There are movies born of obvious inspiration and perspiration on the part of all involved, and then there is “content,” manufactured to maximize potential profits from a piece of intellectual property.
That’s what the comic book adaptation “DC League of Super-Pets” is. Warners owns the rights to everything in the DC Comic Book Universe, and if Marvel can make a mint over an animated “Spider-Man,” “Why not us?”
They rounded up a big-name voice cast for this dive into the younger-kids-skewing “Super-Pets” comics. They cooked up an origin story of how Superman’s dog, Krypto, came to Earth and how denizens of a rescue pet shop acquire similar super-powers and help Krypto help the Justice League out when Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, Cyborg, Aquaman, Flash and Green Lantern get in a jam.
It’s formulaic, rarely funny and seriously cynical for a movie aimed at small kids. But a couple of moments have a lovely and quite-unexpected pathos to them, about the relationships people — even superheroes — develop with companion animals. That doesn’t atone for some of that milk-our-IP-for-every-cent-it-can-earn cynicism. Still, it’s something.
Dwayne Johnson voices Krypto, given his own cape and partnering duties with Superman (John Krasinski) as part of their normal “Wake up, it’s WALK o’clock!” dog-owner relationship. Krypto’s a classic side-kick, there to carry half the load when an explosion knocks out a link of elevated train tracks, which always happens in superhero movies.
Kevin Hart voices Ace, a bull-terrier mix and longtime inmate at a pet rescue store, waiting — like PB the pig (Vanessa Bayer), Chip (Diego Luna) the squirrel and Merton the sometimes potty-mouthed turtle (Natasha Lyonne) — “to feel the warm embrace of a middle-aged person who lives alone.”
They share their space with the hairless lab-experiment guinea pig Lulu (Kate McKinnon) who harbors delusions of supervillain grandeur.
When Lex Luthor (Marc Maron) comes up with yet another Kryptonite scheme to foil Superman, aka “Mister Outside Underpants,” Krypto has bigger problems than fretting over Lois Lane coming between him and his best buddy. And the rescue critters find themselves endowed with super powers.
The gags here come from TV coverage, which features jokey graphics underneath this or that extraordinary calamity suggesting a “wealthy person actually goes to jail” and the like. There’s a funny-at-first, progressively more lame as it is repeated “smooth jazz” riff, a few “dookie” jokes and the extremely nearsighted turtle voiced by Lyonne comes close, time and again, to actually swearing.
“I can’t see (bleep)!”
Krypto gets starchy, stentorian prerecorded advice from his Kryptonian dad (Keith David, quite funny), the only pets picked for adoption at the shelter are kittens (who are evil), and Lulu keeps shrieking her views on world domination, which humans only here as the irate squeaks of a petulant pet.
The heart-tugging bits spin out of how Krypto followed baby Kal-El from Krypton and how Ace came to be in a rescue shelter.
The big-name voices rarely pay dividends, as only Lyonne and McKinnon have much in the way of fun with the characters. Johnson always makes an effort, but Hart — saddled with even fewer laugh-lines — pretty much phones it in. And even he put more into this than Marc Maron, the dullest Lex Luthor ever.
Keanu Reeves brings his best brooding, deadpan take on Batman, muttering about how he doesn’t want a pet because “I work alone…except for Robin…and Alfred…and whoever that guy was that Morgan Freeman played.”
The CG-assisted animation’s good, if nothing special. The messaging?
“You don’t have to have superpowers to be a hero.” Words to live by, kids.
“Super-Pets” doesn’t add up to much, not for adults sitting through this with the kids, anyway. But eight-and-unders? They’re down for dookie jokes and the almost-saying-“a-bad-word” Merton the turtle. A little more of that might have above this one above “mediocre ‘content,’ with a smidgen of heart.”
Rating: PG, innuendo
Cast: The voices of Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Kate McKinnon, Diego Luna, Vanessa Bayer, Natasha Lyonne, Marc Maron, John Krasinski, Jemaine Clement, Daveed Diggs, Keith David and Keanu Reeves.
Credits: Directed by Jared Stern and Sam Levine, scripted by Jared Stern and John Whittington. A Warner Brothers release.
Running time: 1:46