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The Acting Family
For the central role of Andi, the fast-talking, protective older sister, the filmmakers chose rising young star Emma Roberts. "We basically needed to find someone who could carry a whole movie,” says Freudenthal. "To find someone who can do that at such a young age is extremely difficult. Emma came in and was amazingly professional. She understands the language of filmmaking and it was impressive to witness her level of professionalism and preparedness. She makes it look so easy on film.”

"Finding the right actress to play Andi was very important because the character has to be tough and protective of her brother but also vulnerable and very sympathetic,” says producer Leslie. "Emma 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. The camera just loves her.”

"Emma is fabulous,” says Shuler Donner. "When it came to the dramatic scenes, she nailed them. What I didn't expect was her sweetness, the way she cares for Jake Austin, her co-star, and in the movie, the way she cares for her brother, Bruce. Her heart grounds the movie.”

"Emma has star dust,” says Clark. "She is an incredible and charismatic actress who can play the range of this part because Andi is someone who is always hiding her pain in an upbeat, optimistic and glib way. Emma can act the con man, but she also allows you to see underneath to the real pathos of a kid looking for a real home.”

Roberts was excited by the role, especially the character's emotional growth during the course of the film. "Andi is definitely a bit of a tomboy but is cautious and very protective of her little brother, Bruce. Through this adventure, the dogs and the new friends they make, they get something they've never had before.”

"Both Andi and her brother have great strength of character because they've had to take care of themselves and figure out how to navigate life on their own,” notes Freudenthal. "While she really wants to be a conventional teenager, what Andi ultimately learns is to be proud of who she is.”

To play Bruce, Andi's little brother and the movie's master inventor, the filmmakers conducted a nationwide search for an actor who was fun and could emphasize the whimsical side of this boy genius. They found their Bruce in Jake T. Austin.

Producer Clark remembers meeting Jake and recognizing qualities in him that perfectly suited Bruce. "Jake came in really late in the casting process after we had seen close to 80 boys and he was amazing on every level. He played the emotional beats very well, felt the role and also understood timing. When there was a joke or comedic line, he always understood when to give or to hold back.”

Austin had just the right combination of innocence and wisdom we were looking for, according to Shuler Donner. "We needed someone who was a little lost and looking to his sister for guidance and yet super-smart, so that you believe he can concoct all these inventions. Jake is right on the cusp of something. He has a sort of savvy without being precocious.”

Although Bruce is a mechanical genius, director Freudenthal adds, he still had to have a particular level of whimsy. "Jake has a glint in his eye and a way of looking at something in front of him and instantly understanding it. He is someone who lives in his head, wants to learn constantly and thinks in ways other kids his age might not.”

For his part, Austin says he enjoyed inhabiting the character. "I really had to visualize and imagine what it was like to be Bruce and be a bit shy and nerdy. He was different from any other character I've played so far.”

Joining Roberts and Austin are three other young actors, who help them transform the abandoned hotel into a home for four-legged creatures. The character

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