Grade:  B-/B
Rated PG

You know how you have to make up a list of positives and negatives when you’re undecided about something? That’s what I had to do in order to review DC League of Super-Pets.

Right about now, any children or fans of the DC Universe who are reading this are shaking their heads and muttering Loser or something to that effect. And I get it. My take might go against the grain, because this 2022 Warner Bros. picture earned a 73 percent “fresh” rating at Rotten Tomatoes and an 88 percent favorable audience rating.

Don’t get me wrong. This is an entertaining film—one that I think puts it in the low-to-mid B range. But it took the ledger method for me to reach that conclusion.

I felt conflicted from the very beginning, when a somewhat sappy scene featuring a giggling baby and his perky puppy set against a minimalist background seemed designed to go straight for the heart. All films manipulate viewers’ emotions, but this was a little too obvious and clichéd for me. But very quickly it’s revealed that the baby is Kal-El, and as his conflicted parents put him in a mini-spaceship and wave goodbye, the baby beckons . . . and the puppy obliges, sliding under the closing door as slick and in a nick of time as Indiana Jones. And I thought, How clever!

Throughout the film, I found myself similarly conflicted, but the positives far outweigh the negatives, so let’s start there.

+ It makes sense that if Superman has powers on Earth, so does his dog, Krypto. But the writers did a good job coming up with a logical explanation for how and why the pets in a shelter come to Toy Story life with powers of their own:  Orange Kryptonite. It causes a tough-looking, gruff dog named Ace to become so super strong he can shield others from all sorts of weapons and explosions. Meanwhile, a potbelly pig nicknamed PB can balloon to various gigantic sizes, while an elderly poor-sighted turtle named Merton (a playful allusion to Dr. Seuss?) of course becomes suddenly super fast, and a squirrel named Chip (take that, Dale), whose eyes already look plugged-in, turns into someone that can channel electrical charges. And how clever is it to turn the idea of shelter animals on its head—to have those creatures normally rescued by humans doing the rescuing . . . of super-humans?

+ Yes, it’s not just super animals; animated versions of the Justice League are here too, and the addition of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Green Lantern, Flash, and Cyborg adds another layer of interest as they take a backseat to the pets.

+ Superman’s nemesis was Lex Luthor, so it makes perfect sense that in a pet version of a superheroes movie the villain would also be a pet . . . or think she was a pet. It’s pure evil genius to have Luthor’s “pet” really be a lab guinea pig named Lulu that he had abused and used for experiments, but who thinks of herself as his pet and protégé.

+ The boxer Ace’s backstory. It will have you recalling what happened to Lady in Disney’s Lady and the Tramp, and is told in a way that makes it feel like the most poignant animated sequence since the relationship montage in Disney’s Up.

+ Star power:  Dwayne Johnson gives voice to Krypto, Superman’s dog, while Kevin Hart is Ace the gruff boxer, Kate McKinnon is the evil Lulu, John Krasinski is Superman, Vanessa Bayer is PB the pig, Natasha Lyonne is Merton the turtle, Diego Luna is Chip the squirrel, Marc Maron is Lex Luthor, Keanu Reeves is Batman, Thomas Middleditch is Keith/Ice Guinea Pig, Ben Schwartz is Mark/Fire Guinea Pig, Olivia Wilde is Lois Lane, Jameela Jamil is Wonder Woman, Jermaine Clement is Aquaman, John Early is The Flash, Daveed Diggs is Cyborg, Dascha Polanco is Green Lantern, Maya Erskine is Mercy Graves (Luthor’s henchwoman), and Alfred Molina briefly appears as Jor-El.

+/- Animation and action. The animation is wonderful and the action shots capture the full chaos of a superhero universe on the edge of destruction; but there are times when the action goes on too long. In addition, rather than a series of small battles leading up to a climactic one, there’s a sense of sameness that accompanies the action, so it can start to feel repetitive.

+ Scattered throughout the film are subtle jokes or wise observations that seem aimed at adults. Example #1:  As the shelter pets are talking about adoption, one of them asks another if he wouldn’t like to experience the love that comes from being adopted by “a middle-age human who lives alone.”  Example #2:  Upon seeing a dog toy with his likeness, Batman growls, “That better be a licensed toy or I will freak out!” Example #3: As one dog tries to remind another of the connection between dogs and humans, he says, “You know what they say about us dogs, right?” “Never feed us chocolate?” Example #4: When Krypto says “A car ran me over a little,” Merton sighs, “You always remember your first time.”

But such lines aren’t as plentiful as adults would wish them to be, and it leaves you wanting more—especially given the simplicity, sameness of action, and other dialogue that can make this feel like an animated film aimed at children first. This, ultimately was what disappointed me enough to have to trot out the positive/negative approach.

Seeing it all on paper makes me think that I may have been too hard in my assessment. Families are going to like this one so much that while it’s currently streaming, they might want to add the Blu-ray to their home video collections. The plot touches on some points that children can identify with, like Krypto feeling displaced when Superman is spending more time with Lois Lane, or ignored and unwanted pets wanting to find their “family,” and the narrative thrust is simple enough for everyone to follow:  Lex Luthor harvests some Orange Kryptonite to expand his powers, and his “pet” counterpart does the same. With the Justice League captured and needing to be rescued, it’s up to the animals to follow the tagline:  “Sit, Stay, Save the World.”

But darn it, I wanted more of that clever dialogue for adults—like the snappy retort that Lulu has when Wonder Woman says, “You cannot escape my Lasso of Truth”:  “You want the truth? The boots are a little much.” Director Jared Stern also gave us The Lego Batman Movie, so I think it’s fair to say that I’m not asking too much. Am I?

Entire family:  Yes
Run time:  105 min., Color
Studio/Distributor:  Warner Bros.
Aspect ratio:  2.39:1 widescreen
Featured audio:  Dolby Atmos TrueHD
Bonus features:  B+ (includes “How to Draw Krypto”)
Includes:  Blu-ray, DVD, Digital Code
Amazon link
Rated PG for action, mild violence, language, and rude humor

Language: Several bleeps where one could imagine an f-bomb or s-word, plus a few faux swearwords like “heck”

Sex:  2/10—Lois and Superman kiss and embrace, and Krypto refers to being kicked out of the bed when Lois “stays over”; no kissing or embrace, but two giggling women in the park are referred to as a “couple”

Violence: 3/10—Even for an animated superhero movie it’s not that intense, just comic-book action with a lot of characters bouncing around and miraculously surviving various weapons and explosions; also some strange violence, like a cat with a machine gun tail or a guinea pig whose literal firepower is recharged with a torch (ouch)

Adult situations:  Nothing that hasn’t already been mentioned—overall a very kid-friendly film

Takeaway:  Richard Donner gave DC fans a pretty solid Superman followed by an even better Superman II; here’s hoping that Jared Stern also is able to take the sequel to another level