Hotel for Dogs Directed by: Thor Freudenthal Cast: Emma Roberts, Jake T. Austin, Don Cheadle, Johnny Simmons, Kyla Pratt, Troy Gentile, Lisa Kudrow, Kevin Dillon Running Time: 1 hr 15 min Rating: PG
Plot: Two wily and street-smart foster kids (Roberts, Austin) begin saving every stray dog in the city and setting them up in an abandoned hotel.
Who’s It For? Kids. Parents will enjoy it if they have any remote connection with their inner-child, but Hotel for Dogs is aimed, unapologetically, at kids and kids alone. Do not expect covert adult humor.
Expectations: The previews didn’t appeal to me and I didn’t click my heels together and shout “Yay!” when I was asked to review this movie.
Emma Roberts as Andi: Andi is our sweet-faced con artist without the misanthropy, and she is enjoyable to watch. She’s tough and smart without straying into hardened hood, but Roberts does very little to set herself apart from the scores of other young, pretty kid actors out there. Maybe she just needs a role with more than one amusing dimension. Score: 5
Jake T. Austin as Bruce: Bruce is Andi’s younger brother, and a veritable engineering genius. He can whip up eye-popping inventions with a few scraps of garbage and some pluck. It is a bummer that the mad scientist is always the boy character and never the girl, but I quickly forgave that. Bruce is the perfect balance for his older sister, and Austin slides right into the part. Score: 6
Don Cheadle as Bernie: Cheadle is the coolest—he can do it all. The movie does the most interesting thing with Cheadle’s character, because this role would typically be filled by a nondescript white guy. The kids won’t notice, nor should they, but older generations will notice the fresh role reversal with the displaced Caucasian children being rescued by the upper-middle class black family. Score: 8
Johnny Simmons as Dave: Simmons finds himself in Roberts’ shoes—he’s saddled with the part of ‘romantic interest’ so he doesn’t have the goofy freedom exercised by the sidekick pals, Heather and Mark. Apparently, you can’t make the romantic lead too colorful, because too much personality equals weird and uncool—you know, a little like Junior high. Stand out just enough to be sexy, but not so much that you could be accused of nerdiness. Score: 6
Kyla Pratt and Troy Gentile as Heather and Mark, the sidekicks: It’s always unfortunate when the sidekicks are more interesting and fun than the main characters, but Pratt and Gentile definitely out-perform the main stars. Gentile and Pratt are given much more comedic room to roam within the story, and the film would be substantially less fun without them. Score: 7
Lisa Kudrow and Kevin Dillon as the Scudders, the bad guys: The Scudders are Andi and Bruce’s god-awful foster parents and Kudrow and Dillon have so much fun as the tacky and talentless wannabe rockstars, they come the closest to providing more adult entertainment. In these post-"Friends" times, a lot of kids might not recognize Kudrow and correlate her with ditzy and peace-loving Phoebe, but their parents certain will. And it’s a crack up to watch Kudrow and Dillon prancing around in bad eighties leather and humongous feathered hair. Score: 7
Talking: In a way, I feel a little like a food critic assessing baby food—it’s all shapeless gruel to me, but the tots really dig it, so who am I to judge? And the hundreds of kids around me roared with laughter throughout the film. There was only one line I laughed at and it involved the Scudders, who, again, are the main source of entertainment for anyone over thirteen. So I’m going to have to compromise on this one: the writing didn’t strike me as particularly unique or inspired, but it’s a kids’ movie and the kids were happy little clams. Score: 6
Sights: The sights in this movie are fun and effective. Bruce’s inventions are constructed in a way so you can see all of the ordinary working parts that make up the extraordinary finished product; and the inventions are just as significant as the massive crowd of canines. The city is a strange combination of Gotham and Couer de Couer from Pushing Daisies--it manages to be both sullen and whimsical at the same time. The inside of the hotel itself is mysterious and gorgeous and everything, including the characters and the dogs, are aesthetic in their own individualistic right. Score: 7
Best Scene: The best scene is also the most improbable, because Andi and Bruce would be on "The Today Show" and recruited by MIT way before they got into a speck of trouble for their genius shenanigans.
Ending: The ending is cozy and wonderful and neatly tied together—if only the world were really that magical.
Questions: I could’ve used the faintest clue as to what happened to Andi’s and Bruce’s biological parents.
Rewatchability: The kids will be able to watch this movie again and again and again. It will get old fairly fast for the elders, but the youth should be entertained for some time.
I saw this movie with my seven-year-old pal, Sara, and she thought it was the bee’s knees and the dogs bollocks all wrapped into one. “Out of 100 stars,” she said, with a great deal of authority, “I’d give it 100.” The hundreds of other happy, laughing children seemed to agree with the full throbbing might of their little hearts and it is, after all, a kids’ movie.
There are microscopic traces of humor aimed at adults in Hotel for Dogs, which is great for the youngsters, but not so fantastic for the parents. Obviously, a film like Wall-E appeals to everyone, young and old, and it does so with intelligence and artistry. Hotel for Dogs doesn’t go out of its way to be anything more than a children’s movie, but it does work hard to please its demographic. So, although Sara gives this movie a whole-hearted one hundred stars, I’m going to have to go with…
Final Score: 6/10