A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Dogs train us just as much as we train dogs. When we start feeling love for others, the love multiplies. "Being responsible for someone's life isn't what every dog is cut out for." Don't drink and drive.
Positive Role Models
Three prisoners all say they deeply regret causing the deaths of others and are trying to become better people. Some have turned to religion. They all are kind, patient, and responsible trainers to the dog they are assigned. They show compassion and work as a team.
A White man admits that he entered the prison "extremely racist against Black people," and that working with two Black inmates to train Eli has changed his outlook. One Black inmate calls the prison system "racist," pointing out that most of the inmates he sees are brown and Black. A Black inmate says that to him "race means separation."
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Violence & Scariness
The three prisoners who train Eli have all killed people. A fatal car accident involving a drunk driver is described. The wrecked vehicle is shown. A man tries to stop someone from harassing his mother and instead kills the harasser. A man who describes himself as calm, but with occasional anger issues, kills someone. Two of the trainers discuss how some people train dogs to be aggressive and violent, whereas their intent was to make Eli gentle and loving.
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A trainer jokingly mentions that he had previously thought a dog was "retarded" because the animal had been slow to learn. The man corrects himself, noting that using that term is not "P.C."
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
A man drove while drunk and killed someone in another car.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Eli: A Dog in Prison is a documentary about an extraordinary program teaching prisoners to train puppies to become eligible for guiding the blind. While each of the prisoners committed a violent crime, the emphasis is on training and caring for a puppy, which kids will enjoy. The inmates also express remorse and view training a dog to help the blind as one way to pay back the community for the harm they caused. They teach the dog to maintain focus and stay calm in the face of distractions. The men all bond with the spunky and adorable yellow Lab named Eli, and bond with each other as they cooperate for the sake of the dog's welfare. Some details of how the men caused the deaths are revealed. A picture of an overturned car after a crash is shown. A father of one inmate cries as he apologizes to the family of the man his son killed. The puppies are winning and fun to watch. A White inmate admits his racism. A trainer jokingly mentions that he had previously thought a dog was "retarded" because the animal had been slow to learn. The man corrects himself, noting that using that term is not "P.C." To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
Eli: A Dog in Prison is a beautiful, moving film about the humanity that can be brought out in all of us through our connection with animals. The directors give us touching closeups of the men while they pet Eli and proudly watch him grow and learn. We feel the love they have for the dog and see it bringing out their gentlest instincts. Burrell laments that few programs at the prison are designed to help make the prisoners better men. Even though the place's name is "correctional" facility, he sees little correcting going on. Thomas says that when you get to prison you learn to hate more. He admits his racist beliefs and works to overcome them. The filmmakers take pains to show details of prison life, including the grim regimentation, and contrast it with the goofy spontaneity a puppy brings, suggesting that a good life can be a mix of both if we can appreciate it. Original music by Heavy Color provides a lyrical accompaniment to this emotional story.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.