Dreamworks // 2009 // 100 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Steve Power (Retired) // May 11th, 2009
Who let the dogs in?
You generally know exactly what to expect when you spy a Nickelodeon films logo on a DVD package. The films never quite reach the high watermark set by Disney, and more often than not pander to the young teens and pre-teens with hip talking characters on the cusp of teenage fashion and more than a few bits of gross-out humor generally deemed too droll for an "adult" audience. Hotel for Dogs is not entirely the exception to the rule, but it isn't half bad either.
Andi (Emma Roberts, Nancy Drew) and her younger brother Bruce (Jake T. Austin, Wizards of Waverly Place) are wards of the state, shuffling from one foster home to another following the death of their parents. Along for the ride is Friday, their precocious white terrier-looking hound, which they have to keep secret from their strict NO DOGS ALLOWED foster parents. Friday, of course, gets the kids into all sorts of zany trouble -- what's a dog to do after all? One high-spirited chase scene leads the kids into an abandoned hotel, which a few stray dogs have turned into a homestead of sorts. The kids' overlarge hearts get the better of them, and little Bruce fires up his imagination and cooks up all manner of gizmos and doo-dads to aid in looking after the neglected mutts. The kids and their new friends scour the neighborhood for strays, and soon enough the world's first hotel for dogs is born!
Hotel for Dogs never, ever attempts to step outside of the mold created for this sort of film. The kids are good looking, charming, and well dressed, the dogs are all cute and cuddly with friendly dispositions, the friends are all completely trusting and understanding, and every adult is a vile, detestable creature with nary a scant shred of comprehension of the world around them. All of the kids involved do a fine job, and that goes a long way toward getting the film into my good graces. Emma Roberts (daughter of Eric, niece of Julia) gives a great, effortless performance and has a charisma that will assuredly give her a bright future in films, and Jake Austin plays all the right cards in his portrayal of the father-less boy genius, really making you feel for the pair. Johnny Simmons and Kyla Pratt play two young pet store employees who join up with our heroes and do an adequate job of providing some extra meat and a bit of sub-plot padding. Then there's Troy Gentile, who appears in pretty much every scene in the trailer, and is all but invisible here as the typical comic relief. There are of course the prerequisite wicked stepparents, in this case, two aged rock and rollers played to hilarious effect by Lisa Kudrow and Kevin Dillon, and there's the one sympathetic adult (Don Cheadle) who's like a father to these darn kids, even if he's too stupid to realize it until the final scenes. Tossed into the mix is a crew of rock-jawed, dumb as posts dog catchers who provide a few laughs, and generally give us someone to boo and hiss at. It all adds together for a fun, if formulaic 100 minutes.
Dreamworks does a fine job with the Blu-Ray treatment. Audio and video are standard fare stuff. It's in high def, with a nice sound mix. There's nothing here that's going to rattle fillings or scorch eyeballs, but there's really nothing to complain about either. You get a commentary track that might entertain for 30 or 40 seconds, and a few promotional fluff pieces that are decent enough, including a look at the making of the film, a peek at the crazy contraptions used, and some stuff about the cute widdle puppies. It's really an adequate package for this sort of picture. All of the features are actually presented in HD, which is definitely a plus.
Hotel for Dogs is a slave to the traditional plot progression of the generic family film, accompanied by messages delivered with such a heavy hand that you need a forklift to get them off after they beat you over the head. These poor, poor kids are like the stray dogs they want to save! Just about every move the film makes can be telegraphed a few turns ahead. The general rule of thumb in these family comedy-dramas is, "what goes up must come down. Then up again." You get the typically teary eyed final act that may draw a few ker-sniffles out of the more sensitive kiddos in the audience (or the big softies), and Don Cheadle gets the big speech at the end, putting it all into perspective for us slack-jaws watching at home, and allowing all the adult bystanders in the film to stare and gawk like Thomas Edison just invented the light bulb. Follow it all up with a denouement that ties everything up into a wonderfully neat package that's too cute by half and that should leave all but the most jaded and cynical among us satisfied.
While it falls squarely into same old, same old territory, Hotel for Dogs is ultimately a fun way for the whole family to spend an evening together. The kids will be entertained, and the adults won't be completely miserable, unless you're a cat person.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Deleted Scenes
* Photo Gallery