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Hotel for Dogs

Paramount // PG // April 28, 2009
List Price: $29.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by David Cornelius | posted May 4, 2009 | E-mail the Author
It's tough to hate a movie as harmless as "Hotel for Dogs." But it's tough to love it, too. You'll admire the doggie tricks and tolerate the rest, which is both the best and worst thing that can be said about it.

Adapted from the book by Lois Duncan, the film involves two foster kids, Andi (Emma Roberts) and little brother Bruce (Jake T. Austin), who've cared for a stray dog while roaming from foster home to foster home, keeping the pup secret from all their guardians. When they stumble upon an abandoned hotel that's home to a few other strays, they figure it's the perfect place for their own pooch, too. Then comes the plan: they'll turn the hotel into a full-on shelter for every stray they can rescue, and make sure those mean ol' dogcatchers don't find out.

There's a spattering of story for the humans - Andi catches the eye of pet store employee Dave (Johnny Simmons); the kids have to outwit their lamebrained, villainous foster parents (Lisa Kudrow and Kevin Dillon); Andi hides her status as a foster kid out of embarrassment, and what if Dave finds out? - but it's all lightweight filler meant to kill time until we get back to the dogs.

Indeed, more attention is paid during scenes involving dog chases, dog playing, dog recreation, dog rescues. Director Thor Freudenthal makes his feature debut, jumping over from animation shorts, and his background serves him well here: the doggie capers have a lively cartoon feel to them. Bruce is something of a junior inventor who creates Rube Goldbergian contraptions to entertain the pups around the clock (automatic tennis ball throwers, car window simulators, chew toy vending machines, etc.), and younger viewers will likely enjoy such antics. Heck, I did.

The hounds themselves - offered up here in a wide variety of breeds and sizes, for maximum ooh-and-ahh impact - deliver every trick in the animal actor book, which is great for being cute, not so much for creating an effective story. When Andi and Bruce are placed into separate foster systems, the scene has less impact than the following shot of dogs held in the pound. (I know there's supposed to be some sort of analogy going on here - the kids as strays - but we never feel enough for the siblings for it to work.) Not even Don Cheadle (Don Cheadle!!), appearing here as a kindly social worker, can evoke the sentiment that a shot of a lonely beagle can serve up. (To his credit, Cheadle later turns a cheesy speech about family into something that actually works dramatically.)

My fears that the film would send a smattering of poor messages (thanks to some pet store scenes at the beginning) were eased as the film went on. There's no "Beverly Hills Chihuahua" hyping of purebreds here, a PSA promoting getting your pets from shelters sneaks into the middle of the picture, and the finale involves a scheme to get the pups to a no-kill shelter. The filmmakers always seem careful to send the right messages about pet care and shelters.

That, added to the ample supply of charm, is enough to make "Hotel for Dogs" work, if only on its own terms, and if only for a limited audience of kids, dog lovers, and those willing to grant a pass to the bits of human-centric story that fizzle. It's a movie that coasts on its adorability. Again, that's both the best and worst thing that can be said about it.


Video & Audio

"Hotel for Dogs" is presented in a lovely 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. The film boasts colorful and bright photography, befitting a Nickelodeon production, and the crisp, vibrant transfer handles this splendidly.

The Dolby 5.1 soundtrack is equally impressive, crisply balancing dialogue and music. It sounds as good as you'd expect from a newly minted feature. French and Spanish 5.1 dubs are also offered, as are optional English, French, and Spanish subtitles.


Freudenthal, Roberts, Austin, and producer Ewan "Jack" Leslie team up for a team commentary. It's typical chat stuff, lots of "here's how we did it" and "they were great to work with" material, but it's lively enough.

"A Home for Everyone: The Making of Hotel for Dogs" (19:05; 1.78:1 anamorphic) is your average lightweight making-of material, lots of praise for everyone. Much of the focus here, no surprise, is on the dogs themselves; kids might be interested in discovering how animal actors do what they do.

"That's the Coolest Thing I've Ever Seen!" (5:59) studies the impressive, complex planning put into the doggie gadgets seen in the film.

The dogs return to the spotlight for "K-9 Casting" (6:27), which is just as it sounds: a rundown of how the pooches were picked for the movie.

"Bark on Cue!" (4:43) deals with a topic I wouldn't expect discussed on a kids' DVD: sound editing. This featurette breaks down the task of capturing dog sounds for the film.

Eight deleted scenes (10:36; 1.85:1) expand a bit on the (human side of the) story, but aren't anything essential.

Three photo galleries - "On-Set Action," "Puppy Love," and "Dog People" - offer click-through sets of production photos.

A PSA for the Pedigree Adoption Drive (:32) asks you to adopt, volunteer, or donate to local shelters.

The film's original theatrical trailer (2:32) and a batch of previews for other Paramount releases round out the set. Those previews also play as the disc loads.

Final Thoughts

While grown-ups will be fine just renting this one, I'll bump "Hotel for Dogs" up to Recommended to families with kids, who are bound to want to watch these pups more than once. The disc is fully loaded, with a top notch transfer, and yeah, the movie's kinda cute, too.
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