Hotel for Dogs knows its audience and never tries to be something it's not. This one is made for kids and teens, and any adults who wander into the theater will just have to understand they're not the target demographic and deal with it or leave. Of course the fact the film's loaded with adorable, talented canines will help soothe any adult's ruffled feathers once they figured out they've been duped into seeing a kids' movie.
There's plenty of doggie action in this, with the human actors taking a backseat to their four-legged co-stars. The film contains a couple of important messages, yet there's enough silliness going on to make the message easy to swallow.
The StoryAndi (Emma Roberts) and Bruce (Jake T. Austin) are orphans who've gone through a series of foster homes and are currently housed in the apartment of wannabe rock stars Lois (Lisa Kudrow) and Carl Scudder (Kevin Dillon). Lois and Carl are the sort of people who should never have children – either their own or of the foster variety – but somehow they've been given the responsibility of caring for Andi and Bruce. They seem resentful about this, which is weird and sort of creepy.
Taking a huge risk, Andi and Bruce have been secretly caring for their dog, Friday, a Jack Russell Terrier with a voracious appetite. But one day Friday's luck runs out and he's captured by the dog catchers (boo-hiss!). After Andi and Bruce bribe their way into getting him back, they realize there's no way they can keep caring for him in their apartment.
Andi tells her young brother that it's just not fair to Friday to not be part of a real family (the family theme is the rope that ties this story together).
As Andi and Bruce debate what they should do about Friday's housing situation, the answer presents itself in the form of a nearby vacant hotel. Two dogs that Bruce, against his sister's wishes, names Lenny and Georgia are already using the once grand hotel as a temporary home, and Friday quickly joins their pack.
Andi and Bruce decide they have no choice but to not only take care of Friday but also his new friends. That decision soon leads to the siblings taking in every stray they can round up in the city. They're joined in their mission to protect the strays by a cute pet store employee named Dave (Johnny Simmons) who's interested in dogs and Andi, and Dave's co-worker Heather (Kyla Pratt), a firecracker who wants to dig in and help as well (even though it leads to her stepping in more than her share of poop). The threesome soon turns into a fearless foursome when Mark (Troy Gentile), a kid from the neighborhood, joins the merry band of animal rescuers. Together they take care of dozens of dogs left homeless for various reasons until their activities are exposed and the dog catchers look to shut them down.
Emma Roberts and Jake T Austin lead the human cast and are fine, as are the film's other two-legged teen actors Simmons, Pratt, and Gentile. Kudrow and Dillon take their characters way, way over the top, but that's also okay as they – and the dog catchers – are the film's villains. Kicking the acting up a notch is Don Cheadle as Andi and Bruce's social worker who truly cares about the welfare of the two orphans. But truthfully, none of the human acting matters much in Hotel for Dogs. This is all about furry, four-legged thespians, and to a dog they are terrific.
The Bottom LineThe character Bruce is an inventor who would make MacGyver turn green with envy. Bruce comes up with dozens of inventions meant to keep the dogs happy and to help make caring for them easier. Bruce invents an assembly line for feeding the dogs, a poop platform for taking care of those needs, and a gorgeous fire hydrant pee station that keeps itself clean. Other inventions include a ball launcher, machines to knock on doors to keep the dogs occupied with barking, and the pièce de résistance – a room in which dogs can sit in car seats and hang their heads out the windows while fans blow their fur and outdoor scenes flash by on screens. All of this looks fantastic on the screen and dog-lovers will get a real chuckle out of each and every creation.
The hotel set is also a key player in the film and the set designers have outdone themselves with this dilapidated hotel filled with odds and ends left behind by the owners and former guests.
Hollywood's going to the dogs and because I'm a sucker for dog movies - happy dog movies in particular – I'm okay with this new trend. Hotel for Dogs puts the plight of homeless animals front and center, and hopefully it'll cause younger viewers to stop and think about the thousands of animals in shelters looking for homes. It does raise the ugly issue of euthanasia, but it counters that by talking about no-kill shelters.
Hotel for Dogs does blur the message when it shows off cute puppies and talks about adoption. Showcasing puppies available after the audience has spent an hour and half getting to know adult dogs in need of families is a two steps forward, one step back approach to the subject of pet adoption. But overall, Hotel for Dogs sends out a positive message about animals in need. Plus, it's a cute movie for kids, teens, and yes, even adult dog-lovers who don't care too much about the quality of the acting other than that done by the dogs.
GRADE: For the canine stars, the message, and the set design, B+. For the human actors, C+. Overall, it's a B.
Hotel for Dogs was directed by Thor Freudenthal and is rated PG for brief mild thematic elements, language and some crude humor.