A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Charlie's Christmas Wish is a faith-based family drama in which a puppy tries to help a returning soldier who's struggling with PTSD. While the cover and beginning of the movie might lead one to believe that this is going to be simply another movie about a cute dog with cute voiceovers, the reality is that this is more of a movie centered on what might be done to help homeless veterans, and not just during the holidays. One of the lead characters, a soldier returning home from Afghanistan, struggles with PTSD, and he soon befriends other veterans with similar mental health issues. In one scene, the titular dog runs off while the returning veteran suffers a PTSD attack triggered by an ambulance siren, and is thought to be struck by a vehicle. One of the characters is discovered having a heart attack in the woods in the tent city he lives in with other homeless vets. Wine drinking during a romantic dinner. Gratuitous product placement near the end of the movie.
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What's the story?
In CHARLIE'S CHRISTMAS WISH, Charlie is a Maltese terrier living in a shelter who just wants to find a home. She prays to God (John O'Hurley), who answers her prayer by sending a tween boy named Jimmy. Immediately smitten with Charlie, Jimmy adopts her, just in time for the return of his father John, a soldier who is returning five weeks early from a tour of duty in Afghanistan. The reason he's returning home early is because he experienced a traumatic incident that led to him struggling with PTSD. While John's wife Jill runs a bakery that's extremely busy due to the holiday season, John tries to adjust to civilian life, and the presence of Charlie, a dog that's much too small for his liking. But Charlie follows John around anyway as he tries to find work. He meets other vets, who connect him with a construction company. As John begins to befriend the other veterans, he sees firsthand their struggles, and soon the community at large sees a terrible injustice in that those who served our country in the military are homeless and struggling with mental health issues. As John grows to value and love Charlie, the town and church work together to find a way to provide shelter and treatment for any veterans in the community who need it.
Is it any good?
While it starts out as a "talking dog" faith-based holiday movie, Charlie's Christmas Wish gradually transitions into an earnest plea for doing more for homeless and mentally ill veterans. Those expecting more saccharin holiday fare will no doubt be disappointed, but for faith-based families interested in seeing how a church community and the surrounding town work together to address this issue, it should inspire thoughtful discussion about homeless and mentally ill veterans in America, and hopefully homeless and mentally ill people as a whole in America. That said, despite the positive message, the movie itself suffers from clunky storytelling, some flat acting, and the occasional awkward attempt at comedy.
It's the kind of movie where the story threads run amok and overwhelm any central narrative. Despite the title and movie poster, it's not long before little Charlie is just one of several side stories as the movie shifts its focus to getting to know all the veterans and their struggles. To seamlessly interweave all these stories would even be a challenge for the Robert Altmans of the world, and it's soon obvious that the movie's low budget, community-theater acting, and clunky shifts from cutesy dog voiceovers to homeless men having heart attacks in tent communities in the woods aren't up to the challenge.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the issues discussed in the movie. How is the story used to communicate a message about the plight of homeless veterans, and what could be done to ensure that those who served in the military have access to shelter and mental health care?
How does this compare to other "talking dog" movies you've seen?
How is this similar to and different from other Christmas movies? What does the movie communicate about charity and community in a way that goes beyond Christmas charity?
- On DVD or streaming: November 10, 2020
- Cast: Aiden Turner, Toni Hudson, Diane Ladd
- Director: Sue Ann Taylor
- Studio: Lionsgate Home Entertainment
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Activism, Cats, Dogs, and Mice, Great Boy Role Models, Great Girl Role Models, Holidays
- Run time: 94 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: Some mild thematic elements.
- Last updated: November 11, 2020
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