Hotel for DogsMovies Reviews Don Cheadle
Release Date: Jan. 16
Director: Thor Freudenthal
Writer: Jeff Lowell, Bob Schooley, Mark McCorkle
Cinematographer: Michael Grady
Starring: Emma Roberts, Jake T. Austin, Don Cheadle, Johnny Simmons, Kyla Pratt, Lisa Kudrow
Studio/Run Time: Paramount Pictures, 100 mins.
There are movies that work for children and there are movies that work for all ages, and while I, as a grownup, prefer the latter, I’ll have to admit that the kids in my screening of Hotel for Dogs liked it just fine. It doesn’t offer much to the bored chauffeur-parents sitting next to them, and it highlights, as children’s films often do, the rare abilities of the folks at Pixar to tell complex, engaging tales like Toy Story and WALL*E in a way that holds the interest of children and adults alike. But Hotel for Dogs is harmless fun, and, if nothing else, it offers an excuse to project a hundred adorable dogs onto a giant screen.
The film is a fantasy that takes place in a fictional city, but it’s not the kind of place where dogs talk or solve crimes. It’s the kind of place where abandoned children house abandoned pets in a giant abandoned building, and it’s the kind of place where—spoiler alert?—all abandoned parties eventually find loving caretakers. From snout to tail, the film is squeaky clean. The harshest utterance happens in the climax when a girl refers to one of the city’s animal-control thugs as a “coverall-wearing goon”. To his face! Oh, snap! And even though comedies these days must meet a quota of poop jokes, the ones in Hotel for Dogs are as tasteful as they can be; the offending stuff is seen only in opaque, neatly sealed bags.
Much of the fun comes from the way young Bruce, using skills learned from his dead father, builds clever Rube Goldberg contraptions that give the hotel’s four-legged residents the time of their lives. When Bruce and his older sister, Andi, bring a few neighborhood dog lovers into their crazy scheme, the film captures some of the spirit of Our Gang or Pippi Longstocking, stories about kids left to their own devices. But those moments are brief, and the contraptions are shot so chaotically it’s sometimes hard to appreciate the boy’s ingenuity.
Still, the film is innocuous enough. Lisa Kudrow seems to be having fun in a largely thankless role as one of Andi and Bruce’s negligent (and unlikely) foster parents. Don Cheadle is the kindly social worker, and although he usually just needs to stand around looking concerned, he also gets to deliver the one grown-up laugh in the film. To see how the movie is engineered, just watch what happens when dreamy teen Dave turns away from co-worker Heather every time cute Andi walks in the room: We get a shot of poor, rejected Heather smiling. A look of disappointment or jealousy might have turned her into Andi’s rival, but that little smile nudges the inevitable teen romance on its merry, unobstructed way, and reserves all negativity for a few goony adults. If this were Vertigo, Heather would be Midge and she’d be pulling her hair out. I may be the only critic to say this, but let me be clear: Hotel for Dogs is no Vertigo, not least because this Midge is a team player, channeling her energies into saving cast-off pets in the most logical way possible, by building them a techno-hotel downtown.