A FUN ANIMATED SUPERHERO ENDEAVOR
Over the past decade, DC Comics has diversified its cinematic production for both the big and small screen platforms by taking its superhero roster and presenting narratives that helps expand their showcase of saving the world from evil forces. Of course, the live-action avenue has been at the forefront of mainstream media, especially from all the various films (i.e., The Dark Knight trilogy, Man of Steel, Wonder Woman, Joker, The Batman etc.), but also in a variety of live-action television shows (i.e., the Arrowverse franchise). In addition, DC Comics has enjoyed a celebratory undertaking in the animated variety production endeavors, including several cartoon TV series throughout the years as well as a wide collection of DTV (direct-to-video). This diversification of its many heroes and villains have lived on through these different mediums and have allowed several narratives to take place, with some being original tales to be told and others adapted from popular comic book arcs pieces. Nevertheless, the presentation of DC Comics is ever strong and is seeing as a rival to competing comic book studio juggernaut Marvel Studios. Now, Warner Bros. Studios (Warner Animation Group) and director Jared Stern present the latest offering from DC Comics with the animated release of DC League of Super-Pets. Does this cartoon cinematic endeavor find its place in the DC Universe media platform or is it a shameless (and shallow) presentation that never rises to occasion?
In the city of Metropolis, Superman (John Krasinski) protects the people from help with the help from Krypto (Dwayne Johnson), his loyal canine dog who’s also empowered with Kryptonian powers. Superman loves Krypto, but his attention has recently been divided, with more focus towards his girlfriend, Lois Lane (Oliva Wilde), with ideas of making the coupling official with an upcoming proposal. As Krypto fears of being outed by his best friend, a new threat arises when Lex Luthor (Marc Maron) gets his hands on orange kryptonite, only to be foiled his dream of ultimate revenge, with the strange hunk of rock blasting its powers a pet rescue adaptation, giving guinea pig, Lulu (Kate McKinnon) the telekinesis powers to rule the city, with aspiration of global domination and capturing of Superman and his fellow members of the Justice League. To help save the day, it’s up to Krypto to save the day, joining forgotten rescues Ace (Kevin Hart), PB (Vanessa Bayer), Chip (Diego Luna), and Merton (Natasha Lyonne) as they too get use their newly discovered abilities, becoming a team focused on thwarting Lulu before she takes over Metropolis.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
As I’ve stated several times in my reviews, I am more of a Marvel fan than DC Comics ones, yet, despite that notion, I do enjoy several endeavors made from the comic book franchise that has brought forth the DC Comics universe. Naturally, the live-action movies are perhaps the biggest influences on me, especially in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy as well as several of the DCEU entries (i.e., Man of Steel, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and Zack Snyder’s Justice League), which showcased a connected universe of comic book superheroes (and their villains) within the usage of blockbuster cinematics. Would I say that the DCEU is better than the MCU. Well, no, but that is because the MCU (for the most part) has a unified cannon timeline of which all of its productions follow, while the DCEU feels a bit disjointed in its own identity (to a certain degree). Of course, there is also the live-action TV series that DC Comics has brought to life some of their heroes and villains onto the small screen, which I am manly talking about the CW’s Arrowverse. Personally, I watched Arrow and The Flash (the first half of the series), which were great, but then I lost interest in them and didn’t really particular care to watch all the other series in that shared TV universe. For it’s worth, it was an ambitious project to tackle (one that I would commend), but just lost that special “IT” factor. What I personally think the DC Comics has as a “secret weapon” against Marvel is that of the many DTV feature films releases, which are actually pretty good. Of course, I haven’t seeing some of the more recent ones, but I do own some of their first releases, which dated back during the mid-2000s era, including Justice League: New Frontier, Green Lantern: First Flight (which was actually better than the 2011 live-action movie), Batman: Under the Red Hood, and Batman: The Killing Joke. In the end (and echoing to what I mentioned in my opening paragraph), I think DC Comics, while not as completely homed in on what it exactly wants to be within the multimedia platforms as say something like Marvel, has definitely found reception within the diversification of its narratives on both the big and small screen variety and partaking in different age groups to fill in the generation gaps for all its viewers and fans alike.
