In ‘DC League of Super-Pets,’ Superman’s Dog Leads a Cheerful Pack of Furry Heroes
With so many high-brow movies flooding the market every year featuring heroes in spandex, animation is left as the one genre that brings a breezier, fun tone to comic book characters. “DC League of Super-Pets” begins with an easy enough concept revolving around a simple question: What if Superman had a dog? Surely the task of endlessly saving the world while maintaining a secret identity leaves you wanting a buddy. They say a pet can look like its owner, so DC and Warner Brothers take it to the next level. You can have twice the super-powered characters if you give Superman a pet and grant him some powers as well. Because the movie is an innocent, joyful animation clearly catering to the audience whose parents take movies like “Man of Steel” very seriously, it works as a small delight.
The story begins in familiar territory on the planet Krypton, where an infant Superman is sent off by his parents on a small ship to escape the exploding planet. But he’s not alone. A Kryptonian puppy joins him on the cosmic trip. Fast forward to Metropolis in the present and Clark Kent (John Krasinski) is living his double life as Superman and Daily Planet journalist with the now grown Krypto (Dwayne Johnson), who also has his same powers. The loyal canine’s confidence is shaken when other pets point out how close Clark is getting to girlfriend Lois Lane (Olivia Wilde). To Krypto’s greater horror, Clark is planning to propose. Before he can put an end to this, a greater threat emerges with Lulu (Kate McKinnon), a guinea pig with plans for world domination. When Lulu gets a hold of red kryptonite, it gives her immense powers which also latch onto her former animal shelter inmates, bulldog Ace (Kevin Hart), pig PB (Vanessa Bayer), squirrel Chip (Diego Luna) and aged but feisty turtle Merton (Natasha Lyonne). Her first goal is to free former owner, the mad villain Lex Luthor (Marc Maron). When Lulu saps Krypto of his abilities, he has to depend on these misfits to help him save Superman.
Once in a while there’s an animated outlier that brings out the sillier charms of comic book ideas. DC tends to excel in this as with 2018’s “Teen Titans Go! To the Movies.” The driving force here is the concept, which doesn’t overstay its welcome at 1 hour and 45 minutes (compare that to 2 hours and 56 mins for “The Batman”). Krypto’s mission and obstacles are all too familiar, which is not a bad thing here. Directors Jared Stern and Sam Levine are out to make a small adventure similar to those animated romps like “Scooby-Doo Meets Batman.” Kids will delight in the sheer goofy fun while adults can smile at the in-jokes. Krypto hums a little song to the tune of John Williams’s classic “Superman” theme and chews on a Batman toy called “mini Bruce.” Other famous heroes jump in to help the man of steel, including a sensitive Aquaman (Jemaine Clement), friendly Cyborg (Daveed Diggs), strong Wonder Woman (Jameela Jamil), quirky The Flash (John Early), witty Green Lantern (Dascha Polanco), and of course a traumatized, moody Batman (voiced with rough gusto by Keanu Reeves).
Both the filmmakers and cast seem to be having delirious fun with this movie, especially because it gives them the freedom to poke fun at the concept of some of these characters. At its best for adults, “DC League of Super-Pets” can verge on light satire. Batman is constantly processing his broken psyche (“I miss my parents”) and when captured by Lulu, the heroes are put in hilarious traps that go with their personalities (a hamster wheel for Flash and fish tank for Aquaman). The animal heroes also have their own memorable characteristics. Ace is a haunted soul because of the way his original foster family gave him away. Merton the turtle struggles with myopia and keeps dropping (edited) f-bombs. Without overthinking it, the plot also gives them some pretty attractive, simple powers like super strength, super speed and the ability to fire electricity out of your paws. For kids, the lesson is one of humility because Krypto likes to brag about his position as Superman’s pet in the beginning, then gets humbled by losing what made him stand out.
Inevitably, the movie has to culminate with one big showdown involving a cataclysmic standoff with the villain, in this case power-mad Lulu. Yet, because it’s a cartoon, “DC League of Super-Pets” retains its charm even into the more explosion-heavy sections where we learn a guinea pig can grow to Godzilla length, but that Krypto can harness a particular super punch using the energy from the sun. And unlike some of those blockbuster titles featuring real actors and massive CGI effects, the kids still get some decent lessons. Maybe ideas about humbleness or opening up to the idea of loving a pet take Batman to deliver them well. DC also uses the now common practice of throwing in a post-credits scene to good effect here, taking advantage to give audiences a preview of another superhero title releasing soon (also involving Dwayne Johnson). It may not be as expensive as the upcoming “Joker” sequel, but “DC League of Super-Pets” is a delightful offering with cheer.
“DC League of Super-Pets” releases July 29 in theaters nationwide.