A colorful, pleasantly cast family film, Hotel for Dogs tells the story of a group of resourceful kids who band together to turn an abandoned hotel into a tricked-out, de facto boarding home for abandoned pooches of all shapes and sizes. Whimsical and at times a bit formulaic, but never overly sentimental, the movie benefits from a strongly sketched collective adolescent point-of-view, letting its kid stars drive the action in a world full of mostly buffoonish adults.
Sixteen-year-old orphan Andi (Emma Roberts) and her younger brother Bruce (Jake Austin) have only one another. Well, each other and Friday, the little old dog that they secretly keep against the edict of their narcissistic new foster parents, Carl and Lois Scudder (Kevin Dillon and Lisa Kudrow), who pay them little mind, except to heat up an occasional microwaveable meal and point out all the things they’re doing wrong.When Friday goes missing, however, Andi and Bruce are distraught. While looking for him, they make some friends at a local pet shelter. When Friday turns up with a stray dog, and runs into a vacant hotel, Andi, Bruce and their new friends decide to turn it into a comfy permanent hiding place for all the city’s unclaimed canines. Using his mechanical skills and items strewn about the hotel, Bruce assembles gadgets — a projected car ride, a self-repeating tennis ball toss, a series of auto-flushing toilets — to keep the dogs all happily entertained, safe and fed.
Visually and emotionally, Hotel for Dogs conveys a bounciness and vibrancy that doesn’t tip over into cloying overeagerness, courtesy of debut feature director Thor Freudenthal and production designer William Sandell. The film’s strongest selling point is that, not unlike Home Alone, it strongly establishes a world in which the abandoned kids (in this case plural) still all seem to be actively in control of their own destiny. Whether thwarting some dog-catchers or devising an automated feeding system for a couple dozen dogs, they’re making the whole world they want to live in, which is a powerfully attractive story to younger audiences. To access the full review, from Screen International, click here. (Paramount/DreamWorks, PG, 100 minutes)