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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
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.
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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?
- On DVD or streaming: October 10, 2015
- Cast: Little Red, Handsome Dan, Cherry, Francis Battista
- Director: Darcy Dennett
- Studio: FilmRise
- Genre: Documentary
- Topics: Cats, Dogs, and Mice, History, Misfits and Underdogs
- Character Strengths: Compassion, Courage, Empathy, Humility, Integrity, Perseverance, Teamwork
- Run time: 93 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
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