Warning: This article contains spoilers.
It should be pretty safe to see a preview on TV or social media for a new movie, and then if it’s appropriately rated for your kids to go see it without having to do a ton of research. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case with Hollywood movies, because the motives and underlying messages can be frightening and damaging. The new movie by Global Road Entertainment called “Show Dogs” illustrates both the danger of movies, and the power of parents and advocacy groups to make changes after a large outcry results in positive corrections.
The film is a crime/humor offering featuring talking dogs and human counterparts working to save a baby panda that features lots of big name stars: Ludacris, Will Arnett, Stanley Tucci, Alan Cumming, Natasha Lyonne, Gabriel Iglesias, Shaquille O’Neal, and more. Max, a talking police dog voiced by Ludacris, is paired with a human detective, played by Arnett, named Frank.
They’re tasked with entering a dog show that is a front for animal kidnappers. Max is street smart and not at all a snobby competition dog, so he has to use his life skills to work through the competition and learn family friendly lessons along the way like teamwork and trust. His partner and a former show dog teach him the ropes, and this is where the movie originally went awry.
For anyone not deeply familiar with the world of dog shows, conformation events include physical judging, including on the genitalia of male dogs. Max isn’t okay with having a stranger handle his “private parts” and so the helper dog and his human partner try to acclimate him to this experience. A movie reviewer who saw an advanced screening with her children, describes the scenes:
As part of any dog show, contestants are judged on their abilities and physical attributes. One part, in particular, is the inspection of the dog’s private parts. Being that Max is new to competing, he needs to learn the process so his partner, Frank, along with a former show champion work to get him ready for the final round of the competition. Since the inspection of the private parts will happen in the finals, Frank touches Max’s private parts to get him use to it. Of course, Max doesn’t like it and snaps at Frank for him to stop. Max is then told by the former champion, who has been through the process before, that he needs to go to his ‘zen place’ while it happens so he can get through it. More attempts are made by Frank to touch Max’s private parts, but Max is still having trouble letting it happen and keeps snapping at him. The day of the finals come and if Max doesn’t let his private parts be touched, he may lose the competition and any hope of finding the kidnapped panda. It all rests on his ability to let someone touch his private parts.
If you’re wondering why this needed to be in a children’s movie, you’re not alone. We’re living in a #MeToo world, where everyone is painfully aware that a lot of Hollywood has had to experience sexual situations where actors and actresses are uncomfortable or victimized. People in Hollywood have long shown that power is a corrupting force, and that those in control use it to demean and force others to accept contact they don’t want. It’s impossible to view a movie like this without that filter.
The reviewer continues with the culmination of the movie and her family’s response:
The judge’s hands slowly reach behind Max and he goes to his ‘zen place.’ He’s flying through the sky, dancing with his partner, there are fireworks and flowers-everything is great-all while someone is touching his private parts.
During the movie, I kept thinking, ‘This is wrong, it doesn’t need to be in a kids movie. Everything else in the movie is good fun except for this.’ Afterward, my husband mentioned that he picked up on this message too, as did my mother who saw the movie with us. My daughter, on the other hand, said her favorite part of the movie was when Max got his privates touched and the funny reaction he had. I decided to use that moment to help reinforce what we have taught our children since they were little, private parts are just that, private.
This mom has had people applaud her review, and for good reason. Unfortunately, she’s also had a lot of commenters call her out for overreacting. People, many who say they have kids of their own, argue that kids don’t really notice things like this. They’re just there for the funny jokes and talking dogs. Kids aren’t smart enough to pick up on this material, so it’s no big deal, and people are just hypersensitive if they’re upset.
This is a disturbing and erroneous line of argumentation, and it’s as dangerous as the movie itself. Kids commonly pretend to be animals, and Max and the other dogs are anthropomorphized in this movie. This isn’t just a dog at a dog show, it’s a talking, feeling character who repeatedly is uncomfortable and non-consenting to having his genitals felt. He’s pressured into it, and told it’s the only way. Just as damaging is that he’s shown dissociating during it — a common coping mechanism for human beings during sexual violence and abuse.
While this movie was being filmed and produced, another important event was happening, closely related to the performance driven pressure modeled in the dog show of this movie. Brave gymnasts came forward and Larry Nassar was tried and convicted of decades of sexual crimes against dozens of girls. This abuse was couched in language of necessary procedures, normalized to them by the way he’d molest them around others, including their parents, and reinforcing the pressure that in order to win sometimes you have to do things you don’t want to do.
We need to stop and critically examine a culture that shows kids on the big screen that a lack of consent doesn’t really mean anything is wrong. Our kids deserve better than this, and Hollywood needs to be firmly told that enough is enough, and we’re tired of this garbage. All too often molestation happens by someone a child knows and trusts. It’s ridiculous to normalize that in any way.
This is more than just a fleeting moment in a fictional dog show, because the nerves of the main character could have been modeled with a hundred other situations that didn’t include sexuality and lack of consent on genitalia. It’s so important to let kids know that it is never, EVER okay for someone to inappropriately touch their genitals, and for parents to have conversations about safety with their kids. This movie subverts that theme, and grossly so.
The concerns of this mother reviewer were shared by other parents who saw the movie, and then picked up by The National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE), a group that works to prevent pornography exposure, child sexual exploitation, trafficking, and more. Dawn Hawkins, the Director of NCOSE, said that the way the dog was made to comply was how children were coerced into abusive situations: “Disturbingly, these are similar tactics child abusers use when grooming children — telling them to pretend they are somewhere else, and that they will get a reward for withstanding their discomfort. Children’s movies must be held to a higher standard, and must teach children bodily autonomy, the ability to say ‘no’ and safety, not confusing messages endorsing unwanted genital touching.”
Global Road Entertainment has responded to the concerns over the scenes and will be pulling them from the movie. The production company noted in a statement: “Responding to concerns raised by moviegoers and some specific organizations, Global Road Entertainment has decided to remove two scenes from the film ‘Show Dogs’ that some have deemed not appropriate for children. The company takes these matters very seriously and remains committed to providing quality entertainment for the intended audiences based on the film’s rating. We apologize to anybody who feels the original version of ‘Show Dogs’ sent an inappropriate message.”
Either we always support consent, or we don’t. It’s time for Hollywood to decide, just as Global Road Entertainment just did. It’s important that when companies realize they made a mistake they are allowed to apologize and correct that mistake, and editing a movie and rereleasing it is a huge win for children and their safety.