I’m never been much of an animal-lover, so I’m probably not the ideal audience for a children’s comedy like Hotel for Dogs (2009), which spends an awful lot of time focussing on its canine cast…. but the human cast included Emma Roberts and Lisa Kudrow, so I thought I’d give it a look-see.
For those who don’t know, Roberts stars as ‘Andi’, a teenage orphan who has been placed in the care of two grossly stupid foster parents (Kudrow and Kevin Dillon), along with her younger brother ‘Bruce’ (Jake T. Austin), and a small dog named “Friday”, who the kids are hiding from their gormless guardians. For reasons too convoluted to go into, the kids eventually seek shelter in an abandoned grand hotel, where they encounter a pair of mismatched mutts, and are inspired to kit the place out as a new hideaway for their own dependent doggie. After befriending a pair of pet store employees, ‘Dave’ and ‘Heather’ (Johnny Simmons and Kyla Pratt), they hit upon a wacky, totally implausible scheme to round up all of the stray dogs in the city, and bring them back to the hotel, where Bruce’s crazy, hand-built contraptions will automatically take care of all their physical needs! Apparently this is cute and heart-warming! Meh.
My biggest problem with this story stems from the fact that the central characters are both orphans… which, as far as I can see, was done purely so that the writer could throw in a really heavy-handed analogy between dog pounds and foster homes, but also leads to one of the laziest and most insulting “happy endings” imaginable, with the kids’ noble, selfless social worker and his kindly wife adopting them… because they’re not like all those other stinky brats he’s had to deal with in the past, they’re special! Yeah, yeah… whatever. You’d never have gotten away with that hostess twinkie shit on Tracey Beaker! I don’t really see why they couldn’t have just written them as kids with parents who were allergic to and/or hated dogs… the bulk of the plot would still play out the same way, with them outwitting the local animal control officers and such… and you’d be able to cut out all the maudlin melodrama that bogs it down.
As for the performances: Roberts was as engaging as ever, but her character’s so bland that she barely stands out in my memory… I mean, it’s difficult to make much of an impression when you’re being upstaged by a room full of dogs and a holy golden fire hydrant! Kudrow was in full-tilt dumb-but-snarky shrew mode, and I’d have to say this is probably the worst part I’ve ever seen her in (excluding the final seasons of Friends, natch)… which is a shame because I kinda dig all that leather she was wearing. The standout cast member for me has to be Pratt, who reminded me of a younger, blacker Kristin Chenoweth. Blacker than Kristin Chenoweth? Yes… it’s possible. There was just something about her voice, and how sweet and chipper she seemed, even though her character plays a fairly minor role in the overall scheme of things… there’s a faint suggestion of jealousy at the start, when Dave first falls for Andi, but it doesn’t really lead to anything, and she eventually gets palmed off with her own potential love interest, played by Troy Gentile (aka Jack Black Jnr.). Normally I might make a righteous stink about the token black girl being paired off with the token fat boy while the two skinny white kids hook up, but as a former “fat boy” myself, I’m cool with that outcome. She’s hella cute! Fun fact: Pratt is no stranger to working with animals, having previously appeared as Dr Dolittle’s daughter ‘Maya’ in both of the Eddie Murphy movies, and as the star of three direct-to-DVD sequels!