This brings me back to talking about DC League of Super-Pets, a 2022 animated feature film and the latest offering from DC Comics in their media motion picture category. To be quite honest, I really didn’t hear much about this movie when it was first announced, especially since the internet was more interested in other DC Comic projects such as Wonder Woman, The Batman, Shazam! and even Zack Snyder’s Justice League. Even more to the point, the movie was announced all the way back in 2018, with director Jared Stern signing on for the endeavor, with several cast members being signed on to do the voice acting in the following years. Like many, my actual first “look” at DC League of Super-Pets was during first half of the 2022, with the film’s movie trailers started to appear online as well as a multitude of times at my local movie theater during the “coming soon” attractions previews. I literally saw the movie trailers every time I went to the movies. From the various trailers alone, the film itself didn’t look at exciting to me. Why so? I really couldn’t say. It’s just a feeling that I had with it. I mean…. I was curious to see the project because of all the recognizable voice talents that were attached to the film (most of which I liked), but I was super crazy to see the movie because it just seemed like a bit of weak point. A story about superhero animals? It seems like something that was written back in the mid to late 90s and not really much “in-line” with the great cinematic landscape of superhero endeavors of today’s world. Plus, as mentioned above, it seemed like DC Comics was just “winging” this particular movie, especially since the various “universe” that DC has spread throughout this medium and not-so-much on the single unified one that Marvel is doing with their MCU. Further this plot point is that the movie was receiving mixed reviews from advance screenings, so I wasn’t really keen on seeing the film as much as other upcoming projects. Nevertheless, I decided to take a chance with the movie and went to go see DC League of Super-Pets a few weeks after its theatrical release date of July 29th, 2022. I then waited a few more weeks after that to get my review done for this film as my work schedule got a little busy. Now, I finally have the time to give my personal opinion on the movie. And what did I think of it? Well, I actually liked it. Despite its familiar plot beats and straightforward presentation, DC League of Super-Pets is actual a solid kid’s animated project thanks to its talented voice cast, humorous bits, and just a fun “family friendly” superhero romp for all ages. It’s not the best animated endeavor to come out of 2022, but it was (surprisingly) an unexpected entertaining cartoon feature to watch and enjoy.
DC League of Super-Pets is directed by Jared Stern, whose previous directorial works include Happy Anniversary, and co-directed by Sam J. Levine, whose previous directorial works includes Robot and Monster and Penn-Zero: Part-Time Hero. While both directors do have that much credibility in the director’s chair (Stern has one feature film and Levine has two cartoon series), their combined efforts in other areas (i.e., storyboard, animator, writer, producer, etc.) on other animated endeavors are proof that they are capable of directing such film as Super-Pets. Thus, for what it’s worth, the collaboration between Stern and Levine is actually pretty good and I felt that, given their experience “in the director’s chair” they actually gave Super-Pets a good representation. That’s not to say that film has its faults and is a bit rough around the edges (more on that below), but the two directors approach the film with a sense of familiarity (both good and bad) within the ranks of superhero presentation, especially speaking to the modern age of comic book cinematics. Naturally, the feature does pull from the DC Comics palette of superhero aesthetics and background lore, which offers a familiar take on the narrative. Yet, it still feels a tad bit refreshing, especially since the focus is placed more on Krypto and his new formed superhero animals and not so much on the human DC superhero characters. Thus, Stern and Levine have fun with the premise and makes the animated outing filled with superhero entertainment and a few sentimental moments along the way.
The film’s story (like the movie) plays it safe in a few areas and could’ve been more “beefed up” in its substance, yet the script, which was penned by Stern and John Whittington. Although, despite that notion, which I will go into later, the story of Super-Pets is still a fun and entertaining endeavor that has all the right amount balance of story, action, and comedy. At its core, it’s about to finding your place in the world (superheroes or not) and about the undeniable connection between human and animals. Of course, it is all mixed together into a cartoon superhero blockbuster that has all the bells and whistles of a summer movie line-up. In the end, despite a few criticisms that makes the endeavor not as stellar or as palpable as say Disney animated feature or a Pixar cartoon motion picture, Stern and Levine makes the most of Super-Pets’s animal characters and superhero action frivolities and actually come up better than expected….at least that’s how I see and approach the film.
