Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Thor Freudenthal
Stars: Emma Roberts, Jake T Austin, Johnny Simmonds, Kyla Pratt, Troy Gentile, Don Cheadle, Lisa Kudrow, Kevin Dillon.
Of the three films featuring dogs on current release for the holiday season, Hotel For Dogs is probably the most broadly entertaining and enjoyable for the whole family.
Andi (Emma Roberts) and Bruce (Jake T Austin) are orphan siblings who try to stay together as they have been shuffled through a succession of foster homes. They are in the care of the Scudders (Lisa Kudrow and Kevin Dillon), a pair of self-absorbed wannabe musicians. Andi and Bruce try to keep their pet pooch Friday hidden from the tight-fisted Scudders, but are quickly running out of options. While trying to elude a pair of hapless dogcatchers, Andi and Bruce stumble upon a decrepit and abandoned hotel, which is already home to a couple of strays. They quickly establish the hotel as a home for stray or abandoned dogs. They also rescue a number of dogs from the local pound. Bruce is something of an amateur inventor, who uses his skills to build a number of devices, like canine lavatories, automatic feeding devices, and amusements, to keep the dogs busy while they are absent.
Also helping them in their work is Dave (Johnny Simmonds, from Evan Almighty, etc) and Heather (Kyla Pratt), who work in the local pet accessories store. Mark (Drillbit Taylor’s Troy Gentile, who has portrayed the young Jack Black in both Nacho Libre and Tenacious D: The Pick Of Destiny), a shy, socially awkward and lonely local boy also becomes involved when he follows them into the hotel.
Based on Lois Duncan’s popular children’s book, the film draws a nice parallel between the orphans Andi and Bruce and their desire to be loved and become part of a regular family, and their desire to save stray dogs and keep them safe. Making his feature film debut with Hotel For Dogs is German born director Thor Freudenthal, a former story board artist who has worked on films like Stuart Little as well as directing lots of commercials. He handles the material with brisk efficiency, and is assisted by an enthusiastic cast.
Having temporarily crossed over to her darker side playing a rebellious teen in the recent Wild Child, Roberts returns to playing nice and wholesome, and certainly seems more comfortable here. The rest of the young cast also acquit themselves well. Eschewing the usual warnings against working with children and animals, both Kudrow and Dillon camp it up nicely and inject enthusiasm into their roles as the awful Scudders. Don Cheadle lends his usual integrity and innate credibility to his undemanding but sympathetic role as Bernie, the social worker who takes a keen interest in ensuring that Bruce and Andi stay out of trouble.
The cute dogs are front and centre for much of the movie and their delightful antics will certainly please younger audiences and distract from the rather formulaic plot. However, the film’s themes – family, longing, and of a sense of belonging – will resonate with older audiences.