DC League of Super-Pets doesn’t waste any time getting to super-level cutesiness. The opening moments of the animated film feature a puppy licking a baby’s face. Of course, this isn’t just any baby and puppy. It’s the infant Kal-El and his pet Krypto, and if you need further explanation as to whom Kal-El will grow up to be you just aren’t the target audience for this animated excursion into the DC Universe.
Not that the target audience will recognize all the serious star power that has been lined up for this pull-out-the-stops effort. Besides such A-list topliners as Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart, the roster includes John Krasinski, Keanu Reeves, Kate McKinnon and Olivia Wilde, among many others. Major names have been recruited even for bit parts, including Alfred Molina, Lena Headey, Keith David, Busy Philipps and Dan Fogler, while Marc Maron, Thomas Middleditch and Ben Schwartz voice supporting roles.
DC League of Super-Pets
The Bottom Line
The voice cast are the real superheroes.
The main action shifts to years later, when Kal-El has grown into Superman (Krasinski) and Krypto (Johnson) into his faithful canine companion, who also happens to possess superpowers. When the pair get up one morning and Superman tells his pet that it’s time for them to take a walk, what it really means is it’s time for them to take a fly, in this case over the streets of Metropolis.
Krypto, who affectionately calls his owner “Supes,” is more than happy to join him in his earth-saving exploits. But he’s less than happy about his romantic relationship with Lois Lane (Wilde), especially when Superman leaves him — on their regularly scheduled TV night, no less — to go out on a date with Lois, to whom he intends to pop the question.
Before that can happen, Superman is robbed of his powers and taken prisoner by the evil genius guinea pig Lola (McKinnon, making the character as brilliantly manic as you’d expect), who also possesses telekinetic powers. To make matters worse, she manages to rob Krypto of his superpowers with a dose of kryptonite cannily hidden in a piece of cheese (“It’s always the cheese,” he says bitterly). To save Superman, he’s forced to recruit the fellow animals he’s recently met at a shelter, including sardonic hound Ace (Hart), a potbellied pig (Vanessa Bayer), a severely nearsighted turtle (Natasha Lyonne) and a cowardly squirrel (Diego Luna). Fortunately, they’ve recently been endowed with superpowers themselves, thanks to a dose of Orange Kryptonite. (Again, if you have to ask, you’re at the wrong movie.)
Cue the wacky mayhem, as this motley crew attempts to rescue Superman, and, as it happens, such other kidnapped members of the Justice League as Batman (Reeves), Wonder Woman (Jameela Jamil), Aquaman (Jermaine Clement), The Flash (John Early), Green Lantern (Dascha Polanco) and Cyborg (Daveed Diggs).
It’s overkill, to be sure, but it pays off, especially when it comes to Johnson and Hart, whose voices and screen personas are so familiar and so suited to their roles that — for adults, at least — the film would work as well if you closed your eyes. That so many of the performers are gifted comedians adds to the fun, although perhaps the funniest is Reeves, adopting the gravelly voice that seems to have become di rigueur for Batman. Of course, it’s also the character who lends himself most to humor, thanks to his neurotic personality: “I miss my parents,” Reeves’ Batman says mournfully upon witnessing Superman and Krypto acting affectionately toward each other.
Debuting director Jared Stern has some experience with this sort of thing, having served as a writer and creative consultant on several of the LEGO animated films, including The Lego Batman Movie. Unfortunately, the screenplay he’s co-written with John Whittington doesn’t contain those films’ level of anarchic wit, except in such scattershot moments as a villainous kitty coughing up grenade hairballs. It’s also time to lay off the predictable meta-jokes about training montages, which were also prominently featured in the recent Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank. (This is why film critics get the big bucks — so they can put things in cinematic context.)
Too often, the film gives off the feeling that it was designed for the inevitable line of toys for the upcoming holiday season, with plenty of cuddly animals of disparate types soon to line the shelves of a store near you. And like so many animated films, the proceedings devolve into a numbing series of action sequences in which the humor is largely sidelined in favor of frenetic spectacle.
Still, DC League of Super-Pets manages to combine superheroes with adorable animals, which are two of kids’ favorite things, so its popularity seems assured. (The film ends with, what else, a set-up for the sequel.) And adult chaperones will enjoy the many references to the DC Universe, with baby boomers’ hearts likely to soar upon hearing the callbacks to the classic John Williams score for the 1978 Superman movie that arguably started the cinematic superhero craze in the first place.