[Editor’s Note: After this film’s initial release, controversial scenes involving a dog submitting to being groped during a dog show led Global Road Entertainment to announce that some of the scenes in question would be edited. Plugged In has now seen the second, edited version. And while some of that controversial material has been cut, some still remains—enough that concerns about these scenes may not be completely ameliorated in the edited version. Those scenes are detailed in the Sexual Content section below.]
Max is a dedicated NYPD police dog. But if that makes you think of some TV mutt sniffing boxes at the airport, you’re barking up the wrong tree.
Max, you see, is a canine detective who solves the crimes. And he’s happy to do it all on his own. He’ll leap into any confrontation, subdue the baddies, then drag them off to jail with their collars in his teeth.
That is, he would … if his human police partners would just get out of his way once in a while. The problem is, his clumsy handlers tend to treat him like a second-class citizen.
In fact, he was about to crack a Panda-smuggling ring wide open recently when some bumbling FBI guy named Frank blundered into him down at the docks. It was like a dog-and-pony show: Every time Max was ready to bite into the perpetrators, that Frank dude would come running in and mess things up.
It’s enough to make a good dog growl.
So Max is fit to be tied—or at least put on a leash—when he finds out the next day that the chief wants him to work with Frank in an undercover sting operation. The authorities have received a hot tip that smugglers are plotting to sell some contraband animals at a Las Vegas dog show. And Max and Frank have been tagged to pose as contestants in the dog show.
Well, this is a barkingly bad idea if you ask Max. I mean, he’s no wimpy sit-on-a-cushion-and-eat-grapes show dog! Max is from the streets. He chows down whatever gets thrown in his bowl. And if someone thinks Max is going to submit to one of those show-dog bikini-wax treatments, well that someone should prepare to lose a finger. Or three.
But … this plan is probably the best way to get back on the scent of those ruthless crooks. So Max agrees to partner up.
Oh, the indignities a seasoned police dog must put up with just to take a bite out of crime.
Though they are initially at odds, Max and Frank eventually come to respect and support each other. In fact, that get-along-with-others-philosophy is a central theme here. One of the show dogs even spells it out clearly, saying, “Everything works out a whole lot better when we trust others and show them respect.”
Along with that lesson, Max and Frank also make a number of self-sacrificial choices in the course of solving their case.
A seasoned show dog named Philippe agrees to help Max prepare for the dog show. And at one point he prays, “Dear Lord, please forgive my student’s ignorance.”
Another dog named Karma repeatedly voices spiritual-sounding statements. Among them, he uses the Hindu greeting “Namaste,” and he encourages others to meditate on their situations.
The original version of the film included several scenes involving Max getting used to have his genitals examined in the context of being judged in a dog show. These scenes, which involve the dog being repeatedly groped and needing to keep quiet during the process, led the National Center on Sexual Exploitation to say, “The movie Show Dogs sends a troubling message that grooms children for sexual abuse.” (For more on these scenes and the issues involved with them, check out our blogs here and here.)
The edited version of the film, perhaps surprisingly, doesn’t completely eliminate these concerns or controversial scenes. Though the scene of Max going to his “Zen place” is trimmed near the end of the movie, we still see the judge approach and lift the dog’s tail. Before that, however, Frank is shown trying to help Max get “comfortable” with this part of the judging by touching his private parts. (Max responds with barking and jumping when Frank tries to examine him.) We hear Max’s canine friend Philippe tell him, “The inspection of the private parts is the hardest part.” Phillipe then instructs Max to “go to your happy place” when that moment in the competition arrives.
A few other moments between dogs could be construed as being “sexual” due to the anthropomorphized nature of the film’s canine characters. Max is clearly uncomfortable when it’s suggested that he should breed with another dog. Frank tells the other dog’s owner, “I think everyone deserves to choose love for themselves—even if they are a dog.” Dogs discuss who’s been spayed or neutered, with two female dogs gushing excitedly that a certain animal “was not neutered after all.” A few other lines of dialogue include mild innuendo parents will get that will likely fly over kids’ heads. Elsewhere, Max and another female show dog share a “kiss,” à la that iconic canine canoodle in Lady and the Tramp. A pigeon seems to be infatuated with Max; at one point she says, “He can flip this bird any day.”
On the human side of things, some of the female dog handlers wear formfitting, low-cut outfits. A male handler ushers in his dog while shirtless. Frank is clearly attracted to a female dog handler.
We see thumping police action scenes where both canine and human cop take tumbles. In one of them, a guy waves around and fires a gun. And a whirling propeller blade comes threateningly close to slicing up a sweet-looking panda (before Max saves the day).
Several people get hit with heavy objects during physical struggles. A couple of them are knocked out cold. A Bengal tiger stalks up behind someone, baring his teeth. The camera cuts away, but we later see the human victim with bandages and scratches on his face and upper body.
Max bites Frank’s backside. In turn, Frank threatens to “neuter that mongrel.”
We hear three misuses of God’s name. Someone yells, “This is all BS.” Two uses of “d–n” join an unfinished “sh—.” We also hear the incomplete outburst “son of a …” Other mild exclamations include “dang,” “freakin’,” “heck,” “gosh” and “turd.” Name-calling includes “stupid,” “idiot,” “fool,” “chump” and “pain in the butt.”
Max promises an informant some catnip in exchange for information. But he gives the dog a plastic squeeze toy instead, saying, “It’s better for ya’.”
The film includes some predictable toilet humor. During a grooming session, Max passes gas in a tub where he’s being scrubbed. He purposely distracts some humans by dragging his backside around on a carpeted floor. We also hear his loud yelp when his backside gets waxed before competition so that the judge can easily inspect that part of him. We see the dog licking himself afterward. A group of deputized pigeons wonder if someday their feathery descendants will “poop on statues of us.”
Show Dogs is intended to be a kids’ movie through and through. If you consider its story and presentation on a graduated scale—say, one that ranges from whine and scratch on the low end all the way up to a family pleasing tail-wag peak—this pic probably qualifies as a Saturday-matinee chew toy that lands on the less-enthusiastic, flea-bitten side of the scale. It feels like a talking-dog version of Miss Congeniality: a canine caper the youngsters will giggle at even as parents roll their eyes wearily.
On the plus side, it actually has plenty of action and some nice messages about the importance of working as a team and accepting others’ differences.
But those controversial scenes involving Max’s private parts, even though they’ve been edited, likely do not go far enough for anyone who is concerned about grooming messages they might inadvertently send children. Also problematic are some indulgences of mild profanity and a few winking nods at sexual innuendo that should have been left on the cutting room floor in a movie aimed at young viewers.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.