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‘DC League of Super-Pets’ to the rescue

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Comic book fare continues to rule at the cineplex. We’ve seen extensive announcements illustrating the ongoing future of various superheroic cinematic universes, with films announced for literal years down the road. While I myself ride hard for this stuff, I also understand that for those less inclined, much of it is beginning to blur together.

That’s why it’s interesting to see a film like “DC League of Super-Pets,” a more kid-oriented animated offering separate from the canon writ large. Now, if you’re like me, your initial thought was that this would be a middling kiddie flick intended primarily as a way to keep cashing those sweet comic book IP checks. Slap a cape on it and people will go, you know?

Imagine my surprise, then, when I discovered that this movie is actually … pretty good? Very much a movie for children, of course, but engaging and entertaining for the adults in the audience. It’s animals with superpowers – who doesn’t love that? Plus, the action is decent, the voice cast is stacked and the jokes largely work.

Basically, this movie is significantly better than it needed to be (a welcome departure from some of the “good enough” offerings we’ve seen from this sphere in recent years).

Krypto (Dwayne Johnson) is the Dog of Steel, partnering with his beloved Superman (John Krasinski) to fight evil in Metropolis and beyond. They’re best pals, doing everything together, though the increasing seriousness of Superman’s relationship with Lois Lane (Olivia Wilde) means that their dynamic is going to shift – a reality that Krypto is not at all prepared for.

When Superman and Krypto take down Lex Luthor (Marc Maron) and thwart another of his evil schemes, all seems well. But this time, there’s a problem. See, Luthor wanted to obtain some orange kryptonite, which he believed would grant him superpowers of his own. Alas, it didn’t work out that way.

It won’t grant HIM powers.

See, at a nearby animal shelter, we have a collection of misfit animals. There’s Ace (Kevin Hart), a dog with a past who feels responsible for his fellow long-term residents. There’s PB (Vanessa Bayer), a pot-bellied pig and hardcore superhero nerd. You’ve got Merton (Natasha Lyonne), an elderly and extremely near-sighted turtle, and twitchy squirrel Chip (Diego Luna). Oh, and lastly, there’s Lulu (Kate McKinnon), a guinea pig who, despite being rendered hairless by his many experiments, still carries a torch for Lex Luthor.

Lulu is a mad genius in her own right and discovers that orange kryptonite only gives powers to animals and so finds a way to bring some to the shelter. She is granted incredible telekinetic powers that she uses to take on Superman and the rest of the Justice League alongside her own army of superpowered critters. Meanwhile, the other rescue pets get powers of their own.

Krypto must rescue Superman, but he can’t do it alone. And so, he enlists the newly-empowered rescue animals to help. Ace is now invulnerable, PB can control her size, Merton has super-speed and Chip gains electrical powers. They’re a motley crew, but they’re the only ones who can save the day.

“DC League of Super-Pets” works. It works because it is unapologetically goofy in its embrace of the candy-colored nonsense of comic books. This is not the grimdark DCEU to which we’ve grown accustomed. This is ridiculous fun, driven by an energy that is reminiscent not of current superhero movies, but of the family fare of the 1980s, films aimed at kids but unafraid to push the envelope just a little. It’s not the most sophisticated film I’ve ever seen, but I enjoyed myself immensely.

Obviously, this is non-canonical, but that sense of separation (at least until the post-credits stinger that I will not be spoiling) is a big part of the fun. There’s a joyfulness here that is evocative of the silliness of DC’s offerings in the ‘50s and ‘60s, the stretch where, among other lunacy, we first get introduced to Krypto and Ace. It’s not about some larger narrative or cultivating some degree of grittiness. It’s just fun. Sometimes, it’s dumb fun, but it is fun nonetheless, an action-packed romp that captures the spirit of comic books.

The script – co-written by Jared Stern (who also directs) and John Whittington – is solid, striking that always-precarious kiddie flick balance between aiming at the youngsters while also throwing a few bones to the grown-ups out there. It’s very accessible and easy to follow, but there also a few more adult jokes and some surprisingly deep comic cuts in there as well. A winning combo, to be sure.

And this cast. Great Caesar’s ghost!

We’ll start with Johnson and Hart. These two have proven time and again to be an extremely bankable pairing, their differing energies feeding one another and creating a readily engaging dynamic. It’s no different in the animated realm, with each playing to their strengths. Bayer is charming as the wide-eyed PB, while Luna finds the requisite twitchy energy for Chip. Lyonne is legitimately hilarious as Merton. We get some great supporting turns from Ben Schwartz and Thomas Middleditch. And Kate McKinnon turns it up to 11, going for it in a delightful way.

The human characters aren’t as robust, for obvious reasons, but these actors are also having a heck of a time. Krasinski and Wilde are solid and Maron makes a legit Lex Luthor. The other Justice Leaguers are names you know – Daveed Diggs (Cyborg), Jemaine Clement (Aquaman), Jameela Jamil (Wonder Woman), they’re all good. But there’s one that stands out above the others – Keanu Reeves as Batman. Every moment gets a laugh, every line reading is pure gold. Do we need more Batman content? Probably not. Do I want more animated Keanu Batman? A thousand percent yes.

In a world where these properties are the foundation of a multibillion-dollar industry, it’s easy to forget that, at their core, comic books are largely meant to be fun. “DC League of Super-Pets” isn’t great cinema, but there’s no denying the joyfulness inherent to the premise. Am I still being cynically manipulated for corporate financial gain? Absolutely – but at least I’m having a good time while it happens.

[4 out of 5]

Last modified on Monday, 01 August 2022 10:10

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