The Champions

Movie review by
Renee Schonfeld, Common Sense Media
The Champions Movie Poster Image
Profoundly moving docu about dog rescue and recovery.
  • NR
  • 2015
  • 93 minutes

Parents say

age 2+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 12+
Based on 1 review

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

Positive Messages

Strongly promotes empathy, courage, perseverance, unselfishness, and commitment to others and illustrates how deeply connected the human family is with the animals in its care. Places great value on compassion for all living creatures. Shows the remarkable ability of even the most traumatized of animals to recover and thrive. Additional themes include integrity, humility, and teamwork.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The lawyers, dog caretakers, trainers, and new dog owners portrayed are exemplary in all respects. They exhibit great patience, empathy, energy, responsibility, and an enormous capability for expressing love. The only African-Americans depicted are despicably cruel animal abusers.


While there is no actual animal abuse shown, the real-life events in which Michael Vick masterminded a dog-fighting ring killing, maiming, and abusing animals is referenced in multiple scenes. Disturbing visuals of his facility and the dogs that were rescued from that facility are included. Some footage shows aggressive dogs baring teeth, barking ferociously, and, in one instance, beginning to attack another dog.


One piece of media footage includes what sounds like a muffled "f--k."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Champions tells the inspiring story of the dogs who were left behind when NFL star Michael Vick's dog-fighting ring was shut down. Most important, there are no scenes in the film that show the dogs either fighting or being abused; the emphasis is on rescue and recovery and on the outstanding men and women who took responsibility for their care. Still, the traumatic nature of the dogs' origins is made clear to viewers through testimony, some non-fight news footage (one muffled "f--k" is heard), photographs, and, most acutely, by the behavior of the dogs as they begin to heal. In addition to the moving messages about humankind's responsibility to the animals around us, the film hopes to demythologize the representation of pit bulls as aggressive and dangerous. A number of organizations and programs for abused animals are profiled as they deal with the dogs in need. The depth to which the staffs involved engage and commit is astonishing and enlightening, as is the behavior of those families who adopt the dogs. Because of the background necessary to fully comprehend the challenges involved, this movie is recommended for only very mature teens and up.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byBonna Neang W. October 31, 2016

Our inate COMPASSION....One is never too young to feel Love and to give Love !

The Champions need to be seen by EVERYONE at ANY AGE ( for Youngsters with the parental guidance). What more, I wish for The Champions to be shown in every clas... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byMelBrooksFan July 30, 2016

Inspiring film about dogs and love

This film is an amazing work of art. I would recommend it to any animal advocate! It's a story of hope and love that shows that, yes, abused animals, inclu... Continue reading

What's the story?

THE CHAMPIONS tells the inspirational story of the many dogs saved by devoted men and women after the dogs were rescued from an appalling dog-fighting ring in 2007. All of America knew that Michael Vick, the Atlanta Falcons star quarterback, was using pit bulls for sport, killing them, maiming them, and abusing them in the process. The movie starts just after the dogs have been rescued. The animals' real journey begins as carefully selected custodians of their welfare find solid places where the healing process, if it's even possible, will happen. Four very special dogs, and the people who bond with them, take center stage as they move through recovery and integration into a safe world. The camera follows the four dogs as they learn to trust, to find peace, and to love.

Is it any good?

It's doubtful that any movie could be more beautifully executed, more inspiring, or more moving; don't let its subject matter -- the recovery of abused animals -- keep you away. Director Darcy Dennett and her team made a remarkable decision when she chose to track the dogs rescued from the site of Michael Vick's horrific dog-fighting enterprise. As a result, the time audiences spend with Little Red, Handsome Dan, Cherry, Jonny, and the folks who helped them recover is precious indeed. Kudos to the people from Best Friends Animal Society, specifically Francis Battista, Michelle Weaver, and John Garcia, and to professor Rebecca Huss and attorney Ledy VanKavage. The Champions, which won multiple awards on the film festival circuit, is filled with dogs to love, people to honor, and indelible moments of courage, selflessness, and joy. Highly recommended for older, mature kids and their families.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the intentions of documentary filmmaking. Creators in this genre hope to inform, entertain, persuade, and/or inspire. How does The Champions touch upon each of those objectives?

  • What do you think Darcy Dennett and the people featured in this movie wanted you to take away? What did you take away? Did any preconceived ideas you had about pit bulls change after watching it?

  • It was stressed that the dogs were "recovering," not being "rehabilitated." What is the difference between those two terms in this situation? What does "rehabilitation" imply?

  • How does The Champions promote compassion, empathy, perseverance, and courage? What about integrity, humility, and teamwork? Why are these all important characters strengths?

Movie details

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