A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this Nickelodeon-produced comedy about an orphaned brother and sister (played by tween faves Emma Roberts and Jake T. Austin) who set up a secret refuge for stray dogs is targeted squarely at the family market. Because the main characters are orphans living in foster care, there are some references to dead parents, but it doesn't get too emotional. And with no swearing or consumerism and only mild flirting (though there are a couple of kisses), the movie is age-appropriate for grade-schoolers while still appealing to tweens.
What's the story?
Based on Lois Duncan's children's book series, HOTEL FOR DOGS follows orphaned siblings Andi (Emma Roberts) and Bruce (Jake T. Austin) who secretly care for their beloved dog Friday while they live with self-absorbed, dog-hating foster parents. After Friday runs into a condemned old building, Andi and Bruce discover two dogs already living in the once-grand hotel and decide the place would make a perfect safe haven for the city's strays. With Bruce's knack for expertly engineered contraptions and the help of three local teens, the young animal lovers christen their little sanctuary the Hotel for Dogs.
Is it any good?
If Marley and Me is considered one of the most realistic -- and emotionally wrenching -- depictions of life with a dog, this is probably one of the least realistic (talking-canine flicks aside). Even if you go along with the concept that a boarded-up hotel would still be filled with furniture (even gym equipment!), it will be difficult for adults to believe that an 11-year-old could come up with all of Bruce's intricate inventions (a self-cleaning golden hydrant where the dogs can raise a leg, an automatic dog-bowl filler, a car-window ride simulator, etc.). That said, the kooky contraptions are probably the best part of the movie, and kids will get a kick out of the whole thing.
The movie's subplot is about whether the siblings will ever find a permanent home. When their bad-hair, rock-wannabe foster parents (played by Lisa Kudrow and Kevin Dillon) find out about the kids' antics, Andi and Bruce are forced to go to group homes. Luckily for them, their social worker, Bernie (Don Cheadle), is determined to find them a sanctuary -- just like they're intent on saving the city's endangered dogs. Predictably enough, there's a warm-and-fuzzy ending. Be warned, though: Young kids may want to go straight from the movie theater to rescue a dog at the pound.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why so many movie kids are orphans. Do you feel more sympathy for kids who don't have parents? Do they seem like bigger heroes than other kids?
Do movies like this ever make you anxious about your own family? Parents: Talk to your kids about any fears or worries they might have about being without you.
Kids: Can you think of ways that your actions can make a positive change in your community?
- In theaters: January 16, 2009
- On DVD or streaming: April 28, 2009
- Cast: Don Cheadle, Emma Roberts, Jake T. Austin
- Director: Thor Freudenthal
- Studio: Paramount Pictures
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Book characters
- Run time: 100 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: brief mild thematic elements, language and some crude humor
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.