Going to the Dogs at the Movies

dog centered motion pictures

This is a listing and brief reviews of some dog themed movies that I have enjoyed. Just my own personal opinion of course. I am putting this in the Books section because that seems the most appropriate.

Going to the Dogs at the Movies

I am listing these in reverse chronological order. Many of these are films that the whole family could enjoy, but there is at least one exception.

Contents :     Hotel for Dogs     Good Boy     Because of Winn Dixie     My Dog, Skip    
A Dog of Flanders     The Truth About Cats and Dogs     A Boy and His Dog

Hotel for Dogs

cover illustration for Hotel for DogsAs the story opens, two orphaned children, girl Andi and boy Bruce, are struggling to keep their precious dog "Friday" hidden from their latest set of foster parents and to provide him with food , fun, and safety. In addition to being loved for himself, Friday is the last vestige of their dead parents and their happy life with them. (This point is made very subtly by a background photo of the kids with their parents, one child holding the puppy Friday.) The kids are on their fifth set of foster parents, who provide them with minimal care or attention.
After a frightening episode of incarceration at the local Pound, Friday leads them to an abandoned hotel in which they find two homeless dogs, a Mastiff and a French Bulldog. An older teen working at the local pet store asks them to provide shelter for three hard to place dogs that the pet store owner has been fostering but now is about to take to the Pound. So now there are 5 dogs plus Friday at the hotel. The lad from the pet store and two more teens join in the crew of dog rescuers. The kids soon liberate a truckload of dogs from the Animal Control truck, then set out to intercept other strays before they can be picked up by Animal Control.
In order to feed, amuse, and exercise the growing horde of dogs, the kids invent a wild array of Rube Goldberg devices. These range from a food dispenser to mechanical sheep (for the Border Collie) to a self-cleaning fire hydrant urinal and a poop disposal system. This awesome array of devices is guarranteed to amuse the audience and would certainly gain the inventor (implied to be mostly the boy Bruce) entrance and scholarship to Cal Tech or MIT.
Alas, the mechanical system breaks down one night when none of the kids are present to set it right. This results in a crisis in which Animal Control discovers the dogs (by now about a hundred) and whisks them off to Death Row, where they will be killed the next day. Of course the kids engineer an escape and intend to take the dogs accross county line to a No Kill shelter, but of course the plan does not quite work and soon the dogs are back at the hotel, with Police and Animal Control hot on their heels.
There is of course a happy ending (this is a film intended to appeal to children after all, so a happy ending is mandatory) in which the community becomes enlightened and turns the hotel into Hotel For Dogs, a combination of boarding kennel and dog adoption center. Even the "foster parents from hell" find a redemption.
The film sends very strong messages of the need for better fostering and adoption of homeless children and homeless dogs. (The extra items on the DVD include a specific message about dog adoption.) The dogs are protrayed as individuals, with individual quirks, and with value and dignity for each individual life. The dog - human bond is celebrated. The children are shown to grow in responsibility and altruism because of their commitment to the dogs. The film also makes clear, in a humorous way, that taking care of dogs is a lot of work, but it also makes clear that this can be very rewarding for the humans doing that work.
All in all the film is delightful and will be enjoyed by children, parents, grandparents. Anyone who does not actually hate dogs and/or children should enjoy this film immensely.
Logic Patrol : There's a lot of logical flaws and unrealities in this film.
While it's not beyond reason that the kids could hide and take care of half a dozen to a dozen dogs, there is no way they could finance the food for the huge number they wind up with or arrange for electricity and garbage pickup. It's also highly unlikely that a large number of dogs would get along as well together as these do, no fights at all. Almost all the dogs are purebreds except for Friday , though in most real shelters only about a quarter to a third of the unfortuanate abandoned dogs are purebred. (I would guess that the needs of casting and having doubles for key roles is the real reason for the use of purebreds, though they did manage to find three dogs to play the scruffy little terrier mix Friday.) The Animal Control people are portrayed as eager to kill dogs, which fortunately is rarely true nowadays. No mention is given to how the kids plan to manage to care for the dogs when the school year starts up again (as is mentioned will be happening in the not distant future), though in the happy ending where the Hotel becomes a community project would imply that many people , adults included, will share the duties and expenses.
Most serious reality flaws : No mention of spay/neuter status of the dogs (I didn't take count, but I'm sure some of the males can be seen to be intact). There would be pregnancies all over the place in short order (and indeed in the closing scenes there are at least two litters shown and still no mention of getting dogs spayed/neutered at time of adoption). With this many dogs, some or many unvaccinated, there would be disease outbreaks (even well run shelters that vaccinate at time of intake have constant worries with disease). The absence of disease issues is forgivable unreality in a children's film, but surely some mention of the importance of S/N is morally essential (even the religious nutcases must know that preaching abstinence does not work for dogs, even though they pretend not to know that it doesn't work for teenaged humans). A strong spay/neuter message could and should have been included in the DVD extras if not integrated into the film itself.

