Oh, to be a fly on the wall during a writing process that birthed an adorable psychotic kitten whose coughed-up hairballs turn out to be grenades.
Superheroes aren’t out yet, especially when they’re surrounded by the sheer cuteness that is DC League of Super-Pets. And yet, much like the recently released Minions: Rise of Gru, instead of coasting on its irresistible cast, it gives everyone, parents and kids alike, humor that they can appreciate, even if some of it is bleeped out. Take that, Disney!
Not bad for a market sagging under the weight of superhero fatigue and fresh off of Comic-Con announcements of Marvel’s Phase 5 and 6. But in a style any family film can appreciate, DC League of Super-Pets isn’t trying to beat Disney at its own game so much as be itself. And that involves keeping the gags coming and sprinkling in some surprisingly dark humor that even Minions didn’t approach.
Granted, it’s much easier to sneak in that subversive, cynical edge when you have not just animals but pets as your main characters. Especially when our four-legged protector begins the film as an adorable puppy.
We’ve all seen the Superman origin story, but how could it not still be enjoyable when the young canine Krypto (Dwayne Johnson, as if he couldn’t get more likable), distressed at the infant Superman’s fear at being sent away from his parents and dying planet, jumps into Supe’s transport to Earth, gaining the same abilities in the process? It’s the stuff viral videos are made of.
Before long, we realize that superheroes are just like us since the grown Krypto is using his feats of flight and strength to take to the air with a still snoring Superman (John Krasinski) to ensure he walks him on time.
And that’s before he puts on a cape and flies around fighting crime with him in visual gags that include a tug of war with an alien and use of X-ray vision to spot the ball The Man of Steel is holding behind his back. There was no need to make the straight arrow Superman more perfect, but improving on perfection is probably the only tolerable way to do it.
Hero Hound & Gang
Super-Pets makes the heroic life look so good that it’s hard to blame Krypto for basing his entire life and identity around it and Supes himself, to the extent that he has no life or friends outside of him. Change is on the horizon, though, with Superman planning on proposing to Lois Lane (Olivia Wilde), and he and the rest of the Justice League kidnapped by Lulu (Kate McKinnon), an evil guinea pig who gains her own superpowers thanks to her time as a Lex Luthor (Marc Maron) test subject.
Krypto not only fails to prevent the abductions, but he also finds himself depowered and on his own for the first time in his life. But Super-Pets doesn’t believe in wasting screen time, so he quickly discovers the rest of the animals in the shelter Lulu escaped from have also gained superpowers, and they quickly start bonding and plotting to rescue the imprisoned Justice League.
The movie isn’t one to let the sheer ludicrousness of the plot get in the way, though, with gags for new and returning comic book fans abounding, including an emergency hotline with options for Earth-1 and 2.
If directors Jared Stern and Sam Levine were more seasoned veterans of the genre, there’s a chance that the sincerity in League of Super-Pets would veer into triteness.
But here’s hoping they, along with co-writer John Whittington, never lose their clear affection for the superhero genre and the many tropes which they mock with relish, with Whittington and Stern’s previous collaboration on The Lego Batman Movie proving to be time well spent. Not to mention another chance to poke fun at Batman’s compulsive need to take himself so seriously.
A rather grim drawback of their approach is that DC League of Super-Pets is so invested in the good guys that it’s unable to appreciate some of their grayer areas. It only becomes a problem when it walks right into a scenario or two that are a lot less funny when some thought is put in, such as preventing a fellow canine from escaping an animal shelter that also functions as a kind of prison. Awkward.
There’ll be no shortage of repetitive viewing, but at least parents can appreciate the humor of a headline that reads “Wealthy Person Actually Goes To Jail” and the delight of an f-bomb, albeit a bleeped-out one. The voice talent (who, for the most part, actually get to use their talent) also abounds in this one.
Kevin Hart, as the other half of a budding bromance with Krypto, Vanessa Bayer, Natasha Lyonne, and Diego Luna all rounding out the rest of the animal underdogs and getting their own, albeit more limited, character arcs. It’s all in fun and worth waiting until after the end credits for one final shout-out.
Rating: 9/10 SPECS
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This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.
Andrea Thompson is a writer, editor, and film critic who is also the founder and director of the Film Girl Film Festival.
She is a member of the Chicago Indie Critics and runs her own site, A Reel Of One's Own, and has written for RogerEbert.com, The Spool, The Mary Sue, Inverse, and The Chicago Reader. She has no intention of becoming any less obsessed with cinema, comics, or nerdom in general.