How often have you heard a movie described as "fun for the whole family?" And how often have you gone to see that movie, only to go home feeling condescended to and patronized? 'Hotel for Dogs' is not one of those movies -- here is a film that truly works on multiple levels, and, if not elevating the genre, it at least takes enough creative risks that it rightfully earns itself sleeper status. Honestly, 'Hotel for Dogs' was not a film I really wanted to see, but I came away rather won over by its good-natured charms.
Emma Roberts and Jake T. Austin star as siblings Andi and Bruce, who live almost like animals under the confined care of their flighty if well-meaning foster parents, '80s rejects Lois and Carl Scudder (Lisa Kudrow and Kevin Dillon, both hilarious). Feeling lonely and abandoned, they "adopt" a lost dog, Friday, hoping for companionship. But the mutt soon escapes, leading to Andi and Bruce being blamed for a crime they didn't commit. Holing up in an abandoned hotel, Andi and Bruce decide to run their own canine orphanage, one filled with elaborate contraptions, designed to take in any dog, no matter how unloved, handicapped or just plain ugly. With the help of a kind-hearted social worker (Don Cheadle), Andi and Bruce are on the verge of realizing their dream of creating the ultimate inclusive family -- if the cops, and their parents, don't find them first.
'Hotel for Dogs' is braver than I expected. What I most enjoyed about the film is that it doesn't just cater to children with doggy fart jokes, or throw a bunch of rapid-fire pop culture references at us, hoping to distract us from a lack of plot. Instead, we get enjoyable and quirky characters, a meaningful message, and a real willingness to go for emotion without being overtly mawkish. There's a lot to enjoy here for adults, from the amusing Dillon and Kudrow (who dream of being hair metal rock gods -- classic!), to the elaborate production design and its elaborate trappings, and Cheadle's committed performance that rings surprisingly authentic.
Of course, 'Hotel for Dogs' sells itself on the dogs, yet even here it doesn't chintz out. I admired that the film didn't smother us with bad canine CGI, or make them dance and sing. Though there is no real star dog here (perhaps there's even too many of them), I found their plight genuine enough to melt my initial cynicism. And even though the obvious parallels between Andi and Bruce, and the "orphans" they adopt in hopes of starting a family, result in a none-too-subtle message, it's a strong one that earns most of the emotional notes it hits. I remain quite amazed that by the time Cheadle arrives to bring it all home, I had fully bought into a sentiment that I thought would have had me gagging.
'Hotel for Dogs' is one of a shelter-full of animal movies that have invaded Blu-ray recently. Just in the past few weeks, I've sat through 'Marley & Me,' 'Beverly Hills Chihuahua' and 'Bolt,' to name a few. I found 'Hotel for Dogs' to be the best of the bunch. It's entertaining, full of unique touches, and filled with great heart and memorable characters. It's also well cast and well executed, making it one of the rare family films that both kids and adults can enjoy. Don't let the overflow of doggie pictures scare you away -- 'Hotel for Dogs' is the one to catch.
DreamWorks offers a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer (1.78:1) for 'Hotel for Dogs.' It's a nice-looking film, with bright, family-friendly colors and finely-textured imagery.
This new release features a spot-on print, with deep blacks and contrast that only falters a little in the mid-range, with some flatness. The film's color palette is a bit two-faced, with the first half, which features a rundown hotel, a bit too drenched in browns and reds, which dampens other colors. The second half is more vibrant and diverse. Interestingly, nighttime scenes looked better overall, with more depth and richer colors. Sharpness is excellent throughout, with nice visible detail. The encode is also quite clean.
An English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround track (48kHz/24-bit) is provided, and it's better than I expected. The film's sound design is quite lively, and very well presented here.
Surround use is engaging throughout -- discrete effects, animal sounds and some impressive ambiance are heard throughout. Particularly strong are the more action filled moments inside the hotel, and a rainstorm sequence, which rivals any scary horror flick for effectiveness. Dynamics are predictably spacious for a new release, with low bass quite tight. Dialogue is also perfectly balanced. 'Hotel for Dogs' certainly makes its bark heard loud and clear.
There appears to be a wealth of bonus features for 'Hotel for Dogs,' and indeed, that's quite a long list of stuff on the back of the box. Unfortunately, like many special editions, the wealth of featurettes is pretty but lacks depth. Still, all in all, this is not a bad set. All video extras are in full 1080 video.
'Hotel for Dogs' is a cute family farce, and certainly the best of the 'talking animal' flicks that Hollywood has churned out as of late. This Blu-ray is strong, with very good video and audio, and a fluffy if still-decent spate of extras. Much against my expectations, 'Hotel for Dogs' is well worth checking into.