Hotel For Dogs

Hotel For Dogs

**

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Meet Bruce and Andi. They're that staple of mawkish kids' films, orphans, but they're more resilient than most. We first meet them faking shrink wrap so that they can sell stones disguised as mobile phones. This inventiveness has not only allowed them to stay together in the foster system, it has enabled them to continue looking after the family dog, Friday, even if they do have to keep him a secret.

Looking after someone else is an important way to cope with not being properly cared for oneself, as the film goes on to explore in several ways. This may seem a trite message to adults, but it's well communicated at a level kids can effectively connect with, in a film which is solidly scripted even if it does have some appalling dialogue. Bruce and Andi are being fostered by a couple of aging rockers. No cliché is spared here, though Lisa Kudrow brings some genuine comedy value to the character of the foster mother. A more important character in the kids' lives, though, is Bernie (Don Cheadle), the social services supervisor whom they continually turn to when in trouble.

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If life is tough for the kids, it's even tougher for Friday, who risks being picked up on the streets and taken to the pound. A cartoonishly brutal place, this is somewhere that no dog will survive for more than 72 hours. Some strays have been inventive in finding places to hide from the Animal Control men, and when Friday leads the kids to one of these, an old abandoned hotel, they become determined to help. Gradually the project grows until more kids are involved and they're taking in every stray they can find. But for how long will they be able to get away with it?

Rescuing poor, vulnerable animals is the kind of stuff kids dream about, and this film will really tug at their heart strings, but disappointingly there's no supporting message about the importance of adopting from the pound, as in the recent Beverly Hills Chihuahua. Nobody even bothers to get the strays neutered, and it's implied that puppies are something to celebrate, which, in the context of this story, seems deeply irresponsible. Don't take your kids to this, then, unless you're prepared to talk through the issues yourself.

Where Hotel For Dogs really scores is in its superb choreography (working with over a dozen dogs onscreen at once in some scenes is no mean feat!) and in the sheer inventiveness of its props. Not since The Goonies has there been a display of spectacular home-made gadgets to equal this, and there are a vast number of them here, from trebuchets to feeding machines. Clearly somebody had lots of fun making them and they'll be an inspiration to creative kids.

The film is also impressive in the way it develops the character of the dogs, proving that it isn't necessary to give them voices in order to give them personalities. Naturally Friday is the best of the bunch, but we get to know quite a few of them as individuals. Unfortunately the human characters don't get quite as much attention. Johnny Simmons does his best as the boy whom Andi takes a shine to, but he's suffocating under the demands of formula, especially in an embarrassingly twee party scene.

All in all, this is a mediocre film with occasional flashes of brilliance. It'll bore most adults, but kids will find it reasonably entertaining - especially if they're dog lovers - and it'll certainly give them something to talk about in the playground afterwards.

Reviewed on: 05 Feb 2009
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Two lonely adopted kids create a secret home for stray dogs in an abandoned hotel.
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Director: Thor Freudenthal

Writer: Jeff Lowell, Robert Schooley

Starring: Emma Roberts, Jake T. Austin, Don Cheadle, Johnny Simmons, Lisa Kudrow, Kevin Dillon, Kyla Pratt, Troy Gentile

Year: 2009

Runtime: 100 minutes

BBFC: U - Universal

Country: US, Germany

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