Hotel for Dogs is a 2009 American children's comedy film based on the 1971 Lois Duncan novel of the same name. The film, directed by Thor Freudenthal and adapted by Jeff Lowell, Bob Schooley, and Mark McCorkle, stars Emma Roberts, Jake T. Austin, Troy Gentile, Kyla Pratt, Lisa Kudrow, Kevin Dillon and Don Cheadle. It tells the story of two orphans, Andi and Bruce (played by Roberts and Austin), who attempt to hide their dog at an abandoned hotel after their strict new guardians tell them that pets are forbidden at their home.
The film is Nickelodeon's second film to be produced by DreamWorks Pictures after Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events and the first Nickelodeon film produced outside of Paramount Pictures, which still distributed the film for DreamWorks. Shooting began in November 2007 and filming took place entirely in the cities of Los Angeles and Universal City, California. The dogs in the film were trained for several months before shooting. Nearly 80 boys auditioned for the role of Bruce before Austin was ultimately selected.
The film was released in the United States on January 16, 2009, and grossed approximately $17 million in its opening weekend in 3,271 theaters. It eventually went on to gross $117 million worldwide. Reception to the film was mixed. Reviewers both criticized and praised the film's strong appeal to children and, in the opinion of some, its lack of appeal to older audiences. According to the film review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes, 46% of critics gave the film a positive review.
In Central City, siblings Andi (Emma Roberts) and Bruce (Jake T. Austin) defraud a pawn shop owner to raise money to feed their Jack Russell Terrier, who responds to the name of Friday. Soon afterwards, the pawn shop owner approaches them with a police officer, pointing Andi out as the culprit. As she tries to talk her way out of trouble, Bruce's backpack falls and its contents spill out, revealing his scamming supplies. They then are arrested and taken to the local police station, where their social worker, Bernie, sternly scolds them and says that they may be separated the next time they do so because they keep changing from their previous foster homes to another. Bernie then takes them home to their foster parents, aspiring rock stars Lois and Carl Scudder. The two are angry that the children have missed dinner (and delayed band practice) and Bernie takes responsibility. Andi and Bruce are sent to their room for the night, where they have hidden Friday from their guardians.
In the morning, Friday wanders out of the room into the apartment and is almost seen by Lois. The kids attempt to get him back into their room, trying to hide what they are doing, and eventually do so without Lois realizing what is going on. Once back in the room, however, Friday uses a homemade elevator, designed and built by Bruce, to leave the apartment through the window and is picked up by animal control. Andi and Bruce are desperate to find Friday and scour the area looking for him. They enter a pet store and ask the manager, Dave, and employee Heather, whether they have seen Friday. Neither of them has, but they suggest visiting the local pound to see if he is there.
At the pound, Andi and Bruce discover that Friday is indeed there, but they have to bribe one of the officers to get him released. On the way home, they encounter a burglary in progress at a store and as the police arrive they flee to a nearby abandoned hotel to avoid being pointed as the culprits. Friday then gets away from them again and they search the building to find him. As they do, they hear strange noises, which they discover to be a brindle English Mastiff and a Boston Terrier puppy that have taken shelter inside the hotel. With them is Friday, and Andi and Bruce decide to leave him in the hotel for the night and return home.
The next day, the two kids steal from the refrigerator to take to the hungry dogs. At the hotel, they find that the mastiff was howling because the shades had been drawn. The kids return to the pet store to get more food, and lie to Dave, claiming that their parents are dog rescuers. Dave then persuades to take in 3 more dogs (Shep, Romeo and Cooper). Heather follows them back to the hotel and announces that she wants to help. They are later joined by another kid, Mark, who has a crush on Heather. Bruce builds a number of contraptions to keep the dogs fed and entertained while they are alone in the hotel. They decide to take in all the stray dogs they can find. Bruce begins to name all of the dogs and keep track of them in an old hotel guest registry.
Andi sneaks out of the apartment and goes to a party she was invited to attend. However, she is recognized by Dave's best friend, Jason who tells Dave and Heather that she is actually a foster child. Upset, she runs from the party to the hotel, where the dogs are running wild. The Policemen who have been keeping a close watch on the kids come over and after inspecting the rooms eventually find the dogs. The animal control is called and they take the dogs away from them while Bruce is holding Friday. An ACO worker rudely takes Friday from him and a tearful Bruce is dragged away with Andi. Dave and Heather come by watching everything and regret what they did. The next day Bernie and his wife, Carol, tell them that there is nothing more they can do. The dogs are scheduled to be euthanized and Andi and Bruce are sent to separate foster homes. Meanwhile, in the animal control station, Friday escapes from his leash and runs to Dave. They pick up Andi and Bruce, sneak into the pound, and release the dogs, attempting to lead them to the truck with some sausages, but the dogs go to the hotel which Bruce realizes is because it is their home. As they pass the hotel, however, the dogs run inside and a standoff ensues with the police and an animal control member tells the police to arrest Andi, Bruce, Dave, and Heather. Bernie gives an emotional speech about the dogs' never-losing hope after their negligence from their human owners, causing the media and some of the police to look at what the kids have done to the hotel to see about the dogs staying there. Exasperated with no dog-catching action, the animal control workers run off outside.
