Hotel for Dogs is a perfectly functional movie about American orphan siblings Andi and Bruce (Emma Roberts and Jake Austin) who rescue stray dogs from an ignominious end at the pound. Familiar with the wrong side of the law, the pair take refuge in an improbably-abandoned hotel which becomes home to the hounds.
The simple but strong parallels between the children and their canine companions hold the film together. Suitably awful foster parents (Kevin Dillon of Entourage and Lisa Kudrow of Friends) and an awfully besuited social worker/father figure (Don Cheadle) provide the moral poles. When we meet them, Andi and Bruce bounce from one to the other, unable to find their place. Managing the mutts, however, they make their own family, of a kind, and navigate their problems by proxy.
Friendships are formed, lessons are learnt, obstacles are overcome. And there are a lot of adorable dogs. What’s not to like? Our ratings board stamped it with PG, which means it’s appropriate for your kids so long as you provide, in the lingo, some parental guidance. But it seems highly inappropriate and even irresponsible for Jamaican parents to take their young, impressionable children to see a film that glorifies whiteness while marginalizing persons of colour.
We are a post-colonial island packed with shy of three million eating, sleeping, breathing men and women, most of whom, if records existed, could trace their ancestry to ancient, distinguished tribes of West Africa — the Twi, the Mende, the Ashante, and so on.
Every day, our local media, including this newspaper, are filled with images and stories about our black businessmen, our black doctors and diplomats, ministers and magistrates, pastors and pilots. Our cultural footprint is out of all proportion to our geography; travel anywhere, and the names Marley, Manley, and McKinley will resonate.
You might say we are a great nation.
If you are puzzled and worried, therefore, by the sociological epidemic sweeping across our land, where our women burn their hair straight and our men bleach their skin light, look no further than Hotel for Dogs.
Emma Roberts, as heroine Andi, could be on the payroll for Gap, Dove and L’Oréal; her complexion and coiffure are flawless. Inevitably, a preternaturally handsome boy, Dave (Johnny Simmons), shows up to woo her. Conversely, African-American co-star Kyla Pratt is given coveralls, pigtails, and an overweight, overzealous suitor. Never mind she also has the hots for Dave; she’s just there for emotional support. Don Cheadle, who imbues almost any dialogue with dignity (Ocean’s Thirteen notwithstanding), is here relegated to actual child support. In one arbitrary scene, a plus-size black woman waddles onscreen to provide comic relief.
This is not appropriate entertainment — not for adults, and certainly not for our children, who have the persistent habit of growing into the adults of tomorrow. As the credits roll for Hotel for Dogs, the producers are quick to remind us that no animals were harmed. If you want to say the same for your young loved ones, choose another movie. Its bite is a lot worse than its bark.
Hotel for Dogs
Directed by Thor Freudenthal.
With Emma Roberts, Jake Austin, Lisa Kudrow and Don Cheadle.
100 minutes. Comedy.