We think this movie stands out for:
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that 12 Dog Days Till Christmas tackles serious matters in a simplistic but appealing TV movie-style format. A clever and charming boy about to age out of the foster care system deals with the disappointments of his alcoholic mother, jailed father, and the last of a series of revolving foster homes. His basic decency shines through as his devoted probation officer supports and encourages him. But even a great job at an animal shelter can't eliminate his understandable anger issues. He and the girl he likes kiss quickly. A dog is hit by a car but survives. The accident isn't shown. The shelter's funding runs out at Christmas and any dogs left will go to the city pound where euthanasia is inevitable. Jack yells at a shop keeper who interrupts Jack's sidewalk sales pitch. When he loses the sale, Jack sets fire to the shopkeeper's sign. Jack's mother, who has been sober for three days, is preparing to get drunk on malt liquor.
What's the story?
In 12 DOG DAYS TILL CHRISTMAS, Jack (Vincent Giovagnoli) has been living in foster homes most of his 17 years because his mother is an alcoholic and his father is in jail. Jack is smart, charming, and persuasive, but the anger stemming from his abandonment always simmers beneath the surface, ready to bubble up at the slightest provocation. After a run-in with a local shopkeeper he is reassigned by his supportive probation officer Art (Reginald VelJohnson) to work at an animal shelter. He immediately seems to identify with the adorable abandoned animals, all lost souls, like him, looking for family. Jack and shy-girl volunteer Ryan (Grainne McDermott) immediately dislike each other, guaranteeing that they'll find their way to each other by movie's end. When the shelter's benefactor announces she can no longer foot the bills, Ryan, Jack, and the others swing into persuasive mode to help place the least adoptable dogs before they face doom in the city shelter.
Is it any good?
This movie has something to say about second chances, but the addition of a few more experienced actors, like Vel Johnson, would have improved this movie enormously. Its heart is in the right place though as it emphasizes the bad hand dealt to so many innocent children whose only crime was being born to addicts or irresponsible shirkers. The movie paints a fairly complimentary view of foster care, a system often portrayed in the media as seedy, mercenary, and sometimes downright cruel. The foster parents portrayed here are good people doing their best to help kids in need. Jack and his foster siblings are housed in a large, decent home governed by decent grownups who set rules and truly seem to care. Never having been adopted, and on the verge of aging out of the system, Jack feels alienated and alone. Worst of all, he fears that he will one day be as unreliable and hopeless as his mother. With the support of a saintlike probation officer who sees the good in Jack, the boy begins to develop empathy for others as he works with unlucky dogs and the shelter employees who open their hearts to him. Shakespeare is quoted and reading books is viewed as a fun and productive activity. What 12 Dog Days Till Christmas lacks in polish and Hollywood finesse, it makes up for in good intentions and generosity. In a nice reversal of media stereotypes, a solid, middle-class black family takes on a troubled white boy, sharing with him their love and family values.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about 12 Dog Days Till Christmas' mature themes. Jack is painfully disappointed when his alcoholic mother promises to meet him for lunch but, once again, doesn't show. When he acts out his anger afterwards, do you think his friends treat him fairly? Why or why not?
Jack seems to have a decent but distant relationship with his foster parents. Why do you think someone with his background might keep his distance emotionally?
Do you think the movie deliberately compares unadoptable shelter dogs to Jack's situation as an abandoned child? Why?
Did the movie's title and box art make you think this was a more lighthearted movie?
- In theaters: November 28, 2014
- On DVD or streaming: December 1, 2015
- Cast: Reginald VelJohnson, Vincent Giovagnoli, Grainne McDermott
- Director: Charlie Vaughan
- Studio: ARC Entertainment
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Character strengths: Compassion, Empathy
- Run time: 88 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Last updated: January 31, 2020
Our editors recommend
For kids who love the holidays
Find more movies that help kids build character.
Top advice and articles
Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.
Streaming options powered by JustWatch