Hotel for Dogs

Movie Information

The Story: A pair of orphans -- with a little help from their friends and a convenient script -- turn a disused hotel into a shelter for homeless dogs. The Lowdown: Harmless fun for kids -- and possibly for those who are very keen on dogs and have a penchant for oohing and ahhing on cue whenever a cute canine appears.
Genre: Kiddie Comedy
Director: Thor Freudenthal
Starring: Emma Roberts, Jake T. Austin, Don Cheadle, Johnny Simmons, Kyla Pratt, Troy Gentile
Rated: PG

OK, I’ll admit it: I was really hoping there’d been some misunderstanding about the title and this would turn out to be Eli Roth’s Hostel for Dogs. Maybe someday—after all, he’s been ominously quiet ever since his online rant about horror fans not supporting Hostel Part II. Regardless, what we do get is, well, about what you’d expect from a movie called Hotel for Dogs, which is to say there’s a hotel and there are dogs. Oh yeah, and the requisite children—not to mention Don Cheadle for some inexplicable reason. In short, it’s not a good movie. (Did you seriously think it would be?) In fact, it’s indefensible on any number of levels, with a plot that holds up to scrutiny about as well as a slice of Swiss cheese would serve as a windbreak.

However, if I were 10 years old—or if I had a 10-year-old—I’d be more than happy with the movie. (Though please note that the film has mean dogcatchers; the human leads are, tragically, orphans; and there is the occasional moment of PG peril and an offscreen dog euthanasia.) Really, I cannot imagine how any kid wouldn’t be entranced by seeing movie-style resourceful siblings with a cool rundown hotel all to themselves and an abundance of dogs that do all those clever things dogs do in the movies. Blessedly, the dogs don’t talk, and they largely appear to be of the trained-pooch variety, which is to say their cleverness isn’t all CGI jiggery-pokery.

The three-star rating for Hotel for Dogs applies only to kids, parents and the more rabid dog-loving populace. Anyone else should take note that the situations are ludicrous (an abandoned hotel where all the utilities are functional and all the furnishings still there?); the characters are cardboard; the dialogue is often barely functional; and the acting is somewhere between wooden and the lesser realms of TV. OK, I’ll exempt Cheadle from that last observation. He may be there for the paycheck (what other reason could there be?), but he doesn’t just walk through his role as an idealistic social worker who does his level best to protect our orphaned siblings, Andi (Emma Roberts) and Bruce (Jake T. Austin, the voice of the title character on TV’s Go, Diego! Go!), from being split up.

The premise finds Andi and Bruce—16 and 11 years old respectively—stuck with loser foster parents Lois (Lisa Kudrow) and Carl Scudder (Kevin Dillon), a hateful pair of abominably bad wannabe rock musicians, who are in the foster-care business strictly for the money. The kids can’t even keep their dog, Friday, which leads to the titular hotel. That’s really about all there is to it—except for adding more dogs, some human friends, Bruce’s various improbable Rube Goldberg inventions for dog sitting and, of course, the ever-present potential peril of dogcatchers and other authority figures. (The film gets confused on certain aspects of this, since keeping the dogs quiet is a key point, even though Bruce builds a device that’s designed to work them into a barking frenzy.)

The movie makes a stab at redefining what a family is (though not exactly a cutting-edge idea at this point) and is obviously well-intentioned, but the hook is ultimately lots and lots of cute and clever dogs, and the biggest and best playground a kid could have in the abandoned hotel. Everything else is about as relevant as putting parsley on fish, though possibly somewhat less nutritious. Rated PG for brief mild thematic elements, language and some crude humor.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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7 thoughts on “Hotel for Dogs

  1. luluthebeast

    “and the more rabid dog-loving populace”

    Sounds like Mary will like this.

    Where’s Cruella DeVille when you need her?

  2. Ken Hanke

    Where’s Cruella DeVille when you need her?

    A question I often find myself posing.

  3. Sean Williams

    OK, I’ll admit it: I was really hoping there’d been some misunderstanding about the title and this would turn out to be Eli Roth’s Hostel for Dogs.

    Given Don Cheadle’s involvement, I was hoping Hotel Rwanda for Dogs.

  4. Ken Hanke

    Given Don Cheadle’s involvement, I was hoping Hotel Rwanda for Dogs.

    Yeah, but I can actually think of a “plot” for Hostel for Dogs.

  5. luluthebeast

    Well, Mary finally made me go see it and I’d say your review was spot-on! Seeing as how Georgia looked pretty much like our Boston(who she likes to dress up)she said the movie was worth it just to see the Boston dressed up as a Bell-Hop. What I put up with!

  6. Ken Hanke

    But, Chester, if you were 10 years old, you would’ve loved the idea of having the run of that hotel. It actually kind of appeals to me now, but I realize the movie has the advantage that I can’t smell what 30 or so dogs enclosed like that (despite the improbable toilet training) would amount to.

    You know, there’s something suspiciously pun-like about a review of Hotel for Dogs being called “spot-on.”

  7. luluthebeast

    I thought you might like that.

    We do love our dogs, but just our two can smell bad enough in the morning! But at ten, you’re right, that would have been great!

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