DC League of Super-Pets is a CG-animated film about Superman’s dog learning to make and share friends that is much better than you would expect. From the studio that brought you the highs of The Lego Movie and the lows of Space Jam: A New Legacy, it’s unsurprisingly technically competent and surprisingly watchable for adults. While the comedic balance for family movies between “keeping kids entertained” and “keeping adults from resenting the experience” can at times swing too far in one direction or the other, the film mostly maintains the proper ratio: Heavily favoring children’s comprehension but smart enough and with enough subtleties for accompanying adults to not be bored. And its longer-than-average 101-minute runtime still managed to keep the children in my screening attentive and contented. It’s not one of those movies for kids that you watch and think “Actually, adults need to see this.” It’s just one where if their kids ask them to go see it, you don’t need to feel too bad for them.
The film focuses on Krypto (Dwayne Johnson), Superman’s (John Krasinski) lifelong companion from Krypton, learning to be less jealous in his relationship with Superman—first to accept that Superman can also love Lois (Olivia Wilde), and then learning that it’s not just okay but necessary for him to have other friends. They come in the form of Ace (co-lead Kevin Hart, whose voice was harder to hide behind his character) and his friends from the animal shelter (Vanessa Bayer, Natasha Lyonne, Diego Luna), all of whom get superpowers after Lex Luthor (Marc Maron) brings a meteorite of orange Kryptonite to the earth in an attempt to empower himself. A comedy adventure ensues where the animals have to step in to help the Justice League (voiced, in addition to Krasinski, by Keanu Reeves, Dascha Polanco, Jermaine Clement, Daveed Diggs, John Early and Jameela Jamil). The movie references as far back as the 1970s-80s Super Friends and as recently as DC films from the last half-decade, but it doesn’t get weighed down by those references—they’re more structural or aesthetic than drawn-out rhetorical callbacks.
Moreover, despite a mid-credits scene where two of the antagonists link up and a post-credits scene that’s a sort of tie-in marketing gag, Super-Pets stands on its own. Perhaps there are underlying assumptions by the moviegoing public that animated for-kids features like this won’t ascribe to any mainline cinematic continuity, but regardless I’m impressed at Warner Bros.’ intentional utilization of different standalone timelines. Suicide Squad, Peacemaker and Wonder Woman 84 seem to come from the DCEU Zach Snyder once helmed, but Joker and The Batman are separate from that and one another, and this stands apart from all of them.
While running gags about Batman’s grief imply some assumed prior knowledge for the audience, they work just as well without any. The film never allows itself to get bogged down by any of the lore it’s drawing from. It’s just part of telling a joke-filled story. And those jokes aren’t all just winking or fourth-wall-breaking quips, though there are nods in that direction. The news headline tickers were a great touch, as was the company branded on seemingly all the everyday appliances.
While Johnson and Hart are the forward stars, Lyonne (whose dialog could pass for being almost entirely improvised), Bayer and Kate McKinnon (whose character has some hilarious opinions about certain species of small animals) might have been the most memorable. There are no duds, though; it’s a star-studded cast and everyone came to play. While I wonder about the consequences for the art and career path of voice acting as prestigious, high-earning mainstream actors (who have a variety of experience levels with voice work) continue to be courted for animation roles, the aesthetic and performances marry well here.
Animation company Animal Logic mostly uses conventional CGI—something like what you would expect from Pixar, DreamWorks or Illumination—with the specific style on display somewhere between the Dini-verse cartoons of the ‘90s and early 2000s (Batman: The Animated Series, Justice League, Justice League Unlimited) and The Incredibles. However, there are a few moments where they use photonegative-inspired contrasts that reminds you of Into the Spider-Verse, albeit slightly tamer. That film should be a template for more comic book fare: Animation allows for the channeling of cartoon drawings in ways that live-action can’t quite manage. Still, DC League of Super-Pets wasn’t nearly as thematically dark nor as visually daring, possibly because it’s targeted at an even younger audience.
Yet it’s still a fun viewing experience with the added benefit of A Tribe Called Quest and John Williams, though without Krypto’s classic theme. The comedy peaks in the third act but is generally consistent and matched with action that will captivate children throughout. The exposition with Superman’s super-friends showing up was especially good, though part of the humor there required a knowledge level that sometimes got too meta, undercutting its sincerity. However, the most emotionally captivating moments focus the film’s themes about the relationships people form with their pets, and the senses of duty we feel to the ones we love, all of which gives DC League of Super-Pets a big heart.
Director: Jared Stern, (co-director) Sam Levine
Writer: Jared Stern, John Whittington
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Kate McKinnon, John Krasinski, Vanessa Bayer, Natasha Lyonne, Diego Luna, Thomas Middleditch, Ben Schwartz, Keanu Reeves
Release Date: July 29, 2022
Kevin Fox, Jr. is a freelance writer with an MA in history, who loves videogames, film, TV, and sports, and dreams of liberation. He can be found on Twitter @kevinfoxjr.