The Superman story with a doggie twist. The tale, or tail, of the pup who jumped into baby Kal-El’s escape pod as his parents evacuated their son from the dying planet Krypton, and wound up as Superman’s best friend on planet Earth, complete with canine super powers of his own, a cape, and even a pair of black framed glasses as a doggie disguise. When he’s not being Krypto the superdog, he’s the Bark to Superman’s Clark Kent. Ho ho.
Dwayne Johnson, surely at risk of spreading himself too thin, voices Krypto, the loyal companion whose daily round of walkies and fly-ies is interrupted by a series of events. First Superman and Lois Lane start getting serious, leading to Krypto becoming intensely jealous. Then Lex Luthor finds two chunks of kryptonite. With the green stuff he neutralises Superman and locks him up with the other members of the Justice League (Wonder Woman, Batman, Aquaman, Flash etc). With the orange stuff he empowers a gaggle of test-lab guinea pigs and also, accidentally, a hapless raggle-taggle bunch of pet-store left-behinds.
From here it’s a case of Krypto as the cavalry, setting out on a mission to help his master and the rest of the Justice League escape, aided by his newly formed League of Super-Pets – Ace the dog (voice: Kevin Hart), PB the pig (Vanessa Bayer), Merton the turtle (Natasha Lyonne), Chip the squirrel (Diego Luna) – while Lulu the malevolent guinea pig (Kate McKinnon) crusades for the forces of evil, incidentally hoping to win the love of Luthor.
So, a pets win prizes kind of affair, directed by Jared Stern and written by Stern and John Whittington, who did a couple of those Lego movies. They deliver a variation on the same theme, a movie crammed with jokes and pop-culture references to make the corners of the mouth twitch. In an early scene a dejected Krypto is left behind when Clark and Lois go out on what is Clark and Krypto’s regular British Bake Off night. Soggy bottoms all round. In another, as we see Lex Luthor being carted off to prison on the TV news, a caption reads “rich person actually goes to jail”.
Those Lego movies work on a “throw enough and something will stick” principle and the same goes for the DC League of Super-Pets, which is fun and amiable and familiar but most of all packed with jokes. Smart ones too. At one point there’s a training montage alive to the charge that comedies like this are always doing spoof training montages and so pulls a funny switcheroo halfway through.
Even so, the joke rate, highest in the early scenes, has a short half life. By the time we get into the last third, when the action plan of Krypto, Ace, PB, Merton and Chip is put into effect, things are less comedically skittish. The animation style, too, shifts slightly, from a DC meets Wile E Coyote knockabout to something more darkly noirish (the other side of DC, if you like).
It’s easy to admire but harder to like. There is just too much of this superhero stuff about, even at one step removed, as this is. Two steps, if you include the fact that it’s animated. And it’s hard to become involved in characters who exist as a humorous commentary on other characters rather than as solid fictional entities in their own right.
Without the names up front I’m not sure how many of the stars could be picked out blind. Dwayne Johnson, for sure. And Kevin Hart, almost certainly, since both their characters are playing up to their screen personas. Natasha Lyonne’s growl (she’s the turtle) maybe. Kate McKinnon as the manically needy Lulu, yes, probably. But John Krasinski as Superman, Diego Luna as Chip the squirrel? Probably not. And while Keanu Reeves growls away very amusingly as the psychotically self-obsessed Batman, you’d probably not guess it was him.
It’s produced by Dwayne Johnson, who has stated he thinks it’s the first of a franchise. All-conquering though he is at the moment – having also recently produced and starred in Jungle Cruise and Black Adam – Johnson might be wrong about that. Place your bets.
DC League of Super-Pets – Watch it/buy it at Amazon
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© Steve Morrissey 2023