Film Review: Show Dogs

Ho-hum talking-dog flick for children that teaches environmental and rite-of-passage lessons for humans and canine alike
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Therapy dogs are wonderful. All dogs are wonderful, though I have a special fondness for Golden Retrievers with their warm broad heads, floppy ears and soulful eyes flanked by fur all around. And at a recent screening of Show Dogs, a film for young children, dogs (of the healing persuasion and just plain pets) were on hand in the audience along with the shrieking toddlers who interestingly enough calmed down as they stroked the animals. Yes, the evidence is compelling: Fuzzy quadrupeds lower elevated blood pressure, particularly when it spikes. The real live dogs were the high point.

It’s not that the film is terrible. It’s an innocuous throwback and as such clearly limited in its appeal. Even some of the children seemed restless at points. Show Dogs, helmed by Raja Gosnell (Scooby-Doo, The Smurfs, Beverly Hills Chihuahua and Big Momma’s House), is a live-action family movie complete with a cast of good guys, bad guys and, most important, talking dogs of various breeds, stripes and temperaments. It’s mostly told from their point of view. The movie also includes three busybody clown pigeons who have opinions about everything and help guide the narrative. Anthropomorphism thrives.

Our hero is an NYPD police dog, Max (voiced by Chris “Ludacris” Bridges), a rugged, alpha-male Rottweiler who, along with his uncooperative human FBI partner Max Mosley (Will Arnett), is investigating the kidnapping of baby panda Ling-Li by an underground network of illegal animal traders. To track down these nefarious dealers who are planning to sell the panda at a Las Vegas dog show, our daring duo needs to participate in the actual event. It’s an underground operation and everything about it is challenging—especially for Max, who undergoes a humiliating grooming ritual at the hands of veteran trainer and ultimately Will’s love interest Mattie (Natasha Lyonne). Max learns the value of trust and interdependence (same for Frank). Along the way, the canine seeks the help of French papillon Philippe (Stanley Tucci), a once-celebrated show dog and now a has-been; Sprinkles (Gabriel “Fluffy” Iglesias), an agitated, hyperactive pug; Karma (Shaquille O’Neal), a cool, dreadlocked Komondor; and Dante (Alan Cumming), a posh Yorkshire terrier, among others.

Some of the voices are recognizable, but what’s most striking (and it’s a good trend) is the absence of “funny” cartoon voices. Each actor plays it straight, as it were, taking his “character” quite seriously and giving it his best shot. Obviously, great performances are not called for.

As in many kid films (and regrettably adult films too), life lessons are in abundance; in this instance, it’s teaching viewers, among other things, an environmental lesson, the appreciation of unfettered wildlife and a concomitant abhorrence for those who view animals as nothing more than profit-making vehicles. By extension (though it’s not spelled out), puppy mills are justifiably condemned. It’s no accident that therapy dogs were at the theatre and available for petting before and after the screening. As noted, that was the morning’s treat. Talk about sweet and innocent in a world that isn’t.

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