Director – Jared Stern, Co-Director – Sam J. Levine, Screenplay – Jared Stern & John Whittington, Producers – Danny Garcia, Hiram Garcia, Patricia Hicks, Dwayne Johnson & Jared Stern, Music – Steve Jablonsky, Animation – Animal Logic, Animation Supervisor – David Burgess, Production Design – Kim Taylor. Production Company – Seven Bucks Productions.
Dwayne Johnson (Krypto), Kevin Hart (Ace), Kate McKinnon (Lulu), John Krasinski (Superman/Clark Kent), Vanessa Byer (PB), Natasha Lyonne (Merton), Diego Luna (Chip), Marc Maron (Lex Luthor), Keanu Reeves (Batman), Olivia Wilde (Lois Lane), Thomas Middleditch (Keith the Ice Guinea Pig), Ben Schwartz (Mark the Fire Guinea Pig), Maya Erskine (Mercy Graves), Jameela Jamil (Wonder Woman), Jemaine Clement (Aquaman), John Early (The Flash), Dascha Polanco (Green Lantern), Daveed Diggs (Cyborg), Alfred Molina (Jor-el), Lena Headey (Lara), Keith David (Dog-el), Yvette Nicole Brown (Patty)
As the infant Kal-el is being sent from Krypton by his parents, his puppy Krypto jumps into the capsule with him. Today in Metropolis, Kal-el is Superman while Krypto fights alongside him and regards himself as Superman’s best friend. However, Krypto’s happy life is punctured as Superman admits feelings for Lois Lane and announces plans to get engaged to her. Superman foils a scheme by Lex Luthor to drag an orange Kryptonite asteroid to Earth with a tractor beam. This is stopped and Luthor arrested but a fragment of the Kryptonite is snagged by Lulu, a genetically altered guinea pig that was rescued from Luthor’s laboratory by Krypto and placed in a pet shop. The Kryptonite serves to give Lulu superpowers and, without she realising it, also transforms the other animals in the shop. With the use of green Kryptonite, Lulu manages to imprison Superman and cause Krypto to lose his powers. She uses the orange Kryptonite to give powers to a group of other guinea pigs and together they defeat and imprison the rest of the Justice League, while Lulu makes plans to free Luthor from jail. The powerless Krypto encounters the other pets who have escaped from the shop and realises he can obtain their aid in stopping Lulu. However, the other pets prove utterly inept at harnessing their powers.
Krypto the Super Dog was introduced to DC Comics continuity in 1955 and joined Superman and Superboy in a number of adventures over the years. Krypto has made several screen appearances before, most notedly been the focus of an animated tv series Krypto the Super Dog (2005-6), as well as in live-action episodes of Smallville (2001-10) and Titans (2018- ), while three months after this a less initially friendly version of Krypto turned up in the animated Batman and Superman: Battle of the Super Sons (2022). (There was also the bizarre The Adventures of Superpup (1958) live-action tv series but that is unrelated to Krypto). Presumably nobody used Krypto’s name in the title here as they didn’t want people mistakenly thinking this was a film about bitcoin.
Not long after the introduction of Krypto, Batman comics introduced Ace the Bat-Hound. DC did create an actual League of Super Pets, which have a different line-up to those here, consisting of Krypto, Beppo the Super-Monkey, Comet the Super Horse, Streaky the Supercat, and the alien shapeshifter Proty II, although they operates in the same 30th Century era as the Legion of Super Heroes. Krypto and all the super-pets were eliminated in DC’s big continuity reset in Crisis on Infinite Earths (1986), although Krypto was reintroduced in 2004. The members of the League we have here include Merton, aka The Terrific Whatsit, which was actually a comedy character in the 1940s, and Chip, which was actually Ch’p, an alien and member of the Green Lantern Corps. Both characters are now written as something that is very different to their comic-book counterparts.
The film is directed by Jared Stern, who had previously written Mr Popper’s Penguins (2011), The Watch (2012), The Internship (2013), The Lego Batman Movie (2017) and The Lego Ninjago Movie (2017), before making his directorial debut with the live-action romcom Happy Anniversary (2018).
DC League of Super Pets received a theatrical release where it emerged into an arena already overstuffed with Superhero Films (where it earned a not immodest $160 million at the box-office worldwide). I entered into watching it with a certain fatigue with the superhero genre, not to mention the concept of a Justice League formed of Talking Animals did nothing for me. I cannot say I was disappointed.
The biggest disappointment I felt with the film is that it comes down to being no more than a standard modern Animation film with smartass talking animals making one-liners and snappy audience-friendly gags that reference popular culture. The result feels pitched down around the same level as the inane super-pet film Underdog (2007) – although this does emerge slightly better than Underdog did. A capsule summary could easily label it a crosshatch between Underdog and The Secret Life of Pets (2016).
Thus we get jokes about Krypto giving his ‘pawtoraph’ to fans. When Superman puts on his glasses to switch to his Clark Kent identity, Krypto also puts on a pair of glasses. Or the sight of a depressed Krypto after Superman goes out on a date with Lois sitting watching reality tv chef shows and pigging out on ice cream. Or lines like “What is this, Paw Patrol [2013- ]?” We even get jokes about the animals needing a training montage, which feels like a gag overdone by other films.
The saddest thing about this is that even continuity to other DC films is suborned to this. In comic-book continuity, Krypto was a test subject sent to try out Jor-el’s original capsule, which went off course and turned up on Earth years later where he was found by Superboy. Here this is curtailed to simply have Krypto jump into the capsule with the infant Kal-el. This is an acceptable continuity shortcut.
More concerning are the gags that are constantly deflating DC canon and puncturing their internal believability for quick and easy audience laughs – although there is no cleverness to this in the same way you get with the not dissimilar Teen Titans Go! (2013- ). There is an ongoing gag throughout about Superman having a Batman toy to throw for Krypto that he calls a Squeaky Bruce. There are gags puncturing the suspension of disbelief that the comic-books ask of us – about wondering who would believe wearing a pair of glasses would act as a surprise; of why someone would name their dog after the planet. In one scene, Superman uses his heat vision to straighten the creases in his shirt and comments: “They should call me Iron Man. No wait, that’s taken.” The saddest of these is the sight of the Keanu Reeves-voiced Batman whimpering “I miss my mommy.” In another scene, Aquaman is imprisoned in a fish tank and becomes distracted by someone dropping in fish food. The film often stylistically copies the Christopher Reeve Superman (1978) with the crystalline look of Krypton and Kal’el’s capsule, Superman’s parents all in ethereal white – in a ridiculous homage to Marlon Brando’s holographic appearances, Krypto even has a hologram image of his father called Dog-el that appears from out of his collar.
The voicing is of variable quality. Dwayne Johnson does surprisingly well as Krypto. (In a blatant plug for Johnson’s upcoming turn as a live-action superhero in Black Adam (2022), we get a post-credits scene with the appearance of a canine version of Black Adam). And the film gets in some eyebrow-raising other names – the oddest being Keanu Reeves voicing Batman. The worst of these is Marc Maron as Lex Luthor, who gives it the sort of thuggish voicing you usually get from actors like Jason Statham or Vinnie Jones. This seems a far cry away from the magnificently villainous voicing of Luthor given by Clancy Brown in the Superman (1996-2000) animated tv series.
DC League of Super Pets isn’t entirely awful – at least, in the same that Underdog is. By the time of the climactic battle, the film seems to be channelling a routine distillation of all the epic superheroic battles in the MCU. Although this is so routine now that none of it does anything to move you. On the other hand, the end coda with the various pets being adopted by the Justice League members has an appealingly silly cuteness to it.