How is it possible that some of my favorite DC movies of late have been their animated offerings? Four years ago, we were treated to Teen Titans GO! To the Movies, featuring characters I knew little about and based on an animated series I’d never seen. But there was something about the humor that was subversive, almost openly mocking the overly dramatic style of the Zach Snyder-directed or -influenced films that had been released up to that point. And this week, we have DC League of Super-Pets, a film that features the core lineup of DC’s heroes (Superman, Batman, Aquaman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Cyborg, and The Flash), but seen through the filter of the pets who love them or grow to love them.
In particular, the story centers on Krypto (voiced by Dwayne Johnson) the Super-Dog, who made the journey from Krypton with Superman (John Krasinski) and has basically the same superpowers as his crime-fighting pal. Although we (and other animals) can hear Krypto talk, this is not about talking animals that humans can understand. To Superman, Krypto just barks in a very communicative way. Lately, what’s been on the dog’s mind is Superman’s relationship with Lois Lane (Olivia Wilde), and how close they have become. He believes the more Lois moves in, the more he gets pushed out, and with Superman preparing to pop the question, Krypto’s fears may be confirmed and their routines will be disrupted.
When Lex Luthor (Marc Maron) begins a campaign of pulling a hunk of red krypton down to earth to give himself superpowers, Superman and Krypto jump into action and stop his plan, but not before one of Luthor’s laboratory test animals, Lulu (Kate McKinnon) manages to snatch a tiny fragment of the substance, giving herself all sorts of powers in the process. When she escapes her cage in a burst of energy, she gives the other animals around her powers as well, unbeknownst to them, making hound dog Ace (Kevin Hart) invulnerable and super strong; PB the potbellied pig (Vanessa Bayer) able to grow or shrink to any size; turtle Merton (Natasha Lyonne) gets the gift of super-speed; and Chip the squirrel (Diego Luna) gets electrokinetic powers, which is shocking. So when the entirety of the Justice League is taken prisoner by Lulu and her army of power guinea pigs (two of which are voiced by Ben Schwartz and Thomas Middleditch), it’s up to the super pets to save their friends and the world.
As directed by Jared Stern (co-directed by Sam Levine), DC League of Super-Pets is a high-energy, funny romp through the comic and movie mythologies of these characters, once again not missing a chance to poke fun at the sometimes predictable nature of superhero movies in general and DC movies in particular (Marvel also gets a few shots across its bow as well), but it all feels like friendly teasing rather than poking fun of anyone. There are also useful lessons about inclusion and the power of teamwork and cooperation, which seems just as relevant to adults as it does kids these days.
The action and animation style are fairly standard, but that doesn’t keep things from being thrilling, colorful, and hilarious at times. Nothing made me laugh harder than seeing the Justice League quietly contemplating their lot in life in their cages and having Batman (Keanu Reeves) say out of the blue “I miss my parents.” The film also finds a way to bring back the winning team of Johnson and Hart, whose partnership seems more evenly matched in this film since the two dogs are about the same size and equally matched in terms of strength. Some of the biggest laughs come from watching the animals figure out what their powers are and how to use them. And toward the end of the film, the pets each find a partner in the human heroes, and those pairings are quite touching and worthy of the few laughs as well. Although they aren’t the focus of the movie, the stellar voice cast is rounded out with Jemaine Clement (Aquaman), Dascha Polanco (Green Lantern), Daveed Diggs (Cyborg), Jameela Jamil (Wonder Woman), John Early (The Flash), and even Keith David (as Krypto’s dad, Dog-EL).
In a period for superhero films where things are getting darker overall and trauma seems to be a regular component of every origin story and motivation to be a hero, it’s actually a relief to watch these animals go through the paces of becoming heroes without as much drama but with satisfying and humor-filled character development. Which is not to say the stakes aren’t real and that some of the super pets don’t have their moments of edginess. But at least there’s the presumption here that things will turn out alright for everyone, maybe even Lulu.
The film is now playing in theaters.
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