Sunday, May 26, 2024

‘DC League of Super-Pets’ is A Love Letter to Comic Books

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DC League of Super-Pets is a much better movie than its title and marketing suggest. For starters, it is both aware and unashamed of what it is, a DC comic book movie. It understands that these characters are older than the Grampian hills but doesn’t behave as if you need all the knowledge to enjoy the film. But more than that, it’s fun.

Jared Stern has made a heartfelt ode to comic book movies. I wouldn’t go so far as to call Super-Pets a parody, though there are moments of comedic gold, such as when Lex Luthor boasts to a captured Justice League about turning his office into a rocket. “It’s just something billionaires do,” only to have Bat-Man agree. 

Stern co-wrote the script with John Whittington. The duo makes Super-Pets a story about a rag-tag group of misfit pets who are granted powers by “orange kryptonite” and have to help save the Justice League from a mad scientist guinea pig hellbent on taking over the world. Honestly, the plot alone feels like something ripped from the comic pages, and that alone made me love it all the more. Stern and Whittington stack Super-Pets with a bevy of absurd humor and clever one-liners, but it’s the heart that ties it all together.

Krypto (Dwayne Johnson) isn’t just man’s best friend; he’s Superman’s (John Krasinski) best friend. Or he was until Lois Lane (Olivia Wilde) entered the picture. Meanwhile, on the other side of town, at a shelter for unwanted pets, we meet the cynical pitbull who refuses to be locked up, Ace (Kevin Hart). We also meet a potbellied pig PB (Vanessa Bayer), a hyper-active neurotic squirrel Chip (Diego Luna), and an ancient nearly blind turtle Merton McSnurtle (Natasha Lyonne). There’s also a hairless guinea pig, Lulu (Kate McKinnon), formerly the property of Lex Luthor (Marc Maron), who, like another animated rodent, is obsessed with trying to take over the world.

The kryptonite grants each pet powers. Ace, the brash, protective leader of the group, is invulnerable. PB, the loveable indecisive pig with a heart of gold, can grow big or small. Chip, the nervous, scared little guy, can shoot electricity from his paws. Finally, Merton, of course, is now the fastest turtle alive. 

Johnson and Hart have natural chemistry but are helped by Brayer, Luna, and Lyonne. Lyonne is the stand-out as she plays Merton as a randy older woman. About halfway through, they give her glasses, and she cries, “Oh my God! None of you are turtles! This explains so much!”

Super-Pets doesn’t attempt to revamp the genre, but that’s fine. It’s a solid entry that is in many ways better than the live-action counterparts. Lulu will escape and capture the Justice League, leaving Ace and his friends and a de-powered Krypto, who’ll have to learn to trust and rely on others to save the day. 

McKinnon’s work as Lulu is pure McKinnon, which is to say, deliriously comic creation. Obsessed with Luthor, she refuses to see that she was literally a guinea pig to the mad man and instead chooses to believe they were partners in crime. 

Even her hench-guinea pigs, stolen from a local schoolroom and given special powers, seem to think their boss is misreading her relationship with Luthor. With her infectious villain maniacal cackle and breathless monologues, McKinnon infuses Lulu with a larger-than-life personality that fits perfectly with the character. 

Stern does a good job juggling many little stories while ensuring the narrative never gets jumbled. There’s Lois and Supes’ burgeoning romance, Bat-Man (Keanu Reeves) being an emo loner who is not billionaire Brue Wayne. There’s a running gag where Krytpo’s favorite toy is a Batman doll called “Squeaky Bruce.” 

But most of all, Stern and Whittingdon do an excellent job of blending different humor styles. There’s a clever one-liner, or joke rooted in observational humor, for every potty joke. As a result, Super-Pets is fun for kids and adults without ever really pandering to either. 

Stern and his animators give us a world of bright colors and shiny surfaces, a glossy rendition of Metropolis. At the same time, the characters seem drawn with angular inspirations. Faces and bodies come in different sizes and shapes. The Green Lantern, Jessica Cruz (Dascha Polanco), is not your typically drawn heroine. Cyborg (Daveed Diggs) likewise has his unique style. My point is that the animation style allows for a diversification of looks for its characters while still having a uniform aesthetic.

Not to mention the action scenes are jubilant and absurd, considering they involve superpowered animals with varying degrees of personal anxieties, they should be. They range from the hilarious, such as when the newly powered guinea pigs go up against Bat-man, and there’s a long back and forth as they try and decide who should attack first. Stern walks the fine line of allowing Super-Pets to be serious but never takes itself too seriously.

After all, this is a movie where a character’s personal growth is triggered by his master getting engaged. You’ll either roll your eyes or go with it and have a good time. I chose the latter.

Images courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

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