Bernie and Carol end up adopting Andi and Bruce themselves and love dogs so they have no problem with the kids keeping Friday. In the meantime, Andi and Dave start dating and Mark finally impresses Heather and she kisses him on the cheek. Pressured by the media at the scene, the police are persuaded to allow the dogs to remain at the hotel, which is eventually restored as a community-funded, full-fledged canine retreat where the kids and even some of the dogs work. This new hotel is like a real hotel with restaurants, entertainment, a salon, adoption, bellboys, rooms, massage and more. Andi's and Bruce's former foster parents, Carl and Lois, are part of the entertainment, but they perform so terribly that even the dogs get bored of them.
- Emma Roberts as Andi, a 16-year old orphan who, along with her brother Bruce, has lived with a number of foster parents before ending up with Lois and Carl Scudder. Roberts was cast in late 2007 and "knew as soon as soon as she started reading the script for Hotel for Dogs, she wanted to be part of the movie."
- Jake T. Austin as Bruce, Andi's 11-year-old brother who has a knack for mechanics. His inventions help keep the stray dogs living at the hotel fed and entertained while he and his sister are away. Nearly 80 boys tried out for the part before Austin was cast as Bruce.
- Johnny Simmons as Dave, the young manager of a local pet store who helps Andi and Bruce rescue stray dogs and care for them at the hotel.
- Don Cheadle as Bernie Wilkins, a sympathetic social worker who tries his best to find a home for Andi and Bruce and to prevent them from being placed with separate foster families. Cheadle joined the cast in September 2007. He described the film as "an opportunity to do a film that my kids can see" and praised both Emma Roberts and Jake T. Austin as being "really professional. They showed up to do the work and were serious and took it seriously and had acting coaches and everything."
- Robinne Lee as Carol Wilkins, Bernie's wife who initially tells her husband not to get too emotionally involved with the children he works with.
- Troy Gentile as Mark, a young kid who lives near Andi and Bruce and is eager to help with the dogs at the hotel.
- Kyla Pratt as Heather, an employee at the pet store who also wants to help rescue stray dogs. Pratt joined the film after she learned that Don Cheadle was also working on the project. She said in an interview that, "They were telling me about all the different people who were gonna be in it, and I saw Don Cheadle's name, and I'm like, oh, absolutely." She also said of her co-star Emma Roberts that, "Emma is so much fun to be around and she's hilarious. Emma's great because I wasn't sure how everything was going to be, because I was older than the other actors in the movie."
- Lisa Kudrow as Lois Scudder, Andi's and Bruce's controlling, wannabe rock star foster mother. Kudrow signed up for the film in October 2007. It was her first time working with dogs in a film. She said that her co-star Emma Roberts "was one of the draws for me to do this."
- Kevin Dillon as Carl Scudder, Andi's and Bruce's foster father and an aging rocker who refuses to give up on his dreams of becoming a star. Dillon was cast in November 2007. Dillon said in an interview that singing and playing guitar during the band practice scenes was "one of the things that was the most fun" while filming.
- Yvette Nicole Brown as Ms. Camwell; was seen as either Mark's mom or boss
The film rights to Lois Duncan's novel were acquired by DreamWorks in June 2005. According to Thor Freudenthal, DreamWorks first approached him about working on the film after a short film which he had worked on played at the Sundance Film Festival. Freudenthal said that DreamWorks "really embraced and responded to" the film and sent him an early version of the script. He was initially hesitant to sign onto the project, balking at the seemingly shallow title. However, he stated that after reading the script that he "realized you don’t think much about the logistics involved" and saw deeper messages and more complex aspects of the film.
A producer of the film, Lauren Shuler Donner, is also an activist and dog lover, and was convinced that the book's message about the importance of family "made the novel an ideal property to bring to the big screen" Shuler Donner insisted that the movie "stand out from other family movies visually" and it was Freudenthal's background in animation that gave him an edge over other directors. According to her, "It was the way he framed shots, the way he moved the camera, the use of color, the use of light. He’s very visually savvy and very specific."
Emma Roberts was cast in August 2007 to play teenage older sister Andi. Freudenthal began his search for a young actress "who could carry a whole movie" and settled on then-16 year old Roberts. Ewan Leslie, a producer of the film, said in an interview of Roberts that she "is one of those young actors whose face just lights up the screen and she has the ability to play a wide range of emotions without any dialogue."
Filmmakers conducted a nationwide search for an actor to play Bruce, Andi's whimsical and inventive younger brother. Jake T. Austin auditioned late, after nearly 80 other boys had tried out for the part. Jason Clark[disambiguation needed], another producer of the film, stated that Austin "was amazing on every level. He played the emotional beats very well, felt the role and also understood timing."
The rest of the roles were cast in the following months. Don Cheadle, who plays Andi and Bruce's protective social worker, joined the film in September 2007. Lisa Kudrow was cast as the siblings' foster mother in October, and Johnny Simmons was cast that same month as Dave. Kyla Pratt was chosen to play Heather soon after.
