Hotel for Dogs

As long as we're talking about Hotel for Dogs, I might as well be honest and let you know that I absolutely hate movies (unless they're animated) that make animals the star. It's not that I don't like animals, because I do. It's not that I don't think they're cute and cuddly, because they are. It's just that animals are not actors, and no matter how well trained they may be (even though some actors still need some training themselves - i.e. Lindsay Lohan) it's really nothing that ever turns out well in the end. Looking at Hotel for Dogs as an adult is impossible. If there is one adult that says, "I want to see Hotel for Dogs because it looks cute," they either want to become, or already are, a veterinarian, have a family, or is in possession of some of the strongest hallucinogenics known to man. Yes, there is a certain sweetness to the story behind the movie and, of course, the obvious "cute" factor the dogs bring to the film, but the true heart of the film gets lost under all the fur, dog crap, and Kibbles and Bits.

Andi (Emma Roberts),16, and Bruce (Jake T. Austin),11, are orphaned siblings who have spent the last three years of their lives being tossed around between five different foster families, and now spending time with wannabe rockers Lois (Lisa Kudrow) and Carl Scudder (Kevin Dillon). The youngsters' social worker, Bernie (Don Cheadle), has gone above and beyond his call to duty to make sure the two are not separated. But, his efforts are growing more and more difficult as Andi and Bruce continue to get in trouble for the various scams they run to make money in efforts to take care of their dog Friday, the family pet they somehow have kept a secret from everyone since their parents died. Trying to stay out of trouble again so they don't get separated from one another, Andi and Bruce wind up being chased by the police one night while wandering the city. In their escape, they wind up in the run-down Hotel Francis Duke, where their dog befriends two new ones. Before we know it, with the help of a few new friends - Dave (Johnny Simmons), Heather (Kyla Pratt), and Mark (Troy Gentile) - and a few new gadgets (reminiscent of the breakfast-making machine from Pee Wee's Big Adventure) made by Bruce, a rather secretive and expensive looking Hotel for Dogs begins to house and feed around 50 dogs of varying sizes and talents.

The problem with Hotel for Dogs is not the story, it's the execution. Instead of using this stellar cast of rather talented actors (Cheadle has been nominated for an Oscar and various other awards, Kudrow won an Emmy amidst her seven nominations, and Dillon was nominated for a Golden Globe and two Emmy's), they let the dogs literally run loose and ruin what could have been a movie both children and adults could find enjoyable. Instead of focusing on what keeps Andi and Bruce together, and what makes their relationship so solid and the reason they want to continue to care for Friday despite the lack of a stable home, they focus on the animals that cannot tell you what's going on.

Yes, these are incredible animals, trained to make certain adorable faces or do unbelievably cute or amazing things, but it casts a giant shadow over the true story of this film: the relationship of Andi and Bruce, and how they've been trying to survive the child welfare system together, and what drives them to care for these animals so intensely. Instead, director Thor Freudenthal opts to go for the cheap giggles, randomly placed poop jokes, and the inevitable, "Awww, that dog is so cute." Also, this may be nitpicking a little bit, but if these kids are having a hard time finding money to feed their own dog (to the point where they're putting rocks a box for an iPod to sell for cash), how are they finding the money to buy dog food and, well, get electricity to run all of Bruce's little gadgets?

I am not saying take away the dogs, there is a purpose for them being in the movie, obviously. But, there is also a purpose to having high-profile names like Roberts, Cheadle, Kudrow and Dillon in the movie - and by the looks of Hotel for Dogs, it's to trick people into thinking that the talent is used wisely. How Cheadle, Kudrow and Dillon got suckered into this, is beyond me. It's kind of like Al Pacino and Christopher Walken getting sucked into Gigli (then again, Walken did do Kangaroo Jack and Envy). On top of that, how can Ivan Reitman, producer of Stripes, Ghostbusters, Animal House, and director of Meatballs, Twins, and Kindergarten Cop, reduce himself to being an executive producer on a movie like this (fine, you were involved in Beethoven and My Super Ex-Girlfriend, but we'll let that slide based on previous work)?

There are only so many times we can watch dogs fall in love in film in the style of Lady and the Tramp. There's only so many doggy bathing gone wild moments we can capture on film, and have them be funny. There's only so many times we can watch a dog on a skateboard, or a dog wrecking a newly cleaned up room, or a dog howling because it's out of food. Eventually, it gets a little old. By the way, if you're going to resort to someone stepping in poop, where's the dog that obsessively humps legs? Maybe that's too risque for a movie with a PG rating, but still funnier than watching a dog watching another take a bath and falling in love. Yikes! The one good thing I can say about Hotel for Dogs is that they did not resort to the whole talking dog thing. If there's one thing I cannot stand more than a movie based around animals, it's a movie based around animals that talk.

