning responsible pet adoption that should make PETA pleased.

Production: Mandeville Films/Smart Entertainment.
Cast: Piper Perabo, Jamie Lee Curtis, Drew Barrymore, Andy Garcia, George Lopez. Director: Raja Gosnell.
Screenwriters: Analisa LaBianco, Jeff Bushell.
Executive producer: Steve Nicolaides.
Producers: David Hoberman, John Jacobs, Todd Lieberman.
Director of photography: Phil Meheux
Production designer: Bill Boes
Music: Heitor Pereira
Costume designer: Mariestela Fernandez
Editor: Sabrina Plisco
Rated PG, 86 minutes.