Hotel for Dogs
By Laura J. Bagby
We’ve seen our share of canine adventures the last six months with Beverly Hills Chihuahua, Marley & Me, and now Hotel for Dogs. But what’s not to like? It’s another family friendly film heralding the silly antics of man’s four-legged best friend, and it just begs the question, “Who let the dogs out?”
Sixteen-year-old Andi (Emma Roberts, Nancy Drew and the upcoming Wild Child) and her 11-year-old brother, Bruce (Jake T. Austin, The Disney Channel sitcom Max in Wizards of Waverly Place), have been victims of a harsh foster care system ever since their parents died. And for the past three years, the siblings have kept their Jack Russell Terrier, Friday, a secret from their bumbling, mean, and irresponsible rock band wannabe guardians, Lois Scudder (Lisa Kudrow, NBC’s Friends) and Carl Scudder (Kevin Dillon, HBO’s Entourage).
But after Friday has a run-in with Animal Control, the duo realizes the two of them and Friday need a new home. That’s when they discover an abandoned hotel that might just be the perfect place for them and their growing family of adopted stray dogs.
Adventure and mayhem ensue as the two enlist the help of other neighborhood teens (pet store coworkers Kyla Pratt as Heather and Johnny Simmons as Dave; neighbor Troy Gentile as Mark) to create an inventive world that will ease their burden for a safe home environment and will care for their burgeoning canine “family.”
But can they really pull it off, and can they rely on their adult friend, Social Services case manager Bernie (Academy Award® nominee Don Cheadle), to keep their crazy hidden life under wraps?
Ok, knowing this is a Nickelodeon production, it goes without saying that Hotel for Dogs is going to be predictably cute. You know what is going to happen, but you don’t mind, because the film is enjoyable enough to keep your interest. And it isn’t the kind of cute that borders on that dumb, juvenile humor that makes kids snicker and adults roll their eyes and wish they stayed at home.
I think both parents and young adults will enjoy the film. For one, it has an amazing cast of adorable and funny dogs that get to do interesting tricks. Plus, young Bruce’s clever inventions get the thumbs up for their humor and creativity. Third, Hotel for Dogs stays away from using bad language and remains innocent in scenes depicting opposite sex relationships.
The only thing I would say that might be less than fun to watch are some gross moments – but I don’t think those scenes are particularly gratuitous. They might just make some people uncomfortable.
Even in the most lighthearted feature films, there are always one or more underlying themes. And as a parent it is always good to note these to see what Hollywood might be teaching our children. Please consider these value-laden themes as you consider any film.
In Hotel for Dogs, I think several of the themes are quite positive. The overarching theme is showing compassion for those less fortunate who want a better life but need a little extra help to get there. This goes for both pets and people alike. Saving the least of these from certain death or a less-than-satisfactory life is an excellent endeavor.
Second, never underestimate the intelligence, ability, and creativity of your kids. Bruce in particular is remarkably gifted as an inventor/engineer of sorts. But the other young adults add their own set of out-smarting skills, muscle, and networking ability. In the end, pooled resources make for a better end result. Working together creatively and in harmony gets the job done. “Many hands make light work,” as they say.
Third, the definition of family is extended. In this film, family isn’t just a mom, a dad, and a couple of kids. Family can be any unit where you feel safe and have a sense of belonging. That could mean the rag-tag team of friends that help Andi and Bruce, or it could be the family of strays that reside at the hotel. This more all-encompassing definition is not meant as a slam against the traditional family unit, which I appreciate. Thus, the film is family friendly not just in the typical sense, but in a broader sense as well. Being proactive in creating the “family” you need isn’t necessarily a bad thing, either. I am reminded of the Scripture that says, “God sets the lonely in families” (Psalm 68:6a, NIV). And that is exactly what is represented here.
Now for the more subtle gray zone…
Whether we are dealing with troubled teens or troubled animals, the film shows that the key toward improvement is massive change within the faulty, corrupt system – whether that system happens to be the urban foster care landscape that Andi and Bruce experience or the local pound. Righting wrongs is a great idea, and we should always cheer for the underdogs who make heroic gains for the community, but you have to consider this thought: Do the ends always justify the means? Here we have represented on screen two “good kids,” Bruce and Andi, who are simply products of a failed system. But can we excuse stealing, lying, irresponsibility, and breaking and entering – basically juvenile delinquency – because our young adult screen characters finally save the day? In this film, we do because they are likeable and because we are there to be entertained. But in the real world, it shouldn’t necessarily work the same.
It’s fun and frothy, but Don Cheadle’s performance lends much-needed seriousness that gives this movie some credibility.
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