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Video: ‘Hotel For Dogs’

By Film critic
msnbc.com contributor
updated 1/13/2009 4:25:51 PM ET 2009-01-13T21:25:51
REVIEW

If you know any kids who were traumatized by “Marley & Me,” the cure might be a stay at “Hotel for Dogs,” a movie that balances adorable dogs of all breeds and sizes with clever set design.

Oh yeah, there are some people in it, and they’re perfectly OK. But it’s not their movie.

Orphans Andi (Emma Roberts) and Bruce (Jake T. Austin) have been bounced around from foster home to foster home, but they’ve always managed to keep their always-hungry dog Friday on the sly. One day when Friday is on the run from animal control —  I’m frankly surprised that the Dog-Catcher Anti-Defamation League isn’t already picketing this movie — he ducks into an abandoned hotel where he finds two other dogs hiding out in its crumbling splendor.

Andi and Bruce eventually find him, and even though Andi warns Bruce not to name the other two dogs, lest they become attached, soon the siblings are also taking care of Lenny and Georgia. (For adults who enjoy this sort of thing, “Hotel for Dogs” includes throw-away references to not only “Of Mice and Men” but also “Suddenly, Last Summer” and even Jean Vigo’s “Zero for Conduct.”)

With the help of pet-store employees Dave (Johnny Simmons) and Heather (Kyla Pratt), as well as neighborhood kid Mark (Troy Gentile), the kids create their own surrogate family by not only taking in every stray they can find but also by turning the hotel into a canine paradise. Bruce’s proclivity for Rube Goldberg–esque devices allows him to create machines to handle all the dogs’ feeding and hygiene needs. (He even creates a simulator ride involving car doors, a fan and travel footage.)

The film also stars Don Cheadle (as Andi and Bruce’s compassionate social worker) and Lisa Kudrow and Kevin Dillon as the duo’s moronic metal-head foster parents, but the real stars of “Hotel for Dogs” are the art department (with bonus points to propmaker bosses Marc Tantin and Marcel Worch for creating Bruce’s dizzying inventions), the army of animal trainers and dog wranglers, and the special effects artists who no doubt made all of the above look much slicker on the big screen.

The kids are all charming — I’ve enjoyed Roberts and Gentile more in other movies — but the script (adapted from the novel by Lois Duncan) gives all the personality to the four-legged actors and to the hotel itself — the building is a sprawling, old-school masterpiece of grand stairways, long banquet tables and velvet banquettes. Even the pee-and-poop solutions that Bruce devises fit in with the hotel’s grandeur.

If you’re the sort of person who checks out CuteOverload.com for pictures of puppy baskets, sleeping kitties and frolicking pandas, this is definitely the movie for you.

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