12 Dogs of Christmas

Movie review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
12 Dogs of Christmas Movie Poster Image
Sentimental Depression-era Christmas story is fine for kids.
  • NR
  • 2005
  • 107 minutes

Parents say

age 6+
Based on 2 reviews

Kids say

age 5+
Based on 1 review

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Educational Value

Kids will learn about the difficult decisions that parents had to make during the Great Depression.

Positive Messages

Emma's journey to save the dogs teaches kids about honesty, teamwork, and perseverance. She doesn't always tell the truth because she's ashamed, but children will realize that although she made some mistakes, she's able to rise to the occasion when it matters. There are also strong messages about rescuing animals.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Although it takes some time for Emma to become a clearly positive role model, ultimately she's a brave protagonist who doesn't let the fact that she's a girl keep her from stepping up to protect the dogs and help her friends.

Violence & Scariness

A couple of scenes may upset younger kids. A dog fighting scene implies violence, even though audiences don't see the dogs mauling each other. There's also some chasing, pushing, and shoving (especially when the dog catcher is involved), and in one scene, the girl protagonist kicks a man in the shin.

Sexy Stuff

A male teacher flirts with a single mom; by the end of the film, they hug and share a kiss.


A few taunts and mild insults like "good for nothing," "girls are worthless," "you're a liar," and "I hate dogs!"

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A man at the dog fight is shown drinking from a jug; to an adult, it would seem like he's drinking liquor.

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.

Wondering if 12 Dogs of Christmas is OK for your kids?

Set preferences and get age-appropriate recommendations with Common Sense Media Plus. Join now

Continue reading Show less

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byAnnie15 December 5, 2018

Very good

I have always enjoyed this movie. It's festive for Christmas and is good if you like dogs. Most all ages would like it if it's your style. Some parts... Continue reading
Parent of a 7 and 7-year-old Written byTwinMyself December 27, 2010

Your family will enjoy this cute movie especially animal lovers!!

Cute movie - not a very fast paced movie but my two girls really like it.
Teen, 13 years old Written byella . p.h December 16, 2018

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?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love holiday movies

Themes & Topics

Browse titles with similar subject matter.

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.

See how we rate

Streaming options powered by JustWatch

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

Our ratings are based on child development best practices. We display the minimum age for which content is developmentally appropriate. The star rating reflects overall quality.

Learn how we rate