If you are searching for a good, family-friendly movie, I recommend the latest DreamWorks/Nickelodeon feature,
Hotel for Dogs, available on DVD April 28 (official movie site). Perfect for sleepovers and electronic babysitter material, Hotel for Dogs is lots of fun and features kids who are smart and creative but not overly precocious, plus it has a happy ending. It contains nothing scary and even the sad part, while potent, doesn't last too long. Also, it stars the talented, lovely Emma Roberts who, I am convinced, can do no wrong -- from now on, I think we'll just plan on seeing anything in which she appears (and that, friends and neighbors, is called "bankability").
Hotel for Dogs boasts a fine cast, overall, elevating what could have been a formulaic, cloying film into a thoroughly enjoyable one. Jake T. Austin, the young actor who plays Roberts' little brother, Bruce, looks like he could actually be her brother -- the pair also have great sibling chemistry -- and he, too, is very talented. (I look forward to seeing him in
The Perfect Game, a film the kids and I have been waiting for since last summer.)
a great job portraying the Scudders, Andi and Bruce's self-absorbed, wannabe-rocker foster parents, who are obnoxious and unpleasant, but who never become simply caricatures. Finally, I wish I could personally thank Don Cheadle for taking the role of
Bernie, the kids' social worker. There are those who seem to consider Cheadle's involvement in Hotel for Dogs to be some form of slumming -- an attitude, I contend, which is nothing more than snobbery. Cheadle's performance is, not surprisingly, pitch perfect and makes Bernie a believable, fleshed out character. Why, I wonder, do some people consider actors like Cheadle off limits for family films? Exposing kids to really great talent at an early age sets a high bar for their expectations, which, I believe, can only be a good thing. Had this been a bad film or were Mr. Cheadle knee deep in a string of stinkers, I might be more inclined to agree with accusations of pandering, but neither of these are the case so I applaud and thank him.
The DVD version of Hotel for Dogs comes packed with Bonus Features, most of which have a lot to do with the real stars of this film, the dogs, who, I am compelled to point out, neither talk nor are digitized, an excellent decision by the filmmakers. K9 Casting sheds some light on the process of selecting and training dogs for the film, and Pedigree Adoption Drive is a brief plug for The Pedigree Foundation, an organization dedicated to finding homes for shelter dogs. This seems entirely appropriate because the film is, of course, about finding a home and family for both abandoned dogs and orphaned children, and during A Home for Everyone: The Making of Hotel for Dogs, we learn that many of the dogs in the film are, in fact, shelter dogs.
Bark on Cue and That's the Coolest Thing I've Ever Seen! divulge how the sound and inventions, respectively, were produced for the film; both features are pretty interesting. We learn, for example, that the dog trainers created so much sound pollution during filming that all of the dog sounds had to be added in post production. That's the Coolest Thing ... is a feature sure to impress any kid with a creative streak. Bruce is a
boy with a knack for creating Rube Goldberg-ish inventions, which prove to be invaluable in the dog hotel. The design and
building of these contraptions (and the fun to be had in the process) are the subject of this feature.
While I'm not usually a big fan of Deleted Scenes, those included here provide an understanding of how and why some perfectly fine scenes end up on the cutting room floor. Also included is the obligatory Commentary with the director (Thor Freudenthal), the
producer (Ewan "Jack" Leslie), Emma Roberts, and Jake T. Austin.
I was not initially excited about watching this film, but my darling niece saw it at her 13th birthday party and enthusiastically recommended it. Also, my kids liked the previews, so we gave it a try. We are all glad we did. It was entertaining and exactly the kind of fare that plenty of families are looking for on family movie night. Like a trusted family pet, Hotel for Dogs is a movie you can settle into the couch with and not worry that it's going to bite.