‘Hotel for Dogs’: This dog film will leave parents with homework

  • By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
  • Friday, January 16, 2009 6:09pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

If you’re a dog lover and you’ve recovered from the trauma of “Marley &Me,” here’s a kids’ movie that ends up in la-la land, not the realities of the canine life cycle.

It’s “Hotel for Dogs,” an adaptation of a book by prolific writer Lois Duncan. The movie treats a set of horrible circumstances in the lightest way possible.

First we meet a pair of orphaned siblings, who have been bounced around from one foster home to the next. Andi (Emma Roberts) is 16, her little brother Bruce (Jake T. Austin) is 11. Veteran shoplifters and scam artists, they have adopted a mutt — although their current foster parents don’t know about that yet.

The foster parents are aspiring rock musicians played by Lisa Kudrow and Kevin Dillon. Cruel and thoughtless (not to mention pitifully untalented), they don’t create much sense of home and hearth.

Andi and Bruce do that for themselves, by taking over an abandoned hotel and installing dozens of stray dogs there. How’d they get all those doggies? By breaking into the pound and stealing them.

Now, I realize this is just a kids’ movie. It’s all fantasy and silliness, and that’s great. There’s a certain wish fulfillment in allowing children a fantasy about caring for animals on their own, and this probably worked well in the pages of a children’s book.

But still. Of course the movie depicts the employees at the pound to be evil jerks who look forward to euthanizing the pets in their care.

Clearly a statement from the Dog Pound Anti-Defamation Society is called for. And they’d be right.

The movie’s adult role model is Don Cheadle, as the social-services guy in charge of placing Andi and Bruce in a home. In which case, he has a lot to answer for: No sane person would hand the children over to the irresponsible (and only occasionally funny) rockers played by Kudrow and Dillon.

Emma Roberts (daughter of Eric, niece of Julia) is amiable, and the dogs are a varied lot. The movie is full of jerry-rigged contraptions which allow the dogs to feed, play and poop without needing their human handlers around. Young viewers should love all that — just be ready to explain about shoplifting, car theft and breaking and entering.

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