DC Comics has always been known for producing more adult output than its main rival, Marvel. From the dingy Gotham of The Batman to the visceral violence of Joker, it’s been skewing in a gloomier direction ever since Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins almost two decades ago. That is, until the release of DC League of Super-Pets earlier this summer: a spritely animated comedy that ditches Batman, Superman, et al. in favour of their animal counterparts. The end result isn’t genre defining or boundary pushing by any means, but a fun romp nonetheless.
Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson stars as Krypto, Superman’s pet dog who has been by his side since the catastrophic fall of Krypton eons ago. When Supes (John Krasinski) is captured by Lex Luthor’s maniacal guinea pig Lulu (Kate McKinnon), he’s forced to ditch his allegiances and team up with a group of equally heroic adopted pets to put a stop top it. In steps Ace the Bat-Hound (Kevin Hart), on top of other equally wacky four-legged heroes.
It’s a silly concept of course, but DC League of Super-Pets never feels like it ditches the existing fanbase to appeal solely to children. The screenplay from director Jared Stern and John Whittington is brimming with references to wider DC lore, from the aforementioned Krypton set-piece to references to Morgan Freeman’s role in The Dark Knight. It’s fairly heavy on jokes for older fans on top of that: I never expected a Great British Bake-Off reference, or some bleeped swearing that’ll really take you by surprise.
But at its core, DC League of Super-Pets is definitely geared towards a younger audience. The plot itself is as simple as you’d expect from an animated film, but not as emotionally resonant or thematically driven as the likes of Pixar. There’s a thread running throughout about Krypto learning to be separate from Superman, as his relationship with Lois Lane (Olivia Wilde) blossoms. There’s a point towards the end where it feels the film can stick to a fairly grown-up message of accepting change and learning to deal with new situations independently, but instead it opts for a much safer, child-friendly option. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing or even surprising, but when you see the likes of Turning Red tackling big themes, it’s a shame not to see a contemporary do something similar.
That said, it’s clearly not trying to push the boat out in the same way Pixar often does. The animation is considerably less arresting, without much detail in the world or character models. Equally, some of the vocal performances are fairly lacklustre, especially Johnson as Krypto. There’s simply no flair behind his performance, lacking the boy-scout loyalty that underpins the character’s writing. It’s often said that Superman is a bland character, but here he’s taken a lot less seriously, and ends up being a lot of fun. Yes, it’s his canine counterpart that suffers an identity crisis.
Some parts of DC League of Super-Pets are just sheer, unfettered fun though. Keanu Reeves gives a brilliant take as Batman, and though the Caped Crusader is used fleetingly in this film, I’d love to see a spin-off starring him and Hart’s Ace. The first act leans quite heavily on Superman and the Justice League more broadly, which works cleverly to draw you in before binning these characters off to prioritise their animal counterparts. It introduces you well to the DC world and has its fun with it, before telling its main story – however formulaic that ends up being.
Overall, it’s hard to dig too deeply into DC League of Super-Pets, simply because it isn’t trying to challenge young audiences in the same way Disney and Pixar often do. Instead it’s a fun, zipping romp through a much lighter take on the DC Universe, complete with the perks and trappings of the superhero genre and plot structure. Don’t expect it to blow you away, but do strap in for a solid 100-minute adventure.
DC League of Super-Pets is available to buy or rent now.