The Washington Post

Supporting cast supercharg­es tale of fantastic four-legged heroes

- BY THOMAS FLOYD

These days, it goes without saying that an animated movie needs a stellar voice cast. So you might be forgiven for thinking that the talent heard in “DC League of SuperPets” — including Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart as talking dogs — is simple stunt casting.

But like any good team-up, the rote but charming “Super-pets,” in which Johnson plays Superman’s dog Krypto and Hart a boxer-chihuahua mix named Ace, understand­s the value of a deep bench. Johnson’s and Hart’s A-list status (and bickering banter, previously showcased in “Central Intelligen­ce” and the Jumanji movies) may be the film’s draw, along with the appearance of several human DC Comics characters. But it’s the contributi­ng vocal shenanigan­s of Kate Mckinnon, Vanessa Bayer, Diego Luna and a riotous Natasha Lyonne, as a menagerie of other animals, that save the film from the clutches of evil predictabi­lity.

Give credit to director Jared Stern: He seems to know not only how to make inspired casting choices, but when to sit back and open the floor to improv. In short, he lets funny people be funny. Stern and his co-writer John Whittingto­n, who were part of the writing team on “The Lego Batman Movie,” bring along some of that 2017 film’s witty irreverenc­e for the DC universe — an antidote to the exhausting grandiosit­y of Zack Snyder’s live-action take on the same characters.

Here, Superman (John Krasinski) thwarts bad guys with the help of his powered-up pup, Krypto, a Labrador-like critter from Krypton with laser vision, the ability to fly and an alter ego who goes by the name of — wait for it — Bark Kent. They’re mostly a tag-team operation while protecting Metropolis (an intriguing amalgam of several American cities), although they occasional­ly get backup from a deliciousl­y droll Batman (Keanu Reeves) and the rest of the Justice League. But when a villainous hairless guinea pig named Lulu (Mckinnon, having a ball) kidnaps the members of the League in hopes of pleasing Lex Luthor (Marc Maron) — her former owner and Superman’s nemesis — it’s up to Krypto and a ragtag group of animal allies, newly endowed with superpower­s, to save them.

The leader of this pack is the quippy Ace, gifted with invincibil­ity but cursed with a tear-jerking past. Bayer voices PB, a cheery potbellied pig and superhero fangirl who can grow or shrink. Luna is wonderfull­y deranged as Chip, a neurotic squirrel with the ability to control electricit­y. But Lyonne steals the show as Merton, playing the lightning-fast turtle as a lascivious little old lady who didn’t get the memo that’s there’s no cursing in a kids’ movie. (The swears are bleeped, for the record.)

When “Super-pets” isn’t delivering animal antics or reveling in a drawn-out riff on “The Great British Bake Off,” it’s slyly poking fun at the larger absurdity of the superhero genre. Gags about Batman’s brooding, Superman’s notso-secret identity and the impractica­lity of the invisible jet flown by Wonder Woman (Jameela Jamil) aren’t exactly original, but they still entertain. The ways in which Lulu traps the Justice League — dropping Aquaman (Jemaine Clement) into a fish tank, spinning the Flash (John Early) in a hamster wheel, putting Cyborg (Daveed Diggs) on airplane mode — are more inspired. Ben Schwartz and Thomas Middleditc­h also delight as inseparabl­e guinea pigs gifted with incompatib­le powers.

It’s unfortunat­e that “SuperPets,” unlike “Lego Batman,” doesn’t commit to the off-the-wall frenzy. There are moments of sporadic distinctio­n, but its assemblyli­ne animation, unimaginat­ive needle drops and predictabl­e plot flatten it to something more pedestrian. At times, it’s tough to shake the feeling that “Super-pets” and its cuddly characters are more of a merchandis­ing opportunit­y than a movie. (Correspond­ing plush toys have already found their way into Mcdonald’s Happy Meals.)

Still, this winsome tale of found family resonates, as “Super-pets” eventually shape-shifts into a message movie about the virtues of animal adoption. Crass commercial­ism aside, the valiant voice cast and championin­g of animal companions earn “Super-pets” a slightly longer leash.

PG. at area theaters. Contains action, mild violence, coarse language and rude humor. 100 minutes.

 ?? Warner Bros. Pictures ?? John Krasinski voices Superman and Dwayne Johnson voices his dog, Krypto, in “DC League of SuperPets.” The film boasts a deep bench that includes Kate Mckinnon, Diego Luna and Natasha Lyonne.
Warner Bros. Pictures John Krasinski voices Superman and Dwayne Johnson voices his dog, Krypto, in “DC League of SuperPets.” The film boasts a deep bench that includes Kate Mckinnon, Diego Luna and Natasha Lyonne.

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