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DC League Of Super-Pets Review: Superman's Best Friend

EDITORS' RATING: 7/10
Pros
  • The voice acting work is inspired across the board
  • The film's look and feel are appropriately charming
  • The Rock and Kevin Hart manage to iterate on their well-worn buddy act
Cons
  • It could stand to be a little less slight
  • At the end of the day, it's more designed to keep kids occupied than to be particularly impressive

With superhero films proliferating to the point that the market is beyond saturated with cape-driven content, one might take one cursory glance at "DC League of Super-Pets" and see little more than the unmasked influence of capitalism at play. Surely, a movie starring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson as Superman's dog Krypto can only amount to a feature-length toy commercial, a skyward billboard corralling the hungry eyes of children in the direction of some pay-to-play mobile game made for iPads. That initial skepticism comes from the reality of the industry at the moment. Save for Sony's "Spiderverse" franchise, most animated superhero outings are relegated to broad, childish comedy or source materially dogmatic adaptations destined for the VOD market. 

But "Super-Pets," though positioned firmly in the former camp, offers just enough charm and warmth to stand out at the tail end of the most packed theatrical summer since the beginning of the pandemic. It's a fun, easily digestible bit of schmaltz that leverages its A-list voice cast to deliver something blatantly made for children that doesn't turn groan-worthy in its attempts to keep the parents and chaperones entertained along the way.

That said, it is still a run-of-the-mill kiddie flick weaponizing some beloved IP in an attempt to sell tickets and toys, and there are limits inherent to this paradigm that the filmmakers seem to be blissfully unconcerned with surpassing, let alone exploring the enclosed space with any real verve or zeal.

Third wheeling in Metropolis

Before "Super-Pets" gets the chance to become the outsized ensemble its marketing suggests, it begins focused on its central relationship, the enduring friendship between Superman (John Krasinski) and his trusty dog Krypto (Johnson), the only being who has been by his side since he ended up in that rocket ship as a baby. The film's set-up plays like a less crass retelling of Seth McFarlane's hit comedy "Ted," covering similar thematic territory while remaining largely wholesome. Superman wants to propose to long-time flame Lois Lane (Olivia Wilde), but worries about further pushing Krypto to the side in his personal life. 

Krypto, it is established, doesn't play well with other animals and can't understand that his owner/best friend's romantic pursuits are separate endeavors from their bond. Big Blue tries to find a play partner for Krypto, which is where the rest of the film's cast comes into play: a motley crew of shelter animals all counting the days until they can find a loving family to call home. There's PB (Vanessa Bayer), a potbellied pig with an affinity for Wonder Woman as intense as her self-esteem issues, alongside Merton (Natasha Lyonne), a caustic, wise-cracking turtle, Chip (Diego Luna), a nervous squirrel, and Ace (Kevin Hart).

Ace is sort of the Cool Hand Luke of the bunch, constantly trying to escape and promising the rest of the gang an idyllic future on a farm far, far away. He and Krypto have heat with one another almost immediately, as two characters voiced by The Rock and Kevin Hart are contractually obligated to have. But the real threat comes from Lulu, one of Lex Luthor's former (literal) guinea pigs voiced by Kate McKinnon. Lulu follows in the footsteps of her crush and "mentor" (Marc Maron's Luthor) by harnessing a stolen piece of orange kryptonite to give herself superpowers, accidentally bestowing them upon the rest of the shelter animals by accident.

Her telekinesis and carefully crafted machinations are enough to help her fell the entire Justice League, among them Batman (Keanu Reeves), Aquaman (Jemaine Clement), Wonder Woman (Jameela Jamil), and Cyborg (Daveed Diggs). With Earth's protectors captured, it's down to Krypto, whose power Lulu has stripped, to lead an all-critters team of newly empowered animals to save the world. Easier said than done.

"Lego Batman" helmer Jared Stern does a strong job of introducing all the recognizable heroes in an inspired, efficient manner, complete with broadly telegraphing which of the shelter animals will likely develop a kinship with which League members. But as well juggled as the supporting cast is in execution, it's the sincerity in Krypto's relationship with Superman, and the way that kinship transfers to the eventual chemistry between Krypto and Ace, that gives the movie its potent core.

With a little help from my friends...

While a story like this might have been better served by a voice cast populated by voice actors with a background in specifically doing voice work rather than recognizable stars bending their respective shticks to the whims of these characters, pretty much everyone involved, save for a slightly miscast Maron, brings a lot of joy to their takes on these iconic heroes. Krasinski's calm everyman persona is well suited to this Man of Steel, but the real surprise is how Johnson and Hart are able to sidestep how tired many of us are of seeing them together.

There's a scene late in the film's second act where Ace, in a rare moment of vulnerability, reveals his tragic origin story, further teasing his eventual destiny as Batman's pet. It's outlined so simply and with such earnestness, but the execution works because of Hart's ability to convey sincere feeling by merely reducing his abrasive persona by several notches of snark, blunting his delivery to a more soft-spoken tenor. Paired with Johnson's charming turn as a well-intentioned Himbo version of the iconic superpet Krypto has always been, Hart's work provides the sort of opposites attract friendship that characterizes every Superman and Batman team-up not helmed by Zack Snyder. 

The rest of the cast avails themselves well, particularly Reeves doing a take on the Dark Knight that is somehow even more self-effacing than Will Arnett's work in the Lego movies. But as thrilling as the film's few action set pieces are and as chuckle-worthy as most of the gags turn out, "Super-Pets" is a movie that just works the best when it's wearing its emotions proudly on its sleeve. If you're going to make a movie about super-powered animals and not have it be "Minions"-level, lowest common denominator Funko Pop-bait, the best you can really hope for is something breezy that doesn't waste your time, insult your intelligence, or make you roll your eyes a lot. 

A movie that takes the time to remind us all of the connections in our lives that matter most, of centering friendship and platonic love, it can't be all bad, you know?

"DC League of Super-Pets" is in theaters on Friday, July 29th.