CAST: Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Kate McKinnon, John Krasinski, Vanessa Bayer, Natasha Lyonne, Diego Luna, Keanu Reeves, Marc Maron, Dascha Polanco, Thomas Middleditch, Ben Schwartz, Jameela Jamil, Olivia Wilde, Jemaine Clements, John Early, Daveed Diggs
RUNNING TIME: 100 mins
BASICALLY…: Krypto the Superdog (Johnson) recruits a team of superpowered animals to take on a powerful threat…
NOW FOR THE REVIEW…
The Silver Age of Comic Books – aka that period between the mid-50s to the late 60s – was an important milestone for DC Comics, for it saw the introduction of iconic characters like the Flash as well as the formation of the Justice League of America, but also introduced some concepts which, even for the 1960s, were pretty dang weird. One of these was the Legion of Super-Pets, formed in 1962 as a sub-division of the Justice League, with a line-up that included super-powered animals like Krypto the Superdog, Streaky the Supercat, Beppo the Super-Monkey and Comet the Super-Horse (and yes, they’re all real characters in DC lore, feel free to look them up).
Needless to say, it’s a ridiculous concept for a comic book series, but as prime material for an animated family movie, the cheques practically cash themselves. So, the Legion – now upgraded to League – has made it way to the screen for DC League of Super-Pets, and for kids it’ll no doubt be a fun and furry superhero treat. For everyone else, though, it may be a bit more of a mediocre time-filler: watchable and harmless, for sure, but still mediocre.
The film’s plot hinges on a question that most Superman fans have surely been asking since his introduction: what if, when baby Kal-El was put on that spaceship away from an exploding Krypton, he was accompanied to Earth by an adorable little puppy? That puppy grows up to be Krypto (voiced by Dwayne Johnson, no doubt killing time in the DC universe before Black Adam comes along), who possesses the same mighty superpowers as Clark Kent/Superman (John Krasinski) including flight, laser eyes, and super-strength. However, Krypto begins to worry that he’ll soon lose his beloved owner to Lois Lane (Olivia Wilde), whom he plans to propose to, but those jealous thoughts will have to wait because – and please do stay with me on this – a hairless guinea pig named Lulu (Kate McKinnon) has acquired super-powers from a piece of orange Kryptonite, and is using them to capture Superman and the rest of the Justice League to fulfil her own plans for world domination. Luckily for Krypto, who’s also been rendered powerless by Lulu’s plan, he has a new team of super-powered shelter animals to rely on, including Ace (Kevin Hart) the hound who possesses abandonment issues and super-strength, PB (Vanessa Bayer) the pot-bellied pig who can change her size, Chip (Diego Luna) the squirrel who can shoot lighting bolts out of his fingertips, and Merton (Natasha Lyonne) the short-sighted turtle who now has super-speed.
As you undoubtedly get over your disappointment of there being no Beppo the Super-Monkey or Comet the Super-Horse at any point in this movie, it hardly makes a difference next to the oddly restrained tone throughout. You’d think an animated theatrical DC movie with not only these superpowered animals but actual members of the Justice League in prominent roles (including Batman as voiced by Keanu Reeves, which is just as hilarious as it sounds) would really take advantage of the medium to display some stylish superhero action and comedy in the same way that Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse did, but instead there’s surprisingly little ambition to be found in the basic storytelling, simple characterisation, and even the animation itself which is bland enough to pass for a direct-to-video movie, albeit one with a larger budget (though I’d like to stress, the animation here is more appealing than in something like The Ice Age Adventures of Buck Wild). As such, you never feel the scope that it’s clearly aiming for, since narratively it feels too constricted within its own child-friendly limitations, and it often lacks the visual dazzle that fully embraces its silly comic origins.
If the movie had a strong sense of humour about itself, which could appeal to more than just its target demographic of anyone under the age of ten (maybe twelve, at a push), then DC League of Super-Pets could get away with its overwhelmingly basic set-up. However, the comedy tends to be very hit-or-miss, and certainly isn’t strong enough to carry this thin premise. This in itself is odd because director Jared Stern was previously a co-writer for The LEGO Batman Movie, another DC animated movie which actually managed to take heavy advantage of its bright visuals, took the time to establish good and memorable characters out of well-known existing ones, and was also very, very funny. This movie, aside from not being nearly as fun or funny, just feels like it’s going through the motions and checking all the boxes for both a standard superhero movie and a standard animated kids’ movie along the way. The characters are likeable enough, as is the voiceover work, but they’re really not given many other dimensions to work with beyond just being excitable archetypes, in a script that’s already filled with stale puns and jokes about smelling poop for them to deliver. That’s not to say there aren’t any gags that deliver, for there’ll be the occasional line delivery that’ll get a good chuckle, as will the unexpected bleeping of curse words from Natasha Lyonne’s character that do catch you off-guard a few times, but a movie like this really needs to be bulletproof in the humour department for it to fully work, and it just doesn’t quite manage it.
It’s basically exactly what I thought it would be: a harmless cartoon made primarily for children and their patient adult guardians, one that’s far from the worst but nowhere near the best either. A greater dose of ambition and comedy could really have made this something transcendental in the same way that Spider-Verse was, but one assumes they spent most of that reserved budget on getting Dwayne Johnson into a recording booth and making jokes about dogs eating chocolate into a microphone instead. Priorities, I guess.
SO, TO SUM UP…
DC League of Super-Pets has occasional laughs and likeable characters, but not enough to offset the surprisingly unambitious animation and writing that seems to hold it back, which might not make it that entertaining for anyone over a certain age.