A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Norman Rockwell Presents: A Christmas Tail is a Canadian DVD import that combines romance with the exploits of an adorable dog who can't stay in one place for very long. Two single-parent families vie for yellow lab Bear (or Paisley, as he's initially called in the rival family's house). The movie has a simple plot with enough obstacles to delay the inevitable happy ending, at least for viewers who don't know from the beginning what will happen. There's one mention of picking up dog poop and one dog fart. However, except for enjoying the dog, it's doubtful this film will engage the interest of younger kids.
What's the story?
NORMAN ROCKWELL PRESENTS: A CHRISTMAS TAIL is a romance, and what romance wouldn't get off to a good start with a lost dog at its heart? Just after Bear, a yellow Lab in need of a family, comes to live with divorced dad Jack (Antonio Cupo) and his teen daughter, the pesky dog races away, shedding his leash and his new owners. A grumpy neighbor calls a local shelter, and, just like that, the new dog is gone, only to be found, adored, and adopted by widow Maggie (Chandra West) as a Christmas gift for her precocious tween son (Beamer Wigley). A "Lost Dog" sign posted by Jack gets the two dog lovers together. At first, it's a competition between the two families for Bear's love, but things look up as Maggie and Jack realize it's in the dog's best interest for them to share custody. Complications arise in the persons of an obnoxious old beau, a ditsy blond TV producer, and a workplace rival who threatens Maggie's job. Will Maggie find the courage to take a stand against the outrageous behavior of a coworker? Will Jake find the courage to tell Maggie about his growing feelings? Will the love of Bear unite these two single-parent families? Is it Christmas yet?
Is it any good?
Not even an adorable dog can save this lightweight, predictable film. Static, low-energy direction and one-dimensional characters allow for very few laughs and absolutely no surprises. The leading actors and those playing their kids are game enough, but the material and the execution fail them. Particularly distasteful are the underwritten and poorly performed villains' roles. The obnoxious old boyfriend makes one wonder if Maggie had any standards at all in her choice of partners. Their relationship defines Maggie as a victim who values being with someone at the expense of any self-esteem. And, at her job, Maggie is even more vulnerable; it takes escalating abuse to spur her to even the most innocent revenge. Still, there's that cute dog, along with Christmas music and colorful holiday decorations that fill the screen. Those count for something.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the many movies in which dogs and holidays go together. What emotions do you think the filmmakers are hoping to inspire in their viewers?
Maggie and Jack are both good parents. Which parenting traits do they share? Do you think their behavior as parents contributes to their attractiveness to one another? How important is it for single parents to find partners who share their ideas and ideals about raising kids?
Who was Norman Rockwell? What was the subject matter of his most famous works of art? Does this story remind you of the feelings evoked when looking at his paintings? Why do you think the film has his name in the title?
What are your favorite Christmas pet movies? Why are they special?
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