Enough room for a bunch of dogs…and Don Cheadle.
Director: Thor Freudenthal
Notable Cast: Emma Roberts, Jake T. Austin, Don Cheadle, Johnny Simmons, Kyla Pratt, Troy Gentile, Lisa Kudrow, Kevin Dillon
My brother has a theory that the quality of a movie can be judged by who is introduced as “and” in the opening credits. So one can imagine how anxious I was to disprove this particular theory when “and Don Cheadle” popped on screen at the beginning of Hotel for Dogs. But to my great surprise as I was puzzling over what Don Cheadle was doing in a second rate kids flick, Hotel for Dogs proved itself to be a film worthy of having Cheadle attached.
Andi (Emma Roberts) and her brother Bruce (Jake T. Austin) are well-meaning, but oft-misbehaving orphans whom their social worker Bernie (Cheadle) just can’t seem to find a permanent home for. On their last strike with Bernie and their current foster parents (Lisa Kudrow and Kevin Dillon, both barely showing more life than a pair of mannequins would have in the same roles) the siblings decide they need to find a home for the dog they have secretly owned for three years.
The parallels between stray dogs and orphaned children are easy to draw upon and the allegory simplifies a heavy-handed concept for the intended audience. The other benefit of dog involvement is there is plenty of opportunity for gross-out humor and “aw cute” moments, also key components for entertaining the intended audience. Fortunately, Hotel for Dogs balances the commercial for adopting a dog with the lesson of the importance of integrity and responsibility.
Obviously it is all packaged in the typical wrapping involving some puppy love (both literal and figurative), kids getting the best of meddling adults, and a number of fun to look at Rube Goldberg inspired contraptions. However, with Cheadle’s steady hand there to guide the proceedings, Hotel for Dogs always feels more important than its easygoing mood would suggest.
Thus I have to again grant my brother’s theory further credence in its ability to sort out the good movies from the bad. Cheadle will not be seeing another Oscar nomination for his work, but he does add to his resume the notable skill of being able to give gravitas to a kids’ movie. Further proof that when a good actor is put in the “and” role that the movie will benefit more from his or her involvement than vice versa.
After all, that is the theme of Hotel for Dogs: everyone deserves a home. Cheadle seems at home here and is therefore able to make skeptical parents feel at home as well.
FINAL RATING (ON A SCALE OF 1-5 BUCKETS):