Andi and Bruce have it ruff.
Life's rarely easy for orphans, after all, and this particular set of siblings change foster homes more often than most folks change their car's oil. Their current guardians, Carl and Lois Scudder, are tone-deaf rocker wannabes who padlock the pantry, serve green-gray glop for dinner and get all miffy if the kids intrude on band practice.
At least Andi and Bruce are still together. Not many foster homes (their social worker Bernie tells them) like taking in older kids, and fewer still want to saddle themselves with both a high-spirited teen girl and her bookish younger brother. If the Scudders shoo them away, chances are they'll wind up in separate homes—or perhaps in a Dickensian orphanage where they'll long for the days of Lois' green-gray glop.
You'd think staying together would be a pretty good incentive for the two kids to mind their manners. Fat chance. See, Andi and Bruce consider their makeshift "family" to be a threesome: They've cared for a scruffy yet curiously adorable stray dog, Friday, for three years now, and they can't bear to send the poor mongrel off on his own. So they lie, cheat and steal to feed Friday fatty hamburger patties, and they rig a nifty little elevator to transport him to and from the Scudders' upper-level apartment.
Of course, such a situation can't last forever—at least not within the confines of a 100-minute movie. So Andi and Bruce break ground (as it were) on a hotel for dogs—located at a deserted hotel for people. In it, Friday lives the highlife, as do a growing quantity of canines, some of whom find their way in on their own. Most, however, are gathered up by Andi, Bruce and a few dog-savvy friends as they scour the city, looking for strays to rescue from the mean streets. They teach their newfound guests how to use the toilet and eat at the table, and Bruce makes for the mutts a multitude of clever machines: robotic sheep to keep the herders busy and self-knocking doors to entertain the barkers, for instance.
Lassie never had it so good.
They say a man's best friend is his dog. But dogs' best friends are Andi and Bruce. They love their pooch pals with a near frightening zeal, and they'll do whatever it takes to save them from the city's evil dogcatchers (who are, incidentally, the most reliably nasty characters in Hollywood this side of the Nazi party) and make them (the dogs, not the catchers) happy—even turning down a better foster home so they can stay close to their illicit charges. The kids are, in turn, rewarded with the kind of love and affection only a dog can provide: slobbery kisses, wagging tails and unrelenting cuteness.
The social worker responsible for the kids (Bernie) sometimes provides positive adult guidance. He covers for them once when he clearly shouldn't have, but he does so because he deeply cares for them. And he does his best to ensure they stay together. [Spoiler Warning] In the end, he and his wife adopt the children themselves.
Two dogs—Romeo and Juliet—hook up in the hotel. We see them sitting together demurely and licking each other's faces. It's later suggested Romeo fathered a litter of puppies.
As for the humans: Andi and a pet store worker, Dave, share a quick kiss. Heather—one of Dave's workmates—kisses a boy on the cheek. Bernie and his wife share a quick peck. Trying to make an "impression," a boy offers to rub Heather's shoulders.
A child kicks a dogcatcher in the groin and wrestles him to the ground. Dave gets smacked in the forehead by a flying wooden spoon. When one of Bruce's contraptions goes haywire right around feeding time and there's no one around to fix it, the dogs wreak their revenge on the hotel, knocking over furniture and tearing through some of Bruce's machines. A Doberman barks so furiously that a dogcatcher locks himself in a pen for his own safety.
The city pound apparently euthanizes dogs after they've spent 24 hours there—a tight timeline that might add a troublesome sense of peril for younger viewers. One beautiful dog at the pound is led through a back door by a dogcatcher. The catcher later comes back, alone, with an empty dog lead.
Crude or Profane Language
I don't speak dog, so I won't attempt to tally foul barks. But in terms of human slips, here's the verdict: A half-dozen misuses of God's name and a handful of very mild interjections ("crap," "idiot," "poop").
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
The children's devotion to their dogs sometimes manifests itself in negative ways. And for the most part, the kids are left to their own devices when it comes to making ethical choices. Near the end of the film, for instance, they break into the dog pound to release hundreds of dogs on "death row." The lesson? If your goal is good enough, breaking and entering, assault and flagrant traffic violations can all be excused. Andi and Bruce realize that their actions will have serious consequences; they just decide the repercussions are worth it.
When we first meet the sibs, they're placing rocks in cell phone boxes and pawning them off to local merchants—presenting them as new merchandise. When one buyer discovers the ruse and sics a police officer on the children, Andi lies, "Thank goodness, officer! This guy's been stalking me all day!"
The kids obviously have been fibbing to their ever-rotating litany of foster parents about Friday's existence. And their deceptive ways ramp up when they live with the Scudders. They steal food, utensils and even a music pedal from their guardians, and they pick the lock to the pantry, too. The film later sends the Scudders down a chute into a dumpster full of bagged dog feces. "We're in deep doo-doo," Carl says.
Speaking of which, Hotel for Dogs spends quite a bit of time talking about the various bodily functions of the pooches: We see dogs urinate several times around the hotel before the kids construct a dog urinal (a gigantic, golden fire hydrant), and we also see dogs sitting on modified toilet seats.
Children show disrespect for adults, particularly dogcatchers, going so far as to lock them out of their own pound. Andi and Bruce run away from police officers when they're worried they'll be charged with a crime they didn't commit.
It's hard to snarl at a sweet little dog movie and not feel a little Scroogish. "Are there no dog pounds?" I feel like I should be writing. "And the kennels, are they still in operation?"
And yet, despite the pretty clean content found in Hotel for Dogs, I must bark. A bit.
First off, let me say there's nothing wrong with wanting to save dogs from death. This, in fact, is a very good thing. I own a dog that, had we not adopted him, might've experienced that very unseemly fate.
But is it, then, justified to launch frontal assaults on local dog shelters and rescue the lovable pooches imprisoned there? No. Why? Well, 'cause it's illegal. And counterproductive. And, um, wrong.
Let me put it another way. My dog, as adorable as he is, has the exasperating habit of launching himself at visitors like a slobbery cruise missile and smacking them in a particularly sensitive area. He's not trying to be bad. In fact, the instinct behind this little greeting is a positive one: He's really, really, really excited to see you.
But the best of intentions doesn't make it right. He needs to be taught (apparently by a smarter master than me) not to do such things.
Forgive me for comparing Andi and Bruce to my dog, but the same can be said for them. Though presented as the film's moral compass, these kids still need to be taught the difference between right and wrong. Someone must teach them how to funnel their good, caring, loving instincts into socially acceptable and responsible activities. No matter how you slice it, stealing things from your guardians and forcibly taking control of a dog pound is not socially acceptable and responsible.
I'm done growling now. And I want to offer a positive aside—just in case your family winds up sitting through this movie anyway and is looking for something to ... chew on.
The movie's tagline is "No stray is turned away," and the filmmakers clearly want to draw parallels between the dogs the kids take in and the kids themselves. As such, the hotel is a symbol for unconditional love and, by extension, even an example of what kind of haven (and these are my thoughts, not the filmmakers') the Christian Church should ideally be.
Minus the robotic sheep, of course.