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A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Robo-Dog is a live-action comedy about an 11-year-old boy whose father tries to replace his deceased beloved pet with a robotic dog. "Dog," with whom the boy has a warm and loving relationship, dies tragically early in the film (off camera), but it's an extremely disturbing death and is caused, in part, by the boy making a small mistake. Farcical cartoon action -- falls, electric shocks, crashes, chases -- and an attempt to build suspense with an impending explosion are all played for humor. Bad guys are silly, over the top, and never truly threatening. In one mildly offensive scene, which will go over the heads of most young kids, a dog-napper appears to be molesting the robotic dog, and a passerby yells "pervert." Low-budget, clumsy effects (far from "special") attempt to show a real dog as a robotic one, and it's always unconvincing, and even a bit creepy, when the furry robotic dog body is shown headless on a lab table. The constantly changing tone, from grief and sadness to wild dog-napping antics and back again, is confusing and diminishes any possible emotional connection to the characters.
What's the story?
After a tragic accident, for which Tyler Austin (Michael Campion), age 11, feels responsible, his eccentric inventor dad Tom (Patrick Muldoon) creates a robotic dog for him in ROBO-DOG. With a superbattery at its core, Robo-Dog and its many attachments can work miracles, including fending off some corporate wrongdoers, headed by Mr. Willis (Wallace Shawn), who'd do just about anything to retrieve that miraculous superbattery. But can the sweet-talking robo-dog help Tyler forget the beloved pet Tom is trying to replace? It's a question answered very soon when the wrong-doers escalate their efforts, and it appears that the town is in jeopardy from a massive explosion of their making.
Is it any good?
It's highly unlikely kids of any age would be entertained, edified, or even slightly moved by this very dumb story in the hands of amateur filmmakers. Well, unless a boy finding his canine BFF in an attic dead from heatstroke is a story starter to your liking and ham-handed acting and lame special effects are your cup of tea. The audience doesn't actually see the boy discover his dead dog, but the mistake that triggers the tragedy and a quick flash of a thermometer in a small attic space announces what is to come. And Tyler is allowed to grieve for a whole weekend before his parents ask if he wants a new pet. These events are topped only by a few semi-offensive sight gags (the worst of which involves a predator appearing to sexually molest a dog, and the best of which is the same predator revealing his undershorts decorated in red hearts). The only saving grace is Olivia d'Abo trying to give a calming performance surrounded by ineptitude of grand proportions. Unfunny, emotionally empty, and relentlessly stupid, the movie is an all-around miss.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how the loss of a pet has great impact on our lives at any age. If you've ever experienced such an event, how did you cope with it? What did you find that helped lift your sadness? How would you comfort a friend grieving over a pet?
Business people are often depicted in movies for children as greedy and/or foolish. How does such portrayal influence your attitude about people who work in the business world? Why is it important to recognize such stereotyping? Describe someone you know in any business, large or small, who is good, is honest, and makes a contribution to your community.
It's difficult to combine comedy and tragedy in one movie. Did this movie succeed in finding a balance between the funny and the sad? Why, or why not?
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.