DC League of Super-Pets brings light and colour to a usually dark and gritty universe
3.5 out of 5
Written and directed by Jared Stern and Sam Levine, part of the team behind the immensely enjoyable Lego Batman Movie, the trailer did nothing to convince me that this as a film worth seeing. Word of mouth convinced me otherwise and I'm happy to say I was wrong. The majority of film critics, some of whom I value their judgement penned sniffy one-star reviews. I'm not sure what film they went to see. Or maybe they are not the target demographic: DC fans who enjoy seeing the universe expand while not breaking the rules and giving us some laughs along the way. I'm definitely in this latter cohort.
What's it about? The movie’s protagonist is Krypto voiced by Dwayne Johnson. Krypto is Superman’s (John Krasinski) reliable pet dog with his own set of superpowers. We get a short back-story of how Superman's parents sent their infant son (Cal-El) to Earth to escape the destruction of Krypton. Cal's new puppy sneaks aboard the spacecraft and ends up in Smallville with our boy who grew up to be Clark Kent (and the Man of Steel). Due to being best friends with the most powerful superhero in the world, Krypto is used to a lifestyle full of action, being spoiled by his owner, and an ego quite big for a dog. It appears as if his life is perfect and, therefore, he has no reason to change his arrogant ways. When Lois Lane (Olivia Wilde) and supes get serious about each other, Krypto feels he is no playing second fiddle.
This story plays out for a while but everything changes when the entire Justice League is kidnapped by the evil Lex Luthor (Marc Maron) and Krypto loses his powers due to eating a piece of cheese seasoned with green kryptonite. Powerless to fly into action and help his friends, Krypto resorts to looking for help from animals he previously met in a shelter, who have now gained superpowers of their own. Lulu (Kate McKinnon), a guinea pig obsessed with impressing Luthor, obtains a piece of orange kryptonite, giving herself and everyone in the animal shelter their powers.
The film is aimed at small children, but don’t let that impression trick you into thinking that this will be a story only enjoyable for the younger family members. The humour employed by the characters can be surprisingly funny, especially the deadpan delivery between Johnson’s Krypto and Kevin Hart‘s Ace. The interactions between these two extremely powerful dogs also get to feel sincere and heartfelt. Personally, I loved the in-jokes: Superman ironing his shirt with heat vision and joking he shoudl be called Iron Man, when Luthor is arrested the nespaper headline proclaims "Wealthy person actually goes to jail".
This animated version of the DC world feels completely alive. The colours bounce off each other, combined with the dynamic movement only animation can offer, bring to the screen an iteration of Metropolis full of wonder and sunlight. You can appreciate the effort Warner Animation Group made to display a city as bright and powerful as the heroes who are constantly trying to save it.
Adding to the beautiful city, the physicality and action displayed by the Justice League was also lots of fun. It is as if their bodies were modeled after their particular set of powers, allowing a creative movement dynamic. For example, The Batman has a very square head and frame, amusingly making the cowl look like a complete square with the horns sticking out. The Flash’s skinny appearance and long limbs suit his ability to move at speed.
The film manages, just about, to deliver a good balance between the characters.The film establishes early on that Krypto will be the story’s main character but, as any good team movie should, it doesn’t focus the narrative completely on him. It makes an effort to share the spotlight with the rest of the cast. Every single animal in the Super-Pets team gets their time to shine and, even though some backstories are more interesting than others, (Ace's is particularly sad) by the end of it all it is easy to care for this group of unreasonably powerful pets.
In an also efficient way, the Justice League doesn’t overstay its welcome and its purpose is to help drive the Super Pets’ narrative forward. It could’ve been easy to drive away from the newly introduced animals when you have so many heroes at your disposal. But The Batman (Keanu Reeves), Wonder Woman (Jameela Jamil), and Green Lantern (Dascha Polanco) manage to be funny without keeping all the attention to themselves.
DC League of Super-Pets isn’t trying to break down the genre or trouble the already well-established world, but rather, find some wiggle room to play with the familiar characters and insert some childlike wonder and earnestness. Both cute and comic, this animated film finds a way for kids and families to experience these well-known characters, while older DC fans will enjoy the references to their beloved comic book tales too. It’s a funny and sweet refresh on the DC lore that should please fans old and new.