Warner Bros.’ DC League of Super-Pets is a sweet, funny, and heartwarming story about the world from a pet’s point of view. The concept isn’t new. Plenty of films explore the relationships between a pet and its human owners. But director Jared Stern, who co-wrote the script with John Whittington, puts a playful twist on it by making it more about the pets rather than their superhero owners.
So what becomes of it is how pets like Krypto (Dwayne Johnson) and their human owners like Clark Kent, aka Superman (John Krasinski), must adjust to a changing dynamic while saving the day from an unlikely villain who wants to rule the world.
Of course, this could have been just another film about these super-pets navigating Metropolis as they adjust to their newfound powers while trying to rescue to Justice League. But our relationship with our pets acts as an emotional hook to draw us in and care about the characters on screen.
DC League of Super-Pets follows Krypto, a white Kryptoinian Labrador Retriever who stows away on Kal-el’s pod as it’s sent to Earth. Krypto is like any other loyal canine companion. He comforts his owner whenever he’s sad and protects him from danger. When they get older, they add superheroics to their daily routines. It’s not as much as walking the dog as flying it. They also take playing fetch to the extreme. And sometimes fit stopping bank robbers in the morning and taking out supervillains in the afternoon into the schedule.
But when Lex Luthor (Marc Maron) fails to utilize orange kryptonite, Lulu (Kate McKinnon), his forgotten evil hairless guinea pig, figures out that it only works on animals. So she hatches a plan to create more super-powered guinea pigs to kidnap Justice League and free Lex from prison. Now, a depowered Kypto must convince Ace (Kevin Hart), a boxer dog with super-strength and invulnerability; PB (Vanessa Bayer), a pot-bellied pig with size-manipulation; Chip (Diego Luna), a red squirrel with electrokinesis; and Metron (Natasha Lyonne), a Red-eared slider with super speed, for a rescue mission.
DC League of Super-Pets is almost too hard to walk away from, primarily because most of us feel about pets. Not only that, the film takes advantage of the strong DC lore while also poking fun at it in self-deprecating ways. But Johnson and Hart’s chemistry with each other and the rest of the cast. It’s surprising to hear how restrained they are. Though both are great, they aren’t nearly as boisterous or energetic as their previous turns. And that’s not a bad thing, given the story and tone of the film.
But there’s still plenty of space for some silliness and hilarity. Krypto is an egomaniac with a strong sense of justice and colossal attachment issues. No way anyone, especially Lois, can infringe on the relationship he and Superman have. But once he finds out that he and Lois are taking their relationship to the next level, he starts to question his place and if his owner will have time for him.
The best type of these animated films is the ones that stir conversations afterward and connect with audiences of all ages with their themes while entertaining us with laughs and cinematic superhero gimmicks. Stern and Whittington explore the relationships between the heroes and their pets and show that they aren’t that different from humans. And DC League of Super-Pets hinges on audiences who will connect with these characters in the same way owners have a relationship with their pets. As such, we fear for their safety whenever Lulu and her team of elemental super-powered guinea pigs attack the super-pets. Sure, these threats have a Looney Tunes vibe to them, especially when Ace takes the brunt of an explosion or a tiny orange tabby cat with a childish voice juxtaposes its cuteness with explosive grenade hairballs and missiles it can fire from its tail.
As comically exaggerated as it is, the film grounds itself by finding its humanity with a solid emotional story. Though Ace and Krypto have polarizing superhero ideals and origins are very much like their human-owner counterparts, they agree that they must protect those who cannot defend themselves. And just as Lex is the anthesis of Superman, Lulu is very much the anthesis of Krypto. McKinnon brings in a new kind of hilarity to the classic villain trope with her evil scheme hatchery and maniacal laughs.
One of the other things that DC League of Super-Pets successfully does is treat its titular characters as domesticated critters with a human soul and prove that shelter animals deserve a home. Take, for instance, how Krypto reacts when Superman goes on date night with Lois, which happens to be the same night that they watch The Great British Bake Off. What does Krypto do? He puts on headphones and pumps Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood” while eating cartons of strawberry ice cream. Just a natural reaction when you feel like you are moved out of the picture. Of course, they contrast that with some teary-eyed heartfelt moments, like when Ace recalls how he ended up in a shelter after a misinterpreted incident with his first family.
So, Krypto and Ace’s relationship ends up being the beating heart of DC League of Super-Pets, which is essentially the core of almost any Batman and Superman-related content. Even as a dog, Johnson’s voice is charming as ever, and it’s almost as if any Labrador would sound like a typical clean-cut hero with a strong sense of justice. And Hart’s surprising restraint works for the strong loner type in Ace.
Unfortunately, the supporting cast is left behind. It’s cute to watch PB try to get control over her powers and just as resonating to know that she also has a lack of self-confidence. And Merton McSnurtle gets a few laughs as she blindly moves around. It only gets funnier when she gets her superspeed. And the hits keep on coming when she gets her sight back. But seeing as Johnson and Hart’s chemistry is a significant selling point and has been for every project they’re in together, it’s no wonder that the other subplots are treated as secondary.
And it can drag a little towards the end, not knowing when to wrap it up as the inevitable team-up between the Justice League and Super-Pets face off against Lulu in kaiju form. The attacks keep coming, and the heroes keep dodging or going on the offensive. Whatever the case, it takes a while before Krypto realizes what he has to do is tied directly to the lessons he’s learned along the way.
Still, there’s a lot to like about DC League of Super-Pets. It’s a much better-animated feature to tell the stories from the point of view of our pets. And it doesn’t have to rely on over-the-top slapstick comedy to keep us awake. Instead, it strikes a balance between style and substance.
The film also doesn’t take itself too seriously because it knows what kind of a film it is. Even so, the comedic cast can switch it up to something more dramatic when the time calls for it. And since it’s an animated film, it has a little bit more room to be playful and epic in scope. Watching Krypto flying around Metropolis or him imagining tossing Lois into the ocean in a way that fits a dog who feels that someone is overstepping their boundaries looks epic on the big screen. And Keanu Reeves as a dark and brooding rich anti-social Batman is so much fun to watch. Watching the Dark Knight’s reaction to seeing Supes as a Batman plushy toy and worrying about if its a licensed product, while also realizing how much he and Ace have in common is especially hilarious. Plus, the action sequences themselves feel just as cinematic as any other superhero movie.
Ultimately, DC League of Super-Pets is an animated feature that DC superhero fans and families can enjoy. Plenty of organic laugh-out-loud moments stem from the comic book lore and resonating relationships between humans and pets. But the heart of it is how the pets are treated as family. Humanizing these critters gives the characters emotional nuance, which allows the audience to care about what happens to them. Because let’s face it, we are 1000% emotionally more invested in a film whenever there is a cute pet in the film.