The Low-Down: It is apt that the acronym of “Warner Animation Group” is WAG, the thing dogs do with their tails, given that DC League of Super-Pets is fronted by two dogs. These and the other animals of the DC Universe take the spotlight in this animated comedy.
The Story: Krypto the Super-dog (Dwayne Johnson) is the lifelong companion of Kal-el/Clark Kent/Superman (John Krasinski), having accompanied the superhero from the planet Krypton to earth when they were both young. Krypto and Clark are inseparable, but Krypto begins to grow jealous of Clark’s girlfriend Lois Lane (Olivia Wilde), to whom he is planning to propose. Meanwhile, the denizens of an animal shelter, including Boxer dog Ace (Kevin Hart), hairless guinea pig Lulu (Kate McKinnon), potbellied pig PB (Vanessa Bayer), red-eared terrapin Merton (Natasha Lyonne) and red squirrel Chip (Diego Luna) are exposed to an otherworldly material, gaining superpowers. Lulu was formerly a test subject of the supervillain Lex Luthor (Marc Maron), and has her sights set on world domination. Ace, PB, Merton and Chip meet Krypto, eventually forming an alliance when Lulu’s machinations endanger the Justice League.
The Good: DC League of Super-Pets is clearly made by people with an affection for the comic book source material. It’s frequently funny, surprisingly warm and emotional, and filled with easter eggs and references that are a lot of fun to identify. Feature animation must strike a balance between appealing kids but not making adults feel like they’re being subjecting to torture, and this movie mostly finds that balance. The “jokes for the adults” are a little more sophisticated than one might expect, including a reference to Marc Maron’s WTF podcast and a line about how billionaires tend to be fixated on rockets. Director and co-writer Jared Stern and co-writer John Whittington previously worked on The LEGO Batman Movie, and there are some similarities in the tone and sense of humour here. The movie is fun to look at, with the design of Metropolis drawing inspiration from the art deco illustrations of J.C. Leyendecker. The character designs also nod to the storied history of DC animation, from the Superfriends cartoon to the DC Animated Universe of the 90s and 2000s.
The Not-So-Good: Unfortunately, the movie is sometimes prone to the smugness associated with the height of the Dreamworks Animation era, even if it never gets quite annoying as the worst moments in those movies. There are the requisite bodily function jokes, though not quite as many as the trailers indicate. There is also a bit of a struggle between the comedy and action modes, such that the superhero set pieces are not especially memorable. The movie’s ensemble cast of both animal and human characters means the focus is sometimes spread a little too thin. The movie is also often somewhat derivative of the two Secret Life of Pets movies, in which Kevin Hart had a voice role, and it is likely that DC League of Super-Pets wouldn’t have been greenlit without the success of those movies.
All creatures great and small: This is a movie that is co-produced by and starring Dwayne Johnson, so there is the valid fear that it might be a vanity project. However, Johnson’s voice suits the heroic Krypto well, and Kevin Hart is a good foil as Ace, coming off as less annoying than he does in many of his live-action roles.
A number of talented comedians fill out the voice cast, with Vanessa Bayer’s fangirl PB and Natasha Lyonne’s doddering Merton being especially likeable. Keith David, a familiar voice to animation fans, makes a vocal cameo as Dog-El, Krypton’s father. Apart from PB and Lulu, all the main animal characters are based on existing DC Comics characters.
The casting of the Justice League members is mostly inspired, with Keanu Reeves’ Batman being especially amusing. It doesn’t sound like anyone is slumming it, as can sometimes happen with big-name actors cast in animated movies.