I'm not really a dog person, myself. I prefer cats. I like cats that sleep a lot and purr and occasionally do something adorable, like trying to rip your arm off. However, I did like most of the dogs in Hotel for Dogs, especially the lead canine character, Friday the fluffy white mutt. For the most part, these dogs don't have human qualities forced upon them but are funny and sweet in a naturally canine fashion, and they run circles around the human characters in more than one way.
Friday is owned by two children, Andi (Emma Roberts) and Bruce (Jake T. Austin). The kids have been traveling from foster home to foster home since their parents died, and apparently foster parents are all mean cusses who don't allow pets, so they've been hiding poor Friday in the woods and backyards and alleys and such for three years. Friday nearly ends up in the hands of Animal Control, and as we well know from movies and TV, anyone associated with the pound is evil and sadistic. So the little dog ends up taking matters into his own, er, paws (I hate writing phrases like that) and finds his own family -- two strays who live in an abandoned hotel. One thing leads to another, and suddenly Andi and Bruce realize that there's plenty of room in this once-fancy hotel that no one seems to care about for a lot of dogs that no one else seems to care about, either. Unfortunately, at this point in the movie, Friday is relegated to minor-character status as the number of dogs and humans onscreen increases. Too bad, because this story could have held much more potential from Friday's point of view. Andi and Bruce are joined by other teenagers -- Johnny Simmons as a possible love interest, plus Kyla Pratt and Troy Gentile (aka the kid who's played Jack Black characters as a kid in various movies). A potential doggie romance also takes up screen time, although I don't think dogs actually behave in this innocent way when they are attracted to one another. Still, it's a family film. Bruce is a talented inventor of various gadgets and it's fun to see the labor-saving devices he dreams up for the dogs, from machines that throw things for dogs to fetch, to car doors with fans blowing on them and movies of highway travel playing in front, to the inevitable dog toilets. It's a family film, and that means silly poop jokes.
I haven't mentioned Don Cheadle yet. He plays a role similar to his character in Reign Over Me -- the worrier who just wants to help, but isn't quite sure how. This time he's a social worker in charge of placing Andi and Bruce. It's a thankless role, and he appears only occasionally. I felt a bit sorry for him and for Ajay Naidu (Office Space, The Wrestler), who plays one of the evil pound guys -- they never have a chance to show off their comic talents in a movie that could have used some non-canine comic talent. Lisa Kudrow and Kevin Dillon play the mean, selfish foster parents, but they're oddly humorless and unappealing to watch.
I saw Hotel for Dogs in a theater full of children, however, and they laughed a lot more than I did. They haven't seen Cheadle in Ocean's Eleven, or Naidu in Office Space, and they loved watching the pooping dogs and dumb grownups and canine smoochery. The movie has some sad moments: the scenes of dogs in the pound aren't intended to wring tears, and some of the more fragile dogs have a touching and dignified pathos. Your kids may bug you to take them to the animal shelter afterwards and adopt a pet. A no-kill shelter is mentioned in passing, but the pound in the movie destroys animals after 72 hours, and that's something kids may be worried about and asking questions about after the movie.
Apart from those issues, Hotel for Dogs is an appropriate film to take children to see, with the stock characters and predictability that recalls numerous films about kids and their pets throughout the decades. If you're over the age of ten, Hotel for Dogs has little to offer but doggie antics -- still, there are plenty of those to enjoy, and you can always ignore the human characters during the occasional canine-free lulls in the film. This is one of those movies where grownup audience members may fidget more than their kids.