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Hotel for Dogs

Movie title: Hotel for Dogs (2009)
Grade: B- (3 stars)
Rated: PG
Summation: Two orphaned kids start a shelter for stray dogs.
Spoilers ahead: No

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Finding an animal movie that doesn't end in tragedy is somewhat of a rarity. Finding one with good animal direction and likable animals is a little less of a rarity, but still requires some work. Unlike Marley and Me (2008), Hotel for Dogs is a decent and lovable dog movie without tragedy and with the boxes checked "yes" for likableness and fine animal direction.

It's taken its share of criticism. Some of that criticism is just, and some of it reaches right past the intended beauty and simplicity of the film and its target audience. As go the charges, it’s predictable and unrealistic with a "give 'em what they want" happy ending. Well, sometimes predictable just isn’t that bad.

The arrogance of some movie critics in thinking that every movie in existence was made for adults with journalism degrees is hard to deal with. Before criticizing it, some should take a breath and realize that Hotel for Dogs is a kids’ movie, geared primarily for grade school audiences. I know that may come as a huge shock to some, but it’s true. So yes, there’s going to be some level of predictability. It's on level with any Disney movie you ever saw having to do with animals, and on that level, it's a cute film.

Hotel for Dogs is at times challenged, and to a good degree, unrealistic – especially from the last 20 minutes of the film to the end – but the kids won't notice. What they will notice is an enticing story about two orphaned kids, Andi (Emma Roberts) and Bruce (Jake T. Austin), with a dog named Friday. They live in foster care and they aren't happy. They want a permanent home, but they want to stay together. Their foster parents don't allow pets. They are forced to keep Friday in secret, and efforts to do so get them into trouble. It also causes them to cross paths with the stray dogs they find and reluctantly keep.

Stumbling upon an old, abandoned building and getting in good graces with a local pet store sets them up to take care of the growing number of strays taken in. But keeping the dogs safe from their timeless archenemy known as the pound isn't easy. It's tough to help all the animals and to stay clear of the law.

And things aren't going well at home. The kids need good parents, people who will adopt them and love them, but they don’t have that. Lisa Kudrow and Kevin Dillon play Lois and Carl Scudder, the spacey and loveless foster parents who add a teeny-tiny bit more dimension to the plot. Bruce is a whiz kid who builds all sorts of contraptions, but he gets no encouragement. Andy is a socializer, a goodhearted girl, but she has no support. Together with a few loyal friends, their big hope is a devoted social worker, Bernie (Don Cheadle) who looks out for them.

The overly joyous conclusion I can overlook because getting there was worth the watch. It's a touching film, it is, touching and interesting. The dialogue is mostly sharp, as is the acting, but the animal direction and choreography are excellent. Needing overlooking are imperfections, like squad cars that keep the sirens on when a call has already been responded to and dogs that whimper and tilt their heads in a few too many close-up shots, but once again, the kids won't even notice.

(JH)

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Director: Thor Freudenthal
Starrng: Emma Roberts “Andi,” Jake T. Austin “Bruce,” Don Cheadle “Bernie,” Johnny Simmons “Dave,” Kyla Pratt “Heather,” Troy Gentile “Mark,” Lisa Kudrow “Lois Scudder,” Kevin Dillon “Carl Scudder”
Genre: Family/Adventure/Comedy

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