At the unlikely intersection of beloved children’s literature and the David Lynch family lies the all-star talking dog movie Heidi 4 Paws. True to its shaggy ensemble cast, writer-director Holly Goldberg Sloan is more faithful to Swiss author Johanna Spyri’s oft-adapted 1880 novel than other approaches to this tale, including Allan Dwan’s wonderful but wandering 1937 version starring Shirley Temple. If the cinema of articulated dog mouths is not your jam, stay—far away. But if you can forgive the unconvincing computer-generated sets and the recurring appearance of a crying Pomeranian-in-goats-clothing, it’s a hoot, or is that a woof?

In fact, the Pom is one of the touches that makes Heidi 4 Paws so strangely endearing. The first time Butterball, as the character is called, milks its CGI tear ducts, it’s amusing enough; but each subsequent sob ramps up the kitschy pathos to David DeCoteau levels of no-budget surrealism. And that pathos is real; all but two of the dogs performing in the film were rescue animals.

The canine Heidi, voiced by Meghan Strange and played by several yellow lab puppies (among the few cast members that weren’t rescues), is a good girl that goes through the paces of the familiar story. Heidi’s Aunt Detie (Joanne Baron) takes the pup to live in the Swiss Alps with Grandfather (Richard Kind), who has a reputation for being smelly and cantankerous but grows to love the pup, so much that he cleans up for her. In Heidi’s time on the mountain, she makes friends with Peter (Julian Sands), a yodeling goatherder—no, it’s not Sands yodeling. His charges include the weepy Butterball, who’s voiced by nobody, because who ever heard of a talking goat?

The CGI-scenic idyll is unfortunately broken when Detie whisks Heidi away to the city to be a companion for the wheelchair-bound girl Clara (Kimberly Beck, perhaps best known for the great Massacre at Central High) under the watchful evil eye of Miss Rottenmeier (Majandra Delfino), who neglects the unpolished country pup who has no manners but blurts out the first thing that comes to her mind (nothing scandalous, this is a children’s movie). Aside from Clara’s sympathetic friendship, Heidi is met with hostility in the city, including from the tutor Mr. Usher (Mike Fishburn), who deems Heidi incapable of learning how to read, and the butler Sebastian (Steve Guttenberg with a French accent). Heidi’s fortunes change when Clara’s grandmother (Angela Lansbury) comes to visit and takes a shine to the blunt outsider and teaches her to read.

That’s a lot of star action for a talking animal movie you’ve probably never heard of, and if we’re loading up on plot details, there’s a reason. It’s when Heidi returns to the mountains, and Clara and Grandmamma come to visit, that Heidi 4 Paws arrives at its strange crossroads. The goatherder Peter was happy that Heidi returned to the mountains, but Clara’s visit arouses in him a petty jealousy. So much so that, when nobody’s looking, Peter takes Clara’s wheelchair and pushes it over the mountain, gleefully singing, “The wheelchair goes over the mountain/ And the cripple goes back home.

Those unfamiliar with the source may find this scene shocking, but lyrics aside, this is indeed an incident in the book. What’s more, the casting of Sands makes this scene an apparent reference to Boxing Helena, the universally panned debut feature from David Lynch’s daughter Jennifer. In that 1993 drama, Sands plays an evil surgeon who’s so obsessed with a patient (Sherilyn Fenn) that he amputates her arms and legs and kidnaps her, leaving her confined to a wheelchair.

Back to Heidi 4 Paws, Peter’s cruelty turns out to be a blessing in disguise, as the loss of the wheelchair makes Heidi and Grandfather determined to teach Clara to walk again, which she of course does. Thus is Peter redeemed, and although the wheelchair incident makes this seem like a harsh and inappropriate story for children, the stark reminder of the evil that dogs do leads to the crucial theme of forgiveness, something that seems all too rare today.

That unpopular theme makes Heidi 4 Paws a natural offering for the only streaming service that carries it at press time: the UP Faith and Family channel, available via Amazon Prime. (The channel’s closed caption writers may need to be alerted; when Sebastian says the line, “What kind of boots?” it reads as “What kind of boobs?”) You could always sign up for the seven-day trial and cancel, and while you’re at it check out the three David DeCoteau Christmas movies offered. Not that Spectrum Culture staff expects any of its readers to do that, much less believe that a sane adult could sit through this movie twice and find it even better the second time.

Lynchian resonance notwithstanding, the movie has one more delightful trick up its sleeve before it rolls over and says goodnight: it ends with dog-people and dog-goats yodeling and playing musical instruments (Butterball on tuba) for a properly Alpine farewell. Don’t believe us ―believe your nose. Heidi 4 Paws is like you’re dreaming―and it’s available for streaming.

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