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 2011 straight-to-DVD feature is a Christian-themed biographical story of a man who was abused and abandoned by his father as a child. As an adult, he adopts an abused German shepherd, and they team up to do good works for the disabled, the elderly, and children with reading problems. Sensitive kids may find talk of a dying old dog difficult, as they will that dog's peaceful but sad demise. A boy is hit by a baseball and his lip bloodied. A cruel and insensitive father speaks harshly to his 5-year-old son. The father tears the head off the boy's stuffed animal. After his mother's death (unseen), his father abruptly and callously sends him to an orphanage. An abused dog is shown to have been kept in a dark, feces-covered room.
What's the story?
FOOTPRINTS follows David, who is plagued by sad recollections of an abusive father and the early death of his loving mother. David does his best to leave the pain behind and move ahead toward love and helping others. Left at an orphanage that his sympathetic grandfather ran, the 5-year-old boy takes on his grandfather's religious conviction that dwelling in a sad past is unproductive and that doing good is a great distraction from disappointment. In adulthood, after the death of his old dog and with the blessing of his new wife and stepdaughter, David adopts Cadie, an abused German shepherd that's been returned repeatedly by other caretakers. Under David's gentle supervision, she proves herself a sweet, sensitive soul. David comes to think of her as an angel sent by God to help him do good works. After Cadie is certified as a therapy dog, they visit the elderly and disabled in hospitals and help kids learn to read in school. When David suggests Cadie might be able to help teach children Bible studies, his respected pastor is aghast and dismissive, making David question the value of his contributions.
Is it any good?
Footprints has good intentions but fails miserably on every level. This movie's quality resides in a land far, far away from the usual professional standards of production, writing, direction, editing, sound, or acting to which the average moviegoer has become accustomed. Most short videos on social media display greater artistic understanding of the moving-pictures medium than Footprints does. First we are given to understand that everything shot in black and white is a flashback to David's childhood. But later the filmmakers use black and white to suggest how things look from the dog's point of view, so this can lead to confusion about whether the movie is in the past or the present. "Show, don't tell" is a fundamental of screenwriting 101, yet we never see nor fully understand exactly what was so bad about Cadie that multiple adoptive owners were forced to return her. Her all-important transformation (from bad to good? From vicious to gentle? Democrat to Republican?), which David refers to as a miracle, is nothing more than an unfounded rumor.
We DO see this story: A nice man trains a lovely dog. Together they do good, charitable volunteer work, which provides neither dramatic conflict nor any promised transformation. As for David's growth, apart from the normal grief he experiences when his old dog dies of a spinal tumor, he too seems a happy, well-adjusted guy with a great partner in life and a lovely stepdaughter. When David questions all the good he has done with Cadie just because a stodgy pastor tells him that God would never work through a soulless lower animal, you wonder if David has really learned anything at all. For dog lovers who can ignore the movie's general badness, there are many sweet doggie moments.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about whether the movie's theme -- moving forward from past difficulties toward a better future -- would be any less persuasive if there were no religious references. How does this movie add to a conversation about whether doing good in the world requires an adherence to religious doctrine?
A religious leader labels the use of a dog to do good works a "perversion" of the Bible, yet another religious leader views it as a blessing. How does the movie weigh those two positions?
The movie takes a position on bias and prejudgment. Can you name some of the people and things prejudged? Can you think of why prejudgment might be a bad thing? Can you think of when prejudgment might be helpful?
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