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Hotel for Dogs

Reviewed by C.J. Darlington

"...a wonderful movie the whole family can enjoy together."

Ever since Rin Tin Tin and Lassie America has loved a good dog flick. Some have made us laugh (The Ugly Dachshund), some have made us cry (Old Yeller, Marley & Me), others are just plain fun (Beverly Hills Chihuahua). Nickelodeon/ Dreamworks’ Hotel For Dogs falls into this category. Even though it’s officially a comedy, there’s still some real life thrown in.

Siblings Andi (Emma Roberts) and Bruce (Jake T. Austin) have been in and out of foster homes since their parents died, and up to now they’ve managed to stay together and keep their dog, a scruffy Jack Russell terrier named Friday, a secret. But the bubble’s about to burst. When Friday’s picked up by the dog catcher and they barely get him back, they realize he deserves a real home. They can’t hide him in parks and behind dumpsters forever. Then one night Andi and Bruce stumble upon an old abandoned hotel, and the adventure begins.

In the vein of 2003's Good Boy (minus the talking dogs), Hotel for Dogs hits all the right notes in the balance of humor, mayhem and drama. Thankfully the film makers resisted the temptation to elicit laughs from potty jokes alone, although there’s still a few appropriate gags involving doggie doo-doo that’ll please the younger set. The ingenious inventions created by Bruce, like an automatic assembly line dog feeder, car ride simulator, and some hilarious mechanical sheep keep our disbelief thoroughly suspended, but they’re also what make this film fun and kid-friendly.

Even though Hotel For Dogs’ take-away is never heavy-handed, the subtle message of love for the unwanted, whether they be dogs or kids, isn’t lost on viewers. It’s a touching theme and the film’s more serious element. But let’s face it. We’re watching Hotel for Dogs for the dogs. And there are enough of them here to fill a . . . er, hotel. Breeds all over the AKC map make appearances, but a Boston Terrier, Mastiff, Bulldog, Border Collie, and a Chinese Crested Hairless take center stage alongside lead dog Friday (played by a shelter rescue named Cosmo) who steals the spotlight even from his young human stars. Which isn’t to say Roberts and Austin don’t put on a great performance. Roberts, known for her roles in the films Nancy Drew and Aquamarine, plays the ideal older sister who wants to be the voice of reason but shares her brother’s soft spot for pups. It won’t be long before she’s known for much more than being Julia Roberts’ niece.

A few tense thematic moments involving the pound and stray dogs being put down (a dog is led out the back door rather roughly by one of the dog catchers and later the man returns alone) could be troubling to younger or extra sensitive viewers. I heard a parent whispering to their concerned child once or twice behind me in the theater. But aside from this, Hotel for Dogs is a wonderful movie the whole family can enjoy together. Be sure to watch the ending credits featuring the cast and crew with their real-life pets.

Genre: Comedy/Family
MPAA Rating: PG

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C.J. DarlingtonC.J. Darlington is the award-winning authof of Thicker than Blood, Bound by Guilt, and Ties that Bind. She is a regular contributor to Family Fiction Digital Magazine and NovelCrossing.com. A homeschool graduate, she makes her home in Pennsylvania with her family and their menagerie of dogs, a cat, and a paint horse named Sky. Visit her online at her author website. You can also look her up at Twitter and Facebook.