Amongst the endless barrage of superpowered films and television oversaturating our screens, there’s always something more novel about an animated approach. There have been lots of great live-action superhero flicks and when you get a creative team who knows how to adapt particular superheroes to the medium, it can truly wow. These heroes originated largely from comics, however, in a bold and stylish fashion that only animation can truly recapture. With films like Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and The LEGO Batman Movie, we see the heights of this and the visual invention that these larger-than-life heroes deserve, alongside their more realistic counterparts. Now, the DC League of Super-Pets swoops in aiming to bring a similar level of fun and reinvention to a genre many of us are already becoming increasingly tired of.
Hailing from a script by alums of The LEGO Batman and Ninjago movies, Jared Stern and John Whittington, we follow Superman’s dog Krypto, in fear of losing his very best superfriend to Lois Lane who Superman is planning on marrying. When Superman and the rest of the Justice League are captured by Lex Luthor’s own super-pet, a ragtag group of abandoned pets gain powers and fight alongside Krypto to save Metropolis. A fun concept and very silly spin on the superhero format, most of what differentiates DC League of Super-Pets from typical superhero fare is that it 1.) is about super-pets and 2.) is aimed at very young kids. There’s nothing wrong with this and it really is cute, but even this isn’t immune to the way all of these comic book films completely unravel into a giant action-extravaganza in the end. DC League of Super-Pets is at its very best when it is simply playing with the concept of a superhero having a superpowered pet, with sky-high dog walks and supersonic games of fetch.
Just prior to his upcoming DC hierarchy-shifting turn as the titular Black Adam, out this year, Dwayne Johnson provides the voice of Krypto, with frequent collaborator Kevin Hart as Ace, often known as Bat-Hound. On paper, this pairing once again for the film doesn’t conjure much interest, yet without a doubt, they provide the story’s heart and biggest laughs. The real-life friendship and chemistry between the two translates well and make for the film’s more earnest moments, their arcs feel genuine and emotional. John Early and Keanu Reeves are extra highlights from the supporting voice cast, but the other super-pets just aren’t particularly well-sketched and mostly provide recurring gags and humor that is vaguely amusing at best and grating at worst. The cute factor that makes the initial moments with these characters fly, quickly dissipates on the fourth bleeped-out swear word gag that makes you wonder if no one was too sure on how to land an all-ages approach to the film.
While Krypto and Ace’s super-pet friends aren’t quite as funny and well-rounded as they are, the film does earn some of its biggest laughs from simply goofing off with the Justice League. Be it the reliably grim Batman who is just so easy to mine laughs from in a lighter setting, to the simple visual of a guinea pig taking a giant battery out of Cyborg’s suit and sending him flying to the ground.
DC League of Super-Pets also has a wink-and-nod sense of humor and penchant for cinematic callbacks to heroes, serving as a bit of fan service for the fans and adults in the crowd. What felt funny and novel about this in something like The LEGO Batman Movie though now just feels a bit… obligatory?
We’ve heard these jokes, had the classic Danny Elfman and John Williams themes revived multiple times, and have these heroes on our screens regularly already. It makes you wish for a version of this film that is far more committed to its simpler, cuter moments where its main story does actually feel different from the superhero pack.
At the end of the day, it is really hard to actively dislike a film like DC League of Super-Pets. It’s full of truly sweet moments and the kind of zany, ridiculous stuff that kids will just adore. There are some who would (rightfully) say that we shouldn’t lower the bar for animation and that even “kids” films can and have outdone their more serious counterparts. Sometimes though, a fun cartoon for kids is exactly that.