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HOTEL FOR DOGS, 2008
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HOTEL FOR DOGS
Movie Review
Directed by Thor Freudenthal
Starring: Emma Roberts, Jake T. Austin
Review by Jen Frankel



SYNOPSIS:

Adapted from author Lois Duncan's 1971 children's book of the same name, director Thor Freudenthal's Hotel for Dogs follows two mischievous orphans as they attempt to hide dozens of stray dogs in an abandoned hotel. Disheartened by their new guardians' announcement that pets are strictly forbidden, sixteen year old Andi (Emma Roberts) and her younger brother Bruce (Jake T. Austin) race to find a home for their loyal dog Friday. Fortunately for Friday, there's an abandoned hotel just around the corner, and Bruce possesses just the kind of mechanical smarts needed to transform the rundown inn into a four star retreat for canines. For a while Friday and his friends have it made, but when the neighbors start to get suspicious, Andi and Bruce resort to every trick in the book in order to prevent their secret from being discovered.

REVIEW:

Julia Roberts has always left me emotionally pretty cold, but her niece Emma is a total charmer.

I like well-made, innovative kids films, and I wanted to see this one from the moment I saw the trailer. It looked like just the right mix of human pathos, animals, and really cool crazy inventions.

It's the story of Andi and Bruce, a pair of 11- and 16-year-old siblings who are orphans. They're living with the foster parents from hell (Lisa Kudrow and Kevin "Drama" Dillon) who keep the food locked up and think they're gonna be rock stars.

Their only connection to their old, happy life is a dog they've had since he was a pup, a scruffy, scrappy little guy called Friday.

The humans might drive the story, but the main character is really Friday. He sees the world as smells, the good stuff popping out in color and the rest fading into black and white. The director doesn't overuse the technique, but he gives us a hint of what it is to be a dog right off the top, and we're his people from then on.

At its heart, Hotel for Dogs is about looking for family, and although the dogs lead the way for the humans, it's not an overly sentimental film.

For one thing, the dogs and humans are in a clearly unequal relationship. There are no cute talking canines here. The animals poop and pee and rip sofas to shreds.

They need their people, and when Bruce and Andi realize they can't care properly for Friday, they realize they may have to give up their last link to their past.

Instead, Friday discovers a condemned hotel and two strays already in residence, and the kids decide to let him stay, and care for the three dogs in their spare time. Bruce, a mechanical genius, invents machines to keep the dogs occupied, feed them, and dispose of their waste.

Before you know it, they've appointed themselves rescuers of all the city's strays, and the Hotel For Dogs is born.

This is a terrific and charming film. It's got great performances from its leads, Roberts and Jake T. Austin (TV's Diego), and Don Cheadle brings his usual solid, sympathetic self into the mix as the social worker faced with trying to keep the siblings together.

There's enough action to appeal to children, and enough real emotion and life lessons to make any parent know that it's not just empty entertainment.

And yeah, the inventions are pretty cool!

2 1/2 out of 4!

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