VOD film review: Zeus and Roxanne
Nathanael Smith | On 02, Jul 2016
Director: George Miller
Cast: Steve Guttenberg, Kathleen Quinlan, Miko Hughes
Watch Zeus and Roxanne online in the UK: Amazon Prime / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent)
When 90s nostalgia becomes entirely unavoidable in the same way that 80s fetishising has lingered like a tenacious stench in pop culture, there is one element of the decade that Millennials may not be so quick to revisit. The animal-adventure movie was a staple of many childhoods during the decade, films where the most convincing performances were delivered by a dog, cat or killer whale. When the 90s love takes over and all the girls start crimping their hair again, will we get homages to Fly Away Home, Homeward Bound and Alaska?
Some of these animal-adventure films were memorable and are still talked about today: Free Willy is, let’s face it, iconic. However, with every cinematic craze, there are the quick cash-ins that get immediately forgotten. Films such as Zeus and Roxanne.
There’s a pleasingly familiar naffness to the set-up of this film. Steve Guttenberg, presumably looking for something to do after the decline of the Police Academy franchise, stars as an irresponsible dad of a young boy (Miko Hughes). This kid spends all his time taking photos of his dog, Zeus. Kathleen Quinlan plays an uptight mother with two daughters, who also works as an underfunded marine biologist. She is trying to reintroduce a dolphin, Roxanne, to the wild. Zeus and Roxanne befriend one another – could these two single parents with different attitudes also make a connection?
The main event is, of course, watching a dog and dolphin establish a relationship through a series of barks, clicks and party tricks. It’s implied, at one point, that the two animals are in love, which is weird and confusing and you probably shouldn’t think about it too much. Essentially, what the film boils down to is the dolphin doing tricks in the water and the dog reacting in comical ways. There is even a glorious moment where the dog rides the dolphin and it’s at this point you begin to wonder if cinema has peaked. In a post-Blackfish world, however, one suspects that studios couldn’t make Free Willies, Flippers or Zeus and Roxannes any more without serious questions being raised.
Everything is delivered with a tone of positive 90s peppiness, before the world got grim and post-modernism seeped into even the basest echelons of pop culture. This was a simpler time, when Steve Guttenberg was considered a star and every family film was lit like an episode of Friends. There’s a zany soundtrack, a scene where it looks like the dog is driving a boat along a motorway and comical edits timed to capture goofy reaction shots. Arnold Vosloo stars as the villain of the piece, a man who separates baby dolphins from their parents. Not a beat of it feels real – what ad-composer can afford a beach house in the Bahamas? – but that’s kind of the point of this kind of film. This is the cinematic equivalent of that viral video where a baby monkey rides backwards on a pig.
Perhaps this simplicity is why the animal-adventure sub-genre is much smaller these days. With the advent of the internet and YouTube, cute animal videos are everywhere and blissfully free of a topless Steve Guttenberg. The human subplot here feels so extraneous to the animal antics; what child is going to care about an overwrought romance between these two parents? Particularly weird is the way the kids scheme to bring their parents together in some barely amusing japes that distract from the dog-dolphin fun. The way these children invest in the romantic lives of their parents is all a little bit creepy.
To be clear, Zeus and Roxanne is not a good film. The jokes are cheap and it feels like it was made with a very specific audience-pleasing checklist in mind. That said, for viewers of a certain generation, there’s something rather special about this tale of a dog befriending a dolphin. The cast, score, aesthetic and plot of this film are rooted so firmly in its time period that watching it induces a sort of Proustian rush. Even if you haven’t seen Zeus and Roxanne before, this will immediately transport you back to rainy Sunday afternoons watching Beethoven II or racing home from school to catch the Free Willy TV series. If it does elicit such a reaction, good news: there were loads of these films. Next, try out Andre (about a sea lion) or even the Amazing Panda Adventure.
Zeus and Roxanne is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.