Hmmm. I wonder what this movie's about? It couldn't be about a literal hotel for literal dogs, could it? Actually... yes, that pretty much sums up the plot of Nickelodeon Studio's latest venture into movie-dom. As far as children's movies go, it isn't terrible -- however it is formulaic, saccharine and chockfull of excrement humor.
Hotel for Dogs is the tale of two orphaned siblings, Andi (Emma Roberts) and Bruce (Jake T. Austin), who, after their parents' deaths, have been moved in and out of several different foster homes. In an attempt to create a family of their own, they rescue stray dogs and house them in an abandoned hotel. Along the way they enlist the help of a couple of local kids and Bruce builds lots of nifty inventions: a doggy food dispenser, a car ride simulator, and a self-cleaning fire hydrant amongst others.
Of course, since things can't be too nice and easy, an overzealous team of animal control workers is thrown into the mix. In an unfortunate (though most likely unintentional) casting decision, Indian American actor Ajay Naidu plays the most sadistic and gung ho of the dogcatchers. At this time in post 9/11 America, where anyone even remotely Middle Eastern-looking suffers racial profiling, it seems irresponsible to in any way perpetuate such stereotypes; especially when your target audience is children whose worldview is still in the "malleable clay" stage.
The performances of the two leads are decent, but surprisingly unenergetic. Emma Roberts, niece of mega-star Julia Roberts, is poised to blossom into a beautiful young woman. However, she lacks the promising appeal and charisma that actresses such as Anne Hathaway and Lindsay Lohan possessed at her age. Oscar-nominated Don Cheadle plays a surprisingly small role as Bernie, a social worker who puts in overtime trying to find Andi and Bruce a permanent home. The most that is asked of his substantial acting ability is to maintain a look of constant kindly concern -- oh, and of course to deliver the inevitable tear-jerking speech at the film's climax. Actually, the film's best moments come from Kevin Dillon (playing Carl, the nitwit foster dad), whose natural comedic timing induces laughter whenever he's onscreen (even if he is playing pretty much the exact same role he plays on HBO's, Entourage). On the other hand, Lisa Kudrow, who plays his wife, is grating at best. It seems her entire post-Friends career has consisted of playing cold, bitter women with obnoxious nasal voices.
Bottom line: Hotel for Dogs is a passable two-hour distraction for children ages 4-11. While in no way ambitious, it preaches positive values of family, humanity and loyalty. As long as you don't mind a little anthropomorphizing and a lot of "people stepping in dog poop" gags, this movie will be completely inoffensive. Though it is unfortunate that most kids' movies seem like a computer made them, I suppose the kids themselves don't mind. As for us adults, I guess we can be thankful that at least there's Pixar.