Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Hotel for Dogs (2009, Thor Freudenthal)

On one level, this is a pretty innocuous and standard-issue family movie- squeaky-clean and predictable, but with enough “scary parts” to throw kids off the scent of the obvious happy ending. In addition, the dogs are remarkably well trained, responding perfectly to everything the kids can throw at them, and even getting along nicely (they even sit patiently at the dinner table) until such time as the plot demands they do otherwise. That said, I have a hard time objecting much to a movie that exposes children to the idea that dogs need to be properly cared for. The dogs that are rescued by Andi (Emma “niece of Julia” Roberts) and Bruce (Jake T. Austin) have been abandoned or forgotten by uncaring owners somewhere along the line, and there’s even some talk by the folks at the pound of having to put them down for population-control reasons (spaying and neutering isn’t mentioned, but what the heck- it’s a kid’s movie). If nothing else, I found this a welcome corrective to movies like 101 Dalmatians and Beverly Hills Chihuahua, which accentuate the cute’n’cuddly aspects of their furry protagonists without paying much attention to the care they require. Just as surprisingly, the movie doesn’t lean too heavily on its message-y aspects, instead integrating them into the storyline fairly seamlessly. As a result, the sillier aspects of the movie- the bumbling animal control workers, the dumbass foster parents (Kevin Dillon and Lisa Kudrow), the endless pratfalls and obsession with the bodily substances of dogs- become easier to swallow. And Don Cheadle takes what’s more or less the paycheck role of the kids’ case worker and gives the movie a surprising amount of gravitas, even transforming the hackneyed final speech into a fairly affecting moment, no mean feat when he’s in danger of being upstaged by dozens of dogs. I can’t in good conscience recommend this for anyone who doesn’t have kids, but if you do, you could do a whole lot worse. Finally, I feel bound to say that this movie needed more pugs. Is it that they’re not conventionally cute enough, or that they’re difficult to train? Either way, a few brief glimpses weren’t enough. Rating: 5 out of 10.

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