Shepherd: The Story of a Jewish Dog

Movie review by
Stefan Pape, Common Sense Media
Shepherd: The Story of a Jewish Dog Movie Poster Image
Tender if flawed WWII drama about dog and boy's friendship.
  • NR
  • 2020
  • 93 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Judging people without prejudice or agenda. People are seen for who they truly are. The human spirit thrives despite the cruelty and evilness of the Nazi regime. Communication, teamwork, and courage are all key themes.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Joshua never gives up hope, even in the most tragic of circumstances. Kaleb, the dog, carries no prejudice and treats humans as he finds them. The Nazi characters are reprehensible, making disparaging comments about Jews. They also do the Nazi salute and say "Heil Hitler." Young children are also seen burning books.

Violence

World War II is a persistent backdrop to the movie with scenes taking place in concentration camps. German children bully and beat up a young Jewish child, kicking them in the ribs when they're on the ground -- the child screams in pain. A Nazi puts their hands around a young child's neck. A dog then attacks the Nazi, biting them and leaving their clothes bloodied, before the Nazi pulls out their gun. A prisoner in a concentration camp is attacked by a dog and dragged along the floor by a Nazi soldier. A land mine explodes leaving a child injured.

The sense of lives lost is prevalent in the film, with war a persistent backdrop. We see a group of German children bully and beat up a young Jewish boy, kicking him in the ribs when he's on the ground. We hear the child scream in pain. We see a Nazi put his hands round the neck of a child. The dog protects him and bites the man, and we see his clothes covered in blood. He then pulls a gun on the dog. We also see a dog attacking a Jew in the concentration camp, and the Nazi soldiers drag him along the ground. There is brief peril when a land mine goes on and we see a child injured in the aftermath.

Sex
Language

There are many discriminatory comments and statements made about the Jews from the Nazi characters. Bullying between children based on a character's religion. "Piss" is also used.

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

One scene in which characters drink beer together during dinner.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Shepherd: The Story of a Jewish Dog is based on best-selling novel The Jewish Dog and enforces the notion that all humans are equal and should be judged accordingly. The movie is set to the backdrop of World War II with some scenes taking place in a concentration camp. However, this harrowing period of history is seen through the blissful perspective of a child, Joshua (August Maturo) so it's not too frightening for young audiences, and the messages are positive. That said, Nazi soldiers bully Jewish prisoners and there are many disparaging comments about Jews. There is moderate violence, including a scene where a child is beaten up by a group of other youngsters, and we see a Nazi grab a young boy by the neck. As the title suggests, a dog -- called Kaleb -- is central to the plot and the movie celebrates the loyalty that these animals have for humans that treat them well. The movie is also known as Shepherd: The Hero Dog in other markets.

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What's the story?

SHEPHERD: THE STORY OF A JEWISH DOG is set during World War II and focuses on Kaleb, a German Shepherd who is separated from his Jewish owners, and notably the young Joshua (August Maturo). Kaleb is adopted by a Nazi officer, and trained to attack Jews. But when Kaleb is reunited with Joshua -- who is now in a concentration camp -- it's clear the dog has not lost his loyalty to the young boy.

Is it any good?

This movie is a tender family drama with its heart in the right place. The storytelling methods are conventional, however, and sadly though the narrative is full of positive messages -- really pushing the idea of equality and how we're all the same -- the movie does suffer from a clichéd screenplay, and mediocre acting.

Shepherd: The Story of a Jewish Dog delves into the horrors of WWII from a unique viewpoint, that of a child. Similar to Life is Beautifulit highlights the barbaric nature of war through a simple, yet profound perspective. To have a dog at the core of the film works well too. Kaleb hold no judgement, sees people for who they are, and attaches himself to kindness, not religion or race. With so many positives, it's just a shame this story is not told in a more creative, or accomplished way.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how World War II is portrayed in Shepherd: The Story of a Jewish Dog. What do you know about the Nazi regime? How does it make you feel to hear about the tragic loss of Jewish lives? Why is it important we don't ignore historical atrocities? How to talk to kids about violence, crime, and war.

  • Discuss the the disparaging language and behavior used by the Nazis toward the Jewish characters. How did it make you feel?

  • Racial prejudice is at the core of the movie. Do you see parallels between the modern era and some of the atrocities that occurred in WWII? What can be done to help fight racism?

  • Talk about the relationship between people and dogs. Why do you think people like having dogs as pets? If you have a dog, what is it you love most about them?

Movie details

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