W.C. Fields famously warned against working with animals and children, but the makers of "Hotel for Dogs" ignored the advice to bring an effects-filled comedy about kids who rescue dogs and hide them in an abandoned hotel to the big screen. Wrangling up to 70 canines at a time was no easy feat, but if the blockbuster popularity of "Marley & Me," featuring just one dog, is any indication, this puppy could unleash some major box office coin.
Based on the children's novel of the same name by Lois Duncan, the movie stars Emma Roberts ("Nancy Drew") and Jake T. Austin (Disney Channel's "The Wizards of Waverly Place") as an orphaned brother and sister who have been keeping their dog Friday a secret from their wannabe-rocker foster parents (Lisa Kudrow, Kevin Dillon) and social worker (Don Cheadle). They then start acquiring other homeless canines, stashing them in a dilapidated old hotel. First-time feature director Thor Freudenthal had the daunting task of directing the dogs -- and their trainers.
With at least one double and a pair of trainers for each featured dog, this was one crowded -- and noisy -- set. "Preparation was essential," acknowledges Freudenthal, a TV commercials director who'd worked with dogs before, but never this many. "The key is really to storyboard and know exactly what pieces you need from the dog," he says.
Drawn to the idea of unwanted kids taking in unwanted animals and the chance to create a fantasy sort of haven with fun visual elements, the director signed on and spent months searching for a mix of just the right pooches, many of which were rescue pups. "I wanted a variety of types that are funny, that have personality," he notes.
"You start out with what's written as far as the ideas for the characters and look for breeds that embody that," adds producer Jason Clark. "We cast the dogs before we cast people, 16 weeks before we started shooting the movie, and the personalities emerged through the training process."
But no matter how well trained they are, "It's a challenge to get 50 dogs to do the same thing when you want them to do it," emphasizes Clark. "They have a mind of their own. Kids and animals come with their own set of parameters," he adds, reminding that there's a limit to the amount of hours that minors can work.
Obviously, it was necessary to prep the dogs months ahead of time, which involved basic commands and more specific behavior training, bonding time with the actors, and early mockups of the gadgets and contraptions the dogs would have to use on set. In the following sections, we'll discuss these challenges and others the filmmakers faced.