Taking a script that has the possibility of having some heart and transforming it into nothing more than a doggy calendar is a great injustice not only to the adults that will endure this film with their kids, but also to the kids themselves. Just because children will be the main audience of this film does not mean the film needs to be dumbed down to the point where it becomes nothing more than a doggy talent show. That is the big problem with all of these Air Bud, Beverly Hills Chihuahua and Beethoven movies - their primary focus is on the dogs and the smiles they'll bring to kids. That is all well and good, but just because dogs bring a smile to a child's face does not mean they're necessarily enjoying the movie. Barking for more doggy treats? Craving room service from someone on all fours? Ready for your next grooming? Are wagging your tail wondering what else is in store for you? Are you wondering why I am asking all of these questions that have to do with dogs or hotels? Well, I am just trying to keep your attention, since the movie probably will not, and tell you about the special features that will probably leave you feeling like you were a dog's latest fire hydrant. (Get it? Dogs urinate on fire hydrants, and I am assume it doesn't feel good, because when does getting pissed on feel good - all those with that type of sick fetish need not reply.)

If you want to watch the movie again, you can watch the commentary with producer Ewan "Jack" Leslie (who I actually thought played the dog for a while, since every time I Google'd his name a picture of the kids with the dog came up), Emma Roberts and Jake T. Austin. Truth is, I don't know why any of them did the commentary since the dogs are the real stars of the movie. Honestly, I think it would be more entertaining to hear the dogs give commentary. Can you imagine what that would be like? Watching nearly 100 minutes of film with the sold of 40 dogs howling and barking? That would be awesome! Annoying, but certainly awesome.

The second feature, "A Home for Everyone: The Making of Hotel for Dogs," is plain old annoying. "They're so cute," Kudrow screams in regards to the dogs. "Everybody in America loves dogs," Reitman says with a smile. That doesn't mean making a movie with them is going to be worth watching. I am sure the movie was a ton of fun to make and the dogs were fun to play with, I just don't care. Show me a good movie about a hotel for dogs and I'll give you the chance to tell me how much people love dogs and would love to see them on film ... again.

"That's the Coolest Thing I've Ever Seen," was doomed from the inception of its title. I will tell you now, it ain't that cool. The feature starts off with Oscar-winner Michael Lantieri, the special effects supervisor, talking about the creation of Bruce's crazy gizmos (by the way, isn't it amazing that an 11-year-old can create such intricate machinery?). Honestly, the gadgets were, at best, cute. They, along with the music, had a very Pee Wee Herman-esque vibe to them, and didn't seem necessarily original. Don't get me wrong, it's always great to see creativity come to life, but let's be real here, it ain't the coolest thing I've ever seen. A life-size statue of Susan Sarandon made out of scrapple, paper clips, and used lawn mower parts is closer to the coolest thing I would ever see.

Now we move on to "K-9 Casting," where Freudenthal and others talk about process of casting dogs. Yeah, they made an entire feature about casting dogs! Can you imagine that process? "So, Fido, what do you think you can bring to this film," Freudenthal asks. "Ruff," Fido responds. "Have you been neutered," casting directors Sarah Finn and Randi Hiller ask simultaneously. "Ruff," Fido responds. "We'll call you back," Freudenthal says. After Fido leaves the room, Freudenthal turns to the others and says, "I don't know, he may be good for Dog 2, but he's definitely not right for the part of Dog 6 that has to run on the treadmill, he's just too fat." The casting directors nod in agreement.

"Bark on Cue!" is exactly what it sounds like it would be: a feature about dogs barking and the way those involved with the sound of the film worked around the dogs constantly barking. It's interesting in a way, but, in all honesty, who the hell cares? It's not like they're curing cancer, they're working with animals. We all have crazy things to deal with on a daily basis, you sit in a room with equipment designed to help you do your job. Deal with it. There are also eight deleted scenes on the DVD, all of which did not make it into the movie for a reason. If you watch the scene called "Theme Song," you will understand why that and the other seven - "At the Pawn Shop," "Checks and Labor," "Lois Singing," "Photographic Memory," "Sean & Jeannie," "Vacation and Rescue," and "Ruff, Ruff, Ruff" - are included in the deleted scenes feature.

Outside of the photo galleries, previews and theatrical trailers, there is one feature that remains that is actually worth watching. It's a commercial, narrated by David Duchovny, for the PEDIGREE Adoption Drive. Basically, it is just getting the message out there for people to go to local shelters and adopt a pet. It's a great cause and it will give these animals that are kept in cages for most of the day a new family and home. You know, saying this is a great cause makes me feel like Bob Barker, only without that creepily thin microphone, or the gray hair, or the game show where I am giving out fabulous prizes. Well, for the fun of it, since he's not on TV any more, I'll end in his words: Help control the pet population, have your pets ... ah, screw it, let 'em have some fun.