UPDATED (May 23): Cineplex Australia has dropped “Show Dogs” from its theaters, and the NCOSE is calling on America’s two largest theater chains, AMC and Regal, to pull the film as well. In a second statement, the group’s executive director said the movie contains “essentially a sextortion scenario” and “a textbook sexual abuser move — it would be impossible to calculate the number of times sexual abusers coerce minors into various sexual activities (everything from sending nude pictures to sex trafficking them) by using the threat of something bad happening to someone else if they don’t comply.”
The National Center on Sexual Exploitation has scolded Will Arnett’s latest film, the PG-rated “Show Dogs,” as potentially dangerous viewing for kids. While the May 18 release sounds innocent, if a bit perplexing — a police dog (voiced by Chris “Ludacris” Bridges) infiltrates a Vegas canine competition to save a stolen panda — but the nonprofit claims the caper “sends a troubling message that grooms children for sexual abuse.”
In a Tuesday statement published on the center’s website, NCOSE executive director Dawn Hawkins called out “multiple scenes where a dog character must have its private parts inspected, in the course of which the dog is uncomfortable and wants to stop but is told to go to a ‘zen place,’” content expected to raise film executives’ eyebrows in the #MeToo era.
Hawkins continued, “The dog is rewarded with advancing to the final round of the dog show after passing this barrier. 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.”
The first vocal critic of how “Show Dogs” treats consent was mother Terina Maldonado, writing for the family film blog Macaroni Kid. She acknowledged the film’s “great” premise, explaining “that [it] would get my highest recommendation” if not for the aforementioned, suggestive subplot. In an end “zen place” scene, she wrote how the dog is “flying through the sky, dancing with his partner, there are fireworks and flowers — everything is great — all while someone is touching his private parts.”
“Show Dogs” was directed by “Home Alone” franchise veteran Raja Gosnell (he helmed the third installment after editing the first two films for Christopher Columbus). Producers include BAFTA nominee Deepak Nayar (“Bend It Like Beckham”) and Philip von Alvensleben (“The Good Girl”). Distributor Global Road Entertainment will also release the upcoming Johnny Depp feature “City of Lies.”
The filmmakers issued their response to Maldonado and others in a statement obtained by Entertainment Weekly: “The dog show judging in this film is depicted completely accurately as done at shows around the world; and was performed by professional and highly respected dog show judges. Global Road Entertainment and the filmmakers are saddened and apologize to any parent who feels the scene sends a message other than a comedic moment in the film, with no hidden or ulterior meaning, but respect their right to react to any piece of content.”
Meanwhile, PETA senior vice president Lisa Lange wrote in an email to IndieWire, “Dog shows glamorize the breeders who make money by pimping out their animals and selling their babies, so a scene about dogs being felt up seems right on the money for a movie like ‘Show Dogs.’ Anyone disturbed by this scene should reject all dog shows and the breeders who force animals to churn out litter after litter into a world already bursting at the seams with homeless dogs.”
“Show Dogs” opened in more than 3,200 theaters, and finished sixth at the weekend box office with $6.5 million.