DC League of Super-Pets

There was every reason to believe DC League of Super-Pets was going to be a cynical exercise in brand exploitation. An animated family film about Superman's dog and his specially-powered animal friends? That's got to be an attempt to lure young kids into all things DC from a young age, right? Get them primed to faithfully consume DC product for years to come? Thankfully, that really isn't the case. I mean, sure, it might happen, but the movie takes the time to tell a good story and to engage the imagination of young viewers. The primary goal here is making quality all-age entertainment, not selling toys and comic books.

Dwayne Johnson provides the voice of Krypto, faithful canine companion to Superman (John Krasinski). He's not too happy about his owner planning to get engaged to Lois Lane (Olivia Wilde), fearing he'll be replaced. Supes goes to a local pet shelter to find Krypto a new friend. Lulu (Kate McKinnon), a hairless guinea pig with ties to Lex Luthor (Marc Maron), is one of the animals in that shelter. Wanting to follow in Lex's megalomaniacal footsteps, she escapes, uses Kryptonite to take Krypto's powers away, and kidnaps the entire Justice League.

The other animals, who end up gaining power via a different version of Kryptonite, agree to help Krypro rescue the human superheroes. They're sarcastic dog Ace (Kevin Hart), Wonder Woman-worshipping pig PB (Vanessa Bayer), feisty squirrel Chip (Diego Luna), and turtle Merton (Natasha Lyonne). Together, they have to fight Lulu and her guinea pig army in order for the mission to succeed.

DC League of Super-Pets has the requisite action and excitement, particularly in the cleverly-conceived finale. It has a nice sense of humor, too. Some of the gags are a little obvious - you probably can't make a movie about a dog without addressing urination and self-licking - but many of them are wittier than that. Because the characters have well-defined personalities, humor can spring primarily from interactions between them, as when Ace informs an appalled Krypto about the pleasures of drinking from a bidet. During the times when the movie does go for self-referential comedy, the results are smartly written. Keanu Reeves, for example, voices Batman, and the Dark Knight is hilariously portrayed as a wound-too-tight ball of intensity, perpetually ready to explode.

The film also has real heart. About halfway through, we learn the backstory about how Ace ended up in the shelter. It proves unexpectedly touching. So does the way this disparate group of animals learns to respect and support each other during the shared ordeal they face. Super-Pets is very much about how friendship is the greatest power of all. Again, the picture could have just been "Superman's dog," but it goes beyond that concept to say something positive and upbeat to its target audience. The voice actors are perfectly cast, with Lyonne a particular scene-stealer as the aging turtle who develops The Flash-like speed. Everything she says is funny. Bright, appealing animation rounds out the package.

We're living in a time when superhero movies completely dominate the cinematic landscape, to the point where they're starting to become repetitive. Having 4-6 per year will do that. DC League of Super-Pets stands apart, partially because it's animated, and partially because it doesn't need to adhere to "canon" or the exacting demands of a fan base. It isn't an all-time classic, but that ability to be its own thing makes this one of the more satisfying comic book movies of the last few years. I found it delightful.

out of four

DC League of Super-Pets is rated PG for action, mild violence, language, and rude humor. The running time is 1 hour and 46 minutes.