return to Contents

Good Boy

cover illustration for Good Boy.A movie for the whole family, enjoyable for all ages.
A young boy who has no friends his own age (because his parents move frequently) yearns for a dog and convinces his family to let him have one by diligently serving as neighborhood dog walker for several months. The cute but somewhat surly terrier he adopts from the local pound and names "Hubble" turns out to be a Dog from Outer Space. Malfunction of the space dog's technology gives the boy the ability to hear dogs talk. Because of the dog, the boy gains friends and develops a lot more self-confidence. Unfortunately Earth is due for a visit from the leader of the dog home planet (Sirius of course), The Greater Dane, a bitch (of course the leader is a bitch !) of massive dignity (voice by Vanessa Redgrave). She is expected to rule that dogs on Earth have become degenerate and to require them all to return to the home planet. This film has wonderful messages about the mutual benefits of the relationship between people and dogs : dogs need people and people need dogs.
Logic Patrol : since the boy Liam is intelligent and educated and science oriented, when the dog Hubble tells him that dogs are of extra-terrestrial origin, shouldn't Liam respond that there is a lot of evidence that dogs evolved from wolves on Earth ? (Well actually we can guess that the filmaker didn't want to offend any of the religious nut cases ; their money is as good as anyone elses. Of course they probably don't believe in intelligent life that is extra-terrestrial or non-human. Ahh, sometimes I wonder if there is really intelligent life on Earth.)

return to Contents

Because of Winn Dixie

cover illustration for Because of Winn Dixie. A film the whole family will enjoy.
A young girl who lacks friends her own age (because her widowed preacher father moves frequently) yearns for friends. She finds an attractive but unruly exhuberant dog at the local Winn Dixie grocery store. She names the dog "Winn Dixie" after the store. Because of the dog, she gains friends her own age, gains adult friends , gets a job, and gains a lot of self confidence. Other people in the film are affected for the better by the dog. What I really like about this film is that the dog behaves as a normal dog would, including some behaviors that cause problems (thunderstorm phobia). This film is a wonderful message about the good effects on people of association with dogs : good things happen and lessons are learned "because of Winn Dixie".
Logic Patrol : it's nice to see a good movie about a girl and her dog, since so many films of this kind have a boy as protagonist. Anyone who goes to any kind of dog event or to the local Dog Park can see that girls and women outnumber boys and men by a considerable multiplicity.
Note : this film is based on the children's book of the same title by Kate DiCamillo. I think the film is better and more fully developed than the book. Of course I am not reading it at the level of child the book was written for.
Note: although the dog is supposed to be a mixed breed dog, the role is actually played by a Berger Picard (Picardy Shepherd), one of the traditional French herding breeds. This same dog plays a supporting role in a later film, "The Lake House", a romantic time travel tale that to me is reminisent of science fiction great Robert Heinlein. Update : I have been informed that the dog in "The Lake House" is a Wirehaired Portuguese Podengo Medio, not a Picard. This information comes from two experts in the Wirehaired Portuguese Podengo Medio who know the identity of the dog involved. So I appologize to everyone. Both films are enjoyable regardless.

return to Contents

My Dog, Skip

cover for My Dog Skip A film the whole family can enjoy.
A young boy has no friends his own age because he is intelligent and bookish. His only friend is an older boy, next door neighbor, who is a local sports hero. The boy yearns for a dog of his own but his father says that "a dog is just heartache waiting to happen". His mother gets him a puppy anyway for his birthday, and the father eventually submits (as any proper male should to his mate's wishes). Because of the dog, the boy gains friends, has adventures, grows in character, and so on, and grows to young manhood and leaves for University. Based on the book, "My Dog Skip" by noted author Willie Morris, the film was completed just before Morris' death. The finest lines in the film, including the opening lines and the closing lines, are direct quotes from the opening and closing lines in the book. The film is emotionally faithful to the book, but changes the dog's breed, invents the father's oppositon, and invents some dramatic incidents to take place of ones in the book. I very much recommend both book and film. Just don't run out and buy a Jack Russell Terrier because of the film (in case you haven't already been seduced by the JRTs in TV shows "Frasier" and "Wishbone").
Logic Patrol : to me the actual incidents of danger to the dog Skip in the book , those of probably having gotten into something poisonous and on another occasion getting himself closed into a refrigerator and found barely in time, are more interesting and authentic than the more melodramatic and more improbable ones substituted in the film.
Note : this story is set beginning in the early years of World War II in small town America. So the dangers of heartbreak the father has in mind are probably distemper and other diseases. Dogs of that time and place did run free all over town and neutering was unheard of. If you are seeing the film with children, do be sure later to discusss why this lifestyle is no longer an appropriate or safe one for dogs. Also discuss the need for spay/neuter (in one of the toilet bowl drinking attempt scenes it is all too obvious that this puppy has not been neutered).
return to Contents

