It’s summmmmerrrr! That means hitting the pool, watching a lot more Netflix, and binging on popcorn and candy at the movie theater (well, that’s what it looks like in our house at least!). And there’s usually a long list of feel-good funny ones as well as action-packed dramas to choose from. One such movie is out right now—Show Dogs—and it’s getting quite a bit of press, but not all of it is good.
The recipe for a kids’ classic is there: famous faces and/or voices (Will Arnett and Ludacris with a cameo from Shaq), talking animals that come to life, and farts and butt-slapping. Really, what more do our kids need? Well, unfortunately, for all of the fun and humor and life lessons packed into Show Dogs, some are saying it sends the wrong message to our kids about consent and the touching of their private parts.
The premise of the show is that Max, a police dog, infiltrates a dog show in the hopes of rescuing a kidnapped baby panda. Well, unfortunately for poor old Max, being a “show dog” (even if only undercover) means getting your private parts inspected, and touched. His initial reaction is to resist, but, as reported in an article on Macaroni Kid, he’s repeatedly trained to “go to his ‘zen place’ while it happens so he can get through it.” And, in the end, that’s exactly what he does.
Fearing that he’ll lose the competition and all hope of finding the panda, Max does succumb to this pressure. “The judge’s hands slowly reach behind Max and he goes to his ‘zen place'”, Macaroni Kid says. “He’s flying through the sky, dancing with his partner, there are fireworks and flowers-everything is great-all while someone is touching his private parts.”
Parents are saying this is problematic and sends the wrong message to our kids, since we tell them to NEVER let anyone touch them there. In fact, some say the movie goes so far as to depict “grooming”—a term used to describe what predators do as they “train” kids to relax, get used to being touched, accept being touched, etc.
Listen, I get it. This is a kids’ movie. And is everything in kids’ movies (or even movies for adults) supposed to be taken as fact? No. We recently saw Peter Rabbit, which was criticized for the way it portrayed deadly food allergies. My son is allergic to nuts and has an EpiPen. We still laughed, enjoyed the movie, and looked past that scene to enjoy the story as a whole.
And we are huge Star Wars fans. My kids know they can’t (and shouldn’t want to) cut someone on half with a light saber.
It is our job to teach our kids that movies are movies. That talking dogs aren’t real. And that sometimes fiction is really just that—fiction.
Our kids see themselves in these characters, even if they are animals. (Sometimes especially if they are animals.) My daughter was inspired to be a brave police officer by a tiny bunny in Zootopia. And to overcome her stage fright by an elephant in Sing.
The creators of these movies know what they are doing, and they intentionally create characters our kids love. Characters they idolize. Characters they copy, in speech, and in actions.
So even though Max is a dog, and in real life, performance dogs are inspected, and probably do have their bodies touched prior to a show, in Show Dogs, Max isn’t just a dog anymore. He’s a character being forced to consent to something that we’ve taught our kids is inappropriate, never okay, and downright abusive.
Take this criticism however you want to take it. You may choose to boycott the movie all together, as many did with Peter Rabbit, or to movies like Star Wars because of violent scenes. Or you can take your kids to see it and have a conversation afterwards. Maybe this movie provides an opening to a discussion you haven’t had yet, but have been meaning to start. Turns out a talking police dog can open that door for you.
In the end, we need these kids’ movies for our sanity this summer, because the days are daaaaaang long. But more importantly, we need our kids to be safe and know that they are in charge of their own bodies.