The littlest Craggling has something of a fascination for talking dogs, as the many hours I’ve had to sit through interminable ‘Disney Buddies’ movies can attest to, so its little surprise that when the trailer for “Show Dogs” started appearing, my fate was sealed.
In order to bust a notorious animal smuggling ring, FBI agent Frank (Will Arnett) is reluctantly partnered with Max, a tough NYPD Rottweiler (voiced by Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges), in order to go undercover at the world’s most exclusive invitational dog show.
My fate may have been sealed but we can only speculate at what cursed Will Arnett into appearing as the straight man to a bunch of dog fart jokes in this crass and wilfully stupid dog egg of a movie. Despite the pedigree of director Raja Gosnell (“Scooby-Doo”, “The Smurfs”), “Show Dogs” is the runt of the litter, tonally all over the place and – when it’s not being a tacky, irony-free tourism shill for Caesar’s Palace, Las Vegas – deeply obnoxious and often terribly misjudged.
There’s a real skill to balancing kid-friendly slapstick and hijinks alongside more knowing humour for the long-suffering parents in the audience but this film would fail to thread that needle even if it were offered a pool noodle and a hula hoop to do so. So it is that Max Botkin and Marc Hyman’s script offers us anthropomorphised canine takes on everything from beauty industry fascism to slavery to sexual assault. It’s this last, dunderheaded, tone-deaf sequence which has propelled this otherwise forgettable kid flick into the cross-hairs of the pearl-clutching self-appointed guardians of moral decency (an astonishing number of whom would appear to hold kids’ movie jokes to a higher ethical standard than their preferred political leaders ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ).
Of course, the Helen Lovejoy-esque reaction was vastly overstated and a huge overreaction to an admittedly ill-considered and unnecessary ‘gag’ in the movie about the actual practices of dog shows the world over. Yes, in the post-MeToo landscape it’s a staggeringly stupid sequence to have made it through the production process unchallenged and, from a very specific point of view, the scene can be interpreted in a dark and sinister way, but that darkness lies in the eye of the beholder, whipped up into a paranoid frenzy by tabloid fearmongery and if you’re not already thinking about those things, it doesn’t really play like that.
Whatever else this movie is, it is not some kind of grotesquely Machiavellian, malevolently subliminal campaign to harm children, unless you count the effect of the general quality of the movie itself on their cultural experience. It’s a dumb movie about dumb people and marginally smarter dogs doing dumb things and the Littlest Craggling and her school chum giggled away at every pratfall, sassy comeback and, yes, that stupid dog fart in the bath joke from the trailer, before leaving the cinema and never giving the movie another thought.