A Dog of Flanders

cover for A Dog of Flanders A film the whole family can enjoy.
This is the third or fourth film version of the classic story "A Dog of Flanders" by Louise de la Ramee writing under the pen name Ouida. The original story, like several others by Ouida, is in the same tradition as Black Beauty, that of arousing compassion for mistreated animals and sounding a call for better treatment. This film version emphasizes the story of the boy Nello rather than that of the dog Patrasche, and it probably should have been re-titled "A Boy of Flanders".
The boy Nello and his elderly grandfather are poor Dutch peasants, gaining a precarious living by delivering milk to homes in the village, who are pretty much without friends other than each other. They chance upon an abused dog who has been left for dead by a cruel master and they rescue the dog, take him home, and restore him to health. The dog repays them by working hard pulling the milk-cart and thus enables them to survive economically. The boy aspires to become and artist. He is also is friends with, and as he enters his teens potentially has romatic interest in, the daughter of the local miller, a man risen from poverty to affluence but who rather looks down on the boy because of his poverty and poor prospects. The film adds to the story a mentorship towards the boy from an established artist. The film also changes the ending and the tone of the story. (I don't want to give away the changed ending.)
Logic Patrol : in the original story, it is made clear that the boy and dog were born on the very same day and are the same age. That would make the dog almost 16 years old by the end of the story, and in the book his age and growing decrepitude are clearly stated. These are ignored in the film. The boy's belief that he is friendless after his grandfather's death is fairly realistic in the book but clearly not so in the film.
Note : when this film was announced by Warner Brothers with a Bouvier to play the title role, there was great fear in the Bouvier lovers's community that this film would popularize the Bouvier breed and lead to mindless and inappropriate purchases of Bouvier puppies , in the same way as "101 Dalmations" was a disaster for the Dalmation breed. However as the film actually developed, it did NOT cause people to leave the theater crying "I want a dog just like the dog in the movie." (I attended the premier to hand out Bouvier information to discourage people from getting one based on the film, so I witnessed the lack of such reactions.) This film was not very successful in the theaters but will probably continue to rent well.
return to Contents

The Truth About Cats and Dogs

cover for The Truth about Cats and Dogs This is a film that is more likely to be enjoyed by teens and adults than by children because it is a romantic comedy. There is nothing in it that would be objectionable for children and there are animal episodes that they would enjoy, especially that of the dog on rollar skates.
The protagonist is an intelligent and witty young woman veterinarian who does have friends but does not have dates and considers herself unattractive to men and wishes she were more like her blond friend who is attractive but not tremendously bright. The vet is doing a radio call in show, during which she helps a male caller get through a very difficult problem involving a dog on rollar skates. The caller shows signs of interest in her personally and asks to meet her. She describes herself as if she were her friend and then later asks her friend to keep the date for her. Sound familiar ? It should : it's one more variation on the Cyrano de Bergerac theme. Various misadventures ensue, based on the Cyrano premise, but in the end the vet claims her own identity and the man.
Logic Patrol : what I find very interesting is that both women are moderately attractive but neither is stunningly so and neither is really more attractive than the other. The vet is petite and brunette and her friend is taller and blond. Whether or not the filmmaker intended the theme to be that often "beauty or lack of it is in the mind of person so labeling herself and others", to me that is the take home message. The vet comes to appreciate her own value and to realize that others can appreciate those same values.
If you like the Cyrano premise, be sure to see "Roxanne" starring Steve Martin. Very witty and with a modernized happy ending. However be warned that it has no dogs in it.
return to Contents

A Boy and His Dog

cover illustration for A Boy and His Dog. This is absolutely NOT a film for younger children, who would find it frightening or incomprehensible. It would be fine for older children who are science fiction fans, in which case they have almost certainly read the original story by Harlan Ellison. Intelligent adults should like it too provided they like science fiction. The original story was brilliant and the film is true to it in every major regard.
A late teenage boy living in an Earth devestated by nuclear war lacks friends of any kind. He is a loner in a world where one can be either a loner or a gang member. But he does have as his partner "Blood", a telepathic dog, who is considerably smarter than the boy is. Blood is a decendant of military breeding experiments intended to produce the ultimate war dog. The dog does not enable the boy to make friends, though he does help him to find girls for purposes other than friendship and he does enable the boy to survive in a very hostile environment. The story and film both end on the note that "love is what a boy feels for his dog".
Logic Patrol : although Ellison clearly describes the ancestry of the dog Blood as being from several of the usual protection breeds, such as Doberman, plus a bit of Greyhound for speed, the role is played by an Old English Sheepdog. If one had to use a purebred dog, a Bouvier would have been more appropriate here.
return to Contents

Related topics :

site author Pam Green copyright 2003
created 8/17/07 revised 9/1/2011
return to top of page return to Site Index