Hotel for Dogs (US - BD)
Gabe would tell you that this hotel is for the dogs, but it's actually in the title...
Two perpetually troublesome orphaned siblings Andi (Emma Roberts) and Bruce (Jake T. Austin) are forced to hide their beloved dog from their idiot foster parents. After getting into serious trouble one too many times the siblings are forced to look for alternative places to house their puppy. Almost by complete happenstance they find an abandoned hotel where two other dogs are already living. Then they find more strays in desperate need of a home. After a little spit polish the Hotel for Dogs is open and ready for business. Too bad the whole thing is blatantly illegal.
Hotel for Dogs is a mix of two of children’s entertainment’s most popular ‘genres’: the smart animal movie, and the street smart orphan movie. As an adult who’s spent almost 30 years watching the same children’s movies with different titles over and over again I appreciate the ‘duality’—at least a little bit. At this point I just thank the maker the dogs of Hotel For Dogs don’t talk. Small favours make for a much happier reviewer. Is it a good movie? No, not at all, but it’s entirely tolerable, assuming you’re prepared for less than sophisticated entertainment, and can appreciate some energetic action direction.
Besides filling a double genre void, Hotel For Dogs also fulfils the odd children’s film requirement of making the kids that watch it feel terrible about some element of everyday reality, in this case problems with unclaimed dogs. The kids, of course, have all the answers, and fix the problems adults simply glaze over with their evil bloodlust. The adults are, of course, cartoons, either asininely obnoxious, or idiotically stupid, with the exception of Don Cheadle, who fulfils the patient angel adult trope. This continues the simplistic, cliché embracing nature of things. I shouldn’t be surprised by this, and it plays into the production’s live-action/animation hybrid aspirations, but this whole thing is apparently based on a novel. Were there deleted subplots about the kids’ terrible step parents, or the stray dogs that are defined by single traits? How did ‘orphans save strays and stick them in a broken hotel’ fill a novel? And how did it take three people to write the script.
Director Thor Freudenthal (what a name) has a pretty keen eye, so the film at least has some good visual touches going for it. Much of the production was apparently filmed on location, but it’s so colourful and soft that the whole thing looks like a back lot production (the rooftop set isn’t fooling anyone). The Blu-ray isn’t over-impressive from a detail standpoint, as most everything is shot through soft diffused light, with relatively even contrast. The transfer is a bit grainy and noisy for a hi-def release, but not equal to the usual standard definition releases. Whites and light blues are the biggest offenders. Colours are far more vibrant than a DVD would allow, and the blacks are quite rich.
It looks like a cartoon, but it doesn’t sound like a cartoon. The sound design is pretty flat, and largely realistic in nature. The only surround elements I really noticed other than music are occasional incidental elements like honking cars or chirping birds. There’s a decent moment where a howling dog’s voice echoes throughout the city, and actually moves throughout the channels, but it’s not enough to get excited about. There are many montage sequences so there’s no lack of pop music used on the track, but the remixing production is dully stereo in nature. John Debney’s (he’s been coming up a lot lately) score is another plus for the production, and one of the only audio elements that sells the cartooniness of the situation. The themes are cliché inspired, but hit the right beats.
The extras begin with a lively and sweet commentary featuring director Freudenthal, producer Ewan Leslie, and lead actors Emma Roberts and Jake T. Austin. There’s not a lot to learn from the track, I suppose, but more than I was expecting. Roberts and Austin are a little more kid like than most commentary actors, but not insipid, Freudenthal gives up some nice facts concerning the filming processes, and Leslie fills in many of the production holes. Much better than expected.
‘A Home For Everyone’ (19:00) is your basic EPK where everyone runs down the story and pats everyone (including themselves) on the back, and is made up of interviews, film footage, behind the scenes footage, and some production illustrations. Pre-Production, casting, filming, production design, cinematography, and bits of the original book are covered. Unsurprisingly there is a special focus on working with dogs.
‘That’s the Coolest Thing I’ve Ever Seen’ (06:00) takes a more pointed look at the production design, with specific focus on all the mechanical contraptions that give the film its most valuable visual texture. It’s followed by a couple more brief featurettes—‘K-9 Casting’ (a look at the odd process of casting dogs, 06:30), and ‘Bark on Cue’ (a look at the difficult process of filming with trained dogs, 04:45). The extras are completed with eight deleted scenes (presented in HD with unfinished audio, 10:40), a trailer, an image gallery, and an ad for the Pedigree Adoption Drive.
Hotel For Dogs isn’t a good movie. It features nothing that will make it easier to watch or a surprise to adult viewers, but it does feature some adorable dogs doing adorable things, and director Thor Freudenthal has a pretty strong visual sense. The morals are a little skewed, and unsurprisingly heavy handed, but I doubt any parents will find anything too objectionable, besides of course the relentlessly dull plotting. The A/V qualities are about average, and the extras are brief in length, but relatively large in scope.
* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Some material may not be suitable for children
Release Date: 28th April 2009
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Portuguese and Spanish
Extras: Director/Producer/Actor Commentary, A Home For Everyone, That's the Coolest Thing I've Ever Seen, K9 Casting, Bark on Cue, Trailers, Image Gallery
Easter Egg: No
Director: Thor Freudenthal
Cast: Emma Roberts, Jake T. Austin, Lisa Kudrow, Don Cheadle, Johnny Simmons
Length: 100 minutes
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