Movie review: DC League of Super-Pets

(courtesy IMP Awards)

Who knew superhero pet owning could be this much fun?

Well, co-writer (with John Whittington) and director of DC League of Super Pets Jared Stern who takes a cute idea – what if Superman (John Krasinski) had a dog, Krypto (Dwayne Johnson) who came with him all the way with him from Krypton (in the film Kal-El and his faithful puppy travel in father Jor-El’s rocket but he is commonly sent ahead as a test subject, a dog of unspecified breed) and had the same powers as his master? – and really fly with it, delivering up a delightfully funny animated feature for kids that is liberally peppered with jokes aimed right at accompanying adults, almost all of them affectionately aimed at the superheroes from the DC stable.

If you’re expecting a bright and light film that will entertain the kids, DC League of Super Pets will keep them entranced and thoroughly beguiled with adorable animals suddenly getting super powers because of course they do and rogue mutant guinea pigs led by a suitably hairless, drunk-on-power sociopath named Lulu (Kate McKinnon) setting out to enact revenge on Krypto’s owner in support of Lulu’s own, Lex Luthor (Marc Maron).

But it will also keep the adult laughing along at deliciously satirical jabs at the idea of being a superhero, and how, important as they are, perhaps they might be a little too self-important?

Well, their pets could be anyway?

When we first meet Krypto, who, to be fair, deserves a certain level of smugness since he kept Kal-El alive and happy on the long trip to Earth and gave him faithful companionship growing up in Smallville, he’s certainly more than a little bit in love with the fact that he is Superman’s best friend.

He helps Superman saves people left, right and centre with alacrity and while he attempts to blend in as a normal dog, one hilarious scene outside of a store is proof positive that he’s incapable of being anything like an ordinary earthly pooch.

And who can blame him for acting, and feeling, a cut above the average mortal puppy?

He can fly, he has super strength, he has all the powers Superman, who is in love with Lois Lane (Olivia Wilde) much to Krypto’s horror since he fears being sidelined in his master’s affections, and he is just as capable of saving the world as anyone.

Until he is not, thanks to some judiciously-placed Green Kryptonite which temporarily robs him of his considerable powers just as Lulu takes out Superman, and the entire Justice League – yes, we get hilariously on-point parodies of Wonder Woman (Jameela Jamil), Batman (Keanu Reeve), the Flash (John Early) and others including Aquaman (Jemaine Clement) – in her quest to do squeaky-voiced terrible things to Superman and those he loves.

In certain ways, DC League of Super Pets is a by-the-numbers superhero film with good superheroes, or rather Orange Kryptonite-enhances shelter pets – Ace (Kevin Hart), a Boxer with super strength, Chip (Diego Luna), an insecure red squirrel with telekinesis, PB (Vanessa Bayer), a pig with shapeshifting powers, and Merton McSnurtle (Natasha Lyonne), a turtle with hare-equivalent speed – battling it out in gloriously over the top action times with Lulu and her guinea pig minions.

But while there are real threats, nefarious scheming and epic battles between good and evil, all infused with far more emotionality than you might expect of film that is rightly promoted as a laugh-a-minute, there is a lot of fun, A LOT OF FUN, to be had.

Everyone is fair game from Krypto getting a little to big for his powers until he realises he needs supports and has friends who will come to his aid to Batman gruffly talking again about his scarred childhood to many visual jokes about the fact that Wonder Woman’s plane isn’t invisible so much as transparent.

The jokes are plentiful and cleverly timed and aimed, with Stern doing an exemplary job of balancing the heart-and-soul and the comedy, and the need to keep the kids happy with talking pets and silly, slapstick antics while serving up attendant adults with a steady diet of jokes that have fun with the ridiculousness of it all.

Channelling a LEGO Movie vibe that serves it well, DC League of Super Pets manages that rare feat of being both comically inspired and regaling us with dramatically-told superhero lore, delivering it up in a form that may make a great deal of its animated form but which is, at its heart, a superhero film.

A very good one, in fact, that playfully bristles with the sort of anarchic silliness and charm that most superhero films, whether Marvel or DC which both tend to take themselves Very Seriously, lack and which is all the better for it because when you think about it, the whole idea of superheroes battling it out for supremacy is just a little bit silly.

We love it, of course, because who doesn’t want to see the banal every day blasted through multiple times with the epic and the extraordinary, but it is, at heart, ripe for skewering something that DC League of Super Pets does with a joyously intelligent abandon that respects the gravity of the storytelling while admitting it is all hilariously too much.

That’s underlined most markedly when the super pets are pinned down at one point by a weaponised kitty who can serve up all kinds of missiles and energy pulses; it’s a decisive battle for the pets who simply want to save the Justice League and Superman from a Bond villain-level death, but it’s also very, very funny with the cute kitten Whiskers (Winona Bradshaw) talking in a singalong, adorable voice while trying to visit violently explosive annihilation of her mistress Lulu’s enemies.

Dog owners may argue that that makes sense since cats are inherently a mix of evil and cute, but wherever you stand on the dog/cat divide, DC League of Super Pets is a gleefully irreverent triumph that trades on the OTT nature of superhero mythology to brilliantly successful effect, being both comedically inspired – oneliners, witty retorts and observations fly almost as fast as projectiles – and dramatically impactful, which uses its animated setting to go all out visually without once losing the considerable heart at its core.

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