In its presentation, Super-Pets is actually pretty good. Of course, the feature itself doesn’t have the same type of caliber (visually speaking) of a Disney / Pixar production (or even an Illumination Entertainment), but it still has plenty to like about and makes appealing to the eyes with its high-flash color and vivid animated tale that has its own unique style and swagger. Again, it’s not the best out there, but it’s certainly not the worst. Still, for what it’s worth, I actually liked the presentation of Super-Pets, especially in how the facial expression for the film’s animal characters are displayed / rendered in the movie. Even the feature’s background setting is splashed with vibrancy and washed with bright colors, which does help the movie’s personal identity make it dazzling cartoon endeavor. In the end, I do feel that the animators and “behind the scenes” members on Super-Pets, including Kim Taylor (production design) and Kristen Anderson and Ryan L. Carlson (art direction), do deserve a commendable job on their efforts in bringing this DC Comic book project to life with animated razmataz. In addition, I felt that the key cinematic moments / sequences are also sharp and bring a sense of dramatic pieces that have that extra superhero punch of CGI cinematics. Lastly, the score for the movie, which was composed by Steve Jablonsky, is solid all the way around; delivering a classic superhero composition that encapsulates the superhero comic book days of old as well as modern style of children’s entertainment, including pop songs featured throughout the runtime.
Unfortunately, there are several components in Super-Pets that aren’t completely ironed out, which makes the film have point of criticisms throughout the feature. How so? Well, for starters, the movie itself is quite formulaic to the touch. Yes, I do understand that the film is meant to be a kid’s movie and is presented as such. Yet, despite that notion, that doesn’t mean that the movie needs to be structured in a rather formulaic way. It’s quite clear (right from the get-go) of what Super-Pets is going to be about (setup, problems, resolution, etc.) with an obvious trajectory of what’s going to play out from beginning, middle, and end. This familiar narrative path can be a staple of a lot of kids / superhero movies, but it’s what is offered in-between those moments (in its substance) that can make up the difference between the formulaic nuances. That being said, Super-Pets is quite predictable…to the letter! The films’ script, which was penned by Stern and John Whittington, never really rises to the challenge of making Super-Pets’s story creative or more original. The script decisively decides to stay in the more familiar territory by playing around in a simplified story of good guys vs. bad guys and (again), while that’s not a bad thing, it doesn’t really make the movie’s narrative that much more clever or sharp. In fact, the script itself rest comfortable with those familiar tones from both the family friendly variety as well as in the DC Comics lore / mythos. Thus, it goes without saying that the movie’s script checks all the boxes off for a standard kid’s superhero romp endeavor, yet it never really goes beyond the traditional formula of familiar narrative, which makes Super-Pets rather straightforward and quite predictable; causing the feature to become stale and unaspiring at some points.
Even from the directorial point, Stern has a hard time of balancing all the movie’s various characters and story presentation. To be sure, the film, despite having a somewhat simplified narrative, has a lot to juggle around, especially considering all the characters (heroes and villains) that are presented in the film. It’s clear that Stern the movie he wants to create, but he struggles to find a proper balance between story and characters. Perhaps the biggest criticism that I had with the movie is that it returns a bit too long, especially during the climatic third act finale of the picture. Stern wants to fill the latter portion of Super-Pets with bombastic and a lot of superhero frivolities, including a big showdown sequence. What’s mostly presented is fine, but the director overextends this particular indulgence and goes a little bit too hard in making the final confrontation longer than it should be and with more comic book angst. Thus, this particular portion of the movie had a perfect place to end the final battle, but decided to create an elongated battle scene that runs too long that it should’ve been.
What definitely helps elevate those points of criticisms is the voice talents involved in Super-Pets, with many being recognizable from their past endeavors. As a whole, most of the characters are pretty standard / straightforward constructs, which can be a bit of a disadvantage to the film in a few ways (i.e. nothing new or original and quite predictable), yet what definitely helps are the voice talents behind them that help elevate these cartoon characters in a more positive and humorous way. Leading the charge in this endeavor is former wrestler / actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who provides the voicework for Krypto the Superdog. Known for his work in Moana, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, and Central Intelligence, Johnson has recently become a staple actor for the action / comedy film variety of late; appearing in numerous endeavors and franchise that play upon the former wrestlers big personality and bravado. Thus, it comes at no surprise that Johnson would be cast in the voice of Krypto, a canine super dog that has the power / strength of that of Superman. For his part, Johnson does a great job in making Krypto come alive, especially with the actor’s charismatic and likeable voice playing up those moments. The character arc for Krypto is (again) quite straight-forward and doesn’t really color outside the lines of the standard cloth of a superhero protagonist, but Johnson helps elevate those notions by interjecting his vocal presence and energy in the character; making Krypto a very likeable and memorable character. Likewise, Hart, who is known for his roles in Ride Along, The Secret Life of Pets, and Me Time, has plenty of charisma and energy in all of his past work, which makes him a fine fit for the character of Ace, a dog that is a bit jaded outlook, yet still a little bit compassion for his fellow friends. Like Krypto, the character of Ace is a tad stereotypical backstory arc, including a heartfelt moment, yet it still works, with Hart puncturing the animated canine with personal quirks and talkative bits.
