The summer is coming to a close. Who am I kidding? I live in Florida. Summer will be with us well into October, meteorologically speaking. There is a sobering thought as I sit here on a sweltering Friday evening doing my best to ignore the need for air conditioning. At least it is quiet, relatively speaking. The old man I live with will have the television on for another couple of hours watching the infinite supply of nothing on broadcast. And as I type this, the pirate ship goes by, with revelers crowing their enjoyment of the faux swashbuckling over three centuries too late. These things are fixtures of pretty much any May/June/July/August/September night near where I live. What is not is the season that I have spent with my nieces having Friday adventures with them. While seeing DC League of Super-Pets is not my first choice for an enjoyable weekend afternoon, my nieces make up for any amount of nonsense I see on the screen.
It seems to me that DC Comics is desperate, and DC League of Super-Pets is further evidence of this fact. The last few I have seen have a branding of their company name featuring their major heroes reminiscent of what Marvel does before their films. This one is no different. Hence, I guess this makes this animated feature a part of the DC canon. Now, I know there have been other Superman/Clark Kent (voiced by John Krasinski) origin stories in movies, but never have I seen one where a dog jumps into Kal-El’s (Superman’s Kryptonian name) escape pod on his home planet and escapes with the future hero from the dying world. And why are there also dogs on Krypton? I guess there are also humanoids that look like you and me, so whatever. Anyway, they come to Earth and yada-yada-yada they become superheroes. The pooch in question, so creatively named Krypto/Bark Kent (seriously)/Superdog (voiced by Dwayne Johnson), also has the same powers as Superman. Together they have formed a duo that the citizens of Metropolis have honored with a statue of the pair in the park. We are early on treated to them doing their best to help the city’s denizens by thwarting another evil plan of Superman’s archnemesis Lex Luther (voiced by Marc Maron), aided by the rest of the familiar Justice League faces. Thus, life is pretty good, particularly in Krypto’s eyes. And then Lois Lane (voiced by Olivia Wilde) comes along. . . . Krypto sees Superman’s girlfriend/about to be fiancée as a threat to the bond between himself and his owner. Lois’ initial ideas for solving the obvious canine jealousy do not help, either. The first is to get Krypto another animal friend. This brings super dog and man to a pet shop where we are introduced to the rest of the characters who I will name as needed. For now, the main one is Ace (voiced by Kevin Hart), who points out to Krypto that he is essentially being replaced. He does not want to believe his best friend could do such a thing until Superman is dressing on a Thursday night to go out with Lois, intending to later propose to her. Thursday nights are Krypto and Superman’s sacred television and popcorn night. Remember that Lex Luther attack I mentioned? His hope had been to obtain orange kryptonite and use it to gain his own superpowers. Where he failed, Lulu (voiced by Kate McKinnon) the hairless guinea pig, succeeds. As a former animal being tested on in a LexCorp lab (I hope you can guess the owner), she hopes to use her new abilities to free Luther and help him take over the world. There is an unintended side-effect: the shard of the orange crystal she reels in also gives the other animals superpowers, which they use to escape the burning shop. She then makes it to Superman just as he is about to head out with Lois, subduing Metropolis’ greatest defender with a well-placed shard of regular kryptonite. Superdog is of little use, whining about not having his night with his best friend while a fracas outside occurs. When he finally realizes the problem, he finds that his powers have been neutralized as well, the result of kryptonite ingested in a piece of cheese and placed by Lulu. She next goes on to take care of the rest of the Justice League with a small army of enhanced guinea pigs. I wish I was making this stuff up. A mere mortal Krypto finds Ace and his friends in the park and manages to convince them to help rescue Superman and the rest of the Justice League. Their first encounter with Lulu and her hench-pigs does not go well, each of them being unfamiliar with how to utilize their newfound talents and Superdog being just, well, dog. Thus, she is able to march virtually unopposed to the prison where Luther is being held. To her horror, once she breaks out her idol, he betrays her and tries to destroy the Justice League on his own. This leads to the more powerful Lulu imprisoning Luther with the rest. Of course, this is about when Superdog’s abilities finally return, and it is time for the long-awaited showdown. In the end, even with the combined might of Justice League humans and pets, they cannot stop Lulu, particularly when she reaches her ultimate giant form. It takes Krypto absorbing the energy of the sun, which is a sort of nuclear option, to punch Lulu into submission. As expected, the now impervious Ace saves Krypto from destruction, and the day is saved. Krypto has gained a new perspective on friends, and every one of the super pets gets a superhero owner. Hooray!
I have so many questions about DC League of Super-Pets, though this is because I am a thinking adult who puts way too many brain cells into analyzing everything. Among the many is why, if the animals realize that their words cannot be understood by the humans, do they continue to attempt communication? I get that some of this is akin to a person in a foreign country speaking to somebody in their native tongue anyway, hoping to be understood. How many of us in the same situation have done the same thing and expected a result other than puzzlement? This happens often throughout the film, and in crucial plot points, such as when Lulu breaks Luther out of jail. She seems surprised when the supervillain ignores her speech, which we see come out in guinea pig squeaks. Yet, the biggest question I have for this film, and part of this is motivated by my Catholic sensibilities, is why did they feel it necessary to have bleeped out curse words? It is rated PG, though for whatever reason Merton McSnurtle (voiced by Natasha Lyonne), a speedy turtle, utters a few inappropriate words, including the f-word. Why? What else could possibly come of that than children asking their parents what was said. Nothing good can come of that conversation because it either leads to lying or teaching children bad words. There are worse sins than foul language, and I know plenty of good Catholics that use them. At the same time, such vulgarity is seldom necessary, especially not in an animated movie for kids.
So, what is my Catholic take on DC League of Super-Pets other than disapproving of bleeped out curse words? I do not know. Being a titular superhero movie, there are themes of sacrifice and selflessness, particularly when Krypto pulls off the sun maneuver. This is all pretty much standard stuff for The Legionnaire. I also appreciate Ace’s story of his original owners who gave him up when they mistook biting their child’s arm as an act of aggression, when all the pet was trying to do was save the child. During a heart-to-heart between Ace and Krypto when Superdog begins wondering if saving his owner is worth it, Ace confesses that he would do it again without hesitation. He adds that this is what dogs do. That is a nice sentiment, but it is not the sole purview of our canine companions. Such instincts begin with God. You can go to the Bible for the reinforcement of these notions, and that is where you should start. There is also the life of St. Francis of Assisi. There is a famous story from his life when, having become fed-up with his preaching falling on deaf human ears, he goes out to a field and speaks to the animals. It is why he is the patron saint of animals. He does so because there is a purity of action and thought to these lesser of God’s creatures. They only want to be loved. It is childlike in its simplicity, and how Jesus teaches us to be. There are elements of this in the film in the actions of all the animals, even Lulu. I just do not enjoy the packaging.
When coming out of DC League of Super-Pets, my nieces naturally asked what I thought of the film. I made a few non-committal, high-pitched noises, to which they protested, “Uncle Bert!” My reason for doing so at the time was to not crush their good experience. At the end of the day, that is what matters. If God were to grant me with a do-over of that situation, I would reply by telling them that I am happy so long as they are happy. When it comes to my nieces, I will put up with many more such films for these summer afternoons are fleeting.