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3:22 PMHOTEL FOR DOGS
Hotel for Dogs is the story of two foster kids
determined to preserve their bond with each other and their eternally
hungry mutt, Friday. Since their parents died four years ago,
16-year-old Andi (Nancy Drew's Emma Roberts) and her little brother Bruce (Jake T.Austin, best known from TV's Wizards of Waverly Place)
have had to fight to stay together. Despite the best efforts of a
sympathetic child welfare officer (Don Cheadle), the kids have bounced
from home to home and now must live with the Scudders, a pair of miserly
Lois Scudder (Lisa Kudrow) is a modern-day Miss Hannigan (meets Spinal Tap); she keeps the food pantry padlocked and offers the children nothing but gruel for their two state-mandated meals per day. She also has a strict policy against pets. But Andi and Bruce know their only other option is to be moved into separate homes, so they endure their current conditions and are careful to keep their dog hidden. Things get complicated when Friday begins running repeatedly afoul of the city's Animal Control officers.
The kids stumble upon an abandoned hotel and, desperate to keep their dog safe, decide to make it Friday's new home. Soon, Bruce is using his remarkable knack for engineering to invent a variety of clever dog amenities, and the kids (with the help of some newly acquired friends) begin to rescue a growing number of the city's strays.
As the hotel is transformed into Doggy Paradise, the canines and humans form their own ragtag family. But Animal Control officials are hot on their trail, leading to an ultimate confrontation that could separate Andi, Bruce, and their beloved pet permanently.
When Hotel for Dogs is functioning as a light-hearted fantasy, it works wonderfully. Bruce's inventions are delightfully creative, and the dogs' enjoyment of them is irresistibly entertaining. Unfortunately, director Thor Freudenthal (in his first feature-length project) is constantly pushing the film into grittier, more realistic territory, making the fantastical elements seem suddenly implausible and silly.
Sometimes Hotel for Dogs seems to want to mine a family-drama pathos evocative of films like Because of Winn-Dixie. In other scenes the movie is dragged down by heavy-handed social commentary that overplays the obvious parallels between orphans and strays. The points the filmmakers are making are good ones—family is worth fighting for, and it can be created in unlikely places—but the characters and plot are not well-developed enough to sustain anything too serious for too long. A breezier, more consistent touch would have served this movie well.
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