A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this wholesome Christmas movie set during the Great Depression is fine for the entire family, although a couple of brief scenes may temporarily disturb the youngest viewers. The young protagonist is sent away to live with distant relatives, and later she witnesses an underground dogfight -- it's not graphic (the violence is suggested, not shown), but it may nonetheless upset some kids. A child cries, wondering whether his dog has been killed in an emotional confrontation. Christmas is portrayed as a season of generosity.
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What's the story?
This family Christmas drama is set during the Great Depression, when a single father receives an eviction notice from his landlord and decides to send his 12-year-old daughter, Emma (Jordan-Claire Green), from their hometown of Pittsburgh all the way north to Maine. When she arrives in Doverville, Emma is struck by the town's strange no-dogs law, which is enforced by the mayor (Richard Riehle) and his brother, the creepy, cat-loving, dog-hating dogcatcher (John Billingsley). While at her new school, Emma saves a small dog from being caught, befriends Mike (Adam Hicks) -- a boy whose widowed mother runs a dog orphanage right outside town limits -- and eventually comes up with a plan to have the annual school Christmas pageant show the town that their no-dogs law is barking mad.
Is it any good?
Adults who’ve seen their share of Christmas specials and films will probably find this one overly sentimental; Green isn't a particularly precocious actress, so her presence isn't compelling. It takes some emotional maturity to carry a movie, even a treacly Hallmark-style story like this one, and she rarely shows much believable emotion. But kids are ridiculously eager to see movies with animals, and this one doesn't disappoint, with its climactic pageant scene that features an entire stage full of dogs. But if kids + Christmas + dogs isn't a winning formula for your family, there are plenty of much better holiday films to check out instead.
It's worth noting that the entire movie could be perceived as a feature-length reason to showcase the "12 Dogs of Christmas" song, which the film producer's daughter wrote when she was 7, and which her father subsequently had published into a popular book and CD. That's why we're treated to the entire Christmas pageant instead of cutting in and out (like most movies would do with such a scene). So if you're wondering why you have to hear the adorable little girl sing "And a poodle in a dog house" for the twelfth time, there you have it. Kids will sing along, as will some parents, but other grown-ups may feel their teeth ache from all the saccharine cuteness.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Emma. How is she different than the other girls in the movie? What troubles does she have to face and overcome at her new school? Why do you think she came up with the idea to rescue the dogs?
Why didn't Emma tell the truth about her father and how she found her dog? What difference would it have made if Emma had been honest from the start?
There's an old saying that kids and animals always make for easy entertainment. Does seeing little children and cute puppies and dogs pull on the heartstrings? Do they make up for what's lacking in this movie? What are some of your favorite animal movies?
What did you learn about the Great Depression? How were times tough for some but still easy for others?
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