Unlike its main character, DC League of Super-Pets may not always soar into the stratosphere with any of its concepts, but that doesn’t keep it from fitting pretty comfortably in the middle of the dog lover and DC Comics fan Venn diagram.
The film opens with a brief reimagining of the film’s alpha dog Krypto, aka Superdog, aka Bark Kent (Dwayne Johnson), as he jumps into baby Kal-El’s rocket just before the destruction of their home planet, a scene that riffs on Richard Donner’s 1978 Superman. right down to the John Williams score leitmotifs. Skip several years ahead, and baby Kal-El and pup Krypto are all grown up and living in Metropolis. Supes is just about to pop the question to his girlfriend Lois Lane, and Krypto doesn’t know how to feel about losing his place in his owner’s affection.
Superman (John Krasinski) decides to help the situation by getting Krypto an animal companion of his own. At the shelter, we meet longtime residents Ace (Kevin Hart), a jaded Great Dane/German Shepherd mix who is constantly looking for an escape, PB (Vanessa Bayer), a sweet-natured pig who worships superheroes and has body image issues, Merton (Natasha Lyonne), an aged and near-sighted turtle, Chip (Diego Luna), an extremely high-strung squirrel, and Lulu (Kate McKinnon), a hairless guinea pig who was once a lab test animal (a literal guinea pig) for Lex Luthor (Marc Maron), until she was freed against her will by Superman and Krypto.
The adoption plans go bust when Krypto thwarts yet another escape attempt by Ace, and Superman has to head back home to get ready for date night after a quick face-off with his arch-nemesis, whom he handily dispatches with the aid of Krypto and the entire Justice League. Unfortunately for Lex, his plan to harvest the power of a meteor-sized hunk of orange kryptonite to give himself power doesn’t work out as planned. As it turns out, it only gives animals superpowers, a fact which his former lab animal Lulu has known all along.
Lulu exposes herself to the orange kryptonite, giving herself vast telekinetic abilities and the power to fulfill her desire to take up with Lex again as his sidekick/pet. She also exposes her other longtime shelter residents, giving Ace super strength and invulnerability, Merton acquires super-speed, PB develops shape-changing abilities, and Chip harnesses the power to generate lightning bolts. Lulu is unaware of this as she immediately kidnaps Superman, and removes Krypto’s powers with the help of a sliver of green kryptonite rolled into some cheese.
It’s up to a de-powered Krypto and the shelter escapees to rescue Superman and the rest of the Justice League, whom Lulu quickly subdues with her army of orange kryptonite-exposed guinea pigs. For better or worse, it’s fairly standard comic book fare from there on out with a predictable set of predicaments for the pets to overcome as they learn the importance of trust, sacrifice, and how to dodge hawk-winged guinea pigs who have laser eyes.
That said, Super-Pets is far from a laborious watch. Its action set pieces might be a bit pat, but they’re fun to watch, and in the grand tradition of Warner Bros. animation, there’s enough nod and wink humor that parents will get even if their kids don’t. The spectacular voice cast helps sell a lot of humor that may not have gone over otherwise, particularly McKinnon; a longtime VO artist who’s take on Lulu makes her come off as a formidable villain, even though she’s essentially a naked mole rat in a cape.
If anything hinders League of Super-Pets, then, it’s a seeming inability to get out of its own way when it comes to the pat tropes of superhero movies, animated or otherwise. It’s not unwilling to wink at the foibles of the Justice League or take a swipe at the many low-hanging fruits of DC movies, but it never really wants to cut loose either. And why wouldn’t you do that, when you’re already making a movie about the Justice League’s pets?
Parents will find DC League of Super-Pets an amusing diversion to take in with their children without having to wince through two hours of cartoon corn, and the kids will love the action and take home some pleasant (if not too deep) messages of friendship and sacrifice. It’s a shame the movie couldn’t take a bigger bite of the bone, though. Director Jared Stern has done perfectly respectable work here, but if he went a little deeper into left field, he may have delivered a film that was a bit more remarkable.
'DC League of Super-Pets' will find plenty of supporters in the Venn diagram of pet lovers and DC fans, but it never takes enough risks to become superheroic.