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Hotel For Dogs (A Movie Review)

Updated: Mar 25, 2023

Hotel for Dogs


Starring Emma Roberts, Jake T. Austin, Don Cheadle, Johnny Simmons, Kyla Pratt, Troy Gentile, Lisa Kudrow, Kevin Dillon and Robinne Lee.

Screenplay by Jeff Lowell and Bob Shooley & Mark McCorkle.

Directed by Thor Freudenthal.

Distributed by DreamWorks Pictures.  100 minutes.  Rated PG.

If we learn nothing else from Hotel for Dogs, we find out that apparently dogs are wild for Rube Goldberg-type contraptions.

You know those crazy homemade inventions that use everyday items – like hammers, blow dryers, hockey sticks, model trains, etc. – to become extremely convoluted machines which pour dog food, throw sticks, clean up dog messes, etc.

Or perhaps – more likely, actually – the dogs themselves don’t care about them, but the kids in the story (and in the audience) are entranced by them.  At least that is what the filmmakers are hoping.

However, while no one will ever consider Hotel for Dogs a great piece of cinema, you’d have to have a pretty hard heart to turn this perky little stray away.

If ever a movie had a cold nose and a wagging tail, this is the one.  It is full of good will and wants nothing more than to be loved, so it makes it easier to overlook its many faults and just enjoy it on its own terms.

It is certainly a film made only for children, but if you are willing to overlook some whopping plot holes and some extremely stereotypical characterizations (particularly with the adults), Hotel for Dogs is a charming little trifle.

Not only do we have adorable dogs by the dozens, we also have cute orphans, burgeoning teen love, silly pranks, some low-pressure adventure scenes and those wacky contraptions.

Based on the 1971 children’s’ book by the same name by Lois Duncan, Hotel for Dogs tells the story of an orphaned sister and brother named Andi (Emma Roberts) and Bruce (Jake T. Austin).  Their parents have died (though it is never explained how) and they are now living with foster parents (Lisa Kudrow and Kevin Dillon).

The foster parents are so cartoonishly evil that they aren’t overly scary for the tots the film is targeting, they are just crazy wannabe rockers who lock up their cabinets and feed the kids leftovers from frozen dinners.  Their social worker, played by Don Cheadle, is trying hard to get the kids a new home together – with little luck.  (I’m sorry, what is Don Cheadle doing in this movie?  He’s just fine in the supporting role, but really, anyone could have done this part.)

The kids have a dog (who appears to be from when the parents were still alive) which they are hiding from their foster parents.  They are running little scams to keep them fed when they come across an abandoned hotel where two other stray dogs are living.  The kids decide to make the old place into a home for the strays, eventually taking in more and more dogs.

Much of this makes no sense.  Why is the electricity on?  How did they get this borderline condemned property so clean so quickly?  Doesn’t anyone notice that the hotel’s neon sign is once again lit even though it has been abandoned for thirty years?  Do dogs really understand how to work wacky contraptions?

It doesn’t matter really.  It’s cute.  Kids will love it.  Adults can sit through it.  There is even a slightly heavy-handed lesson about stray dogs and stray children not being so different.

Hotel for Dogs is a lot like its main characters.  It is soft and fuzzy and will jump up and down and lick your face until you smile.  Even when it’s often bad, it’s usually hard to resist.

Dave Strohler

Copyright ©2009 All rights reserved. Posted: April 25, 2009.


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