As to be expected, this particular cinematic outing is the latest collaboration between Johnson and Hart (as seeing in their work together in Central Intelligence and the two Jumanji movies). So, the comedic / character dynamic of both actors comes alive once again on-screen in the pair voicing Krypto and Ace. Thus, the likeability of Super-Pets (and these two characters) will primarily rest on if you like both Johnson and Hart and how they interact with each other. To me, I liked them (both individual and collaborating together), so it didn’t bother me and (in truth) I thought that both Johnson and Hart were great as Krypto and Ace, which showed how much the two talents feel like an old married couple through their dialogue banter with each other.
Beyond Johnson and Hart, Super-Pets has several animal side-kick characters that join Krypto and Ace on their adventures, who have been recently gifted with new superhero powers. Actress Vanessa Bayer (Office Christmas Party and Trainwreck) does some humorous bits within her character of P.B., an overtly talkative pig that gains the power to shrunk and grow at her command, and gets a lot of the film’s more dialogue driven moments, which Bayer fits perfect in doing. Who is actually the surprise “hidden gem” in the movie is the character of Merton, a crotchy old turtle who gains the power of superspeed. Voice by actress Natasha Lyonne (American Pie and Orange is the New Black), Merton gets a lot of hilarious moments throughout the movie, especially ones that “bleeps” out her words that she is using. It’s all in good fun and makes for a such a memorable side characters. Lastly, who gets the least amount of screen-time (of the main group of animals) is Chip, a slightly neurotic squirrel who gets ability of electro-kinesis and who is played by actor Diego Luna (The Book of Life and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story). There is nothing wrong with the character himself and Luna does a good job in voicing him, but Chip does get pushed more to the back more often than not, which is a bit disappointing. Still, for what it is worth, he is an entertaining character in amongst the main players of Super-Pets.
Looking past the animal heroes, actor Johnny Krasinski (The Office and A Quiet Place) does a solid job in providing the voice for Superman (aka Clark Kent / Kal-El) in the movie. As to be expected, the character is more of a large supporting role in the film, but Krasinski does a good job in acting the “bravado” and “heroic” sounding voice for Superman, which I think is spot on and I liked him voicing the role. The same can be said for actor Keanu Reeves (John Wick and The Matrix), who provides the voice work for Batman. Though still just a supporting player in Super-Pets, Reeves’s sounding voice perfectly matches the classic sound that one would picture the character of Batman. Thus, Reeves (like Krasinski) is well-matched to the iconic superhero DC Comics character. In a more secondary role, actress Olivia Wilde (TRON: Legacy and Rush) provides the voice for Lois Lane and, while she isn’t much in the movie itself, she still makes for a fun side-character, with Wilde having that appeal in making the character pleasing.
The other Justice League team members in the movie, including actress Jameela Jamil (She-Hulk: Attorney at Law and The Good Place) as Wonder Woman, actor Jemaine Clement (Flight of the Conchords and Moana) as Aquaman, actor John Early (Your Main Thing and Search Party) as Flash, and actor Daveed Diggs (Hamilton and Wonder) as Cyborg, get their few moments to shine in Super-Pets, but not as much as Krasinski’s Superman or Reeves’s Batman. To me, it’s kind of a disappointment that these characters didn’t get as much screen-time as I would’ve liked to see. Yet, this is where Super-Pets’s script was too crammed with too many side / supporting characters, with most of the Justice League characters being placed on the backburner for much of the feature’s runtime.
