“Marmaduke” is a fun family film because the tale wags the dog.

Director Tom Dey takes a serious approach to comedy in bringing the comic strip to the big screen by looking at how the massive Great Dane wants to fit in so much, he’ll do anything.

Marmaduke (voiced by Owen Wilson) must adjust after his owners move from Kansas to California.

He goes from top dog to mutt outcast when he runs into the cliques at the local dog park. His biggest rival is Bosco (Kiefer Sutherland), the alpha dog of the pure breeds.

Attempts to be part of the pack result in a series of adventures and misadventures that leave Marmaduke in the dog house.

Too often, directors of films aimed at younger audiences (see “Furry Vengeance”) dumb down the action and storylines. That’s cinema suicide because there are no guarantees young viewers will like the juvenile approach. But you can be assured adults will be bored.

Dey doesn’t make the humans mindless caricatures, a mistake many directors in this genre make.

Lee Pace and Judy Greer play rational parents who don’t turn into babbling idiots when the family pet does something wrong. Having them be normal people who just happen to have a colorful pet gives the adults in the audiences a way to connect with the film.

The voice casting is perfect, especially Wilson’s welcoming good-old-boy voicing of the big dog and the supporting voices — from Emma Stone as a street-smart mutt to Stacy Ferguson as the pure-bred object of every dog’s attention.

Sutherland’s alpha dog is what Jack Bauer would sound like walking on four feet.

Films aimed at young audiences don’t have to carry a strong message, but it’s a bonus that the script by Tim Rasmussen and Vince Di Meglio is more than just a series of sight gags. There is a surfing sequence and a dance number that crosses over to silly, but that’s OK when the silly is the exception and not the rule.

“Marmaduke” works because the charm of the comic strip is maintained through a story that never talks down to the audience, voice casting that sells the story and Dey’s direction that’s aimed at all ages.


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