The dogs were carefully cast as well. Filmmakers wanted a variety of breeds with different colors and facial structures "so that their look suggested their personality." Freudenthal said that he deliberately chose both very small and very large dogs to create a contrast similar to the characters of Lenny and George in the John Steinbeck novella Of Mice And Men. The majority of the dogs cast were rescues. The lead dog, who plays Friday, was rescued about six months before shooting began. Crew members also helped to find adoptive homes for the abandoned dogs and several adopted dogs themselves.
A Hollywood animal trainer, Mark Forbes, was hired to prepare the dogs before shooting began. Forbes and his team began working with the dogs about four months before shooting. Those dogs with no prior training were first taught basic commands, such as "sit" and "roll over." They were then trained to respond to more complex commands and learned to retrieve objects and to wave.
The next phase of training involved using the dogs' body language to express emotions: sadness, for example, was conveyed when a dog tucked its tail between its legs. Finally, the dogs were taken to public places to review the commands that they had learned. The purpose of this was to ensure that the dogs would perform in any location. According to Forbes, "You want the dogs to sense that everything is fine and they’ll still get their treat regardless of the location. The set becomes just another place for them to go." The trainers worked with the human actors as well to "familiarize them with how the dogs behave and create a comfort level between the human and the dog actors." The dogs were also trained to interact with the various gadgets in the film with early prototypes built by the special effects team.
Special effects supervisor Michael Lantieri enlisted to create the various contraptions invented by Bruce throughout the film to keep the dogs fed. One such gadget is a device which can be operated by the dogs to throw a ball to be fetched.
"The first was a simple spring-loaded device that throws a ball and spoon down hallways, while the second device was a bit more sophisticated. 'This fetching machine uses a bicycle and a hand from a mannequin. It is timed so that the wheels turn, and the ball is magnetic so it sticks in the hand, which comes round and launches the object so the dog can chase it,' explains Lantieri. 'Things can seem simple when you read them, but making it work on screen has to do with timing, the weight of the ball and how the ball stays in the hand until you want it to move.'"
Other devices built for the film include a feeding machine that drops food into each of the dogs' bowls on a timed schedule, a vending machine filled with shoes and other chew toys, a room filled with doors whose doorbells go off on their own, and another containing a replica of a car surrounded by fans which simulates for the dogs the experience of placing their heads through an open car window while driving.
All of the contraptions were created using objects that might actually be found in an abandoned hotel, and in such a way that they looked like they had been created by a gifted 11-year-old boy.
Hotel for Dogs was released in Puerto Rico on January 15, 2009, and in the United States on January 16, 2009, to 3,271 theaters. It earned $17,012,212 in its opening weekend, the 5th-highest grossing film of that weekend behind Paul Blart: Mall Cop, Gran Torino, and others. It remained in release for 19 weeks and earned a total of $116,983,275 worldwide. It is estimated to have earned $22,500,000 total over the four day weekend.
Moviefone called the opening, "pretty good for a fairly anonymous little family film opening against a higher-profile family film." As of August 2011, the film has a reported box office gross of $73,034,460 for the United States and $43,965,738 internationally, for a total of $117,000,198.
The film received mixed reviews from critics. According to Rotten Tomatoes, a website which aggregates film reviews, 46% of critics gave Hotel a positive review. Roger Ebert gave the film a 2.5 out of 4 stars and summed up his review by saying, "What I thought instead was, Marley has a lot he could learn from these dogs." Kent Turner, writing for School Library Journal, stated that while the book is "utterly realistic", the film is "fantastic" and thus fundamentally different. Stephen Holden, writing for The New York Times, wrote that the film "is loaded with enough stupid pet and human tricks to satisfy David Letterman for years to come."
It tied with Up for Best Feature Film at the 24th Genesis Awards.
The film was released to DVD on April 28, 2009. It sold 773,000 units in the first week, bringing in $13,584,527 in revenue. As per the latest figures, 1,778,736 DVD units have been sold, translating to more than $30 million in revenue. This does not include Blu-ray sales.
A game for the Nintendo Wii and Nintendo DS was released around the same time as the film.
The score to Hotel for Dogs was composed by John Debney, who recorded his score at the Eastwood Scoring Stage at Warner Brothers. Promo trailers for "Hotel For Dogs" contain songs such as "Run" by Nat & Alex Wolff and "(Let's Get Movin') Into Action" by Tim Armstrong featuring Skye Sweetnam.
- Nearly 70 dogs were used for the making of this motion picture, many of which were actually rescued from the pound. Several of them were adopted by crew members after filming wrapped.
- Most dogs were trained for two to three months, while the main dogs' training lasted nearly sixteen weeks.
- This is Thor Freudenthal's directional debut.
- This is the first Nickelodeon film that was not distributed by Paramount Pictures. It was distributed by its then-partner, DreamWorks Pictures.
- This film is based on the 1971 Lois Duncan novel of the same name.
- The film's writer, Jeff Lowell, is currently directing and developing an untitled "safari" film, which will also be produced by Nickelodeon Movies. As of date, it is yet to be announced.
- This is the first, and by far only, Nickelodeon collaboration with composer John Debney that's entirely live-action (excluding The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water, which is also animated).