Producers: Dany Garcia, Hiram Garcia, Patricia Hicks, Dwayne Johnson and Jared Stern Director: Jared Stern Screenplay: Jared Stern and John Whittington Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Kate McKinnon, John Krasinski, Vanessa Bayer, Natasha Lyonne, Diego Luna, Marc Maron, Keanu Reeves, Thomas Middleditch, Ben Schwartz, Olivia Wilde, Jameela Jamil, Jemaine Clement, Daveed Diggs, Dascha Polanco, Keith David, Alfred Molina, Lena Headey and Richard Arnold Distributor: Warner Bros.
Return with us now to the goofiest period in the history of DC comics, those not-so-thrilling days of yesteryear—the 1960s, when oddities like the Legion of Super Pets, which included not only a familiar figure like Krypto the Super Dog but such unlikely colleagues as Beppo the Super Monkey, Streaky the Super-Cat and Comet the Super-Horse proliferated in almost freakishly outlandish stories. The group was, understandably, soon retired, but made a more recent return with altered personnel, among the additions an unnamed Bat-Cow.
Obviously all of this was directed to the youngest customers of the comics, not the natural targets of the dark live action features of Warner’s answer to the MCU, or even the animated ones they’ve produced, quite successfully, for ancillary media. So it might have seemed a good idea to go the animated route and a theatrical release with the Super Pets, especially since such family fare has been one of the few reasonably reliable moneymaking genres in the post-lockdown environment. It probably also felt right to tap Jared Stern, who was one of the stable of scribes who came up with “The LEGO Batman Movie,” to produce a screenplay (in collaboration with one of his co-writers on that film, John Whittington) and to direct (though it would be only his second effort in that line). After all, that earlier effort pleased both tots and their elders with its offbeat approach.
But that decision has proven a misjudgment. Stern’s take on the loony property proves to be fundamentally a bland superhero movie with lots of action but too little fun—a surprise given a stellar voice cast that includes such top comic performers as Kevin Hart and Kate McKinnon. But even the most accomplished jokesters require good jokes, and there are precious few here; indeed, the person who delivers his lines most amusingly is Keanu Reeves, and his material just repeats the monotone deadness of the LEGO Batman, which is still pretty funny, although Natasha Lyonne gets some mileage out of the sometimes-bleeped naughtiness of a turtle with poor eyesight that becomes a super-speedster.
As to the plot, it begins when the camaraderie of a pretty dull Superman (voiced by John Krasinski) and over-ebullient Krypto (Dwayne Johnson) comes under stress when Supes, as Clark Kent, plans to propose to Lois Lane (Olivia Wilde). But the old bond is restored when Superman is captured by a super-powered guinea pig named Lulu (McKinnon), who also uses kryptonite of the green variety to sap Krypto of his powers.
That’s only the start of the scheme Lulu, an erstwhile test animal in the laboratory of Lex Luthor (Marc Maron) who considers him her mentor, has to rid the world of superheroes and dominate the planet along with Lex, whom she intends to free from prison where he sits for trying to gain super-powers himself by capturing a meteor composed of orange kryptonite. Instead the meteor fragments, which work only on animals, give her the powers he’d been seeking. But they also give powers of a specialized sort to her fellow critters in the shelter to which she’d been sent after Lex’s incarceration, and the de-powered Krypto enlists them to help save his pal, along with the other members of the human Justice League she’s taken prisoner with the help of her army of super-powered guinea pigs—Batman (Reeves), Wonder Woman (Jameela Jamil), Aquaman (Jemaine Clement), The Flash (John Early), Green Lantern (Dascha Polanco) and Cyborg (Daveed Diggs).
The newly-empowered shelter animals Krypto enlists in his quest are super-strong Boxer Ace (Hart), PB (Vanessa Bayer), a potbellied pig that can change size, turtle Merton (Lyonne), who gains super-speed, and Chip (Diego Luna), a squirrel endowed with electrokinesis. Naturally they’re pretty klutzy at first, but as they gain in experience—as through a battle against a super-powered shelter kitten that’s evil on her own—they gain confidence, and alongside Krypto, who’s regained his powers, save the day in a couple of extended final battles. At the end they all become pets to the superheroes they’ve saved in perfect pairings; to round out the numbers two super-guinea pigs that have turned on Lulu (Thomas Middleditch and Ben Schwartz) are “adopted” too. And, of course, Krypto accommodates himself to Supes’ impending marriage.
There are occasional amusing lines of dialogue—Krypto’s encomium to a British cooking show on TV and a conversation between Ace and Batman, who adopts him at the close (they share a common feeling of abandonment, of course) , are among the best, and Keith David’s pre-recorded holographic messages as Krypto’s father are amusing for their technical glitches. And once in a while there’s an inspired sight gag—Krypto, left alone by Superman, watches that TV show while gobbling numerous half-gallons of Cryers Ice Cream; Aquaman, trapped in a big aquarium, gobbles up some fish food tapped into it; Ace, atop the Justice League tower, keeps bumping into Wonder Woman’s invisible plane; Krypto thinks he can pass himself off as an ordinary dog by putting on a pair of horn-rimmed glasses.
But for the most part the dialogue, apart from Merton’s drawling outbursts, is just dully expository, and far too much of the footage is devoted to big, splashy fight scenes that are all too similar to the ones in “live-action” superhero fare (which are, of course, themselves mostly CGI-animated, however realistic they might try to appear). But apart from the boring character work on the human figures, which resembles their look from old TV cartoons and animated video fare, the visuals are pretty good (Kim Taylor was production designer). Editors David Egan and Jhoanna Reyes might well have trimmed those battle sequences, though, and Steve Jablonsky’s score is nothing special, though the one point where he briefly recalls John Williams’ theme from the 1978 “Superman” is a nice touch.
It was a tough assignment to try to juggle traditional superhero tropes with a goofy send-up of them, and “DC League of Super-Pets” doesn’t manage to strike the right balance. Little kids might enjoy it; anyone older will probably be bored.