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DC League of Super-Pets is the Treat We Deserve From WB.

Image courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

With a guarantee that this line of thinking is probably digging too deep for an animated family movie, DC League of Super-Pets calls to mind the logic behind why pet owners give treats outside of a balanced diet. In a 2015 article published on PetMD, Dr. Ken Tudor defined high-value and low-value treats and besmirched the practice by describing five guilt-ridden states of mind that stood out as the real reasons why a bone is thrown in a pet’s direction. They were:

1) Owners are not present

2) Compromise the quality of food

3) Social dynamics in multi-pet households

4) Trying to make-up for a bad start

5) Personal issues

Call this a crackpot theory all you want, but, if you put Warner Bros. and DC Comics in the owner’s position and us movie audiences in the pet position, this all makes astounding sense. The argument can be made that DC League of Super-Pets is being offered as a treat to us as an attempt to correct a little piece of every single one of those five deficiencies. Humor me for a second.

While Disney/Marvel churns out a steady parade of hit movies and shows, Warner Bros. hasn’t been as productive or organized with their big-screen catalog, many of which have been saddled with various delays. This is still a big-spending studio trying desperately to attract and please a multitude of fans, who have many other entertainment choices, to be returning customers. Removing the disconnected Joker and The Batman, their DC Extended Universe movies lately (Wonder Woman 1984, The Suicide Squad, Birds of Prey, Zack Snyder’s Justice League, and more) haven’t exactly been well-regarded or massive moneymakers. Making matters worse, behind-the-scenes scandals and frequent turmoil has generated the kind of bad press where Warner Bros. and everything they touch right now look broken beyond repair.

Superman and his dog Krypto fly over Metropolis
Image courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Simply put, the guilt is heavy and they owe us a good show. That being said, with its buoyant humor and stellar energy, DC League of Super-Pets is the finest pampering treat we’re going to get and it’s a welcome one, even if a treat like this is a tad on the unhealthy side. With no apologies to Joss Whedon, Zack Snyder, or anyone else, it took bringing in a bunch of animal characters, the writers of The LEGO Batman Movie, and shifting to animation to give us the best theatrical Justice League movie we’ve had to date.

DC League of Super-Pets begins by adding the Man of Steel’s flying four-legged crime fighting companion, voiced by Dwayne Johnson, to his Kryptonian escape origin, complete with John Williams score motifs snuck in by composer Steve Jablonsky (Transformers). Compared to common Earth-born canines, Krypto lives the spoiled good life of superpowers, lifelong friendship from Clark Kent (John Krasinski), and poop that smells like sandalwood. Lately however, Krypto has been noticing a dip in his 100% hold of Superman’s attention with the increasing presence of Lois Lane (Olivia Wilde), the woman Clark is ready to marry.

A dog tries to hold a group of animals back from moving forward.
Image courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Clark gets the idea that Krypto needs some additional friends. A visit to a Metropolis pet adoption shop introduces Clark, Krypto, and us to a motley crew of undesirable animals, which include the street-smart hound Ace (Kevin Hart), the hairless and very intelligent guinea pig Lulu (Kate McKinnon), the surly and near-blind turtle Merton (Natasha Lyonne), the plucky pig PB (Vanessa Bayer), and the anxious squirrel Chip (Diego Luna).

The ringer of the bunch is Lulu. She’s a former lab animal freed from kryptonite experiments conducted by Lex Luthor (Marc Maron). Rather than being hurt by the experience, she desires more power and approval from the bald supervillain. After a battle between Luthor and the entire Justice League rambles through the city, Lulu acquires a chunk of special orange kryptonite that grants her and the other castoff pets newfound superpowers of their own. In short order, Lulu imbues more powers into a muddle of recruited fellow guinea pigs and captures the entire Justice League. It’s up to Krypto to befriend Ace and the others and train them as new warriors while ingested traditional green kryptonite has rendered him temporarily powerless.

A dog has his legs frozen to the pavement with another dog nearby.
Image courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

In a heady little running issue brewing behind the frolic, many of the animal characters in DC League of Super-Pets are deeply affected by how they are seen by humans, owners, and their own creature peers. Each has been talked down to, scolded, or discarded for their looks, behaviors, or downright existence. That tracks with the formal advice of dog trainers to avoid “Bad dog!” language and other poor choices for correcting unwanted behavior. This hurt, which is new to Krypto and comes out in the line “The problem is you,” has long festered in the others to coalesce as either disappointment, distrust, low self-esteem, or all of the above.

The thematic opposite to all that adversity in DC League of Super-Pets is the devoted unconditional love pets have for their matched humans. All kinds of crazy things can happen and a good pet will still be there, licking your face for affection and appeasement. This strong bond of courage through hardship, enthusiasm for attention, and championed loyalty is an improvement for the lives of all involved, pet and owner. This simplicity is powerful and an easy victory for the movie.

A hairless guinea pig stands in her cage.
Image courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

The entertaining appeal of DC League of Super-Pets is multiplied further by a brilliant blend of characterization and voice casting. It should be no surprise a squeaky-clean version of the ball-busting and tortilla-slapping real-life friendship of Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson comes through in their digitized pooches. They are the rightful headliners, yet the undercard behind them, filled with the likes of Krasinski, Wilde, Keanu Reeves and more, is deep with perfect fits. The zingers zoom like streaks across the sky in designs and hues from the craft house of Animal Logic that radiate with a very polished and sunny golden tinge on every surface.

Normally, there’s always one or two out-of-place or over-the-top actors in these types of films that threaten to ruin a good thing with extra cheese. As the chief villain, Kate McKinnon could have easily been that offender in DC League of Super-Pets. However, the riffs of Kate’s endless wit, twisting her Ms. Frizzle flair, spur much of the comedy and punctuate lines that would normally be very tacky. Both the accompanying parents and their target demographic kids will find many reasons to roll in the aisles laughing and hop out of their theaters with a “Pup, pup, and away!” wonderment after this show.

The credit for this energy belongs to the writing and directing brain trust of Jared Stern (The LEGO Batman Movie, Happy Anniversary), Sam Levine (Penn Zero: Part-Time Hero), and John Whittington (The LEGO Ninjago Movie). Where has this bright levity been within the iconography of DC Comics? DC League Super-Pets is the style of presentation we and these great characters deserve on the regular. Even if it means admitting the aforementioned flaws of guilt, Warner Bros. needs to find a way to refine this kind of treat to become their regular balanced diet of heroic adventure. Maybe then they too will gain more of the unconditional love they have been missing and begging for.

Written by Don Shanahan

DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic writing here on Film Obsessive as the Editor-in-Chief and Content Supervisor for the film department. He also writes for his own website, Every Movie Has a Lesson. Don is one of the hosts of the Cinephile Hissy Fit Podcast on the Ruminations Radio Network and sponsored by Film Obsessive. As a school teacher by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical. He is a proud director and one of the founders of the Chicago Indie Critics and a voting member of the nationally-recognized Critics Choice Association, Online Film Critics Society, North American Film Critics Association, International Film Society Critics Association, Internet Film Critics Society, Online Film and TV Association, and the Celebrity Movie Awards.

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