Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Checking in

Hotel for Dogs (2009)

Best. Movie. Ever.

From Dreamworks/Nickeloden comes a charming movie that recalls the fun live-action kid’s movies that Disney used to make in the late 60s/early 70s (yes, we at BNFOS remember those by gone times). Hotel for Dogs, based on a best selling children’s book by Lois Duncan, tells the straightforward tale of a pair of orphaned siblings, 16 year old Andi (Emma Roberts) and 11 year old Bruce (Jake T. Austin), who open up a “hotel” for all the homeless dogs in their city.

Andi’s and Bruce’s parents died two years before this story begins and they have been moved from one set of foster parents to the next. Their child services social worker, Bernie (Don Cheadle) points out that finding a home for two kids is hard enough, let alone kids as old as they are. They are now under the care of Lois and Carl Scudder, played by Lisa Kudrow and Kevin Dillon. They are not so much the villains of the piece, but rather self-centered adults who care more about themselves and their own ambitions (they want to be rock stars) to truly be decent parents. But they do padlock all the food in their apartment for some reason. They obviously don't understand the teenager's metabolism.

The kids have been hiding a cute little white furball they call Friday from their foster ‘rents. Running from the cops one day (they scam pawn shops to make money to feed the pooch) the kids and Friday take refuge in an old abandoned hotel. They soon find it already has two occupants in the form of a giant mastiff Bruce names Henry and a tiny Boston Terrier he names Georgia. They are a very cute pair. Soon the kids, with the help of some friends, turn the old hotel into a haven for the city’s stray dogs.

The child actors are all appealing (Roberts definitely has her famous Aunt Julia’s smile); also it's nice to see kids playing kids instead of 25 year olds playing them. The dogs are all funny and charming - there's practically one of every type of dog, each with their own personality. One outstanding dog is Cooper the bulldog who snorts and wheezes and growls and chews his way through anything and everything.

An outstanding feature of the movie is Bruce, using ordinary every day tools and supplies, comes up with hilarious Rube Goldberg devices and contraptions to deal with the dogs’ needs. They all gather in the main dining hall and this huge device, which looks like a ferris wheel made with dog food cans, uses an assembly line method to feed all the dogs at the same time that would make Henry Ford proud . Ditto the “water closet” for handling the end result of eating all that dog food. The many thing-a-majigs looked like something Kurt Russell’s genius Dexter character would have devised in the old Computer Wore Tennis Shoes movies.

What sets the movie apart from just a run of the mill kid’s movie is its subtle message. Without hitting you over the head with it, the movie compares the story of the unwanted orphaned kids with the unwanted dogs. Many of the dogs were given up to the pound because they outgrew their cute puppy phase (recall what the social worker said earlier about placing older (read: less cute) children) or were just too much trouble to deal with for one reason or another. The main villain is ignorance more than evil, which is often how it goes in the real world.

The end credits include a plea to adopt a dog from a shelter. (In fact, several of the canine actors used in the movie were found in shelters, including the lead dog who played Friday.) A good message in a good movie.

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