In this current age where the likes of Christopher Nolan, Zack Snyder or Matt Reeves can take classic DC characters and set them up in dark, gritty movies that easily gain a 15 certificate, it’s easy to forget that DC’s Superhero characters are fundamentally stories for children. In a world where Superman turns murderous in every other movie appearance and Batman willingly guns people down (sacrilege!), what is there on the big screen that caters towards the younger, wide-eyed DC fans? Pretty much nothing. That is, until now.
DC League of Superpets may sound like a direct-to-video spin-off, but it’s actually the first big screen animated adventure DC has produced since 2017’s The Lego Batman Movie. It’s also the first big screen appearance for Krypto the Super Dog (Dwayne Johnson), one of Superman’s core supporting characters, who is joined in this movie by a number of other rookie animal superheroes on a mission to save the Justice League from a megalomaniacal Guinea Pig (voiced by Kate McKinnon, no less) who is intent on world domination.
As a basic concept, the film is a no brainer. Kids love cute animated animal characters, and kids also love superheroes. Combine the two? Goldmine! DC has a long tradition of creating animal sidekicks for its heroes throughout the tail end of the Golden Age and well into the Silver Age of Comic Books, and many of these characters, like Krypto and Ace the Bat Hound (played by Kevin Hart), have remained part of the core line-up in their respective human counterpart’s books for decades. With such an established pantheon of characters and stories to pick from, the film leans into the concept with verve and takes full advantage of the DC toy-box.
Unfortunately, it’s nowhere near as good as it could be, and is largely let down by flat animation and some truly ugly character designs, particularly in regards to the main human characters, who all look like horribly warped, over-designed caricatures of their comic-book selves. It’s not an appealing sight, especially when it comes to characters like Aquaman, Batman or Cyborg, who all look ridiculously chunky and over-designed here. The characterisation and humour is all very one-note as well, with many of the gags feeling tired, unimaginative and overplayed (are we seriously not over the ‘Aquaman talks to fish’ jokes yet?).
Compared to other recent big screen animated superhero fare, the whole movie feels pretty uninspiring. It’s nowhere close to reaching the sincerity or heart of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and it’s never once close to being as funny as The Lego Batman Movie. Granted, there are a few minor cute moments scattered about and occasionally a genuinely funny gag cuts through the usual toilet humour and easily-dated pop-culture references, but there’s also some really bizarre ‘jokes’ scattered about too, including two (count ’em, TWO) instances of bleeped strong language. The film is a strange beast, much like its animal antagonists, and whilst you can catch occasional glimpses of good ideas, nothing here really comes together in a meaningful way.
All told, DC League of Super-Pets is pretty standard, mostly inoffensive fare, but it severely lacks originality or spirit. Smaller kids will probably love it. DC fans who crave a film more in keeping with the publisher’s quirkier silver age stylings may find some joy in seeing lesser-known characters like Krypto and Ace go paw-to-toe with a purple battle-suited Lex Luthor. But anyone else will be completely baffled by it. By way of DC movies, this one has certainly gone to the dogs!