Life Is Ruff

Movie review by
Kat Halstead, Common Sense Media
Life Is Ruff Movie Poster Image
Canine comedy teaches the responsibility of owning a pet.
  • NR
  • 2005
  • 85 minutes

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Kids say

age 7+
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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Educational Value

Although the movie's primary motive is entertainment rather than education, younger viewers will learn about the responsibility needed when looking after a pet.

Positive Messages

The movie encourages putting selfishness aside and thinking of others first. Emphasis is placed on the importance of love over success and teaches that there are no short cuts to either.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Calvin is well liked, but manipulates those around him to get what he wants. He lies, cheats, steals, and shows no sense of responsibility and very little empathy. Toward the end of the movie he sees the error of his ways and learns the importance of love over personal gain. His friend Emily is a positive role model, volunteering at the local animal shelter and showing compassion to the animals there. She is also a strong female character who stands up for what is right and goes against gender norms, with a love of video games and comic books.

Violence & Scariness

At the animal shelter a worker says, "you can't save them all" -- implying some will have to be put down. There is mention of dog shows exploiting animals. An asthma attack is referenced, when a character says he couldn't breathe. Two characters threaten to "pound on" another, but never do.

Sexy Stuff

Occasional derogatory terms such as "doofus" and "mutt" are used.


The main character is desperate to get hold of $3,000 to buy the final comic book for their collection. There is mention of thoroughbred dogs.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Life Is Ruff is a fun Disney TV movie comedy about a boy who adopts a dog and subsequently must learn the responsibility of having a pet. Initially main character, Calvin (Kyle Massey) adopts the dog in order to enter a show so that he can use the prize money to complete his comic book collection. The movie addresses the nature of dog shows and whether they are exploitative. There are also scenes inside an animal shelter in which it is made clear not all the dogs will make it out, which may upset younger viewers. Calvin is likable and popular, but his entrepreneurial spirit involves him lying, cheating, and manipulating those around him to get what he wants. He takes his best friend for granted and constantly tries to trick his parents and evade his responsibilities. There is mention of a severe asthma attack and characters are paid to beat up other characters -- though they never do.

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Teen, 13 years old Written byRa7 November 12, 2020

What's the story?

In LIFE IS RUFF, 13-year-old Calvin Wheeler (Kyle Massey) is a popular kid obsessed with comic books who needs $3,000 to complete his collection. The best way to do that? The local Top Dog show. The only problem? He doesn't have a dog. On a trip to the local animal shelter, volunteer Emily (Kay Panabaker) convinces him to take Tyko -- a huge, untrained St. Bernard cross, who proves more than he can handle. With the help of his best friend Raymond (Mitchel Musso) he must try to train Tyko in time for the competition -- all the while keeping him hidden from his parents. When the local rich boy and Top Dog champion Preston (Carter Jenkins) catches a whiff of his competition, he does everything in his power to stop the new entrants from competing. Can Calvin convince his parents to let him keep the dog? Can he convince Emily he's changed and has grown to love Tyko? And can he really beat the thoroughbreds and their snooty owners to the prize?

Is it any good?

Animals are easy to like and, luckily, so are the human characters in this movie. Calvin, though selfish, is funny, goofy, and lovable, and Raymond and Emily are equally well-drawn. There are numerous chase scenes and Beethoven-esque moments of chaos that you'd expect in a movie that centers on a giant dog -- from running amok at the local market to trashing the kitchen in search of a snack.

Calvin's arc is familiar but well-acted and it's easy to relate to his world and root for his eventual turnaround -- once he's got the cheating at basketball and interviewing potential prom dates out of the way. The message about dog shows is slightly confused, but the overall message about responsibility and the importance of love, partnered with Calvin's enduring optimism and belief that anything is possible, make Life Is Ruff a heartwarming and uplifting film full of family fun.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the responsibility of owning a pet as portrayed in Life Is Ruff. What can owning a pet teach us about other things in life?

  • What are Calvin's character traits and how does he change throughout the movie?

  • Did you find any scenes upsetting? If so, which ones?

  • Name some instances in the movie where Calvin does something he shouldn’t have. What were the effects of these actions?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love animals

Character Strengths

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