As for the film’s main antagonist, I would say that actress Katie McKinnon (Saturday Night Live and Office Christmas Party) does a fun (and a bit hilarious) performance in the role of Lulu, a guinea pig who wants to take over Metropolis. Those looking for something deep into Lulu’s character backstory won’t find much there as her character is pretty straightforward and it’s clear what her motivation is for global domination. I personally liked the character of Lulu in the movie. She was a fun villain, especially since McKinnon interjected her own style and personality into the role. In a more secondary villainy role is the character of Lex Luthor, who is played by actor Marc Maron (The Bad Guys and GLOW). Much like McKinnon’s Lulu, the character of Luthor is pretty straightforward and plays up the classic Superman antagonist that’s customary for a DC Comic. Yet, despite that fact, Maron fits perfectly in voicing Lex…to the letter. Thus, I think he was good in the voice work for the iconic Luthor. As an additional sidenote, though they are minor characters in the film, I do like the pairing of actors Thomas Middleditch (Silicon Valley and Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie) and Ben Schwartz (Parks and Recreation and Sonic the Hedgehog 2) as the Ice and Fire Guinea Pigs. Again, they are merely two secondary players in the movie, but I loved them in the movie and definitely added a few pockets of humor whenever on-screen. Just kind of wished that the two had more dialogue lines the film.
The rest of the cast, including actress Maya Erskine (Casual and Insecure) as Lex Luthor’s main henchwoman / bodyguard Mercy Graves, actress Yvette Nicole Brown (Community and Repo Men) as Animal shelter owner Patty, actor Dan Fogler (Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore and Balls of Fury) as Patty’s assistant named Carl, actress Busy Philipps (He’s Just Not Into You and Cougar Town) as Foofy Dog, actor Keith David (Nope and Gargoyles) as Krypto’s father Dog-El, and actor Alfred Molina (Spider-Man: No Way Home and The Da-Vinci Code) and actress Lena Headey (Game of Thrones and 300) as Superman’s Kryptonian parents Jor-El and Lara, are delegated to minor supporting players in the movie. Most only have one or two scenes in the film, but the recognizable voice work from the talent provides plenty of recognizable lines in those moments that they are put into.
Lastly, as to be expected from a superhero movie, Super-Pets does feature post-credit Easter Egg scene at the very end of the movie. Won’t spoil it on what the scene is, but I’m sure some fans out there will like the cameo appearance involved.
When Lex Luthor’s plan goes awry, a megalomanic guinea pig is imbued with destructive powers, and Superman (and his Justice League companions) are down and out, it’s up to Krypto the Superdog and his newly found animal friends to save the day in the film DC League of Super-Pets. Directors Jared Stern and Sam J. Levine’s latest film takes an animated stab into the DC Comics realm by offering and fun and amusingly entertaining cartoon adventure that finds laughs and heart along the way as well as providing a good dose of distraction for its target audience. While the feature does struggle to create something new into the narrative (being mostly predictable) as well as slightly overstuffing its third act and its secondary characters, the movie itself still manages to be better than expected, thanks to the film’s directors in a few key areas, a sensible story arc (and its themes), humorous comedy bits, rifting on DC Comics lore, and the solid voice acting cast. Personally, I liked this movie. Yes, I do admit that it is quite formulaic and predictable, with the feature not really coloring outside the lines as much, but it wasn’t nearly as terrible as some are making it out to be. The animation was good, the story (while not original) was fun, the humor was amusing, and most of the voice talents involved were great. I mean…. does this movie beat out a Disney or Pixar endeavor? No, but it’s still a fun superhero romp that gets more right than wrong, which makes the whole film enjoyable to start to finish. Thus, my recommendation for the movie is a favorable “recommended” as I’m sure it find a target with its particular “young” demographic crowd and become a suitable family movie night feature. The film’s ending does hint at a possible sequel (a Super-Pets 2) and I wouldn’t be opposed to it……provided that the potential “next chapter” has bit more sharpening and ironing out problems that this installment had. Regardless of if one materializes or not, DC League of Super-Pets is entertaining and fun animated kids’ movie that plays around with its DC comic book mythos and lore, while teaching intangible beyond between owners / pets.
3.9 Out of 5 (Recommended)
Released On: July 29th, 2022
Reviewed On: September 6th, 2022
DC League of Super-Pets is 106 minutes long and is rated PG for action, mild violence, language, and rude humor