January 28, 2009

Movie Review: Hotel for Dogs

hotelfordogs2_large Hotel for Dogs is a trifle of a film released by Nickelodeon Films to make a play for the family dollar. While it is not a great film by any stretch, it is exceedingly cute and ultimately harmless entertainment. It is not a film that will offer any great truths on the human condition or open people's eyes to the plight of the stray dogs living on city streets (well, maybe a little bit). In short, this is a movie that is a decent way to waste an hour and a half of your time entertaining the kids and providing a light-hearted escape from reality.

The story centers on a siblings Andi (Emma Roberts) and Bruce (Jake T. Austin). They are orphans who have bounced around from foster family to foster family, struggling to stay together. Through the years since the loss of their parents their one steady companion has been Friday, their pet Boston Terrier and one of the cleverest pups you will ever find. Currently, they have to hide their beloved pet from their current foster parents as they are less than keen on dogs and only seem to be in the fostering game for some additional income. This couple of would-be rockers is played by Lisa Kudrow and Kevin Dillon.

hotelfordogs3As their story plays out, they are consistently upstaged by the well-behaved and well-trained canine who can do all manner of tricks, from stealing hot dogs, to getting free from his collar, to maneuvering up and down a fire escape using a pulley system, to... well, you get the point, there does not seem to be anything this doggie cannot do.

Anyway, while out spending some time together and wondering how much longer they will be able to hide Friday. Fortune strikes when the siblings are led into an old abandoned hotel where a couple of strays have taken up residence. The grand hotel gives them a grand idea, they will keep Friday here and then, to take it a step further, bring any strays they can find to the protection of the hotel before the dog catcher can take them to the pound.

With the hotel taken over by runaway canines, there comes a necessity for help, which comes in the form of a couple of teens working a local pet store where they have very flexible hours and easy access to whatever they need. Together the quartet work to make the building a little more hospitable to the new tenants by building all manner of Rube Goldberg-esque contraptions to see to their every need. All manner of gadgets are created to deal with issues of food, waste, and fun, all of them seemingly easily mastered by any and all dogs that see it.

hotelfordogs5The movie is all about family and the extraordinary lengths that we go through to keep it together. In this case it is not only the family of Andi and Bruce, but the extended one they have formed with the dogs. It is about not only doing what is best for you but what is best for the whole family.

The performances are fine all around, nothing extraordinary but Emma Roberts and Jake T. Austin do well in their sibling roles. A little credibility is brought to the picture with Don Cheadle appearing as the dedicated social worker who helps Andi and Bruce out of trouble. No, not exactly a challenge for the skilled actor, but it is nice to see him in a role like this.

Hotel for Dogs is a pleasant enough experience, and one that proves to be a nicely cathartic experience for anyone traumatized by Marley & Me. Is this destined to be remembered? Probably not, but it is a well-meaning film that does not deserve to be attacked by being what it is. It is a nice family film and it succeeds at that.

Bottomline. I have seen this film criticized for not being a realistic portrayal of what it is like to take care of a dog. It is a ridiculous argument as this film is a fantasy meant to accentuate the positives of a family's love and the lengths to which you would go to preserve it. Sure it is simple, just sit back and enjoy.

Mildly Recommended.


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