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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Art of Racing in the Rain is a very emotional drama told from a dog's point of view. It's based on the best-selling novel by Garth Stein and uses racing analogies to explain how to steer through life's most difficult challenges. That metaphor may connect with teens, but it will likely be lost on younger kids, who may also be upset by the movie's sadder scenes. Spoiler alert: It's not just a dog who dies in this movie, but also the loving mother of a young child, who first suffers a prolonged illness and is shown bald, weak, and vomiting. While the film suggests some beautiful ways to think about death and says that there's nothing to fear, you're still going to cry. Fears of parental separation could also arise for some kids: The villains here are the grandparents who "just want what's best" for their 8-year-old granddaughter, and they use their money, false allegations, and the court system to take her away from her dad. All of that said, the film has fantastic messages about the bumpy road of life, and it shows why dogs are such wonderful support animals. Milo Ventimiglia stars, with Kevin Costner as the voice of his loyal dog, Enzo.
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What's the story?
Based on Garth Stein's same-named best-selling novel, THE ART OF RACING IN THE RAIN is about a dog who strives to learn the lessons of humankind in hopes that he'll be reincarnated as a human. Enzo (voiced by Kevin Costner) relates the story of his life with his human, an aspiring race car driver named Denny Swift (Milo Ventimiglia). Enzo stays by Denny's side, sharing Denny's passion for cars and watching as Denny's family grows through his marriage to Eve (Amanda Seyfried) and the birth of their daughter, Zoe (Ryan Kiera Armstrong). When the family goes through rough times, grief, and legal battles, Enzo is there, too, observing it all.
Is it any good?
This movie doesn't change the increasingly familiar formula of dogs + drama + death, but (spoiler alert!) it does wrap up with one of the greatest feel-good endings of all time. Similarly to A Dog's Purpose, a dog narrates the story in The Art of Racing in the Rain, but he's not naive: Enzo is a wise sage who understands everything. In fact, the film is one long narration by the pooch, and Costner's soothing, gravel-edged voice comes off like a beloved grandparent. He envelops viewers like a comfortable blanket but at the same time shells out advice using 50-cent words and sports references -- just like a lecture some grandpas might give.
"Old dog" Enzo also lacks energy -- and so does the film. But it certainly doesn't lack sweetness (or, as the more cynical might put it, sappiness). Denny is a great guy, his friends are supportive, and Eve is so adorably wonderful that you'll want to go follow Seyfried on Instagram to bask in her glow regularly. These are people you'll likely want to be your friends. The only villains here are Eve's wealthy, pragmatic Baby Boomer parents, who will do anything to prove their point. Kathy Baker shines as Eve's conflicted mother, demonstrating relatability that many viewers will appreciate in a situation that seems too cruel to be believable. The screenplay doesn't do Stein's book justice, the advice may not linger after the credits roll, and the story is so sad that it will turn off as many families as it attracts -- but the final moments make your heart overflow with happiness as you realize that's where the whole ride has been taking you.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about what the title of The Art of Racing in the Rain means. How can we "create our own conditions" so that when life "rains," it's just rain and not dangerous and slippery? How did Denny apply that to his own life? How does he demonstrate integrity?
Talk about loss/death. What do you believe happens when someone, be it a human or an animal, passes away?
How does Enzo use his curiosity about human life to achieve his goal? Do you feel a deeper connection to your pet (or dogs in general) after seeing this film? How did it make you feel when Enzo was called "lazy" and "bad"? How does giving an animal a human voice and thoughts create empathy for that creature?
Enzo is reliant on gestures. How does Enzo communicate with the humans without words? What does he say about human communication and the importance of listening to one another?
The film shows how teamwork is used in real life. How are Denny and Eve a team? How do the people in Denny's world support him and work as a team when times get tough? What is friendship?
- In theaters: August 9, 2019
- On DVD or streaming: November 5, 2019
- Cast: Kevin Costner, Amanda Seyfried, Milo Ventimiglia
- Director: Simon Curtis
- Studio: 20th Century Fox
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Cars and Trucks, Book Characters, Cats, Dogs, and Mice
- Character strengths: Communication, Curiosity, Empathy, Integrity, Teamwork
- Run time: 109 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: thematic material
- Last updated: December 2, 2019
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