No matter how much the contemporary media landscape changes, there are two things that remain constant: cute pets and superheroes. The former being the subject of memes, funny videos, and all sorts of content since the dawn of the internet; and the latter, jumping from the pages of comics books and taking the box office and streaming services by storm. What would happen if you took these two things and combined them? The answer is DC League of Super-pets, a straightforward and entertaining family movie that falls into the trap of superficiality.
Based on the Legion of Super-Pets comics, the film is a superhero comedy that aims to entertain younger audiences. The story follows Krypto (Dwayne Johnson), Superman’s (John Krasinski) loyal super-dog who in this version of the story has been by the Man of Steel’s side ever since he left Krypton. Like many other pets and owners, they are inseparable and share both world-saving adventures and TV marathons. But because of this closeness, Krypto has never learned to befriend other pets.
Everything changes when Lulu (Kate McKinnon), a former Guinea pig from Lex Luthor’s laboratory, takes Krypto’s powers away and kidnaps the Justice League. So, to save his best friend, Krypto has to confront his fears and befriend a gang of super-powered rescue pets led by Ace (Kevin Hart).
Director Jared Stern’s creative vision balances the inherent silliness of the premise with the grandiosity of the superhero genre. This is captured by an animation style that, while not quite remarkable, aptly blends Sunday morning cartoons with Art Deco, nicely matching the visual language of traditional superhero films. Some of the visual aspects like the lighting, background, and textures are delightful to watch, but some choices like Batman (Keanu Reeves) or Lulu’s character design, were awkward and somewhat strange.
The leading duo, Krypto and Ace, have a natural chemistry that elevates the entire cast, matched by McKinnon’s hilarious villainy as Lulu. The voice actors clearly love playing these characters, as their charms come across even from miles away.
While the movie is entertaining, there’s not enough star power that can combat the average quality of the humor. It’s not that it’s not funny. Many young kids in the theater might cackle at references to Paw Patrol or the numerous recurring gags. Kids are, after all, the target audience. But the jokes don’t stray away from the usual pet puns already abundant in films like The Secret Life of Pets. Amidst the mild chuckles, there are some ingenious moments, especially when showing how Krypto and Superman’s relationship was the same as any other human and pet, yet those moments were scarce and often limited to the first act of the movie.
In addition, the film ineffectively pokes fun at the superhero genre to entertain older audiences. There are a myriad of nods to DC and Marvel properties as well as allusions to concepts like training montages and origin stories. These are funny in the beginning, but become annoying after constant repetition and don’t add anything new to the seemingly mandatory self-referential humor of contemporary superhero comedies. It’s a shame that, with a premise that would seem like the perfect ground for really creative humor, the film takes the ordinary path.
The fact that a movie is aimed at children is not permission for it to be unoriginal or uninspired, especially when there are other recent animated films like The Bad Guys, Encanto, and Turning Red pushing boundaries in their own unique ways. DC League of Super-Pets isn’t as super as it wants to be, which might leave some wondering how a better version of this would’ve been..pawssible.
DC League of Super-Pets is now playing in theaters. Watch the trailer here.