In a time in the not too distant past my friends would regularly ask me about whether an upcoming or recently released superhero film was DC or Marvel. However, now it’s not nearly as ambiguous; the term “MCU” (Marvel Cinematic Universe) has entered the cultural zeitgeist and people know exactly which side of the comics schism a superhero (or villain in some cases) comes from. Yet, Warner Animation saw fit to take away the ambiguity even further by blatantly bestowing a prefix to its latest animated feature: DC League of Super-Pets. Pre-branded intellectually property is the name of the game in Tinsel town and the aforementioned title is the studio’s way of un-subtly and shamelessly shouting it from the top of their water tower. Which is kind of unfortunate, because the movie itself is quite good and doesn’t need this silly designation to make it stand out.
DC League of Super-Pets tells the story of Krypto the Super-Dog (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) and his adventures with his fur-dad, Superman (John Krasinksi). It starts at the very beginning where the audience is treated to the origin of puppy Krypto and baby Kal-El/Superman forming their tender bond. Skip forward to the pair as fully formed superheroes saving the day in modern day Metropolis while Supes is trying to court reporter Lois Lane. Krypto gets jealous of this newly forming friendship between his master and the Daily Planet dynamo, which then leads to Clark/Superman trying to find a friend for his canine companion at a local rescue shelter.
At the shelter we meet several animals, including another dog (Kevin Hart) and an ex-test guinea pig named Lulu (Kate McKinnon) who has a penchant for destruction. Eventually these shelter pets get superpowers through a plot device that sends the power-hungry Lulu on a Pinky-and-the-Brain style journey to try and take over the world. Shenanigans ensue that leaves Superman and the rest of the Justice League captured and trapped with only these newly super-powered pets to team up with Krypto on a rescue mission.
The elephant in the room here is that this film was horribly mis-marketed. If you have seen the trailers, you are most certainly going in thinking that it’s a pure comedy on par with 2017’s criminally underrated The Lego Batman Movie or even the super-silly Teen Titans Go! to the Movies from 2018. However, it’s not a comedy. There are funny parts, but it’s much closer to a traditional Pixar film in its tone: great world building sandwiched with gobs of heart and sprinkled with clever humor. I’m not sure why they decided to just tease the comedy (many of the funniest bits are spoiled in the trailer), and I think it might have an unfortunate Cinemascore as a result (Cinemascore is a rating that derived by polling opening night audiences).
Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart are their usual selves in their 4th team up together as the buddy-cop co-leads. They are as charming as ever with Johnson’s straight man being more than enough of a foil to Hart’s wise guy. McKinnon as the villain is really fantastic here too. However, the best voice performance in the whole film is Keanu Reeves as Batman. He was born to play the role (at least comedically) and he steals every scene he’s in. I’m not going to say he’s better than Will Arnett’s Lego Batman, but he sure is brilliant.
Another surprising strength of the feature is that composer Steve Jablonsky decided to re-use many themes and leitmotifs from earlier DC superhero cinema. The tracks I heard quoted were John Williams’ Krypton theme and main march from Superman: the Movie and also Danny Elfman’s 1989 classic Batman theme, although there may be more. To say that these were an enhancement to the film is an understatement. They enriched the film thoroughly and I do hope that future composers of DC projects feel emboldened to continue this tradition.
DC League of Super-Pets is a very good movie that continues the great tradition of DC-based Warner Animation projects. It’s funny, but where it really shines is in its heartfelt moments.
- DC League of Super-Pets