In Hollywood, success breeds imitators. Thus, when Alvin & the Chipmunks managed to gross over $217 million domestically, you better believe Hollywood suddenly got a whole bunch of live-action movies with CGI talking animal leads into production. Most of these, namely Marmaduke and Yogi Bear, were based on source material popular in the 1960s, just like Alvin & the Chipmunks. But one of these knock-off’s dared to be an original feature film. That trailblazer for original CGI talking animal bathroom humor was G-Force, a film released ten years ago this month produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and starring super spy Guinea pigs.
A brief rundown on the plot: a trio of Guinea pigs (voiced by Sam Rockwell, Penelope Cruz and Tracy Morgan), a mole (Bruckheimer regular Nicolas Cage) and a non-speaking fly work for a guy played by Zach Galifianakis, showing up here just a month after The Hangover turned him into a household name. Their owner has trained all these critters to be super spies. However, their operation gets shut down and the critters are taken to a pet shop where they run into a comic relief sidekick voiced by Disney staple Jon Favreau who ends up being the long-lost brother of Rockwell’s character. Now on their own, they’ve all got to work together to stop an evil plan by a tech billionaire played by Bill Nighy. The trailer featuring the Penelope Cruz Guinea pig walking “seductively”(?) in slow-motion to the tune of The Pussycat Dolls Don’t Cha is pretty much all you need to know about what kind of movie G-Force is.
G-Force is pretty much a disposable movie from top to bottom, but it is kind of fascinating to ponder in terms of how it ended up being a critical part of the history of Walt Disney Pictures in many regards, including in the relationship between the studio and Jerry Bruckheimer. Jerry Bruckheimer didn’t just attach his name to his very first family movie and call it a day, no, he actually managed to get a number of big names he worked with previously (namely Nighy, Cage and Steve Buscemi) to lend their voices in the film. Those casting choices, plus the heavy dosage of action throughout the film, ensure G-Force is surprisingly in tune with his prior works despite being such a tonal anomaly in his filmography. It’s also a relic from the last year of Dick Cook’s long-term tenure as the head of Walt Disney Pictures. Cook loved him a talking animal movie (Beverly Hills Chihuahua came out only nine months prior to G-Force) and they managed to find a recurring spot in the slate of new Disney features he oversaw.
Bog Iger, the relatively new head of the entire Disney empire, saw bigger things for Walt Disney Pictures. Ten years later, it’s clear Iger saw Disney expanding itself by acquiring as many big-name brands (Marvel, Lucasfilm, 20th Century Fox) that could produce a steady crop of sizeable all-ages blockbusters. There was no room for films like G-Force or other late 2000s Dick Cook Disney films such as College Road Trip on that slate. The absence of theatrical films not based on previously existing source material from Disney’s modern-day slate is disappointing, though, admittedly, original films like G-Force from Dick Cook’s tenure did tend to be even more derivative of other films than some of Disney’s best recent sequels like The Last Jedi. Then again, I’d handily take G-Force over some of Disney’s recent live-action remakes like Tim Burton’s Dumbo.
Ten years on, G-Force is now a relic of an age of Disney filmmaking gone by, the epitome of the kind of movies Bob Iger didn’t want his vision of the Mouse House to make. Its hard to imagine Disney in its current state either making something exclusively geared towards kids (where’s the nostalgia for the twenty-somethings?) or spend $150 million on a movie about guinea pigs who fight robots. Yes, $150 million, in a bizarre financial move, Disney spent more on this movie than any of the other Alvin & the Chipmunks movies. To boot, the first Alvin & the Chipmunks (which cost $60 million to make) made $361 million worldwide, less than two-and-a-half times the budget of G-Force. Maybe Disney hoped their own brand name and marketing blitz would send G-Force into the stratosphere at the box office and somehow make it profitable, but that didn’t happen.
G-Force actually performed well for a family movie with a CGI talking animal lead (it’s still the ninth-biggest movie in this subgenre) and even managed to score $31.9 million on opening weekend, enough to top the domestic box office. But its $292 million worldwide haul wasn’t even twice its budget and it ended up being the second consecutive costly dud Jerry Bruckheimer produced for Disney. Returning to Bruckheimer’s relationship with Disney, that’s another way G-Force gets retrospectively interesting in the context of history, it was the start of Disney and Bruckheimer’s longstanding relationship coming to a close. Bruckheimer had been Disney’s go-to guy for box office hits since 1995s Crimson Tide but the studio and producer would have a falling out as Bruckheimer’s subsequent titles like Prince of Persia, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and The Lone Ranger all flopped.
Meanwhile, Marvel Studios and Lucasfilm titles took over the roles of reliable action blockbuster hits that Bruckheimer’s output used to occupy. Nowadays, Bruckheimer produces films all over Hollywood (he’s producing Paramount/Skydance’s forthcoming Will Smith vehicle Gemini Man) but Disney sure isn’t one place he’s producing features. G-Force was the beginning of the end for both Dick Cook and Jerry Bruckheimer’s time at Disney. Who knew a movie about mouthy guinea pigs would have such immense ripple effects, especially considering the film itself is actually pretty tepid and forgettable.
G-Force is interesting to contemplate as an artifact showcasing how Disney and its relationship with certain creative personnel has evolved over the last decade but as a standalone movie, it’s pretty rote. Despite having such a strange starting premise that could go in any direction since it isn’t beholden to any previously existing source material, G-Force proceeds to be a predictable American family movie in every regard. You have the heavy presence of bathroom humor, celebrity voice-overs that don’t fit their characters, individual characters so thinly-sketched they don’t even register as archetypes, all of the stuff found in the most grating modern kids movies is here in abundance. Even the presence of heavy-duty action sequences, something you couldn’t get in an Alvin & the Chipmunks movie at least, doesn’t result in anything memorable, which is pretty impressive considering such forgettable sequences hinge on the sight of Guinea pigs fighting robots. Your movie has to really go haywire for that to be rendered boring.
Even Bill Nighy, usually a reliable source of a good performance in any schlock, isn’t given enough screentime to make for a fun baddie. Christopher Walken got more to work with in his stint as a live-action Disney family movie antagonist.
G-Force is totally skippable as a motion picture, the highest praise that can be offered to it is that it’s more painless to watch than, say, Yogi Bear or the Chipmunk movies. However, the way its managed to weave its way into a number of behind-the-scenes sagas over the last ten years, including its impact on the careers of previously bulletproof Disney creative figures as well as how much of an anomaly it would feel like in the modern-day Disney slate, is very much worth remembering. Don’t watch G-Force, but do watch how it reflects Disney’s transformation as a studio over the last decade.