We’ve recently gotten feedback on Facebook and Twitter regarding our review of the movie Show Dogs. I was the one who reviewed the pic, so, if you just happened to be wondering why this silly kid’s movie is suddenly so controversial on the Focus Facebook page, I thought we should talk for a moment or two.
The controversy swirls around a running gag in the film—one we call out in our review under our “sexual content” section.
The movie is about a police dog that goes undercover as a contestant in a show dog competition. And as part of the process, the judges have to inspect the animal’s private parts (that’s a part of real dog shows, by the way). Since Max the cop dog has never been through this process, his human trainer tries to prepare him for being examined in that way—much to Max’s chagrin. They tell him to try not to think about it and go to his “zen” place. It’s played as a growl and snap joke in the movie.
But some people interpreted the scene, and the following judge-inspection scene, as perhaps a nod to child sexual abuse and, at its very worst, even delivering a message to kids on what they should do should they be so treated.
Blogger Terina Maldonado, who writes the popular blog Macaroni Kid, labeled it as a “dark and disturbing message, hidden, not so subtly between the fluffy dogs and glamorous parties of the show dog lifestyle.” From her blog:
During the movie, I kept thinking, “This is wrong, it doesn’t need to be in a kids movie. Everything else in the movie is good fun except for this.” Afterward, my husband mentioned that he picked up on this message too, as did my mother who saw the movie with us. My daughter, on the other hand, said her favorite part of the movie was when Max got his privates touched and the funny reaction he had. I decided to use that moment to help reinforce what we have taught our children since they were little, private parts are just that, private.
Later on in her blog, Ms. Maldonado explained her reaction further.
With the #MeToo movement and all the talk of sexual predators in Hollywood, I couldn’t help but think this message, that is blatantly in the open for adults to see, but over a child’s understanding, is meant to groom children to be open to having people touch their privates, even though they don’t want it. It gives them the idea of a ‘zen place’ to go to mentally when they are touched.
Many people, including many Plugged In readers, either read those original comments or picked variations of those thoughts elsewhere. And they responded in kind.
“This is absolutely infuriating. There’s no such thing as innocent humor involving touching private parts in kids’ movies. Ever. Children’s brains cannot separate that from a predator’s lies saying his actions are fun and fine,” one of our users tweeted.
And another one said: “Folks, I love movies, and am not disturbed by a variety of adult situations in movies—but this is predatory grooming of CHILDREN, & you need to know what’s going on here”
Now, I don’t believe the movie’s makers were referencing or condoning child abuse. One thing we try not to do at Plugged In is infer motive, because that’s a game with no real end. Our objective at Plugged In is always to tell you what’s in a film as accurately as we can and let you, the reader, draw your own conclusions and make your own decisions. When I saw this sequence, it translated as simply as an over-long potty joke that wasn’t particularly funny in a silly movie that wasn’t particularly good.
But movies, even the most straightforward of movies, are incredibly complex things. It’s not just the moviemaker’s story that’s at play here: It’s our own stories, too. We all bring our own experiences and sensitivities and baggage to every movie we see. And so, in many respects, even when we watch the very same movie, the messages it gives can be very different. Unique.
Ms. Maldonado’s reading was not, I believe, what the filmmakers intended. But her reading is still a valid one. She has every right to call out negatives as she sees them. And we should all certainly take the issue of abuse very, very seriously. But we all see things through our own filters, which is one of the reasons why we do our best at Plugged In to let the content speak for itself as much as possible.
As I was writing this blog, a colleague of mine took a phone call on the issue. The caller—a mom—had some concerns about the review. Once we explained what we try to do in our reviews, including this one, she understood, and she added that the whole controversy actually inspired her to talk with her own kids about sexual abuse.
That’s a wonderful reaction, I think. Whatever take we have on this movie, whether we see it or not, I applaud Maldonado for talking with her own children about these very important topics the movie made her consider. I applaud our caller for—even though neither she nor her children had seen the movie at all—opening up this line of dialogue in her own family. Whatever the movie’s intent was, these are important conversations to have. And safe kids and safe families are definitely on the top of both our lists.